YouTube stars stay indie

They are known for their wildly popular YouTube music videos, which average at least a few hundred thousand views each.

But unlike Canadian pop star Justin Bieber or Filipino singer Charice Pempengco, both of whom rose to fame through the video-sharing website and later signed on with music recording companies, American duo Sam Tsui and Kurt Hugo Schneider are adamant about staying indie.

"The great thing about working with YouTube is that it democratises the way in which people get their content," said video editor and musician Schneider, 25, in a recent interview. "Artists who sign on with record labels don't have a choice about what music executives tell them to do, but with YouTube, you are able to pull out the exact content you want."

The pair, who have been collaborating on videos since high school when they lived just a street away from each other in Pennsylvania, will be performing here for the first time at the Kallang Theatre on Sept 12.

They are also performing in Hong Kong on Sept 15 as part of their Asia tour.

They first garnered media attention with a Michael Jackson medley video that Schneider arranged and produced and which Tsui performed in.

The four-minute video has drawn more than 30 million views since it was uploaded in 2009, when both were attending Yale University.

Since then, they have made appear- ances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Ellen Degeneres Show in 2010, and have become popular for performing Bruno Mars medleys, Lady Gaga tributes and original songs.

Now based in Los Angeles after graduation, the pair say that their parents are supportive of their music careers.

Tsui, 24, who majored in classical Greek at Yale, said: "We started this when we were in school, so by the time we moved out to LA, we could prove to them that we've already achieved some measure of success."

His father, an insurance agent, is from Hong Kong, while his mother is American and teaches music in a high school.

With more than 3 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, would Schneider consider taking up YouTube's pay- per-view option for its subscription channels?

"For now, I just love the fact that a YouTube video is available for viewing to anyone and there are so many ways in which fans can support us," said Schneider, a mathematics major.

His father is a real estate agent and his mother is a painter.

Indeed, a substantial part of their income comes from their songs, which are released digitally through iTunes or independent record labels.

Tsui's original debut album, Make It Up, was also released in May after the duo completed a successful Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign last year. They raised over US$60,000 (S$77,000) in just one month to produce the album.

Tsui said: "Doing this through Kickstarter allowed us to have all the creative freedom that we wanted, and we are lucky that we have fans who supported what we were doing."

But he is also aware of the challenges ahead. "We are living in a time when the entertainment industry is changing so much and so quickly, and who can predict what its trajectory is going to be like in 10 years' time?"

The pair are clearly not resting on their laurels in a crowded online market. They are producing a film based on their successful YouTube web series College Musical (2009), a parody of the High School Musical series. In addition, the duo are starting their own Web store selling CDs and merchandise.

Tsui said: "We happen to be on the right side of the times now, but there are a million videos being uploaded every day and the challenge is to be consistent and keep putting out stuff that will make people fall in love with what you are doing."

Book it


Where: Kallang Theatre

When: Sept 12, 8pm

Admission: $58, $78 and $108 (includes entry to a meet and greet session) from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

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