How The Piano Guys Gained More Than 4 Million Subscribers on YouTube

If you haven’t heard of The Piano Guys, you have now…and you will be more and more. Their spectacularly visual and inspiringly musical videos on YouTube have been viewed over half a billion times. They have more than 4.3 million subscribers on the video platform. The Piano Guys are Jon Schmidt and Steven Sharp Nelson, along with their producer and cinematographer, Paul Anderson and Al van der Beek.

So how did these self-proclaimed geeky dads gain a following that would be the envy of most any business owner, celebrity, or author? In an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, one of the members said:

You have to do something different that people haven’t seen before in order for them to want to share it.

So, here’s what The Piano Guys do:

  • They shoot musical travelogue videos around the world in exotic places
  • They once hoisted a piano on top of a thousand foot cliff in Utah
  • They have played at a massive waterfall in Brazil and on the Great Wall of China
  • They use their incredible gifts, talents, and skills in unique ways

All four of The Piano Guys understand that it can all be taken away as quickly as it came. But they were still willing to take a special risk when a big record label came calling. They said no to Sony Records six or seven times. They didn’t want to sign a contract at the expense of their personal lives. They insisted on working tours around their families.

But they were doing something different that people hadn’t seen before. Because they did that, they were wildly popular. That’s what put them in the position to be able to do things the way they wanted, to make demands that centered on their families, and carry out the kind of lifestyle that’s both comfortable and profitable.

What are you trying to do? Are you trying to build a platform for your writing? Trying to build a business? Trying to create your own, specialized kind of art? Maybe even trying to grow a ministry? Here’s what you can learn from The Piano Guys:

  • Do something different, even if it’s slightly different from what someone else is doing
  • Find a niche that’s an inch wide and mile deep
  • Don’t be afraid to ask people to “share” on social media what you’re doing
  • Be bold, outlandish, and honest

Live! (Deluxe Edition) (CD/DVD) is the latest offering from The Piano Guys, and it comes with a CD from their sold out concert at Carnegie Hall and a DVD of their concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater. It includes as tracks as diverse as “Let it Go,” “Beethoven’s 5 Secrets,” and “Rockelbel’s Canon.” Check out their art and see if it inspires you in your art.

What lessons do you learn from The Piano Guys?

10 Christmas Carols I’d Be Glad to Never Hear Again

The 24 Hour Christmas stations have already been going a couple of weeks. Christmas specials are on every night of the week. Christmas songs are playing in the stores.

It didn’t take me long to remember once again that there are certain Christmas songs and carols that I don’t ever have to hear again. If these songs would go away never to be played on a radio station or in a shopping mall again, my Christmas would be so much merrier.

  1. Any Christmas song sung by Elvis (Enough said)
  2. Silent Night (Yep. I know. Sacrilege.)
  3. Jingle Bell Rock (Any version; Jingle Bells is bad enough)
  4. Little Drummer Boy (Too much prrrrrumming)
  5. Santa Baby (What?)
  6. Sleigh Ride (Friends are calling “yoo hoo”?)
  7. The Twelve Days of Christmas (AAAAARRRRGGHHHH!)
  8. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (Really?)
  9. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (I wish it would all melt)
  10. Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer (I hope this song does)

Please don’t consider me a grinch. I just want a Christmas season that’s filled with classier Christmas joy.

Which Christmas song or carol would you, given the chance, wipe off the face of the earth? Go ahead. Tell me. You’ll feel much better.

What I Learned Waiting in Line 16 Hours for a U2 Concert

The alarm went off at 4:00…….a.m. Four of us jumped out of our beds, brushed our teeth, and ran through the lobby of the hotel to catch a cab. We arrived at Soldier Field by 4:45 a.m. There were already 181 people in line ahead of us.

Thus began the sixteen hour wait to see U2 in concert as close as is humanly possible. One learns a great deal about oneself, and about society in general, waiting in line, being herded like cattle, and feeling the exhilaration of the opening strains of a concert for which you have waited all day.

Here are just a few of the things I learned:

