Meet YouTube star music transcriber George Collier

For some budding musicians (and even seasoned professionals), the sight of sheet music can trigger a fight-or-flight response, evoking painful memories of strict piano teachers and high-pressure recitals. 20-year-old music transcriber George Collier is doing his part to change that.

Collier, a student at the University of Warwick in the UK, took clips from live performance video clips from well-known artists such as Wynton Marsalis and Celine Dion, or bedroom musicians who posted clips online, and added the context of what was being played. Detailed description. Playing with harmony, melody and rhythm, he transforms sounds into incredibly detailed scores and shares the results with more than 882,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, with his most popular videos having between 5 million and 18 million views between.

“Music can be a little intense, especially in the whole field of music theory,” Collier said between lectures, video chatting from a light-filled campus building surrounded by the sounds of bustling university life. With the help of a transcription team, he provides a playful interpretation of the mesmerizing cadenzas, barbershop quartet arrangements, funk riffs and jazz solos in the film, softening the score’s academic and unforgiving nature reputation.

His video “When You Make the Trombone SING” features Frank Lacy’s soaring trombone solo from a 1988 performance with the Art Blakey Big Band. Another clip titled “She practiced 40 hours a day for this” captures Mitsuko Uchida playing a Mozart piano cadenza. Although Collier focuses on jazz, he also showcases performances from the classical world as well as ordinary people with impressive talents. A clip titled “When Your Family Is Musically Able” features a version of “Happy Birthday” that turns into an impromptu gospel-infused jam. His video “Pro Musician Jams With Street Performer on Subway” documents a saxophonist spontaneously playing a version of Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” with a guitarist on the London Underground.

“Transcription is about understanding the musical decisions the performer made,” Collier said. “It doesn’t matter how famous you are. If you make something good, people will want to hear it.

Grammy Award-winning cellist and multi-instrumentalist Laufey has been the subject of Collier’s films many times, and she appreciates his broad taste. “I think it’s about celebrating true musicianship,” she said in a video interview, “and elevating artists who aren’t necessarily the most popular.” She noted that his channel is also a powerful source of discovery: “I get a lot of comments, especially on YouTube, from people saying, ‘I found this song from a George Collier video.'”

Collier grew up in Cambridgeshire, about two hours north of London, a low-lying county known for its pastoral beauty and historic universities. After starting piano and trumpet lessons at the age of 8, he began to show a keen interest in jazz. When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020 and live music events came to a standstill, Collier, then 16, began channeling his musical energy online, uploading his first transcribed works to YouTube as a fun side project , to stave off lockdown boredom.

One of these early uploads is a particularly beautiful piano and vocal interlude from “Hajanga” performed by Jacob Collier (no relation) during a performance with the MIT Festival Jazz Orchestra. The video initially attracted a handful of views, but in February 2021, it hooked up to YouTube’s elusive algorithm and amassed 200,000 views in just nine days.

Collier is now a philosophy and politics major — “almost nothing to do with music,” he quips — but he’s also the musical director of the Leamingtones, an a cappella group he founded at his university. Some of his important musical influences, who frequently appear as the subject of his transcriptions, include Jacob Collier, guitarist Cory Wong, and funk band Vulfpeck.

Living a full-time student life, coupled with recently starting his own web development agency, made it difficult for Collier to fit the rigors of music transcription into his life. To keep his channel uploaded, he works with transcribers from the United States, Germany, Hungary, Austria, and sometimes online music transcription services. His project, a far cry from the pandemic pastime, is now monetized and run as a business and hobby. Collier balances paid revenue tied to views on YouTube, but in keeping with his channel’s ethos of accessible music education, he makes the transcripts free for download.

Collier emphasized that he hopes viewers “will enjoy watching the film, whether it’s being surprised by the performers, or being surprised by how someone transcribed it, or being surprised by some of the silly comments in the transcription.” When traditional notation fails Reflecting the raw energy on screen, Collier and his team improvised.

As Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson’s limbs became increasingly unsteady on stage, he marked “While Standing on One Leg” as a transcription of a flute solo. “Make the first lady look bad Annotated as a transcription of Trombone Shorty’s performance of “St. John.” In 2012, at the White House, Michelle Obama contorted her face in agreement to Shorty’s roaring solo.

“Experiencing music of such a high caliber without some form of help can be very intimidating. exist,” said professional musician and YouTuber Adam Neely. Watch Collier’s video, “You’re allowed to laugh and build community with people you wouldn’t normally think of.”

While perfecting the transcription was Collier’s first priority, he wanted his videos to be viewed as widely as possible and learned a lot about YouTube’s algorithms. Many of his films are titled in the “When You” format, such as “When You Twice Puberty,” which transcribes the surprisingly crooning vocals of a deep bass, or “When You Practice 40 Hours a Day,” which records An incredibly fast performance of pianist Hiromi Uehara’s “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin.

“It’s not just super music fans who click,” Collier said. “These people might not even be musicians, might not even understand the transcription, but click on its title and stay and listen to the music.” And his videos have been viewed more than 300 million times. “It’s just democratizing it, making it available to everyone and making it all free,” he added.

Laufey agrees with that assessment. “I think social media is a great equalizer,” she said, calling Collier’s channel “a great way for my fans to learn about my music.”

Despite his steady growth in subscribers, Collier was hesitant to make YouTube his full-time job. “I didn’t want to risk a hobby that I loved turning into a job,” he said. But before he moves on (or the algorithm moves on), he’s still excited to help inspire beginners to pick up an instrument and veterans to dust off their instruments.

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