TOWAMENCIN — Surrounded by the sound of instruments being played in an elementary school band room was current North Penn senior Ben Heck. Approaching him was his 6th-grade band director who asked if he could learn how to play the drums for their jazz band.
“And so I did. I learned the drum set and I played that season with about two months of experience, prior to when the season started, and I really enjoyed it. It was fun to hang out with those people outside of school and it was fun to play music with them,” Heck said.
Heck’s music career began in kindergarten where he took private piano lessons. At the time, he was given opportunities to experience what it was like to perform in front of others.
“When I was a kid, I was fortunate because my piano instructor’s wife worked in a nursing home. He would always bring his students, and we would play for the nursing home residents, so I’ve been performing since I was seven or eight. I’ve always really enjoyed it,” Heck said.
In 4th grade, he joined his elementary school’s band and auditioned to be the pianist for the jazz band. In 6th grade, he learned how to play the drums because there were no drum set players, which prompted his director to approach him in the first place.
Eventually, he joined Pennfield Middle School’s jazz band and played the drums all throughout 7th, 8th, and 9th grade. In 10th grade, he joined the Navy Jazz Band.
“I didn’t really expect to make it because there’s a difference between high school jazz band and middle school jazz band. In middle school, they take as many people as they can while in high school, you really have to be good to get to the top,” Heck said. “I didn’t really have that expectation of making it in 10th grade, but I did, and that was really exciting. That’s when I started turning it into a passion where I started having to practice more and get better.”
He stopped playing the piano in 8th grade to focus more on playing the drums. However, it was just a hobby up until 11th grade where he became more passionate about it.
“It definitely started as a hobby. I was always just kind of messing around. I didn’t have any specified practice sessions where I would sit down and say, ‘this is the skill I’m going to work on.’ It was always just, ‘I’m gonna go have some fun,’” Heck said. “But I started getting more and more into it, and as I played more, I realized that it’s fun, but it would be even more fun if I was really good at it. It became my passion once I realized that this is something I really wanted to be good at. Before that time, I was practicing whenever I felt like it. But once I made it into a passion, I started practicing until I couldn’t feel my hands. It was every second I could get.”
He eventually got back to playing the piano in 11th grade. Despite it being the instrument he played the longest, he still spent more time and dedication on playing the drums than he did with the piano. While the piano isn’t the main instrument he plays, it helped him build foundations as a musician.
“It’s helped me immensely, especially in regards to writing the song. The piano is a visual instrument because you can see each note and that really helped me get to know music theory, all of the scales, and all the different workarounds of everything. I think that really built my foundation,” Heck said.
“I was better at [playing the drums] right off the bat. When I played the piano, I wasn’t very good at reading, so it took me a really long time to learn pieces. But the drums are very simple in the beginning. If you can play a beat to a song, that’s pretty fun. I kind of fell in love with the easy part in the beginning, and I had enough foundations from piano to make it more and more musical and grow faster,” Heck said. “I felt that I was growing faster on drums, so I just kept working and working at it. I guess it partially could be a natural inclination or it could also just be that it’s really fun to hit things.”
When he plays the drums, life begins to slow down and his mind is solely focused on the instrument.
“I always think, ‘I don’t care what happened today. I don’t care what’s going to happen tomorrow. Right now, I’m playing and I think I sound really good, so I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing,’” Heck said.
Heck decided to showcase his skills on YouTube by posting his own content for people to see. He’d always loved watching videos of drummers playing music.
“It was my 15th birthday. I asked my mom for a set of microphones and a Mac. Apple has a free program called GarageBand. You plug your microphones into an interface and GarageBand records it. I started making my own drum covers, and I needed a place to put them, so I just made a YouTube real quick. I wanted to upload it so fast and I couldn’t even think of a name, so I just thought, ‘my name is Ben Heck and I play drums’—Ben Heck Drums. I didn’t think twice about it,” Heck said. “The day after, I go to the marching band practice, and I tell everybody about it and they’re watching it, and I was only in 9th grade, so I was not good in any way at that point. All these juniors and seniors are watching it and they are actually good. They kind of turned it into a joke. I knew that they didn’t think it was good, but they were still hyping me up and making me feel better about myself. They called me Ben Heck Drums. From there, I just kind of built everything around the name, Ben Heck Drums.”
