Jimmy Pemberton is a Boston-based artist who’s made his living playing the drums as well as teaching them. He’s already made his mark within the music community, but his newest venture has him working within a world where he’s had to learn everything from the ground up: the world of animation.
Benny Beats is meant to spark an interest in drumming and music in young minds as they follow the adventures of the main character/kid drummer, and his bandmates.
The idea came to Jimmy about four years ago. He had a full schedule on the teaching side of things and was working with drummers between six and 60 years old.
“It seemed like a lot of my educator friends were having trouble teaching really young kids and keeping them inspired,” Pemberton said. “If you ask a seven, eight-year-old kid what their favorite band is, most of the time there’s nothing they can say right away, but they could always say what their favorite cartoon was. You say, ‘hey what’s your favorite TV show?’ They’d have multiple answers.”
Jimmy would use that as a teaching tool with his young students, teaching them how to play the theme songs of their favorite shows. He says it was a great starting point for many of his students.
“Beyond teaching them rudiments and learning how to read and that stuff, the thing that kept the spark alive was them coming in and being excited to learn the SpongeBob theme song,” said Jimmy.
This sparked a thought in Jimmy’s head and he took to the Internet to search for a cartoon that maybe featured a musical kind of hero. But, there was nothing.
“That stuck out to me, and I did a bunch of research on it, because I was like ‘there’s gotta be…there’s no way there’s not a series with a band or a musician,’ and there just wasn’t. That was wild to me.”
Fortunately, Jimmy has friends in high places. He called on his friend, Chris Georgenes, who Jimmy describes as a “fantastic animator,” and also, a drummer. Jimmy shared his idea of creating an animated series that featured a young drummer and his band, and asked Chris if he’d put together some drawings for the concept.
“He was totally game, we did an animation test, where we wanted to see if we could animate the character but on a real set of drums,” said Jimmy. “I started showing it to students and they were for it, but at that point, in my career journey, I didn’t know where to take it. And I didn’t have the money at the time to invest in putting together a full episode or even some shorts, so it really just sat dormant for years.”
Pemberton eventually began working on a startup that he cofounded called Lesson Squad, and was meeting with a lot of venture capitalists for the project. One of those people was interested in other ideas Jimmy had up his sleeve, which is when he shared his idea for Benny Beats, and Jimmy was encouraged to pursue the idea once again.
He reached out to another friend of his, Jeremy Gold, who is an artist manager. The two had collaborated before when it came to music or startups.
“We started making some of these educational shorts and started testing them online, on Instagram and Facebook, and they performed super, super well,” said Jimmy. “And that’s when we realized we had something.”
From that point, Jimmy partnered with Reverb Advisors, run by venture capitalist, Chris Lynch. Lynch was transitioning to become CEO of a company called AtScale, and during that time, brought Larry Aidem of the entertainment world into the picture to assist Jimmy with securing meetings for a development deal. Pemberton and team ended up signing with Studio 71.
Pemberton says Benny Beats’ target audience is between nine and 11, with the idea that even younger kids will be able to watch and get excited about it.
“It’s definitely about exploring life, life lessons, and all the things you learn from playing in a band; everything from communication skills and cultivating friendships and all that type of stuff,” Jimmy said. “What you see online now, with the paradiddle and the double stroke roll, those are really our tests, where we can see if that’ll be able to bring value. That’s kind of the fun part of the process where I’m at now, is finishing writing all of these episodes and getting this figured out, and then the next step will be figuring out its home in terms of distribution–where people will be able to go and watch the episodes.”
Jimmy has years of experience as a teacher, having worked with a range of ages and experience levels. He says the general aim for the teaching style of Benny Beats will be to excite its viewers about learning music, period.
“When I asked the kids what they’re favorite TV show was, they lit up,” Jimmy said. “The hope is that, call it a year or two from now, that a little kid is in a lesson with their teacher, and when that teacher goes, ‘what’s your favorite show,’ they’ll go ‘Benny Beats!’ Or, maybe the goal is a little bit different than that, and the teacher asks, ‘so what made you want to play drums,’ and the kid goes ‘Benny Beats.’ That would be the big win for me, if that happened, if one kid were to walk in and say the reason they started playing was because they saw this Benny Beats character. That would do it for me. Because, if a kid likes Ninja Turtles, they go out in the yard and pretend to be a Ninja Turtle. So, if we can create an awesome cartoon band, hopefully that has that same effect.”
Jimmy says the show will feature a diverse cast of characters who each will play a different instrument in Benny’s band, with Benny as the main character.
“I like the drummer getting their due,” Jimmy said with a laugh. “And I think there’s just something exciting about being a drummer. They’re normally known as the ‘wild one,’ and there’s something about that that I like.”
Pemberton has decided to partner with Mapex for the series. He says he’s always had a close relationship with KHS President, Jerry Goldenson.
“[Jerry] saw what I was doing on social media as I was starting to post about Benny,” Jimmy said. “And he’s been great about reaching out, just asking me about my plans. Then one day we had a big career discussion as far as everything I was doing, Benny and beyond.”
That’s when Jerry asked Pemberton to join the Mapex family.
“Just knowing and admiring all the work that Jerry has done, it wasn’t something that I could pass on,” said Jimmy. “Also, on the support side of it, they’ve just started to post about the relationship with Benny, and you’ll see those shorts now, where we’ve put a Mapex kit in there, so they’re using that to stir up excitement with their audience, first, with the long-term plan to have Benny Beats become part of their outreach towards a younger audience.”
When Jimmy was a teenager he worked at DiCenso’s Drum Shop in Weymouth, Massachusetts. “I always felt, even in drum retail, that the youth market, not that it was fully neglected, but that no one was fully speaking to it in their language,” said Jimmy. “So, I’m excited to hopefully see Benny being used in that way. And that’s Mapex’s intention as well.”
The other company that’s been supportive of Jimmy and of Benny has been Vater.
“When I first showed this to Chad Brandolini [artist relations at Vater] he was like ‘man this is great,’” said Jimmy. “Chad has kids so he got it right away. I had them print out some Benny Beats sticks, that I give out from time to time that are pretty cool. It’s nerdy but it’s fun.”
Pemberton says that he aims to showcase quality gear in the animated series, so to help steer Benny’s audience in the right direction when it comes time to make an investment.
“It’s really important to me, coming from the drum industry side, that the drum industry gets featured in a good way, meaning that these brands are shown, not in a consumerism type of way, but in the way that if a kid, or a kid and their parent is seeing this, they’re guided to actual real music equipment that’s quality. When you see these little animations, Benny is actually holding real Vater sticks. He’s playing on real Mapex drums, and there’s something cool about that. Again, I don’t want to be too consumer-y about it, but if someone’s watching it, I want them to see trustworthy products that they can go get that will hold up.”
It’s true, that Jimmy has put himself outside his comfort zone in creating this show, and as is true with anything one does for the first time, there’s bound to be challenges. For Pemberton, it was the learning curve of getting to know the ins and outs of making a show in general.
“I’ve been on the music industry side of things for so long, so learning about like, what you need to put together to pitch a show…That was fascinating and just super interesting,” he said. “Also, choosing who this should be for–who is the audience, and what do you hope they’ll get from it…what’s the intent? Figuring out all of that was challenging because there’s so many options, but also most rewarding to learn it and narrow it down. Making it more purposeful has been great, but also difficult.”
Anyone who’s ever met Jimmy or has seen him at work can be sure–Benny Beats is bound for success. It’s obvious that Pemberton is deeply invested in what Benny Beats is meant to bring to the youngest generation of drummers. Parents of young musicians, and drummers everywhere should all share in the excitement as we wait for the first episode.