“I think we could write a book on serendipity, I think we really can. Just all the way through: how we met, how we came together, the tunes we put out and the ideas that come.”
That’s John Schmidt, a, well, piano guy, who, along with partner Steven Sharp Nelson (a cello guy …), recently visited Billboard’s New York studios. Together the duo forms the backbone of the Piano Guys, a collective from Utah that’s built an audience of more than 1.75 million on YouTube – a bigger following on the platform than Justin Timberlake or Jennifer Lopez.
The Piano Guys’ success on YouTube, which places them in the top 150 among acts with the most-subscribed-to channels on the platform, landed them a deal with Sony Masterworks, through which they’ve released two albums of their unique blend of classical and pop music. “The Piano Guys” debuted No. 44 on the Billboard 200 the week of Oct. 20, 2012, and has sold an impressive 135,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Their second set, “The Piano Guys 2,” began at No. 38 last month and has sold 32,000.
The Piano Guys don’t quite fit the typical pop, rock or hip-hop star persona that frequent the Billboard 200 alongside them. In fact, they’re far from it. The devoted dads say their children are a big inspiration for informing what songs they decide to cover. “Somebody came up with the term ‘cul de sac-cool’ for us,” Schmidt jokes. “We drive up to our shows in tricked-out mini vans. It’s how it kind of works with all these kids.”
Their hybrid sound, and penchant for covering hits by the likes of Adele, David Guetta and Taylor Swift, meanwhile, has helped the act build a broad audience. “When you see our concerts, it’s ageless. It’s so fun to see that diversity in our audience,” Nelson says.
The Piano Guys’ varied following also stems from the wide array of YouTubers with whom they’ve collaborated, both on songs and in videos. True to their personal lives, the practice has elevated them to somewhat of a paternal status in the YouTube community. “There are so many people that are coming to YouTube every day that we don’t need to feel competitive in the music community. We feel like we can share our subscriber bases with each other,” Nelson says. “We had so much fun collaborating with Tyler Ward, Alex Goot, Megan Nicole, Lindsey Stirling. These are people that are self-made musicians, and you can tell that because they’re driven and they have this great intellect about them and they’re very talented.
“That’s why it’s so much fun to work with them.”
Check out our entire exclusive interview with Schmidt and Nelson of the Piano Guys above, as well as their performances of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and Taylor Swift’s “Begin Again.” Plus, browse our exclusive Piano Guys picture gallery here. And, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.