He started his YouTube with the intention of getting YouTube famous. At the time, however, he didn’t understand how much it really took to become a star, but he went at it putting all of his efforts into it and seeing where it would take him.
In his first few videos, Heck didn’t know how to edit, so the sounds weren’t the best they could be. Over time, as he continued posting content, he learned how to edit and how to navigate the programs he used. The YouTube channel that was once taken as a joke was now turning into a professional production.
“Those friends (who once jokingly teased him about it) saw me getting better [at playing the drums and editing videos]. They compared the videos I was putting out to the older ones, and they pointed out the differences because I grew really fast in the production area,” Heck said.
Soon, he came out with an Instagram account called @ben_heck_drums where he posted content on a regular basis. Then, he created a website and even dropped his own merchandise.
“The merch was a joke with my friends, but a lot of people actually bought it. I was surprised at how many people bought my shirts. Over time, it’s really grown from this joke to this is me. I am Ben Heck Drums,” Heck said.
Initially, he posted covers of songs. Heck enjoys listening to progressive metal but knew that he had to release covers of songs that his following, which mostly consisted of his friends, would enjoy and know. He even did a challenge where he posted every single day for 50 days.
“It was hard coming up with something new every single day. It wasn’t, honestly, all my own content, but a lot of them were little snippets of this song here and a little snippet of this song there, and even that was really difficult. Coming up with a different idea every day, even if it’s just like what song am I gonna play today, is tough to do. That’s why it takes so long to make music,” Heck said. “Doing that 50-day thing was kind of an exercise for myself. I did it because I wanted to grow my account. I knew being really active would get me a lot of followers, but at the same time, it’s an exercise of creativity. I wanted to see if I was capable of coming up with 50 different posts over 50 different days.”
Getting a cover ready to post takes multiple steps. At first, he’ll figure out what songs he has been playing to decide what song he will want to practice more.
“I’ll then go more in-depth and think about all the kinds of ideas that I want to put in the drum cover. Once I figure that out and practice it a couple of times, it’s time to record. I have to first set levels, which are individual microphones and how loud they are. Then, I record everything. I usually do three, four, or five takes, and that’s with audio and cameras. I use my phone just because it’s 4k and it’s really nice. Then, I pick the best take, and I put the video on my computer. I edit the sound and that is a lot of EQ and compression, which is taking the sound wave and editing how it comes through. You take out certain frequencies or you boost certain frequencies. Once I get the audio sounding how I want, I put it into Final Cut Pro and I put the video on top of the audio. I make an intro and make an outro, and I posted it,” Heck said.
Getting into the music and entertainment industry is very risky because only the best get noticed. While there is a possibility that things may not go as planned, Heck remains optimistic.
“You could go up on stage, get booed off, and become a nobody for the rest of your life. That was a push for me to really start practicing and getting good. But the other reason was that I knew I wanted to do this, and I really loved it. There’s always a possibility that I might not make it, and I do have a couple of backup careers in mind. Performance is my number one career. I also have been giving private lessons since 10th grade. Right now I have six students, and I’ve really fallen in love with teaching, as well. Teaching, whether it’d be private lessons or as a band director at a high school would be another option, and I could go home and work on my own stuff for my bands and whatever else I’m doing. I could also be an audio engineer because I’ve worked on producing stuff thoroughly at home. I’ve gotten pretty good at that. The idea of not making it and having it all fall apart is very real, which is why I’ve put that effort in and why I have all these backup plans,” Heck said.
