The Zaragoza guitarist who set the internet ablaze with a cover of ‘Beat It’

Guitar teacher Miguel Rivera achieves global fame after student posts his work on Reddit

Pablo Cantó
Miguel Rivera has earned online fame with his version of 'Beat It'
Miguel Rivera has earned online fame with his version of 'Beat It'

Many of the online comments that guitar teacher Miguel Rivera is getting these days are written in English.

It all started when one of his students decided to upload a recording of Rivera playing a cover version of Michael Jackson’s Beat It on the popular content-sharing website Reddit.

That was on June 22. A week later, the video had already been viewed more than 1,800,000 times and had attracted rave reviews.

The funny thing is, Rivera’s talent has attracted much more of an interest outside Spain than within its borders. Most of the comments are from users in other countries, and foreign media outlets have already written several articles about him.

Miguel Rivera, 34, is a native of Zaragoza who has been teaching guitar in Madrid since 2005. In order to attract students, he started uploading videos of himself on YouTube in November 2010 – that’s why his latest recording looks so professional.

“I started by uploading tutorials, then some of my own material like Oneiric Tales or Hope, which I was intending to use to put together an EP,” he explains. “That EP was also going to include a few cover versions, and the first one is Beat It.

So why choose this particular song by the King of Pop?

“I had never made this particular style of cover, but I looked around on YouTube and couldn’t find a single one that managed the kind of harmonics that I was looking for,” he says. “I am very strict about covers and always force myself to remain very faithful to the original. Otherwise, I just don’t do it.”

And he means that: by the time he was done, Rivera had created a cover song with prolonged harmonics which, as Reddit and YouTube users have pointed out, somehow make it seem like there are several instruments playing at the same time.

There were whole months when nobody would sign up, and now I have new subscribers practically every day”

But before the online community began raving about his work, his own students were already doing so. It was one of them who decided to upload Rivera’s Beat It to Reddit.

“It started scoring really high in the music section, and even made it onto the home page,” he recalls. “And that’s where someone from Guitar World, a specialized publication, saw it...and from there it was everywhere.”

The impact of the video can be measured in more than visits, however.

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“It’s been amazing, I’m still trying to deal with it,” admits Rivera in a telephone conversation. “I’ve been approached about playing in Argentina and Uruguay. I have managed to get in touch with Tommy Emmanuel, who happens to be my idol, and he’s given me advice and passed on some industry contacts. It’s been really incredible.”

His own website has also benefited from all the attention: the subscription option, which provides access to personalized tutorials, is booming. “There were whole months when nobody would sign up, and now I have new subscribers practically every day.”

But Rivera is not planning to rest on his laurels. “I am working on uploading the song’s tablature, and I would like to do that this week because I’ve been asked for it so many times,” he says.

Soon, he also wants to start working on a new cover. What song is he choosing to try to beat his own Beat It? Rivera knows, but he won’t say.

“I want to save the magic right up until the last minute.”

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