What do you get when you combine a marketing genius, a studio engineer, a pianist and a cellist? The answer is The Piano Guys, “a bunch of ordinary guys” playing classically influenced instrumental music in viral Youtube videos. The band’s music producer Al van der Beek talks divine intervention, ‘the Disney test’, and Cubase.
The Piano Guys is made up of pianist Jon Schmidt, cellist Steven Sharp Nelson, videographer Paul Anderson, and music producer Al van der Beek. How did you all meet?
AV: Paul wanted to start advertising his piano store in more unconventional ways, and YouTube, Facebook and Twitter were barely starting to get people's attention at the time. He thought, ‘maybe if I harness the power of social media, I could sell tonnes of pianos!’ He approached John and said, ‘let's showcase the pianos out in fields or on top of mountains, and together we'll start a channel called The Piano Guys, and we'll sell tonnes of pianos’.
Steve would perform at John's concerts, so that's how they knew each other, and then Steve moved into my neighbourhood, and as a good neighbour, I helped them move in. I noticed a lot of cellos, percussion instruments and guitars, and I said, ‘I'm a musician as well; I have a studio in my home. Let's get together and jam sometime’.
Then Steve, John and I were working on this original song, and John started telling us about Paul and how they're going to film a video to showcase his Yamaha pianos. All four of us got together and filmed this video, put it up on YouTube, and a week later it had a million views.
Fast forward to today and we have seven million YouTube subscribers, almost three billion video views and 10 albums with Sony. We’ve been all over the world, and the irony is we haven't sold one piano! We don't believe in coincidences and happenstance, it's just divine intervention.
The only explanation for it was that God orchestrated all of our lives in a way that when we met, we were all ready and had those skills and could hit the ground running.
The band covers songs by everyone from Ed Sheeran to Coldplay, One Direction, Selena Gomez, to the Jurassic Park theme; how do you pick songs?
AV: One of the benefits of all being dads is that we got lots of kids – we’ve got 16 or 17 kids between the four of us, so a lot of the ideas come from our kids! The most important thing for us is if we're going to cover a tune, we want to make sure it's something that we feel comfortable listening and watching with our kids. We call it the Disney test!