Violin

TwoSet Violin: The journey to 4 million YouTube subscribers and having friends calling them shit – Mothership.SG

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With Brett Yang, 30, and Eddy Chen, 29, what you see online is pretty much what you get.

That’s what people tell them anyway, according to Chen.

The Australian duo, known as TwoSet Violin to nearly four million YouTube subscribers, have made a career in the relatively niche realm of classical music.

Left: Eddy Chen. Right: Brett Yang. Photo by Isaac Wong.

To be even more specific, it’s classical music communicated through comedy.

With their lifelong friendship and standout on-screen chemistry, Chen throws my own question back at me: Do they seem different from their YouTube selves?

After some light hemming and hawing, I admitted the pair were “a bit more intimidating” in real life, to which the two choke rather dramatically.

“Well, there you have it. Brett and Eddy are really scary,” Chen jokes to the room’s raucous laughter.

More seriously, he adds:

“I feel like it’s a very YouTuber thing. Like people forget that we’re good at talking to cameras, but actually in real life sometimes I can also be very shy and introverted.

[…]

I feel like, obviously online, you gon’ get the online part [of yourself]. But I wouldn’t say there’s anything wrong, if that makes sense.”

Having to turn on a character can be “quite tiring,” Yang adds.

Sure enough, with the duo seated in front of me, I observe the same gestures and inflections that permeate their videos, almost as if I were watching a video filmed on location.

Navigate fame

Photo by Isaac Wong

It’s been nine years since Yang and Chen launched TwoSet, evolving from violin covers (Yang cringes when I mentioned I’ve seen some) to skits, music-themed games, reaction videos, and collaborations. with world-class musicians.

While the channel enjoyed steady growth soon after its founding in 2013, the duo shot to explosive popularity in late 2018 after grilling the shit out of electric violinist Ben Lee.

If you’ve ever heard of the mocking phrase “If you can play it slow, you can play it fast” in association with TwoSet, and wondered where it came from, well, here’s your answer.

On Facebook, the video garnered a staggering 41 million views and on YouTube an additional 9.3 million views.

Having built an international fan base, I ask musicians how they think they’ve changed after becoming famous.

Yang responds quite quickly, “I still feel the same way.”

Chen, on the other hand, becomes pensive, as he used to do at various points in our conversation.

Although he agrees with Yang, Chen also uses an analogy of a slowly changing frog, implying metamorphosis where its effects might not be immediately obvious.

“I feel like I’m the same because it’s been a slow thing. Because we weren’t famous overnight, that’s another thing. We’ve grown, but we’re like, 10 000 subscribers, 20,000 subscribers.

Some people are like, instantly, zero to 20 million within a year. I think it could really mess us up.”

Having to practice the violin and play it well helps keep your feet on the ground, Chen adds.

The 29-year-old also acknowledges their ‘good friends’ as another factor that keeps them humble.

“They are honest [with] us and they don’t treat us differently. We really appreciate that, actually. Those who stay by your side and treat you the same. They loved you before you got famous, and they still love you after. It’s like really genuine friendships.”

And when Chen says “honest”, he means it and appreciates it.

This becomes evident in a later part of the interview, where we touch on the topic of privacy versus public life.

Longtime viewers would know that the two YouTubers are paradoxically private, despite constantly stepping forward to create content.

The idea of ​​eliciting points of view by eliciting sympathy, validation and reactions to personal matters is something they consciously avoid, Yang and Chen explain.

Likewise, the duo avoid painting themselves in a certain light by doing good in the public eye.

“It’s always crazy, like people doing charity things where they have to make sure they turn on the camera before they do it properly,” Chen says. “And then the moment the camera is off, they’re like — they just change, you know.”

“You saw that,” I point out.

“Yeah, we saw that,” Chen says.

“Not to say that they are horrible people,” he clarifies, before admitting that there have been times when they have been led to do the same.

Here, Yang and Chen are talking together, completing each other’s sentences:

“But luckily still, we had good friends who were like, ‘Why would you do that? That’s not cool.'”

“They call us,” adds Yang. “[…] He’s a real friend. I’m just calling you for your bullshit.”

