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How to Cultivate an Online Persona & Successfully Engage a Passionate Fan Base
From the rise of PLUR culture to the genre’s integration into the mainstream musical consciousness, modern electronic dance music has made its name on friendliness and inclusion. So it only seems natural that LA-based production duo Two Friends is on the fast track to success. Comprising inseparable besties Eli Sones and Matt Halper, the independent act has gained a reputation for infectious remixes and outstanding engagement with their fans—and 2016 is the first year they’ll spend making music full-time.
Sones and Halper met in middle school through a group of mutual friends who quickly became a tight-knit crew that endures to this day. “They called us ‘the Boyfriends,’” admits Halper. It probably wasn’t the best name for an EDM production duo–that aspect of Sones’ and Halper’s friendship only started towards the end of their high school career in 2011. Sones, who had delved into mashup culture but had little knowledge of music theory and still doesn’t play an instrument, asked Halper, a lifelong guitarist with extensive theoretical training, if he was interested in teaming up. “I never really had the inkling to produce, but [Eli] probably got restless with mashups,” Halper says. He agreed that joining forces would be fun, and a few months before they graduated high school, these Two Friends started learning how to produce electronic music. “We didn’t have much vision at all,” recalls Sones, “besides ‘we’re second semester seniors, we have free time, let’s just fuck around and maybe we’ll come up with some cool stuff.’”
“We started with just no expectations, which is actually probably a great thing, I think,” says Halper. “If we started with any expectations at all, we probably would’ve been frustrated in the first two months, like we suck.” Adds Sones: “We had little expectations and little time pressure…we had four years ahead of us.”
Those four years were their college experience; though Sones shipped off to Vanderbilt and Halper went up the coast to Stanford, they kept working regularly on their project. What started as a cool hobby slowly morphed into a legit music production operation that began to pick up traction online and, eventually, on the radio. Their first breakthrough, with the accompanying realization that Two Friends had the potential to be a full-time venture, came when SiriusXM EDM station BPM decided to put their remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” into regular rotation during the duo’s junior year.
“We had kind of started developing a relationship with some of the guys who worked at that channel because we knew it was an important one, and we had finished that remix, we sent it,” says Sones. “I think it was a matter of hours, we were just not prepared for it, he emails us back and he’s like, ‘We’re gonna play it at the top of the hour.’ I remember we were kind of freaking out because neither of us was home to listen to it, so I had to call my little brother and say get the video camera, sit in the car, make sure you get it, record the whole thing.”
The remix received overwhelmingly positive feedback that could not have been more perfectly timed, since it coincided with the release of Big Booty Mix Volume 5, one of a series of hour-long mashups sets that have become a Two Friends mainstay with a devoted following. “People are very passionate about their Big Booty Mixes,” chuckles Halper. The idea originated with Sones, who has created vast spreadsheets of instrumentals and vocal tracks color coded and sorted by key that he and Halper then fit together like a puzzle. Over the eight Big Booty Mixes to date, the sets have gotten better and more complex, weaving in multiple vocal parts over a beat and using upwards of 130 songs over their course. And although Two Friends focuses mostly on originals and remixes now, they still enjoy giving their fans mashups when they want mashups. “We still do it for fun and it’s always a good time, but there’s also a sense of obligation, they want another one, we’ll give it to them,” says Sones.
So far, the duo’s devotion to its fans has paid off. This past New Years’ Eve, they posted a list of their 2015 goals on their Facebook page. Among the ones they’ve hit: over sixty thousand followers on SoundCloud and nearly twenty thousand on Twitter to go with well over a hundred thousand fans on Facebook. They’ve built that following not just with great music, but also with a penchant for hilarious, inspiring, and endearing engagement with the social media “family” that starts with their own friendship and extends outward to include their listeners.
“There’s so many producers and DJs out there that you wanna feel a connection,” says Sones.
“The music always should be number one, but you want to relate to your fans, you want them to feel something more than just ‘I listen to their music on the Internet’—it should be ‘I know them.’”
“Guys that we look up to do that amazingly,” adds Halper. “Dillon Francis is the king of that, you know him so well from his Snapchat and his Facebook posts, his fans and everyone knows his inside jokes.”
Sometimes Sones and Halper post screenshots of messages they’ve sent each other that showcase their friendship. Other times, they’ll film themselves at Halper’s house doing such ridiculous things as stuffing spaghetti in their mouths and down their shirts as one of their remixes plays in the background. They also have a long-running gag of pretending to promote their music in the most obnoxious ways possible. Most memorably, though, a man who had asked permission to post a Two Friends song on YouTube asked if they’d give him something in exchange for the “advertising.” They gave him a picture of a potato and posted the conversation on their Facebook page, where it went viral.
“There’s a funny collage, like a week after that happened, every email had give me a potato, I want one,” says Sones. “It was like what the hell did we get ourselves into? It was a funny thing.”
That virality is particularly important in the EDM world, which grew up online and is still largely built around songs quickly building buzz on the blogosphere and sites like SoundCloud and Hype Machine. It’s an environment that’s friendly to independent acts like Two Friends who can successfully engage a passionate fan base and make them feel like family. Though the duo has released a few singles through labels and eventually wants to sign a deal, their online savvy has allowed them to flourish without one, both in terms of their music and their Internet persona, which feed off each other.
As their profile rises, Two Friends is looking to shift their focus towards more original music in 2016. Most of their releases last year were remixes: Alesso’s “Cool,” Chainsmokers’ “Roses,” Blink-182’s “I Miss You,” and Tori Kelly’s “Expensive” stand out among them. Through the lens of familiar songs, listeners can pick up on some sonic signatures the duo is starting to develop, such as piano-based top lines and a penchant for experimenting. They’ve started describing their music as “soul house,” a term that intimates the open-mindedness they see in modern electronic music fans who have taken the songs beyond crowded dance floors.
“I think that’s a huge trend that’s taking over the whole EDM world, where I feel like it used to be you would make your tracks, they were meant for a nightclub, that they’re not necessarily meant to listen to on Spotify, in your car, in your room,” says Sones. “But now it’s much more universal…and as we get more and more experience, I think we realize that we don’t need to box ourselves into anything.
It’s kinda nice that preferences of listeners all over the world have changed, they’re much more open to people trying different styles, different tempos, stuff like that.”
“The handcuffs of tempo are finally starting to fall off,” remarks Halper. “For years it had to be 128 BPM, 126 BPM, whatever. And now…the trend is going towards trying to make good songs. Whatever sounds good sounds good, it doesn’t have to be house, it doesn’t have to be a mid-tempo kind of thing.”
Two Friends has been waiting for this development for a while. According to Sones, there’s an “arsenal” of about fifteen original songs, varying widely in tempo, style, and progress of production, that they’ve built up over the past couple years and are finally planning to release over the coming months. “People don’t realize how slow and how patient you gotta be with some of these songs,” he says, “so it’s fun to finally be like, ‘Guys, we know that this stuff is cool, and now we’re ready to show it to you.’”
If the new music lives up to Sones’ and Halper’s billing and they continue to engage their fans so effectively, this year is going to be very friendly to them.
Follow on Twitter @twofriendsmusic
Photos by Erik Voake