A career on YouTube isn’t the most conventional way to make a living, but nothing about Antonius Nazareth is exactly traditional. The 20-year-old composer began his bachelor’s degree in music at just thirteen and is now one of the entertainment site’s biggest upcoming stars.
Nazareth spent one semester at NYU, then left to create YouTube channel AVByte with his brother Vijay, 23. Between Antonius’s natural talent for composing and Vijay’s passion for filmmaking, their channel became a hit. Their series of two-minute musicals featuring Old Hollywood-style melodies, sarcastic lyrics, and high-quality visuals have earned them a cool 17 million views and counting.
Earlier this month, the AVByte brothers were selected by YouTube to join YouTube NextUp, a prestigious development program for thirty channels that the company believes will have big futures. They spent a week at YouTube’s headquarters in Los Angeles, and will head back for another week next month. Antonius sat down with NYU Local to chat about his eccentric path to where he is today, the inner workings of AVByte, and — perhaps scariest of all — dropping out of NYU to live the YouTube dream.
I was born in Italy, and raised in France, Holland, Austria and Germany. School and I have always had a troubled relationship — actually, the last grade I completed was eighth grade. Then I started my bachelor’s degree in music when I was thirteen. In Germany, you don’t necessarily need a high school diploma to apply to certain studies, particularly music university. So, I did the audition and came out on top.
I think I earned the German record for the youngest person with a bachelor’s degree. After that, I went to high school for a hot second and then moved to New York three-and-a-half years ago. I started composing and now I do it for a living. My whole family are musicians; I come from a background of practicing six to eight hours a day at the piano.
You began your freshman year at NYU in Fall 2011, but left at the end of the semester. Why did you decide to move on from school?
I decided to leave after three weeks into the semester. One of my teachers was gone for something and asked me to sub the class! At that point I knew it was time to leave. I had a great one semester, though. I met a bunch of people who I work with now every day, which is awesome.
Where did the inspiration for AVByte come from?
[Vijay and I] started this a year ago. We always really wanted to work on something together, and we knew with his filmmaking and my music side, we would be able to make films. We grew up watching Gene Kelly movies — Singing in the Rain, American in Paris, Mary Poppins — but we never thought about musical theater as being contemporary. We’re not musical theater people, we just thought we wanted to entertain people with mini-musical pieces. I started venturing towards that Old Hollywood style of music writing at NYU just for kicks, and figured out I was somewhat good at it. YouTube is a strange world and we just had to go for it.
What was your first video like?
Our first video really was a joke. It’s called “Murdering Musical Madness.” It’s literally just a girl singing a song and being interrupted by two thugs who shoot her death. One of them announces, “No one cares about musical theater!” And that’s the end. [AVByte has] completely changed since then.
Who are your actors and actresses?
Our actors are all from NYU, all except for maybe one ever. They’re mostly from the New Studio in Tisch. We always need more actors, though. For example, we just shot a Lara Croft video, but since we didn’t have any actresses who looked like her, we had to find that person. It worked out. We always need people who can embody their characters, because a lot of what we do is parody. [Editor’s note: If you’d like to act and sing in an AVByte mini-musical, contact Antonius and Vijay here.]
What does a typical video look like from start to finish?
The inception of the video comes first. We do a lot of brainstorming about what the trends are and what people are talking about. Sometimes we’ll do Google Analytics and figure out what people are searching, or we’ll look at movie releases and video game releases. Our audience is mostly girls ages twelve to nineteen, so does that idea relate to them? After that, for example, we’ll schedule a date with actors on a Thursday, and I’ll write the song Wednesday night or Thursday morning. We’ll shoot it, record it on Friday, and it’s all ready to go. We release it on Monday. But we’ve done turn-arounds of 24 hours.
Can you tell us about your NextUp Collaboration?
NextUp has just been amazing. A previous NextUp winner, Chescaleigh, is a good friend of ours and made sure we applied. We applied on the last day, actually. We got flown out to LA two weeks ago and we’re going back at the end of March for another week. YouTube just opened up a giant space in LA. It’s a bunch of green screen rooms, a couple of giant sound stages, three or four recording studios — just a huge lot. YouTube is very interested in backing quality content and, while making sure YouTube is a place for all entertainment, it’s not just cat videos. So, they’re really interested in promoting high quality entertainment and making sure that the NextUp channels are exposed to the best equipment out there. We got to go out there and collaborate with all these different people at nice, high quality.
Are you able to make a living off AVByte?
When we started, we weren’t making any money at all. This summer, we did a collab with the Vlog Brothers, Hank Green, which is the only reason we are where we are today. That was our kick in the ass. We literally went from 5,000 subscribers to 30,000 in two days. That’s also the point where we started making enough money to live in Manhattan and keep making these videos. We’re really only at the beginning of what kind of financial backings we can get from YouTube.
What are you looking for in the future?
In terms of YouTube, we want to grow and continue making better-looking stuff, better-sounding stuff, more entertaining stuff, and keep growing our audience. We want to keep making mini-musicals for the present, but eventually, we’d like to do feature-length films and musicals. We’re also talking to a few television networks and Disney about potential things.
What advice would you give someone like you who has a passion they’d like to pursue instead of school?
I’d say never leave school without a very specific and concrete idea of what you’re going to do instead of school. I left school to do AVByte; it would not have been possible if I were still in school. Unless you need the degree — and there are certain things for which you really do need the degree — personally, get out of school as soon as possible. I just think that with the Internet around, there’s nothing you can’t learn by yourself. School is four years of time in your prime that you’ll never get back. I think school is very useful for certain kinds of things, but in the arts, especially, get out!