In 2007, Kurt Hugo Schneider was a Yale math major and chess prodigy who began uploading videos of music mashups he performed with his childhood friend Sam Tsui.
Schneider’s knack for arranging crowd pleasing covers with a twist, like Tsui singing all the parts in a Michael Jackson medley or Schneider playing Pachelbel's Canon on a cell phone, yielded many fans including Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres, who featured the pair on their shows.
Over a decade later, he’s still making music with unexpected objects -- a popular video from last year saw Schneider and singer Kina Grannis covering Alessia Cara and Zedd’s hit "Stay" on a guitar, water glass, water bottle, pen and end table -- and filming highly choreographed, one-take videos.
Over the years, Schneider’s skills as a multiple threat -- singer, musician, arranger, producer, editor -- have caught the attention of big name brands including Coca-Cola, Sprint and Buick, and the self-taught musician recently reached a major milestone, hitting more than 10 million subscribers.
Schneider shared some insight into how he runs his YouTube empire.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get your start with YouTube?
I started uploading music when I was in college. I never really expected that the little videos I was putting up would go so big, but by the time I graduated there were enough people watching my videos and following my YouTube channel that I figured, let me take a shot at this and try to make this work.
How much of your time do you spend on a video and what does that entail?
It really depends on the video. There's often a musical arrangement, recording the backing track and then there is finding singers and recording singers on the track. Then it's coming up with a visual concept and filming the video and editing and some other types of post-production depending on how complicated the video is. Sometimes we really turn that whole process around in just a couple of days. Usually we have multiple videos going on at once and they're all in different stages. So we have one where the audio is completely done but haven't filmed the video yet, or one where it's filmed but needs to be edited and then there is one where the backing track is done, but we need singers. That way you're always busy. There's always multiple projects going on, always things to worry about.
How do you leverage your YouTube channel and to what extent do you monetize it?
It is my full-time job. It's my living and the first way we ever monetized stuff was we made music. If people liked it they could download it or they can listen to it on Spotify or any other streaming platform. So that was our first form of monetization.
We're always trying to find options. We've had some fun videos with brands. We did a few videos with Coca-Cola. The brand videos are always fun to do because basically a large part of my channel has always been making music with things you wouldn't necessarily think of as musical instruments. The Coca-Cola videos we did for example, we're basically making music using Coke bottles, cups filled with different amounts of Coke and things like that, which was a ton of fun. Not only are we obviously very fortunate to work with brands who want to work with us, but there are also genuinely fun projects.
What advice do you have for other people who want to build brands on the platform?
You've got to do something you love because the chance that you're going to blow up and go viral with your first video is probably really small. That certainly didn't happen with me. If you're not doing something you love then you'll give up long before you get a million views coming in. My first videos didn't get a ton of views but that didn't stop me doing it.
What's a misconception many people have about YouTube?
Nowadays there is this sort of celebrity feeling about, oh my God he's a YouTuber, which really wasn't there when we started. No one was making a living on YouTube when I started uploading videos. I'm not even sure the term YouTuber really existed because that wasn't a possibility. But the truth of the matter is that most people who make their living on YouTube work extremely hard to get their "break" on the platform. They are putting in ridiculous hours of work. They probably, at least when they're starting out, were basically doing everything themselves. I had to be the music engineer, arranger, producer, instrumentalists, videographer, editor, colorist and all these things. It forces you to wear a lot of different hats. No one's going to help you but you do learn how to do all these things.
Epic Patty Cake
"An original song were the music is made solely by a clapping routine, with an awesome hand-clapping bridge in the middle. This was sponsored by Canon Inc."