Two young men’s covers of hit songs posted on YouTube have made them celebrities of the Internet age. Faisal Asyraf gets to chat
CHILDHOOD friends Sam Tsui and Kurt Schneider reached their first one million views on YouTube in 2009 after uploading a cover medley of Michael Jackson’s hits. To date, it has garnered 32 million views.
The duo then collaborated in covering other songs, from artistes like Christina Perri, Jason Derulo, Imagine Dragons, Avicii and Demi Lovato. The highest views they have received so far is for the cover song of Nelly’s Just A Dream, with a whopping 81.6 million views.
The latest video of Let It Go/Let Her Go (Frozen/Passenger Mash Up) garnered over 11 million views on YouTube. And in total, they hit over 905 million views, turning them into one of the few YouTube megastars on the planet.
“When we were starting out, we were still in high school. We had no idea that we would come this far. We figured putting up our rendition of the songs on YouTube was cool,” says Kurt, who has gone on to produce videos for other YouTube singers like Alex Goot, Chester See, Dave Days, Max Schneider, Megan Nicole and Tifany Alvord. The pair have appeared on popular talk shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Ellen Degeneres Show.
Encouraged by the tremendous support, Sam released his debut album The Covers (produced by Kurt) in 2010, featuring hits from Michael Jackson, Journey, Beyonce and Jason Mraz.
Sam’s first full-length feature album Make It Up (also produced by Kurt) was released last year. The album, in which they did everything by themselves, also featured another YouTube sensation, Lindsey Stirling, who sang Heads Up and a duet Bring Me The Night with American songstress Kina Grannis. She has over 675 million total views.
“It’s really an exciting time to be able to put out an album without having a recording label as we get that freedom to do whatever. There are no restriction in terms of our brand and our music direction. And more importantly, the marketing cost is almost zero as we utilise the power of social media,” says Sam, who is proud that his album has entered the iTunes pop chart.
The talented duo, both 25, performed at KL Live recently as part of their Asia Tour of Manila, Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Taipei. Their show in KL was organised by Livescape Asia.
Below, Sam and Kurt talk about their youtube career.
You hit your first one million views on YouTube with a Michael Jackson cover. What did it feel like?
Kurt: We were still in school back then. I initially arranged it for our a cappella group in school. I really love the arrangement. Sam is an incredible singer. We made a really cool video where, thanks to technology, we “cloned” a lot of Sam, and combined the layers into a video, and it became a one-man a cappella. It turned out great!
Kurt, you’re a producer and you work with a lot of other singers too, but you are more popularly known for your collaboration with Sam.
Kurt: Since the beginning, it was only just the two of us putting up the music. So I suppose people remember that part of the journey more. I’m happy with that.
What is it like working with each other?
Sam: We are really comfortable with each other, and I like how both of us respect each other’s musical tastes. Kurt is an incredible musician, and I wouldn’t have made it this far without his expertise in producing music and videos. I trusted his vision a lot.
Kurt: We grew up together, so we know each other inside out, making our cooperation easier.
Sam, how would you describe your own voice?
Sam: I come from a musical theatre background. I did a lot of choir singing which places a lot of focus on the techniques and clarity. And it is something that I continue doing until now.
Do you have plans to enter singing competitions?
Sam: Those singing competitions you see on TV are awesome because they give you a lot of immediate exposure, but it comes with a risk whereby you will give out a lot of control to other people. One of the great things about being on YouTube is that you have that certain kind of freedom over your music and what you are doing. We are happy with what we have done.
Some fans commented that you guys use auto-tune in your videos, putting Sam’s voice quality in question. What’s your comment on that?
Kurt: To me, the Internet is an open platform for people to say anything. As for that accusation, fans can judge from our live performances.
Of all your works, which one is your most favourite cover?
Sam: There’s a song called Cups, we sing and at the same time play the background music by hitting the cups on the table. It was really a fun thing to do.
How did the collaboration with Lindsey Stirling start?
Sam: The YouTube community is pretty tight. There aren’t many who really do this super-seriously. So usually we would reach out to one another. We knew Lindsey through a collaboration she did with Kurt.
Kurt: She’s an awesome musician. We had a track that we thought would sound cool with violin in it, and the first person who came to mind was her.
Both of you are well-established artistes (following Sam’s first full feature album). Some fans are wondering to what extent would you continue to do cover songs?
Kurt: We just love doing what we think is fun. If we have a notion that it’s going to be fun and cool, you’d be sure that we would do it. But certainly we are going to add in our songs to the mix.
Is this your first time in Malaysia?
Sam: That’s right. We have a lot of loyal fans from Malaysia who have been very supportive of us from the beginning. They tweeted us to come over.
Kurt: We had no clue what the country is like. So we figured that this would be a great opportunity to come and visit, and meet our fans here.
What can your fans expect from you in the future?
Sam: We’re currently working on producing our original tunes. Hopefully, we will be able to compile and release them soon.