YouTuber Kurt Hugo Schneider is a master of self-teaching. He’s a filmmaker, producer and multi-instrumentalist whose music videos have racked up almost 1.7 billion total views on YouTube. But his talent is not just limited to music. He’s also a maths genius with a Yale University degree, and he taught himself to play chess competitively – good enough that he can play several games simultaneously while blindfolded and still win.
What are you working on right now?
A bunch of crazy one-shot video projects! I like being busy and always working, and I try to make six videos every month.
You are successful in music without formal training. How important do you think a music education is for musicians?
I think it’s important to be knowledgeable and know your craft, although you don’t necessarily have to do that through formal lessons. I did take a few classes in college, but I taught myself the piano in high school, then I went on to learn the guitar, bass, and from there to production and recording. It’s really important to always be learning, and the only real way to learn is by doing. I didn’t know at the time that I’d be making a career out of it, it was only in college when I started production and posting videos onto YouTube that music became something to put out to the world as an avenue to make a living.
You love self-learning. What do you think is key to successfully self-learn to become a producer or musician?
I’m very nerdy. I taught myself chess and became a chess master when I was 15, and played for Yale’s chess team.Ultimately it’s motivation. If you take lessons, you get that external force where someone is always pushing you. So when you’re doing it by yourself, you really have to love it. My love of music started with my mum singing songs to me as a kid, and then I sang in a choir as a young boy. My parents also really valued discipline and studying hard.
You did a cover of Charlie Puth’s One Call Away with Mitchell Rose after he sent you a sample of his new single. I bet a lot of people want to collaborate with you. How do you pick who to work with?
I try to listen to a lot of what I receive. As a producer I’m always working with voices. What’s most important is they have talent. It doesn’t matter if they have just started and don’t have any following at all. It also doesn’t matter what kind of voice you have; some singers have more of a rock voice, while others have a lighter voice. It’s great to do something different with each singer. A tip would be to send a link of a video of you doing what you do best. If you’re talented, you’ll stand out.
You’ve been doing music for many years now. Has your creative process gotten a lot faster, or changed in any way?
Definitely. When I first started I was experimenting a lot. Now it’s a lot faster, although sometimes I find myself getting stuck in my own way, falling back on thing I’ve already done. So it’s a struggle to stay fresh, to keep learning and re-imagining things. But it’s very important. For example, I usually have a piano part first, and add percussion around it. So to challenge myself I might do it in a way that I’m less comfortable with, like starting with just a vocal arrangement and then building around that instead, and see what happens.
What new sounds are you experimenting with at the moment?
Oh, man. We’re working on some projects. I have one where all the sounds are being made by dropping things onto wooden planks – the percussion of that sound holds up the entire piece ... It sounds weird describing it like that but I think it’s going to be really cool. I’m always looking for new ways to create sound, and I’ve always been a fan of finding sound and music in objects you don’t consider musical instruments, like cell phone sounds. And I find that very intriguing.
What is something you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t yet?
I’ve got tonnes of crazy video ideas, but I don’t want to give them away! I have a lot of ideas that I’ve sketched in my notebook, I need to find a way to pull them off. They’re things inspired by films, music videos and just by brainstorming with people. OK Go’s music video for Upside Down & Inside Out is really creative, they shot it in zero gravity. So we try to come up with things that are visually cool, that haven’t been seen on YouTube yet that people would want to share.
We had dim sum with Sam Tsui and Kurt Schneider when they were in Hong Kong last time:
What’s the funniest thing that happened to you recently?
When we were in Singapore, we were doing a one-take video in our hotel [with Macy Kate and Ben Kheng from The Sam Willows, for a cover of Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood] , and our goal was to start in the hotel room, then go to the hallways, the elevator, down the stairs, ending up back in the room. I was wonder if we’d get kicked out, and the hotel people really came, saying someone complained - after we got our take!
Which song, artist or album have you been listening to most over the past week?
I’ve been listening to a lot of [Taylor Swift’s] 1989. I love the really catchy songwriting.
What is one thing you would change about about YouTube?
Wow. YouTube has been amazing for us. I just wish it had been around sooner.
If you had unlimited budget for a music video, what would you do?
Ooh, let’s see. A one-take video in outer space!
When did you last play chess?
I think the last time I played competitively was six years ago, in my junior year in college. It’s been a while. I’ve played after that, but it’s not a competitive game, so it’s completely different. I mean, I can play several games of chess simultaneously while blindfolded and win most people if they aren’t competitive players.
Well Young Post has got to challenge you to a game when you come!
Totally! That’d be awesome!