YouTube was launched in 2005, giving the room to anyone in the world to broadcast whatever they saw fit. In 2007 a South African drummer used this new medium to share his drum covers, and his life changed forever. This is how Cobus’ incredible journey started.
Born Pieter Jacobus Potgieter in Carnarvon, Northern Cape, South Africa in 1986, Cobus Potgieter’s life didn’t start to be engulfed in music until his teenage years. His parents had a great love for music, especially for the rock and pop of the 60’s and 70’s like “The Beatles”, “Parrish & Toppano”, and “Bread”. However, much like Cobus’ two older brothers, his parents didn’t know how to play any musical instrument. Cobus recalls his grandmother (father’s mother) as the only musically talented member of his family. It was only when he got his first computer that Cobus Potgieter really started listening to a lot of music, especially trance music when he was in grade 9.
Near the end of 2001, a 16 years old Cobus Potgieter attended an outreach organized by the churches around the area he lived in. At the end of the outreach, the drummer from a band that was performing there, invited everyone in the audience to play a basic 4/4 rock beat on the drum set. Cobus decided to accept the challenge. In what would become one of his defining moments, Cobus Potgieter was able to play the beat straightaway. At the time he wasn’t good at anything in particular, thus, by displaying some ability the first time he played on a drum set woke up something inside of him. As the outreach came to an end a feeling prevailed inside of Cobus Potgieter, the urge to play drums once again. He saved as much money as he could from there on and by 2002 was able to buy his first drum set.
It was around this time that Cobus Potgieter’s love for band-oriented music really took off. Bands like “blink-182”, “Sum 41”, “New Found Glory”, “Fenix TX”, “Biffy Clyro”, and “Sugarcult”, among others, really struck a chord with him and as such, had a big influence in his drumming. For the most part, playing along to “blink-182” was his major practice routine as he started out. So as expected, blink’s drummer Travis Barker was his first major influence. For the following years, Cobus Potgieter would hone his skills behind a drum set by practicing at home with a lot of music, with which he learned different drum parts, and by messing around with his own ideas. He also started performing in different high-school events, like dances and the “Inter-Schools”. In 2004 he co-founded and played in the South African band “Glaskas”.
After finishing high school he went to university to study “Mathematical Sciences” in Stellenbosch, South Africa where he stayed for only a year due to the poor results accomplished. During this time, Cobus stayed in a men’s hostel where he ended up being introduced to audio and video production. He got very curious with this new world and ended up by spending a great deal of his time teaching himself production techniques through free content he found on the internet. The next year he went to another university, this time around to study “Computer Systems Engineering” at the “Central University of Technology” (formerly known as “Technikon”) in Bloemfontein, South Africa. At this time he joined the worship band “Helios”, which played at the “Student Church” he attended in Bloemfontein. It was in this same church that Cobus Potgieter filmed the first video he uploaded on YouTube – “Quick Drumsolo” – and the subsequent 8 drum cover series.
At the end of his first year studying “Computer Systems Engineering” he decided to take some time off of university to see what he really wanted to do with his life, since he still lacked the commitment needed to pass all the subjects. Thus in 2007 he started working part-time for a few months as a waiter at “Träumerei”, to help support himself while at Bloemfontein. It was during this time that Cobus took the step that would forever change his life – upload a series of drum covers on YouTube.
At the time, Cobus Potgieter was trying to record an album for “Helios” at the church, using the production skills he had acquired in Stellenbosch. One night, unable to fall asleep, he decided to go to the “Student Church”. Since the drums were already miked, he mounted the church’s camera in an overhead angle and recorded himself playing along to 11 songs. This gave birth to the series best known as “Overhead Series”. Cobus Potgieter later pointed out the desire of owning an archive of videos of his drum playing as the main drive for creating the first series, since later it would enable him to show the footage to his own sons.
After uploading the “Overhead Series” on to YouTube he started garnering attention from a lot of viewers around the world. This propelled the creation of three more series – the “Tri-Cam Series” and the “Dual-Cam Series” in 2007, and the “Blister Series” in 2008. For each series he would attract not only more views, but at a given point sponsorship and endorsement deals as well. Before the Release of the “Hybrid Series” in 2008, he started endorsing “Udrum – Underground Drum Co.”, and got sponsored by a music retailer store in Joanesburg, South Africa named “Music Connection”, and by a distributor of audio and lighting equipment named “Audiosure”. Before the release of the “Michael Jackson Tribute” and the “White Series” in 2009, he started endorsing two more companies – TRX Cymbals and Jobeky Electronic Drums – and got a sponsorship deal with a marketing group named “SMG Africa”. “FullCircle” in-ear monitors was the last company Cobus Potgieter started endorsing before the release of his 2010 effort, the “Nexus Series”. This was the last series to be recorded in the “Student Church” in Bloemfontein before Cobus moved to East London, South Africa where he joined “SMG Africa” for working as an audio and video producer.
There is a lot to be taken from Cobus Potgieter’s story, but no one says it best than the late Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Emil Frankland:
“…success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge…“.
Cobus’ success is the result of his love for playing drums. This, combined with his knowledge and enthusiasm for audio and video production, made it easier for him to create a high quality product. This helped him letting his own voice and enjoyment of playing drums really shine through and connect with people from all around the world. With so little he has accomplished a lot. Cobus Potgieter is doing something many of us won’t ever have the privilege to do – he’s living his dream, he’s pursuing it. So if he can do it, what is stopping you?
Cobus Potgieter has done session work with some South African artists. In 2007 he recorded drums for the first and last album of his former band “Inslowmotion”, formerly known as “YY” (TooWise in English). More recently Cobus performed, recorded and co-produced the album “Veranderd” with “Helios”, due for release within the early months of 2011.
