A One Direction song is a big hit on YouTube these days. But the players are not the Brit boy-band darlings. Rather, the YouTube sensations are seasoned musicians from Salt Lake City.
On the video, Jon Schmidt and Steven Sharp Nelson lead their group, The Piano Guys, through "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction. They performed the pop tune as a five-man/one-piano piece with the instrument being plucked, tapped and, yes, played conventionally as well, fingertips to keys. The quintet creates not only a great visual treat but also captures a catchy rhythm-driven instrumental cover of the tune.
Pianist Schmidt and cellist Nelson have been playing shows together for about 10 years. They play another on Saturday, Aug. 11, at Wolf Mountain -- Schmidt's seventh for the series over the years. But they arrive in Ogden Valley with a new bag of tricks -- a YouTube video channel that is spreading their music far and wide.
Just over a year ago, with the help of fellow videographers/musicians Paul Anderson, Al Van Der Beek and Tel Stewart, the group began making high-quality music videos of popular music mash-ups, as well as original music. Their first was "Michael Meets Mozart" last May, celebrating both the music of Jackson and Wolfgang, respectively. They started releasing regularly after that, building their audience steadily.
"What Makes You Beautiful" launched on July 20, and it has gathered more than 500 million views since.
"It's a One Direction song -- by five middle-age men desperately hanging onto our hairline," said Nelson. "It is difficult for us to get a fan base of teeny-boppers -- so we did it in a way with a creative twist to it."
The five-man music team was working on another shoot when the idea for the "What Makes You Beautiful" sputtered to life.
Both Nelson and Schmidt said the song came when the musicians, bored with waiting for some technical slowdown in production, started fooling with the piano on the set.
"We all started messing around, plucking and tapping," said Schmidt. "Before long, we had a great concept. It was totally impromptu."
Nelson said, "We lost all idea of productivity that morning, but a new idea for another video was born."
The piano has been used in unconventional ways in avant-garde music, but not often in pop circles -- which added to the charm of using the well-known pop ditty.
"I think what we were going after is to make it a cool song, less gimmicky, and getting more traction with it," said Nelson.
The goal now for The Piano Guys is to post one or two polished videos a month. Subscribers, which now number more than 700,000 on YouTube, are notified when new material posts. Those numbers translate into dollars.
"Our primary source of revenue is song sales and iTune sales," said Nelson. "We need to keep new things coming to keep growing, and to keep the fans interested. We did this on their shoulders, and we are grateful to them."
Nelson and Schmidt and the guys will keep their ears open and their ideas fresh in creating new, high-quality videos.
"We are always trying to watch for popular tunes," said Schmidt. "But the most important thing is, we have to have a real liking, or inspiration of some kind, to do a tune."
Schmidt and Nelson both express appreciation for the timing on this project, so far as the impact YouTube has on their reach.
"It is a great place to break into and grab a foothold," said Schmidt. "We see that as a huge opportunity. Ten, 20 years from now, people trying to break into YouTube won't have the opportunity we did. We hit it at a great time."