By William Gruger and Alex Pham | April 28, 2014 3:38 PM EDT
On a corner in Midtown Manhattan, Alejandro Manzano, 27, waits patiently for his time in front of the camera. It’s a familiar spot for Alejandro, who, with his brothers Daniel (32) and Fabian (29), sings covers of hits on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as originals, on YouTube under the name Boyce Avenue. They’ve achieved all the hallmarks of major pop stars: sold-out European tours, studio time with top hitmakers, morning TV bookings — and more than $4 million in revenue last year.
Everything except face recognition. “What are you, in a band or something?” a passerby asks Alejandro. Well, yes. One soon to appear on "Good Morning America" to more than 5.4 million viewers, though Boyce Avenue perform for a larger audience on a weekly basis. The trio is YouTube’s most-followed band, with 5.6 million subscribers, more than Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj.
PHOTOS: BOYCE AVENUE's BILLBOARD SHOOT
YouTube has served as a farm team for the majors for years, producing hits (Justin Bieber) and misses (Karmin). But Boyce Avenue is different. The group signed with Republic in 2010, and backed out of its deal in 2011, concerned that the major-label system moved too slowly to serve its fans. For the same reason, Boyce Avenue has resisted monetizing its YouTube channel, reasoning that advertisements depress traffic and search results, which drive sales of tickets, music and merch.
“We operate as a traditional music business entity where we sell records and tour — we just happen to use YouTube as a distributor,” says Boyce Avenue manager Jonathan Pardo. The group has sold 2.5 million tracks and 175,000 albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The Manzano brothers recorded their first YouTube cover in their parents’ Orlando, Fla., garage in 2007. They’ve benefited as YouTube has become the dominant place for teenagers to discover music (according to a 2012 Nielsen study). But as YouTube increasingly meshes with the mainstream, the group is left in a strange position: The band earned enough money to build its own studio, and enough of a following to land an April 29 Good Morning America booking, but are still better-known for singing other people’s songs than its own. And though the act is hoping to change that with the April 22 release of the EP No Limits, featuring seven original tracks, Boyce Avenue has yet to crack radio.
Fresh off touring Europe and playing sold out shows at many of the same venues booked by Bastille and One Republic later this year, Boyce Avenue just finished a four day recording studio residency in New York City at a time when the new-age YouTube is colliding with traditional media like never before.
YouTube, the world’s most popular video sharing platform with over $5.6 billion in annual revenues, initiates an unprecedented multi-million dollar traditional ad buy into TV ads, billboards and print that CEO Susan Wojcicki told Ad-Age hopes will “get advertisers who have traditionally bought TV to understand the YouTube platform” at a time when Boyce Avenue finds themselves in Beat360 Studios whose walls are lined with Chris Brown and Train platinum record plaques, trophies of the traditional record industry of old.
They’re recording with Espionage, the Norwegian songwriting and music production team composed of Espen Lind and Amund Bjørklund best known for co-writing Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” and co-writing and -producing Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister,” on a project that could be the beginning of a new record.
“We wanted to really get outside of our skin today,” says Daniel about the day’s session that had just wrapped. “[Espionage] has been peeling back layers of how we work and it’s cool because our approach is very foreign to them. I think they weren’t expecting us to say that we all write separately.”
Indeed, the Boyce Avenue roster benefits greatly from each of the brother’s respective areas of expertise. Daniel attended Harvard Law School and provides assistance on the business side of things, while Fabian is at the forefront when it comes to art and design (he designed the cover art for “No Limits.”) Alejandro is recognized across the board as the musical leader,
“We’ve been doing it on our own for so many years, we have our own studio, we produce all of our own music up until now,” says Alejandro. “To finally work with producers that have worked with some of our idols and to have them say, ‘You guys know what you’re doing,’ that’s really cool.”