Heck started giving private lessons after one of his friends in his drumline asked if he could teach her. Soon, he got more students after other people shared their interest in his private lessons. He gives lessons throughout the week for 30 minutes or an hour. Being involved in various activities including giving and receiving private lessons, as well as being a part of the music department at North Penn, his days can be long and busy, but he deals with one day at a time and plans what the next day will look like.
Recently, Heck released his first single To Enervate. Although the song finally came out in November, the entire project began in 8th grade when his friend Conner Spence played him a song he wrote.
“He went home and he wrote a cute little piano ballad, an 11/8, because the two of us were kind of getting into time signatures at the time. He showed me this scrawl, it looked like something that a chicken just went crazy on with a pencil. He played it for me, and it was really nice and had interesting harmonies. I was just getting into my production stuff and so I went home and I inputted all the notes on my program and I had it play it back to me. I was like this, ‘this could be something.’ I played around and I thought, ‘what if I were to change some things’ because in a computer, it’s really flexible. I put it on a distorted guitar, and it played the thing and I was like, ‘hold on. This could really be something.’ We experimented with it here and there, but it was never something that he and I just sat down and worked on. He would send me an idea and I would be like, ‘that was pretty cool,’ and we would put it. He kind of had the basic riff of the song,” Heck said.
At the beginning of this school year, while he worked on his class assignments, he worked on writing the song on the side. It got to the point where he had a full song written. He decided that, because he was working on his college applications, this would be something that he could submit.
“I figured that I have the song written out, so I’m going to produce it. It’d be a good test of my production skills and it would be a good experience to have for these colleges to hear. I told Connor about it. I wrote most of the song, but I still wanted to give him credit. In Spotify, he’s there as a writer. He’ll get royalties if we do make anything off of it, “ Heck said.
When coming up with the cover art, he didn’t know what to do initially. Heck and Spence had a joke where they said, “the worst we can describe [the song] as, the better it is.”
“I wanted this song to sound like you could equate it to biting down on nails because why not? It’s a really aggressive song,” Heck said. “I went into my garage, I took a nail, and I put it into the vise to clamp it down and bend it. I took another nail that was straight, and I just took two different pictures and switched them out. I used a free picture editing app online and kind of threw it together. It was not at all professional, but I liked the way it came out.”
He decided to call himself Increature because he wanted his name to be something subhuman or something that had a negative connotation to it.
“I already had the song title To Enervate. To enervate is to drain someone mentally. With that kind of meaning for my first song’s title, I wanted my name to be somewhat subhuman. I started with just having it be creature, but there’s a lot of bands out there with that name. I liked creature because it relates to something not human, something less civilized, more barbaric. What something even worse than that is increature, which is something that’s not even a creature or something less than a creature,” Heck said.
Before he graduates, Heck hopes to release more songs and have an album.
“The whole concept of the album is going to be somebody progressing to insanity or to enervate, when they’re fully exhausted. That’s going to be the point of craziness, because To Enervate, I think, is a very complex song. It’s somewhat difficult to listen to for somebody who’s used to a typical pop song. I’m planning on starting out with a very calm opening kind of a ballad. Then the second song is probably going to have some vocals, kind of like introducing, not necessarily character but a concept of stability. The third song is going to be about not being sane anymore and moving to a bad place. The third song is I’m gone. I’m insane. I don’t quite know how I’m going to do that yet, but again, I’m experimenting and figuring out how I’m going to convey those messages to my music,” Heck said.
From being asked by his 6th-grade band director to learn how to play the drums to joining the Navy Jazz band to releasing his latest single, Heck is proud that he’s gotten this far and is excited for what’s next to come.
“Looking back at my old performances, I would tell myself that I sucked. But at the same time, it’s amazing to see how much and how far I’ve come since 6th grade. I know I’m not a superstar right now, but it’s really awesome to know that I’ve put in the work to make that happen,” Heck said.
Ben Heck Drums Website