We had the chance to talk with First to Eleven about how they approach making music, music videos and their creative process.

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First to Eleven
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Channel Type: Music
USER CREATED: Dec 8th, 2015

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Making the band

First to Eleven is a rock band based out of Erie, PA. The band consists of singer Audra Miller, guitarist Matt Yost, Ryan Krysiak on bass, and Sam Gilman playing drums. Formed in 2009, First to Eleven was founded by Ryan Krysiak, who at the time was teaching guitar lessons. Ryan recalls, “Matt was one of my first students. He had some friends that went to the same school and I was like, ‘Stop playing in your bedroom. Let’s put a band together.’ And so we started doing practices in my mom’s basement and then they played a show and the band kind of started from that point on.”

Even though you’re doing covers, you still get to do your own thing. And we do so many songs. You get to try new stuff all the time. And I think that’s probably the most fun. – Audra Miller

The band’s style was initially inspired by the indie music scene. Favorites included Juliana Theory, Say Anything, Saves the Day, New Found Glory, and even some mainstream influences like the Foo Fighters.

“We wanted to always be a rock band,” Ryan shares, “…[at the time] the kids were very young and not really into anything in particular. So I just started showing them some of my favorite bands at the time”.

Amplified audience

“Our first cover was Heathens, and it just blew up pretty immediately,” Matt recalls. “We were at like 10,000 subscribers by the first two covers that we’d done. And we were like, “Okay. You can actually grow an audience online.”

One of the biggest challenges artists face is finding an audience for their art. For musicians, it’s typically finding a venue to play in. “there’s definitely just (one) bar for playing local shows. You know what I mean? Cover band or original band.” Matt explains. 

Being from a relatively small town without a big music scene, First to Eleven sought to get their music out there in a way that wasn’t possible locally. They turned their sights to YouTube.

In the beginning, performing covers of popular songs was their way to promote their original songs. Matt details,  “[we thought].. ‘Let’s try this YouTube cover thing. Let’s see if we can reach anybody outside the town and see what we can do.’ They quickly realized that performing covers was a whole business within itself.

Since then the band’s focus has shifted from seeking opportunities to perform for an in-person audience to performing for their online audience. The band has grown its audience to over 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube with over 300 million views. They have also released 10 cover albums over their 5 years on YouTube.

Behind the music 

We take songs from a lot of genres, but then we make them all sound like us. – Ryan Krysiak

Creating consistent online content can be challenging for any creator. For musicians, it can be twice as difficult. However, First to Eleven has prided themselves on not missing a single release since they committed to releasing consistent covers. The band’s true secret ingredient has been the members’ diversity of skill sets. Sam shares, “We’re kind of open about it now that me, Matt, and Ryan will each take on (arranging) a song by ourselves. (Everyone) probably thinks that we sit around in a room and we all brainstorm together, but it’s actually a somewhat compartmentalized thing.” 

Because of their versatility, Matt, Ryan and Sam are able to record all the guitar, bass, drums and whatever else the cover calls for individually. “When we’re done with it, we just put it into Dropbox and we send it to Audra. And she will record it at home, put it back in Dropbox and we send it off to be mixed and mastered.” The music is mixed by their long-time collaborator Nick Scott. Matt adds, “Audra is just amazing at singing. We can all kind of act as each other’s (part) in the covers. She’s got to sing it, though, at the end of the day. I can’t be like, ‘Yeah, I’m just going to sound like Audra today.’ Yeah, no, I can’t do that.”

Matt admits this process is the key to posting so much. “People just see a band and they’re like, ‘How can they do four covers a month?’ It’s because we are doing them all simultaneously. So instead of a cover a week, we can do three a week and get super far ahead because we all work on it separately.”

I like how independent each of the covers are. We all have our responsibilities. And when I get a song, I can arrange it how I would want to. I like being able to change everything about it so there’s just little remnants of what it once was.” – Sam Gilman

Their unique approach not only allows them to produce more content, but it allows them to collaborate more efficiently. “It really cuts down on the miscommunication too,” Ryan shares. “ … if you have a vision for a song and you can’t communicate that vision to the drummer … it just makes it a lot better to be like, ‘This is how I want it to sound. This is entirely my vision for it.’ And it comes out the way that I want it to.”

Video process

Once their music is mixed, the band begins working on their music video. When first starting out, the band’s goal was to post one cover a month. Today they release two covers a week. 

In order to keep up with this schedule, First to Eleven has streamlined its recording process from years of experimentation. When they were first starting out, the band admits they didn’t know what they were doing. Matt recalls how “…Ryan just grabbed a camera from his wife and didn’t even know how to hold it properly. Once we realized we wanted to do it, okay, how are we going to get the basses all covered?” 

