TwoSet Violin: The journey to 4 million YouTube subscribers & having friends that call them out on their crap

A very serious profile interview.

Mandy How | October 30, 2022, 10:55 AM

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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 almost four million subscribers on YouTube, have made their careers out of the relatively niche subject 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 long-standing friendship and off-the-charts chemistry on screen, Chen shoots my own question back at me: do they seem dissimilar from their YouTube selves?

After slight hemming and hawing, I admitted that the pair are a "little bit more intimidating" in real life, to which the two gasp at each other rather dramatically.

"Well there you go, there you have it. Brett and Eddy are actually scary," Chen jokes to raucous laughter from the room.

On a more serious note, he adds:

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


I feel like, obviously online, you're going to get the online part [of yourself]. But I wouldn't say there's anything fake, if that makes sense."

Having to switch on a persona can "quite tiring," Yang chimes in.

True enough, with the duo sitting in front of me, I observe the same gestures and inflections that pervade their videos, almost like I'm watching a video being filmed on the spot.

Navigating fame

Photo by Isaac Wong

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

While the channel saw steady growth shortly after its inception in 2013, the duo experienced explosive popularity in late 2018 after roasting the shit out of electric violinist Ben Lee.

If you've ever heard of the mocking phrase, "If you can play it slowly, you can play it quickly" in association with TwoSet, and wondered where it came from, well, here's your answer.

On Facebook, the video drew a staggering 41 million views, and on YouTube, another 9.3 million views.

Having built an international fan base, I ask the musicians how they think they have changed after finding fame.

Yang replies fairly quick: "I still feel the same."

Chen, on the other hand, turns pensive, as he is wont to do at various points of our conversation.

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

"I feel like I'm same because it's been like a slow thing. Because we weren't overnight famous, that's the other thing. We grew, but we're like, 10,000 followers, 20,000 followers.

Some people are like, instant, zero to 20 million in the span of one year. I think that could really mess us up."

Having to practise the violin and play it well helps to keep them grounded, Chen supplements.

The 29-year-old also recognises their "good friends" as another factor that keeps them humble.

"They're honest [with] us and they don't treat us differently. We really appreciate that, actually. The ones that stick by you and treat you the same. They liked you before you're famous, and afterwards they're still the same to you. Those are like really genuine friendships."

And when Chen says "honest", he means—and values—it.

This becomes evident in a later part of the interview, where we broach the topic of private vs. public lives.

Long-time viewers would know that the two YouTubers are paradoxically private, even if they are constantly putting themselves out there to create content.

The idea of getting views by eliciting sympathy, validation and reactions to personal matters is something that they consciously shun, Yang and Chen explain.

Similarly, the duo avoids painting themselves in a certain light by doing good in the public eye.

"It's always crazy like, people doing charitable things where they have to make sure they turn on the camera first before they do it right," Chen says. "And then the moment the camera's off they're like - they just change, you know."

"You've seen that," I remark.

"Yeah we've seen that," Chen affirms.

"Not to say that they are horrible people," he elaborates, before going on to admit that there have been times where they've been drawn to do the same.

Here, both Yang and Chen speak together, completing each other's sentences:

"But thankfully again, we've had good friends who are like, 'Why would you do that? That's not cool.'"

"They call us out," Yang adds. "[...] That's a real friend. Just calling you out on your crap."

Getting recognised on the streets

Photo by Isaac Wong

But one thing that has changed for sure is the amount of time it takes for them to get from one place to another, thanks to getting recognised on the streets by fans.

For the record, Chen finds it "pretty cool".

"In terms of my life, that's something that's changed a lot," he says.

For Chen, he tries to be as responsive as possible, even if he's interacting with strangers (adoring ones, admittedly) after a 10-hour shoot.

"Always good to chat," he thinks.

And on the rare occasions that they've had to reject requests for photos, it's because they were "reaaalllyyy in a rush," Yang says.

Chen adds: "Usually [I'll say] no if I'm running."

He recounts the time where he was out for a run when a fan in a business suit starts jogging next to him, drawing laughter from Yang, who appears to be familiar with the anecdote.

"I'm like completely sweaty and I look like crap," Chen laughs, indicating that was why he had to decline taking a photo with the fan.

"We're going to do TwoSet"

Photo by Isaac Wong

One could argue that TwoSet Violin entered mainstream consciousness in 2018, following their insanely viral video on Lee.

Prior to that, however, Yang and Chen have already quit their jobs as orchestra musicians in end 2016 to focus on YouTube full-time.

Yang says 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 one possible reality and then leaving that for some online stuff, so..."

"We weren't making money," Chen jumps in.

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 pinpoint the defining moment with certainty—perhaps a testament to the long way they've since come.

Yang tries to piece his memory together: "I just remember thinking, like, we're still young and let's just try."

The two go back and forth for a little while before coming up with a narrative for me: Yang was on a holiday in Finland, while Chen was in Australia, taking part in a national music competition.

Chen, however, was eliminated in the semi-finals, and it was not for good reason, according to Yang— his friend was apparently told that he didn't look at the accompanying pianist.

"And that's when Eddy was just like 'What the hell, it doesn't make sense,'" Yang says.

So what does Chen do next?

Book an entire concert hall for TwoSet's first ever concert, obviously.

Yang recalls learning about it while he was still vacationing halfway across the world: "I was like 'What now? We're doing a concert??'"

"And to be fair, we've always been thinking about this, but we never had the courage to pull the trigger. [...]

And then we have about one month to figure out something for the very first concert. That's when, I think, the idea started simmering then, 'Hey, maybe we could probably pursue what we're doing.'"

Funnily enough, Yang continues: "It wasn't really like that, it was more like, let's just try."

By the time the concert rolled around, their minds were pretty much made up: "We're going to do TwoSet."

A "proper" concert

Photo by Isaac Wong

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

With Chen previously describing it as their first "proper" concert and calling it a "dream come true" to play alongside the SSO, the significance of the collaboration cannot be overemphasised.

Needless to say, it's a far cry from having to busk on the streets for five days straight to raise funds for their 2018 world tour, and even then, barely making enough to cover the costs.

This time round, the cherry on top comes in the form of two Stradivarius violins loaned to them by Tarisio, an international auction house specialising in fine instruments.

It's a slightly longer story than this, how the loaned happened, but the impression I got from Yang was basically:

TwoSet: Heyyyyyyy

Tarisio: Heyyyyy

Or something like that. The two, of course, have been acquainted before this.

A few days after the exchange, Tarisio returned with the good news: they are able to lend TwoSet two Golden Age Stradivarius violins 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 muses near the end of our session,

"If you had asked me 15 years ago that nine years later I'd be doing comedy skits I'd be like, 'Comedy?'

And if you had told me five years ago that we'd be doing Mendelssohn violin concerto on two Strads, (Yang interjects) and an orchestra! No wayyyyy! Like pffftttt. That's a soloist thing."

Chen adds: "One thing I'm almost certain of is whatever we do in [the next] nine years we won't believe it."

Catch a free livestream of the Nov. 16 concert on TwoSet Violin's YouTube channel, at 7:30pm. 

Top image by Isaac Wong.