The Violin Channel recently caught up with American violinist Matthew Olsen – aka Youtube’s ‘Shirtless Violinist‘.
In a VC-exclusive blog, the svelte fiddler talks us through his upbringing and recent international social media rise to fame.
THE SHIRTLESS VIOLINIST | SQUEAKY CLEAN | MONTI | CZARDAS
“Growing up in America’s bible belt with an ultra conservative mother and two younger siblings, I would never have imagined that one day I would answer to the name “Shirtless Violinist.”
Had my mother ever dreamed such a thing could be realized, I am sure she would have immediately traded in my beloved violin for a harpsichord (because, honestly, “The Shirtless Harpsichordist” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)
Thankfully, however, she didn’t have that kind of foresight and I—along with my brother and sister—continued to play my violin every day of my young life. We practiced together for six hours a day at our peak, and travelled the country and eventually the world with our own little group, “Two Hits and a Miss” (a pun that, I’ll admit, made my sister fume.)
Inevitably we went the way most child-sibling-string-groups go: We grew up and stopped playing together. But while my brother and sister went their own way, I never stopped playing.
From symphony seats to movie soundtrack recordings, touring concert gigs and many, many weddings, I played as often as possible. I eventually parlayed my love of the violin into a successful teaching career, opening my own string studio in the Pacific Northwest using the Suzuki method. In doing so I discovered a passion for teaching children, and it’s something I will do until the day I die.
So you might be thinking – “Sure, that all sounds well and good – but what’s this about a shirtless violinist?”
For years now, I have daydreamed about turning my love of classical music into fun music videos for YouTube. After watching several pianists, cellists, and other violinists do this successfully (never a harpsichordist. Never, ever a harpsichordist), I finally bit the bullet last summer and filmed my first video, a cover of Katy Perry’s Olympic-themed ballad “Rise.”
But there was one little problem – how would I get people to actually click and watch my video? It’s not enough to be good or even great, musically (there are hundreds if not thousands of very talented, completely unnoticed musicians on YouTube), in today’s “insta” world, you need an edge.
So what would be my edge?
In addition to teaching music, I am also a fitness instructor and self-described health nut. When I’m not in the studio, I am often in the gym – so you would think the whole “shirtless” idea came to me rather quickly. Not true. It was actually my boyfriend, Paul, who finally looked me in the face and said “Matthew…you can do this, you can film these videos and post them online but you need to promise me one thing.”
“Yes?” I asked.
“You gotta do it without your shirt on, otherwise people won’t watch” he laughed.
We both laughed, knowing full-well that I was the kid who wore a t-shirt in the swimming pool every summer in Kansas City. I was the boy who wore oversized, baggy sweatshirts year-round because “it wasn’t modest to show off your body.” I was the last person you’d expect to see parading around, half naked, with over 100,000 YouTube views, a live-streaming contract, and set to appear on a major television reality series next year (I would love to talk about that, but mums the word until further notice!)
So now I had the song and the edge. What about the actual video?
Well, as luck would have it last summer, I was on a road trip from Seattle to San Francisco and back again, so I simply picked beautiful spots along the way to film snippets of the Katy Perry song. When my trip was over, I uploaded the footage on my Mac and used iMovie to piece the segments together. I recorded the song separately on a Yeti microphone and voila! That was my decidedly auspicious start.
So here I am, now preparing to release my sixth music video since the summer (recording my songs in a professional studio and using Final Cut Pro to edit) and having the time of my life. Yes I thought the idea would get some attention, but not nearly as much as it has managed to garner. I have been lucky enough to get sponsorships for my last two music videos, from a fiddle shop in Florida to an underwear company in LA – I mean, seriously, how many people can say that?
Certainly not The Shirtless Harpsichordist – that I know for sure.
– Shirtless Violinist”