YouTube's Most-Followed Band: How Boyce Avenue Outdid Beyonce & Won the Internet

On a corner in Midtown Mahattan, Alejandro Manzano, 27, waits patiently for his time in front of the camera. It's a familiar spot for Alejandro, who, with his brothers Daniel, 32, and Fabian, 29, sings covers of hits on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as originals, on YouTube under the name Boyce Avenue. They've achieved all the hallmarks of major pop stars: sold-out European tours, studio time with top hitmakers, morning TV bookings - and more than $4 million in revenue last year.

Everything except mass face recognition. "What are you, in a band or something?" a passerby asks Alejandro. Well, yes. One soon to appear on Good Morning America to more than 5.4 million viewers, though Boyce Avenue performs for a larger audience on a weekly basis. The trio is YouTube's most-followed band, with 5.6 million subscribers, more than Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj.

YouTube has served as a farm team for the majors for years, producing hits (Justin Bieber) and misses (Karmin). But Boyce Avenue is different. The group signed with Republic in 2010, and backed out of its deal in 2011, concerned that the major-label system moved too slowly to serve its fans. For the same reason, Boyce Avenue has resisted monetizing its YouTube channel, reasoning that ads depress traffic and search results, which drive sales of tickets, music and merch.

"We operate as a traditional music business entity where we sell records and tour - we just happen to use YouTube as a distributor," says Boyce Avenue manager Jonathan Pardo. The group has sold 2.5 million tracks and 175,000 albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The Manzano brothers recorded their first YouTube cover in their parents' Sarasota, Fla., garage in 2007. They've benefited as YouTube has become the dominant place for teenagers to discover music (according to a 2012 Nielsen study). But as YouTube increasingly collides with the mainstream, the group is left in a strange position: The band earned enough money to build its own studio, and enough of a following to land an April 29 Good Morning America booking, but are still better-known for singing other people's songs than its own. And though the act is hoping to change that with the April 22 release of the EP "No Limits," featuring seven original tracks, Boyce Avenue has yet to crack radio.

While in New York the group worked on more original music with Espionage, the Norweigian duo best-known for co-writing Beyonce's "Irreplaceable" and co-writing and -producing Train's "Hey, Soul Sister." "We've been doing it on our own for so many years, we have our own studio, we produce all of our own music up until now," says Alejandro. "To finally work with producers that have worked with some of our idols and to have them say, 'You guys know what you're doing,' that's really cool."

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