This spring, the internet was gleefully stunned by the drum stylings of Yoyoka Soma, an 8-year-old girl from Japan whose size suggests she could comfortably cradle herself inside her kick drum if she preferred hide-and-go-seek to rock ‘n’ roll. In a viral video, Soma flawlessly traverses the pounding nuances of her favorite song, the Led Zeppelin classic “Good Times, Bad Times.” Knocking the cowbell centerpiece metronomically and grinning widely, the adorably bobbed Soma miraculously mimics the drum track laid 50 years ago by John Bonham, the burly, beer-swigging Brit who’s considered one of the greatest rock drummers of all time. Upon seeing the video — which has garnered well over three million views — Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant marveled at her talent, saying, “That’s a technically really difficult thing to do.” Speaking on behalf of his departed drummer, Plant added, “I think he’d be amazed.”
Soma’s clip is just one of thousands of videos submitted from around the world over the past seven years to the Hit Like a Girl contest, an amateur female drumming competition designed to inspire female empowerment and spark a rebound in the struggling musical instrument industry. Contestants create a user profile on the Hit Like a Girl website, then upload an approximately three-minute performance video to YouTube. There are several categories — straight drum-set performance, concert percussion, marching percussion, and others — and separate contests for adults and girls under 18. A panel of industry executives and esteemed female drummers serve as judges, with the results of public votes also considered. Scholarships to performing arts programs, free gear, and other prizes supplied by more than 60 sponsors are up for grabs.
“We have girls from as young as 7 to women as old as 70 that participated in the contest this year,” says Hit Like a Girl co-founder David Levine, who owns the cymbal manufacturer TRX Cymbals. Levine adds that more than 50 countries and a wide variety of musical genres were represented among this year’s 500-plus contestants — an all-time high. He says he hears gratitude for the existence of Hit Like a Girl from participants and others just learning about it “pretty much every day.”
The idea sprung out of a chat Levine had with Mindy Abovitz Monk, a drummer who founded Tom Tom Magazine, which strictly covers female percussionists. Abovitz Monk contacted Levine about advertising, and the conversation morphed into a brainstorming session about how to expand the underrepresented and underserved female drumming market. “I just kind of threw out, ‘Why don’t you do a contest?'” Levine says.
Abovitz Monk put her weight behind Hit Like a Girl so she could “have more help creating a hype machine around girls and women drummers globally.” Levine says he hoped the contest would provide a boost to the musical instrument retail industry, which has been floundering of late. (Analog drum kits alone saw a 50 percent decline in the number of units sold between 2004 and 2014, according to a study by the National Association of Music Merchants.) The pair also engaged Phil Hood, the publisher of DRUM! magazine, to help organize and promote Hit Like a Girl.
“Although women make up 50 percent of the population, they’re less than 10 percent of drummers,” Levine says. “So we thought it was a tremendous opportunity.” (A 2013 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that women make up only 26.9 percent of professional musicians, singers, and related workers; a University of Iowa study confirms that women are an even lower percentage of drummers.)
Levine works to promote the contest year round, including organizing appearances by winners and contestants at events like this past summer’s GearFest, a musical instrument and gear trade show in Indiana, and November’s Percussive Arts Society’s International Convention, which typically attracts more than 55,000 attendees. He’s also preparing to host a U.S. tour of the winners of this year’s inaugural Hit Like a Girl China contest, which drew 750 competitors. Entries for the 2019 U.S. version of the contest open this fall.
Over the past seven installments of Hit Like a Girl, Levine says participation has steadily increased, and Soma’s clip this year was the most-viewed video yet. Soma began playing drums at age 2 in part because her parents are musicians — they started their own family band, with Soma manning the drums and her brother on keys. She wrote in an email interview that she loves playing the drums because “It rocks!” and practices two hours each day so she can consistently “take care of the groove.”
Soma was surprised when her Hit Like a Girl submission, filmed by her father in their home, went viral, adding that she thought she was in a dream. She hopes to one day tour the world as a drummer, and she says that the Hit Like a Girl contest, which she heard about from a friend, gave her added confidence and the ability to be exposed to other drummers across the globe.