  • There is always someone more fanatical than you. You think we were crazy to get up at 4 a.m. to get in line? The people at the front of the line had already been there for two days. Others got there at 1 a.m. There are fans, and then there are fanatics. U2 has apparently delivered a product that creates fanatics. What would it take for your product or service to have no holds barred fanatics?
  • Self-policing only goes so far. At U2 concerts, those in the front of the line are the self-proclaimed line keepers. As early arrivers get to the line they must check in and have a number written with sharpie on their wrist. Everyone readily accepts their place in line and stays there all day. That is, until the time when the line is finally let loose and the cattle make their way down the tunnel to get onto the field for the concert. Then the entire system breaks down. It’s a free-for-all-every-man-and-woman-for-him-or-herself. If you want order in your life or organization, there must always be accountability…right up to the very end.
  • Someone will always try to scam the system. Toward the end of the day, just as we were finally getting ready to head into the stadium, two interlopers came and tried to crash the line. They wrote fake numbers on their wrists and attempted to slip in without notice. This is where the self-policing aspect of the line became very interesting. Those who had been waiting all day noticed these two rogues and from one end to the other saw to it that they were not welcome in the front of the line. Fair is fair. Sometimes it takes hard work, discomfort, and long days to achieve a goal. Those who cheat the system are cheating themselves…and making life more difficult for others. Don’t be one of those people.
  • Uncomfortable situations are made easier with family and friends. Throughout this day of waiting I was accompanied by my wife, our son, and my best friend. We provided company for one another, shared our discomfort, held the place in line for those taking a bathroom break or going to get food for lunch, and, in the end, shared the joy of finding the perfect place for the concert. When life gets uncomfortable, make sure you lean on those you love. They will be happy to support you.

  • I’m getting too old for this. A day spent in this manner takes a great deal of fortitude and patience. It was hot, uncomfortable, and tiring. At the end of the concert we sprinted to find water to drink. It may be the last time I ever attend a concert in this way. Next time I’d like a seat with my name on it. I’ll let the younger folks spend their day waiting.
That’s not to say it wasn’t worth it. As the concert began I looked at my arm and it was filled with goose bumps. The sheer joy on the faces around me as I caught glimpses of them throughout the concert were almost worth the price of admission themselves. And, I don’t care what you say, U2 puts on the best show of any band out there. If you like them at all, you must, at least once, experience them in concert with a General Admission ticket, inside the circle, within arms reach of Bono.
Who or what would you wait 16 hours to see?

Ten Great Sounds of Christmas

Every year at this time I go down to the basement and dig out our great collection of Christmas CD’s. The All-Christmas radio stations play the same ten songs over and over again. I wonder why they can’t update their collection. Oh, well…maybe next year.

In the mean time, I’m beginning to play what I consider to be the great music of Christmas. Some of it is new and different. Some of it is old and traditional. But it all puts me in the Christmas mood and expresses the true meaning of Christmas…not what TV and movies say is the true meaning of Christmas, but what St. Luke Chapter 2 says is the true meaning of Christmas.

In no particular order, here are my ten favorite Christmas CD’s, and why I love them:

  1. Amy Grant: A Christmas Album I’ve had this one for a long, long time. It came out in 1983 and is still one of the first CD’s I get out. My favorite cut is the Michael W. Smith penned “Emmanuel.” But “Tennessee Christmas” has new meaning now that we have son who goes to school in Tennessee.
  2. God With Us: A Celebration of Christmas Carols and Classics I can’t help but get excited for Christmas when the first cut of this CD comes on: “Joy to the World” by Anointed. For my money, it’s the best version of the old carol I have ever heard. The rest of the compilation has other great versions of favorite carols.
  3. Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration Quincy Jones’ updated version of the Messiah. Enough said.
  4. Christmas at Trinity My uncle recently retired as the Cantor at Trinity Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. Back in 1992 he recorded “Christmas at Trinity,” featuring the world renowned Trinity Choir and the Rosales organ that my uncle had installed during his tenure. The music is simply sacred and truly transports one to the glory of the Christmas story. Perfect music for very late on Christmas Eve.
  5. Crystal Lewis: Holiday! Crystal Lewis has a distinct voice that drives these holiday classics with a swing that’s contageous. The disc makes you feel like you’re listening to old time radio, but still has an updated feel.
  6. Gloria This is another compilation album with a variety of artists like Charlie Peacock, Michael W. Smith, Christine Dente, and Ginny Owens. “Sing Gloria” starts off the album with a shout!
  7. A Charlie Brown Christmas: Vince Guaraldi Trio What top ten Christmas music list would be complete without this one? When we’re eating dinner after church on Christmas Eve, this is the CD that is playing. Christmas Time Is Here!
  8. Our Christmas This compilation CD concludes with the incomparable Roberta Flack singing a creative and lilting version of “What Child Is This” that makes leaves one wanting more.
  9. Downhere: How Many Kings Debuting in 2009, this CD is already at the top of our Christmas listening list. It includes an original called “How Many Kings” that reminds us just what kind of sacrifice it was that Jesus made by “becoming flesh” and “dwelling amongst us.”  It also includes a wonderfully raucous version of “Good King Wenceslas.” Why All-Christmas Radio doesn’t pick up songs off of CD’s like this, I’ll never know.
  10. City on a Hill: It’s Christmas Time This CD came out in 2002, and its music has accompanied our gift opening on Christmas morning every year since then. It isn’t truly Christmas anymore unless we hear the beautiful bells that begin the first cut on the CD: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” With that, our morning celebration begins, gifts are opened, and we continue our Christmas celebration with Christmas morning worship.

I hope you might find something in this list that you like. What Christmas music is part of your tradition?