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5 May 2015, 16:57 | Updated: 6 May 2015, 09:03
The Piano Guys are one of the biggest names in the music world. Their YouTube channel has had over half a billion views and some of their videos have been watched over 20 million times. So… how did they do it?
Your videos include mash-ups of songs by Michael Jackson with music by Mozart, covers of One Direction songs and Disney-meets-Vivaldi in an ice cave. How long does it take you to create a video – from coming up with the idea for an arrangement to finally posting the video online?
Each one is different. Sometimes we come up with the video idea before the music, but for the most part the ideas flow after hearing the music. The music can take several days to a month. Once the music is complete, on average, we film, edit and upload the video within a few weeks.
So where do you get your ideas for arrangements from?
We can’t take credit for our ideas. We all believe in God and we’ve found that prayer is our best asset. We seek to put our own egos aside and simply let the music write itself, as inspiration dictates. This takes so much pressure off of us and also unites us so that it’s not about “my idea” or “your idea” — it’s about the right idea, or the best idea. Each song and video could serve as an archetype of this.
A particularly poignant example is our music video 'Peponi,' which started out as arrangement of Coldplay’s 'Paradise,' but quickly became entangled in the dreaded “writer’s block.” A spiritual feeling, a still small voice, more felt than heard, advised us to try an “African approach.” It flowed.
Then just as we were about to film the video we got a call from a contact who kindly offered his helicopter for us to use! We abruptly altered our plans and location, tied a grand piano to that helicopter, said a sincere prayer, and watched it float into the sky. As it ascended one of us elbowed another and quipped, “Well, if it falls maybe we could still have a viral video?” It didn’t! (Phew!) We put that piano on a thousand-foot cliff along with a cello and an amazing singer named Alex Boye and voila…'Peponi,' Swahili for Paradise.
That video is spectacular to look at as well as listen to. How do you choose the amazing settings and stories for your music videos?
It started out naturally since Paul just happens to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Southern Utah. Most of our videos have been filmed there. But we also have our sights set on filming in front of all Seven Wonders of the World! We have two checked off the list – The Great Wall of China and the Christ Statue in Rio. Five to go!
So many of your videos have gone viral – what’s the most important ingredient in creating a viral video?
If we knew the secret to that, all of our videos would be viral! We have found some success in striving to always be original – pushing ourselves to do something no one has ever done before. When we cover other artists’ tunes, we ensure that we do it in an original way. In every piece of and music and video we strive to push the boundaries of creativity. We never want it to be “just another video.” That way it stays enjoyable and fresh for us and our audience. We like to stay predictably unpredictable, but always authentic, not straying too far from the elements our audience has identified as things they like about what we do.
You may have started off simply uploading videos to YouTube but now you're signed to Sony and can sell-out arenas. How do you make the move from YouTube to mainstream?
We feel blessed to have been in the right place at the right time – on YouTube during its inception – when sharing videos on social media was fresh and even trendy. We were also doing something that people had really never seen before. Our music videos somehow caught the attention of Shelley Ross, an executive producer of Good Morning America, who then showed them to her husband, former record-executive, David Simone. He offered to manage us.
We were reticent at first, but we could tell right from the start that he was wise and could do so much with our music and videos that we could not. In no time, it seemed, we had signed with Sony and released multiple albums that have since gone platinum worldwide. We are so grateful to have a manager with such experience and knowledge, but more than that, he and Shelley have become family to us.
What’s your one piece of advice for a classical musician hoping to be noticed on YouTube?
Find an authentic, unique way to connect to a niche audience, then crank out consistent, quality content. Listen to your audience’s feedback, but always stay true to your passion and it’s only a matter of time before you will have a following!
You must be so busy now – how often do you practise together?
We get most of our practice time during sound-check before a show and on the set of filming a video. The rest of the time we are managing the business, writing new material, executing marketing strategies, editing or conceptualizing videos, or best of all, spending time with our families. We have 16 kids between the four of us! We love spending time with our families and place it as our first priority. We draw our joy and inspiration from them. We’ve had to learn to be very efficient with whatever time we have with each other.
Is there much crossover between your digital fans and the people who come to see your shows? Or is it more like having two sets of fans?
When we announce a show on our social networks we see a significant spike in ticket sales. We know they are a big part of our live concert support. But we also often see newcomers at our shows that find us via other means and are curious.
We are family guys first and foremost. We write music and create videos that we hope our own families will enjoy. Perhaps that’s why so many families come together to our concerts! The best sound in our concerts isn’t the music – it’s a child’s giggle. We pull out all the stops to get them. As a result, we hope there’s something for just about everyone in our live shows, regardless of age, creed, gender, or even musical tastes.
See The Piano Guys on tour in the UK 9-13 June in Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and London.