They aren't just making records, they're setting them: biggest-selling download of 2013, the first duo to send their first two singles to No. 1 on the Hot 100. And they've done it all their way

Though they seem an overnight sensation, the two have been working solidly for about eight years, since Lewis friended Macklemore on Myspace. "He recorded a track called 'Welcome to Myspace,' and there wasn't anything like it at the time. No one was writing about meeting women on Myspace or checking your messages over and over again," says Lewis, 25, who was into the early-2000s thrash metal scene that included Skrillex's band From First to Last. According to Macklemore, he released the song in 2004 and emailed it to Myspace founder Tom Anderson, who blasted it to his millions of friends on the social network. It was a powerful early lesson in the reach of social media. "I remember opening my email and there were thousands of emails," Macklemore says. "I thought someone had hacked into my computer. At the time, Myspace wasn't at its peak. If he would have done that at its peak, it would have really been insane."

Or perhaps, it would have been similar to the response "Thrift Shop" got when it was released in the fall and went viral, garnering more than 36 million YouTube views so far. "It was very much like a 'Thrift Shop,' in the sense that you pull in certain people with a fun track, and then they delve deeper and realize there's a whole body of other songs that sound like nothing like it," Macklemore says. So far the strategy has worked for the pair, who started with no money, working out of a studio the size of "two freight containers on a boat," Lewis says. "We never had an investor. We found our small-ass place on Craigslist and everything we earn goes back into the business." Their modus operandi: record a mixtape in their studio, offer it as a free download, shoot a video themselves and upload it to YouTube, then pump out remixes of their tracks from other producers.

"We had to make sure those songs had the biggest life expectancy they could, because things were taking so long for us," Macklemore says. "That free mixtape we were supposed to make in two weeks took nine months. That was VS." Songs from the 2009 EP have indeed had a long life-Macklemore and Lewis released a remix of "Otherside" less than a month ago.

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

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