Since graduating recently from Rice University, guest writer Juliette Richert is continuing her education by listening to as many podcasts about politics, culture, and society as she can get her hands on.
Much of America wondered how we were going to process two presidential town halls that replaced the cancelled debate during the 2020 presidential campaign. In response, the Gregory Brothers, in collaboration with Darren Criss, used video effects to create “an alternate reality,” where the opponents sang their arguments to each other. These melodies were created by “songifying” found footage, which is the process of applying audio pitch correction to the spoken voice to make it sound like music. The video gives you a pretty good idea of what both candidates discussed in reality (at their separate town halls), and the music is likely to get stuck in your head.
This unique work is a product of a decade of practice and has attracted a following of more than 3 million. Browsing their YouTube channel is like walking through a library of past internet culture from memorable moments in US politics to iconic memes. The group, which includes Evan, Michael, Andrew, and Sarah Gregory, are foremost musicians, but their distinctive music videos that tie together comedy and current events have turned heads. Evan Gregory of The Gregory Brothers attributes their success to finding their voice. On your path to success, “finding your voice” may feel like a vague, overwhelming goal, but Evan gave us some insight into how you can find your voice and what makes you unique, too.
1. Get your reps in.
When you’re figuring out what you’re going to be good at, it’s going to take a lot of practice. If you want to make music, make a lot of music and then make some more. Producing a lot of videos over a long period of time has given The Gregory Brothers practice and perspective to figure out what they like and what they want to be good at.
The team has refined their process to be as efficient as possible. Before a big event, like a presidential debate, the group has a fair idea of what will be discussed (climate change, coronavirus, etc.), so they write a script and do pre-recordings with their guest. During the event itself, two of them, usually Evan and Michael, will watch the debate and take notes, sending messages to the other, about which clips from SnapStream they might want to use. They listen for moments where someone says something notable or speaks musically, making it easier to “songify.” They didn’t come up with this process overnight, rather it’s a result of countless hours of practice.
2. Better done than perfect.
Rather than focusing on getting everything perfect, it’s best to not get overwhelmed with perfection. If you’re going to make a lot in order to “get in your reps,” there may be times where you don’t hit the mark. Defining what is most important to you and focusing on that (more on that below), may be helpful in coping with a loss of perfectionism.
3. Define your guiding principles.
The Gregory Brothers put their creative process first. Though it’s gratifying to see that millions of people liked their videos, they’ve decided that it’s most important to make sure their music sounds good.
First and foremost, they always aim to create high quality music. If you listen to their music from the 2020 presidential campaign, the group wants you to feel like you’re listening to an album that “captures a snapshot of their aesthetic” and accurately reflects the essence of today’s political movers.
This leads us to their next priority, which is to accurately reflect reality. For example, watching their video of the cancelled debate will give you a pretty good idea of both presidential candidate’s arguments with a comical take. It might be easy to fall into the trap of thinking of their work as educational, a label which Evan rejects, as not to venture into the realm of journalism. They always want their videos to be interesting, frequently using comedy to heighten an opinion or statement. In Evan’s words, "comedy speaks truth and highlights things that are not spoken about." Though rarer than their comedic feats, the brothers use their process to highlight poignant events, like this speech of Martin Luther King, Jr.
4. Build your expertise one area at a time.
Coming from a musical background, the group's video expertise has been entirely self-taught. In order to manage this learning curve while still producing, Evan described his incremental approach to self-education. Currently, he’s mastering video effects and creating video worlds, exemplified below where Darren Criss appears to sit at a table with Joe Biden. Evan’s next goal is to dive deeper in cinematography, which has become one of his long term goals. The progression of the group’s videos tells a story of the progression of their expertise. Looking at their earlier videos, you can tell when they were working on green screen effects versus now where they integrate green screen effects quite effectively. By choosing to get really good at one thing, they have been able to integrate new forms of tech and video production, from efficiency tools like SnapStream which makes it easy to find, edit, and share the most important video moments to creative video effects, without getting overwhelmed.
5. Attract your audience.
The Gregory Brothers’ videos are designed like any good song, which keeps you coming back to hear it again. It’s “rewatchability,” a term coined by Evan, that draws their audience back for more. If you’re like me, their songs will be stuck in your head for days at a time. Because their tracks are designed to be listened to repeatedly, they’re able to benefit from multiple revenue streams. You can find them on Spotify and iTunes, as well as YouTube. They’ve found a way to hook their audience by using video. People come for a funny video and stay for the jams.
The Gregory Brothers have amassed a following of more than 3 million by focusing on an authentic creative practice, motivated by their desire to make high quality music. By venturing into video, which they knew little about when they began experimenting 10 years ago, they stumbled onto something great and found a career. Finding your voice will take time and might be messy, but the risk is worth the reward.