Music News & Reviews

One hit is as important as 1 million to The Piano Guys

The Piano Guys are Al van der Beek, Steven Sharp Nelson, Paul Anderson and Jon Schmidt.
The Piano Guys are Al van der Beek, Steven Sharp Nelson, Paul Anderson and Jon Schmidt.

When The Piano Guys decide to cover a piece of popular music, cellist and songwriter Steven Sharp Nelson said, it has to pass a couple of important tests.

The first is what they call “the Disney test,” which is what they describe as a song that has themes and lyrics fit for all ages.

“If the answer is no, it’s completely ruled out, no questions asked,” he said.

The second test — a crucial part of the formula that has led to The Piano Guys’ success — is what Nelson refers to as the “chills up test.”

“When you listen to the song, does it give you chills up your spine rather than down?” he asked.

The Piano Guys’ specialty certainly appears to have passed more than a few tests for listeners and viewers alike. This quartet of Mormon dads from Utah, comprised of Nelson, pianist and songwriter Jon Schmidt, producer and songwriter Al van der Beek, and videographer and producer Paul Anderson, formed in 2010 and started putting its unique classical spin on pop songs by the likes of Coldplay, Adele, One Direction and Christina Perri, to name a few. They do the same with famous movie themes, classical pieces and hymns, and they write original compositions. The songs are visually presented in the form of music videos that appear to spare no expense toincorporate special effects, incredible landscapes, or how-did-they-get-that-piano-up-there locations.

When we started out, if we got 10,000 hits on a video, we were elated. ... Then if we didn’t get a million views, we were depressed. We wanted to keep focused on the one when somebody connects with the music and the video and it does something for them.

Steven Sharp Nelson, The Piano Guys cellist and songwriter

Whoever has said the music video is dead certainly never told these guys ... or their fans. Do a quick YouTube search for The Piano Guys and skim through their videos. Almost every one cracks the 10 million-view mark, and their most-viewed video — Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” — has been watched more than 77 million times. In August, The Piano Guys achieved a rare internet feat when their cumulative views on YouTube cracked 1 billion.

Nelson said they are grateful to fora distinction but make sure to focus less on views and more on the viewer.

“I think in any industry, and this one in particular, you can get caught up in the numbers,” he said. “When we started out, if we got 10,000 hits on a video, we were elated. ... Then if we didn’t get a million views, we were depressed. We wanted to keep focused on the one when somebody connects with the music and the video and it does something for them.”

Nelson said all four are bonded by their love of both the aural and visual aspects of music. They are all heavily influenced by their faith, and he said the group’s “life mission” is spiritual.

“We wanted to be authentic and be ourselves and simply just emit joy and emit the joy that comes from getting immersed in your passion and just doing what God wants you to do,” he said.

The Piano Guys will soon release their fifth album, “Uncharted,” in October, and Nelson said they are more than halfway through filming music videos at each of the Seven Wonders of the World. When they aren’t recording music, shooting videos or at home with their families, they are hitting the road on tour. They’ll be in Richmond on Saturday to perform at the EKU Center for the Arts .

We wanted to be authentic and be ourselves and simply just emit joy and emit the joy that comes from getting immersed in your passion and just doing what God wants you to do.

Steven Sharp Nelson, The Piano Guys cellist and songwriter

The Piano Guys can’t fully transfer the presentation of their epically staged music videos to smaller theater stages, but Nelson said he his bandmates are just a “bunch of dorks on stage,” trying to bring plenty of energy, crowd engagement and production value to their live shows.

“Some of the best feedback we’ve received is, if you like their videos, you’ll love their live shows,” he said. “I think people are kind of surprised that it’s about an entertainment package than just sort of a music concert.”

The Piano Guys are focused on keeping things fresh both musically and visually so their fans will be engaged. But regardless of how it’s presented, they are just happy to bring a positive alternative to what tends to qualify as popular entertainment.

Nelson said, “We kind of wanted to have a counter message to that and the counter message is find something, pursue excellence, find something you love, and develop yourself and serve others with it.”

If you go

The Piano Guys

When: 7:30 p.m. Sat.

Where: Eastern Kentucky University’s EKU Center for the Arts, 1 Hall Dr., Richmond

Tickets: $45 to $75

Call: 859-622-7469

Online: Ekucenter.com, Thepianoguys.com

  Comments