Because of the great success he has found within the YouTube community – one of the top 100 subscribed musicians – he has made a few appearances on South African television shows interested in covering the worldwide exposure he has gained. The TV shows he has appeared on include “Gons”, “Kwêla”, and “Jip”.
In 2009 Cobus Potgieter’s self-titled DVD was released through “SMG:Oddity”. This DVD encompasses a documentary that sheds some light on Cobus’ early years, how he started playing drums, and how the YouTube phenomena came about. It also includes some drum covers, lessons on technical and musical concepts he likes to focus on, and some introductory lessons on audio and video editing for drum cover production.
The internet has also been an incredible platform for Cobus Potgieter to get connected with artists and producers from around the world. In 2010 he was contacted by American producer/musician Tyler Ward, by Spanish producer/musician Iago Pico through FormSpring.me, and by Canadian producer/drummer Jared Falk. With Tyler, Cobus recorded drums for three collaboration covers, with one of them being already released on YouTube and iTunes. With Iago, Cobus flew to Spain to record drums and co-produce the song “Heroes”, shoot a promotional video for the song and his next entire drum cover series. With Jared, Cobus will be hitting the Railroad Media Inc. studio in Canada for recording some drum lessons and drum covers in early 2011.
After taking part of the first “Jobeky Drum Festival” held in England in 2009, Cobus Potgieter is making preparations for tackling the United States and Canada in early 2011 for a clinic tour, and to attend the “2011 Namm Show” in Anaheim, California. He’ll be making appearances for “TRX Cymbals”, and for “DRUM!” magazine for winning the 2010 “DRUMMIE” in the “Rising Star” category.
Learning with the aid of a great teacher will enable you to progress surely towards your drumming goals. The biggest problem here is to find that great teacher. There are plenty of teachers out there for guiding anyone to play drum set, but only a handful will help you play to your fullest capacity. In some countries it may be hard to find a good teacher anywhere, so free online content, books, and DVDs are sometimes the only resources available.
Cobus Potgieter is self-taught, and started learning even before picking up his first drum set. After returning from the 2001 outreach, he browsed the web in search of information about drumming. He ended up by downloading every free video and article he could get his hands on. All he has learned has been taken from free educational resources found on the internet, through YouTube videos, and from playing along and listening to a lot of music.
Being taught by a good teacher isn’t the only way to really develop mad skills, good sense of time and feel behind a drum set. Practicing things correctly, taking time to practice and play, and listening to a lot of music will do that for you. Guys like Carter Beauford, Buddy Rich, or Cobus Potgieter can prove us just that. There is also a very important aspect of drumming that a teacher can’t do for you – developing your own voice behind a drum set. Cobus Potgieter really worked on this aspect of his drumming, and is actually one of the most important things in making him that much unique.
By working on different ideas he heard on his head, or just things he though sounded cool, really helped him being able to cater to what his own head wanted to do, freeing him up to act so naturally and effortlessly when playing along to music. Some good examples of this can be seen in “Overhead Series”. He pretty much played whatever he wanted, disregarding what the original drummer had done for those particular songs. Every lick and beat was improvised on the spot as a reaction to what he was listening and feeling. So if you want to develop your own voice, and facility in improvising while playing along to songs, you have to spend time practicing your voice. Learning other player’s ideas can help you develop your voice. Learn them as they were played by them first. Then use them to start creating your own ideas. Cobus Potgieter also credits having Travis Barker as his main influence when starting out, as one of the engines to his own creativity due to Travis’ very unique style.
Cobus has a very rhythmical way of playing patterns that really complement the music. His syncopated hi-hat work and tom based grooves and fills are some of these examples. We can see some traits of his major influences in this side of his playing, like Carter Beauford, Tony Royster Jr. and Travis Barker. Other players that have influenced him tremendously are Derico Watson, Mike Portnoy, and Thomas Lang.
Cobus Potgieter is also praised for his great foot technique, and hand to feet combos. He has been using the “slide technique” since his second year of drumming, for playing very fast double strokes with only one foot. This way, he can keep his left foot on the hi-hat pedal, enabling him to play intricate hi-hat patterns with openings and closings while playing some fast single bass drum patterns. Since 2009 he has started learning and using the “heel-toe” technique for faster double bass work.
Another cool thing we can learn from Cobus is his way of using the different drums and cymbals on his set. This is one of his coolest trademarks. No matter what cymbal or drum he plays on, he tries to take from them as many sounds as possible. He uses the bow, bell, and edge for getting sounds from the ride, crashes, and even the hi-hat. He likes to use the rims of the toms and bass drum for added textures, and we have also seen him use his drum rack as an added sound source. So use your imagination and really think outside of the box here.
Stick tricks have also been a big part of Cobus’ playing. You can learn a lot of different stick tricks by browsing YouTube, or by checking out Thomas Lang‘s and Cobus’ drumming. Although both Cobus Potgieter and Thomas Lang love to use stick tricks because of added visual effect and fun factor of course, it’s very important that you don’t hurt your playing by using them. First comes the music and only then the visual effects, always remember that.
Cobus states that although being a fan of sick fills and grooves, and of intense and passionately played music, he has a sweet spot for beautifully sculpted melody. This includes a melodic approach to writing drums, which has always been a big focus of his, musically.
The coolest thing with all of this, is that you can see him exhibit each and every one of the things we have discussed here by watching his drum covers. So watch them, enjoy them, and then take some of his ideas and concepts to your kit and start developing your own voice. Strive for being yourself, there is already 1 Cobus Potgieter on the planet. There is nothing wrong in having 100 more Cobus Potgieters running around and making some noise, but when it comes to anything in life, people will always fancy the original more. So give your own voice a fighting chance, and just get inspired by this great drummer.