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YouTube’s best kept musical secrets

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Since YouTube was founded in 2004, the video sharing website has been the best friend of procrastinators everywhere. Whether you need to put off an English paper, forget that anatomy test tomorrow morning or just need a good cat video to brighten your day, the site has always provided hours of endless, mind-numbing entertainment to those who need it.

But is it possible that a site filled with dancing cats and drunken fails could yield something bigger? Alongside the numerous ways to waste time are groups of talented musicians who often go unnoticed.

There are groups of five people who can play a single guitar, guys who can rock out on cellos and others who cover current pop music (even classic Disney songs) in ways never seen before. Artists who don’t quite fit Hollywood’s typical Beyoncé bill have found their home here and deserve a moment (or many hours) of your time. Depending on how much homework you want to put off, of course.

Walk Off the Earth

This five-piece Canadian band has been creating both original songs and innovative covers since assembling in 2008. Among its most popular songs are covers of “Someone Like You,” “Party Rock Anthem” and “Payphone.”

The group also covered last year’s Gotye hit, “Somebody That I Used to Know,” but instead of just mixing up the lyrics or using different instruments, Walk Off the Earth came up with an innovative new way to play the hit: with five people on a single guitar.

The video quickly gained international attention, racking up more than 35 million views in less than two weeks.

Almost a year later, the video has been viewed 145 million times and has been covered and parodied by other YouTube groups.  The group’s success in viral video stardom can be attributed to its unique musical style and versatility.

Whether it’s a top 40 hit or a Wiz Khalifa classic, Walk Off the Earth mixes its ukulele-, piano- and guitar-infused style into any genre to create sounds and styles the original artists never could have thought of.

Mike Tompkins

Mike Tompkins took YouTube by storm two years ago with a style that he calls a “voice and mouth mashup.” It’s just like “Pitch Perfect,” but with only one guy, no stage and a much lower production budget.

As both a singer and beat boxer, Tompkins is able to create a cappella covers of popular songs using only a microphone and several pre-recorded vocal tracks layered on top of each other. Some of Tompkins’ most notable covers include “Teenage Dream,” “Dynamite” and, recently, a mashup of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” and Justin Bieber’s “As Long as You Love Me.”

Tompkins’ vocal talent and ability to combine songs from different artists makes him stand out on YouTube and has caught the attention of celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and the cast of “Pitch Perfect,” with whom he worked to create a cover of Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” before the movie’s release last fall.

2CELLOS

2CELLOS is exactly what it sounds like. Two guys with large string instruments remixing hit songs. Stay with me on this one.

Despite their roots in classical music and film scores, Eastern European artists Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser have a way of taking old rock or current pop and making it sound classy, dangerous and, dare I say, fun. It’s one thing to play a cool guitar solo and quite another to shred a cello and bow to pieces with more spirit and style than some of the world’s classic rock legends.

Pentatonix

It’s hard to make a cappella look cool. Most of the time it’s just a small group of dorky guys trying to make a name for themselves on the Internet by covering a Katy Perry song, but not Pentatonix. Combining the classic, smooth sound of a cappella with the edge of modern beatbox and hip-hop, Pentatonix has managed to accumulate national success. After participating in and winning NBC’s “The Sing Off,” the five-person group accumulated 50 million views on YouTube and received a $200,000 recording contract with Sony. Pentatonix’s debut album, PTX Vol. 1, debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard top 200 (the highest of any a cappella album ever), and as the group continues to cover a range of songs from “Thrift Shop” to “Gangnam Style” it’s likely its success will continue to grow.

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