Utah's 'Piano Guys' tell their story of musical success

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SALT LAKE CITY — By now, almost everyone in Utah who spends a little time on the Internet has spent a little time watching The Piano Guys on YouTube, those five fellows who get together to make music and put pianos and cellos in some downright crazy locations.

But how did all these folks get their start? How did they all come together to become the YouTube behemoth that they are now, touting over 211 million views on their channel?

The answer is essentially love of music, love of adventure and love for each other.

"If you took a cross section of me, I think you'd find that I'm mostly music," said cello player Steven Sharp Nelson said.

The beginnings of the group were formed when Jon Schmidt, a piano player, met Paul Anderson, a piano dealer in St. George. Anderson would provide pianos for Schmidt to perform and practice on during performances in the area.

"That was the start of something amazing," Schmidt said.

At the same, Anderson was pondering the possibilities of social media and especially how YouTube could help his piano business. It was then that he created the website ThePianoGuys.com.


Anderson saw a video that Schmidt and Nelson had made and was very impressed with the music. They made a couple videos, but they didn't immediately do well.

That is, until they involved Nelson, a virtuoso player who is not only entertaining to listen to, but also a vivacious performer.

The three, along with store employee and film student Tel Stewart started making more videos to be posted to YouTube.

They also reached out to music producer Al Van Der Beek, who was a friend of Nelson's that lived down the street and shared and LDS ward.

After initial small successes, they put together "Michael Meets Mozart," a mashup of Michael Jackson and Wolfgang Mozart that quickly went viral, no doubt thanks to the fact that the video was featured on the home page of YouTube after winning a contest.

Their views soared from a mere 5,000 to millions in a very short time.

The formula of classical coming together with pop has informed their videos and music ever since, but they all agree that the music comes first.

"One of the things that we've always tried to do with the video is to compliment it, to make sure we're not taking away from the music," Anderson said.


"I love how music can help you feel the spirit," Van Der Beek said. "I love how music can make you cry."

One question that often gets asked is why they are called the piano guys when there's only one piano. But they have an answer.

"I get a little flack," Nelson said. "We're called The Piano Guys but, 'Hey you're not a piano guy, you're a cello guy,'" Nelson said. "The more exciting part of the story is that we've been doing our genealogical research, and we've found that the cello and the piano do share a common ancestor: The tree."

The Piano Guys are now able to make their videos full-time, and they've all quit their other jobs to make that happen. So you can expect a lot more from them, in the future, in addition to their newly-released album.

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