Be recognized on the street

Photo by Isaac Wong

But one thing that’s changed for sure is how long it takes them to get from one place to another, thanks to recognition on the street by fans.

For the record, Chen finds it “pretty cool”.

“As far as my life is concerned, it’s something that has changed a lot,” he says.

For Chen, he tries to be as responsive as possible, even when interacting with strangers (worshippers, admittedly) after a 10-hour shoot.

“It’s always good to talk,” he thinks.

And the few times they’ve had to turn down photo requests, it’s because they were “really hurry,” Yang said.

Chen adds, “Usually [I’ll say] no if I run.”

He recounts the time he was out for a run when a fan in a business suit starts jogging next to him, making Yang laugh, who seems to know about the anecdote.

“I’m like completely sweaty and look like shit,” Chen laughed, indicating that was why he had to refuse to take a photo with the fan.

“We’re going to do TwoSet”

Photo by Isaac Wong

You could say that TwoSet Violin entered mainstream consciousness in 2018, following their incredibly viral Lee video.

Before that, however, Yang and Chen had already quit their jobs as orchestral musicians in late 2016 to focus full-time on YouTube.

Yang said semi-seriously,

“Our parents were just like, you didn’t become a doctor, you just got a job as a musician, it was like […] I was thinking about a possible reality, then I left that for some online stuff, so…”

“We weren’t making any money,” Chen interjects.

It was clearly a risk, but when asked if there was a turning point that led to the decision, they struggle for a few moments to identify with certainty the defining moment – perhaps a testament to the long path they have traveled since.

Yang tries to piece together his memory: “I just remember thinking, like, we’re still young and just trying.”

The two back and forth for a little while before offering me a story: Yang was on vacation in Finland, while Chen was in Australia, participating in a national music competition.

Chen, however, was knocked out in the semi-finals, and it was not for a good reason, according to Yang – his friend looked like he hadn’t looked at the pianist accompanying him.

“And that’s when Eddy was like, ‘What is this, this doesn’t make sense,'” Yang says.

So what does Chen do next?

Book an entire concert hall for TwoSet’s first-ever concert, of course.

Yang recalls learning about it while still on vacation halfway around the world: “I was like, ‘Now what? Are we doing a concert??'”

“And to be fair, we always thought about that, but we never had the courage to pull the trigger. […]

And then we have about a month to come up with something for the very first show. That’s when I think the idea started to simmer, ‘Hey, maybe we could probably continue what we’re doing.'”

Curiously, Yang continues, “It wasn’t really like that, it was more like, let’s try.”

By the time the gig rolled around, their decision was pretty much made: “We’re going to do TwoSet.”

A “real” concert

Photo by Isaac Wong

On November 16, 2022, Chen and Yang will perform with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) at Victoria Concert Hall.

With Chen previously describing it as their first “real” gig and calling it a “dream come true” to perform alongside SSO, the importance of the collaboration cannot be overstated.

Needless to say, it’s a far cry from having to wander the streets for five days straight to raise money for their 2018 world tour, and even then earn barely enough to cover the costs.

This time, the icing on the cake comes in the form of two Stradivarius violins on loan from Tarisio, an international auction house specializing in fine instruments.

It’s a bit longer story than this, how the loan went, but the impression I got from Yang was basically:

TwoSet: Heyyyyyy

Tarisio: Heeeeeee

Or something like that. The two, of course, knew each other before that.

A few days after the exchange, Tarisio returned with the good news: they can lend TwoSet two Stradivarius violins from the golden age for the upcoming concert.

Photo by Isaac Wong

For context, a Stradivarius is a magnificent rarity in the musical world, with each instrument valued in the millions.

Take, for example, the “Da Vinci” model, which was also made during the golden period: it recently sold for US$15.34 million (~S$21.7 million) at a Tarisio auction.

Chen reflected towards the end of our session,

‘If you asked me 15 years ago that nine years later I’d be doing comedy sketches, I’d be like, ‘The comedy?’

What if you had told me five years ago that we would play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto on two strades, (Yang intervenes) and an orchestra! No way ! Like pfftttt. It’s a solo thing.”

Chen adds, “One thing I’m fairly certain of is that whatever we do in [the next] nine years, we won’t believe it.”

Top image by Isaac Wong.