Artists with smarts

Artists with smarts

Leon Lee talks to music duo Sam Tsui and Kurt Hugo Schneider about establishing a healthy work-study balance, and becoming Youtube stars


Sam and Kurt YouTube_L
Photo: Launch PR

Yale University is one of the most prestigious and revered educational institutions in the world. So when you're a student there, there's a certain level of academic expectation to live up to, which doesn't leave much time to spend on "idle" activities such as YouTube.

Unless, that is, you happen to be YouTube celebrities, like musicians Sam Tsui and Kurt Hugo Schneider.

Their story began in the suburb of Blue Bell in Pennsylvania, in the United States. The two met in middle school, taking the same bus to school because they lived down the street from one another.

Their friendship and musical partnership really began to grow in high school, when they were in the choir and took part in musicals together. From there, they both ended up at Yale (something Schneider attributed to fate) and that's where their YouTube career started. But at times, that didn't seem like such a smart decision.

"It definitely wasn't easy, especially as we started taking our videos more and more seriously," a chirpy Tsui tells Young Post over the phone.

"It became a juggling act, for sure, and there were definitely some late nights. We ended up doing a lot of our video and music work in the middle of the night because we had homework and classes during the day, so it took some dedication. But it was worth it, obviously."

The more reserved Schneider adds: "I think there were moments when studies got in the way of music, but we always found a way to work it out."

Indeed they did, as the two 24-year-olds both graduated magna cum laude, the second highest level of honours given to graduates - Tsui in classical Greek and Schneider in mathematics.

Today they're focusing on their music careers, which will bring them to Hong Kong next Sunday for a show at Kitec.

Their two YouTube channels now have a combined total of more than 3.8 million subscribers and 700 million views.

In May, Tsui released his first all-original studio album Make It Up.

"What I enjoy most about making music is connecting with people," Tsui says. "Actually realising that people are responding to [our music] and ... utilising it in their own lives ... that, to me, is the coolest part. Because at the end of the day music is not just about performing, it's about connecting and sharing with, and really impacting, other people's lives."

Schneider helped produce the album, and has also branched out to make music for other musicians. He also directs many of the music videos on the duo's YouTube channels, which are a lot more complex than most cover song videos.

"I think the visuals are just as important as the audio," he says. "One thing we always try to do is not just make something sound great, but also find some creative way to make it look great, too."

While some might think the duo have wasted their degrees, their parents are firmly behind them.

"I think my parents are just happy that I'm supporting myself ... and doing something that I love," says Schneider.

"As long as I'm pursuing something that I truly enjoy and am also paying the bills, they're happy!"

Sam and Kurt answer some of our reader-submitted questions.


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