Over the years, Ryan doubled as a musician and camera operator. He studied what camera angles other people use and developed a process to get the most out of their music video shoots. “To streamline the process, (Ryan) was like, ‘What are the seven most important angles in any music video?’ And that’s just what we’ve lived by for the past five years,” Matt explains. This process has allowed the band to output a great volume of content over the years. In addition to improving lighting, and even working with a dedicated camera operator and editor.

On a typical video recording day, Audra shares that the band will, “…record two videos a day in the studio. And if we’re planning some big out-of-the-studio video, we’ll get that plan shot ahead of time and get it done and ready to go so that we have everything ready so far ahead that we can’t possibly mess something up.”

“We started with just a room in our old drummer and guitar player’s house. And then we got a studio and we started putting lights in the studio. We started putting more lights so that we can basically customize each video, but they’re all shot in the same place.” – Matt Yost

Growing the band

The newest addition to the band is Zach, the band’s cameraman. Elaborating on Zach,’s role, Matt shares that, “…he’s kind of helped elevate the technology side and getting me better at editing. Now that [Zach] shoots all the videos, Ryan can actually be in them (laughs). And he’s definitely better at the shooting than any of us because he understands it.”

Much like the band members, Zach also takes on multiple roles on the video side of the process. Ryan praises Zach, “He’s like a utility knife. He does the graphics, the motion graphics, he’s a cameraman, he edits. He also does some audio stuff for us. He’s very good at a lot of different things. So, we really lucked out not hiring 10 people because we found one: Zach.”

The editing process is now also streamlined because of the process they set up during shooting. Continuing, Matt shares, “We always have the same seven shots that we can rely on that we know are solid. We can just build off of it. So if it’s me or him editing the video, you can’t even really tell.”

Advice to creators

First to Eleven’s growth is no accident. Each band member speaks to what they believe contributed to their ongoing success.

Consistency

For Audra, consistency is a major key to the band’s success. She encourages creators saying, “ … you don’t have to be the best at anything, but you have to just keep going. And you can’t just be like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do this because it’s hard.’ But if you just keep going and you keep trying to put out videos and record songs, whatever you’re doing, you just keep going and you’re consistently recording content, making videos, putting stuff out, you’re going to get better. I think that’s probably the most important thing we’ve learned for sure.” 

Objectivity

Additionally, Matt believes it’s important to have objectivity in your own work. He shares, “…it helps so much that we have each other to kind of fall back on because there are times where I kind of have a lame guitar part in a song, and Ryan’s like, ‘No, man, you can’t put that in. That’s not good enough.’ And it pushes me and I write a better one. On a major scale, making sure like, okay, is this good, or is this not good? Let me not try to just feel good about myself and say everything I’m making is great.” 

Take risks

Sam admits that early in arranging covers, he was worried about how they would be received. Recalling, Sam says, “I feel like that’s the scary part with putting out original music because it’s like, well, it’s a tough crowd, but if somebody already really likes the song that you’re covering, then you can just have fun with it.” This has given the band freedom to not only make the songs their own but to give them challenges that make the process interesting and fun for them. Sam elaborates, “[now] I’m at the point where my favorite part of my job is getting a song and feeling very limitless in what it can be, just completely changing it. Change key, change tempo, change everything about it pretty much so there is just a little bit of remnants of what it once was.”

Promotion

Many believe that putting your content online is the only step to get your work out there. Ryan speaks to the importance of strategically sharing your content. He tells us, “I think one thing that set us apart, too, is when we did that first cover, we didn’t necessarily just put it out there and hope people liked it. I originally did it because I wanted [the band] to get a bigger crowd at their Warped Tour performance.”

“You can’t just expect everyone to see your thing and love it and share it and stuff like that. You have to push it out into the world sometimes.” – Ryan Krysiak

Ryan took the time to research communities that would likely enjoy the band’s content the most. He shares how he posted the cover, “…on a bunch of Warped Tour fan pages and stuff on Facebook, and the Twenty One Pilots fan pages, the Suicide Squad fan pages. And I shared it on Cover Nation, which was … I don’t know how many they had. Probably a half a million subscriber channel. And it was like, I don’t know, 40 bucks or something like that to promote it on that channel. And I was like, you have to invest in yourself.”

Coming together

Being in a band, much like creating online videos, is all about collaboration, consistency and creativity. First To Eleven’s success comes from more than just playing music that people like. As a band they collaborate and utilize each other’s strengths to make the band stronger, which in turn makes their music and videos so appealing. Through years of consistency and experimentation, they have developed an audience that follows them for their spin on all genres of music. More importantly, they’ve developed several processes that allow each member to contribute something unique that make them better as a whole than they would be on their own.