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How Rick Beato struck YouTube gold with his ‘Everything Music’ channel

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) — At first glance, it looks ordinary. It’s a traditional brick house perched near the corner of a sleepy suburban cul-de-sac with a mini-basketball court out back. It could be Anywhere USA.

But some of the biggest names in music have come to this home in Atlanta, Georgia, to meet the man dubbed “the internet’s pre-eminent musical sage.” That sage is Rick Beato (pronounced bee-Ah-toh), a genial 61-year-old who has amassed almost 4 million followers on his Everything Music YouTube channel, and over 795,000   followers on Instagram.

Beato has built a global fan base by producing compulsively watchable videos such as “The Top 20 Rock Guitar Solos of All Time,” and “The Most COMPLEX Pop Song of All Time.” His interviews with musical titans such as Seal and Pat Metheny have become so highly regarded that iconic artists such as Sting contact him with requests to appear on his show.

I first heard about Beato after stumbling onto his YouTube channel. His videos are like Krispy Kreme doughnuts — I couldn’t stop consuming them. A former record producer, Beato is also an accomplished musician who skillfully recreates the music he dissects from a set in his home recording studio.

Beato met me outside his home on a recent winter morning. Dressed in a tan corduroy jacket, blue jeans, and sky-blue high top sneakers, he led me through a side garage door into his sprawling studio — a maze of rooms filled with racks of brightly colored vintage guitars, stacks of amplifiers, and framed portraits of music legends such as Jimi Hendrix. What viewers see on YouTube doesn’t do justice to its size.

Beato starts our conversation with a confession. He says he’s not accustomed to being the interviewee. Or being recognized. Strangers routinely stop him for selfies, whether it’s at his neighborhood Costco or while traveling to cities as far away as London and Berlin.

“When I produced bands, I would never take pictures with them,” he says, leaning back in a black leather chair. “I just wanted to be behind the scenes. I never posted on Twitter, on Facebook. I never posted on anything. I never wanted to be part of the story.”

Why Beato is called the internet’s ‘pre-eminent musical sage’

Beato’s success story is a prime example of the adage, you’re never too old to reinvent yourself. When he started his YouTube channel in 2015, he didn’t own a camera and thought, “Nobody is gonna ‘watch an old, white-haired guy on YouTube.” He calls himself the luckiest guy in the world, someone who still can’t believe his success.

Yet, he’s also become prominent by shrewdly taking advantage of a trend. More music is being heard and taught online. During the pandemic, for example, many music fans migrated to the internet to watch various forms of music because live music was off-limits.

Beato’s videos stood out from the rest. He could talk in-depth about virtually any musical genre: jazz, classical, rock, pop and film composing. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, audio engineer, and a guest lecturer at the Berklee College of Music. He’s produced albums for groups like NEEDTOBREATH and Shinedown, and co-wrote the 2013 country hit “Carolina” for Parmalee.

But there’s another quality that’s even more distinctive, fans say.

“Rick is incredibly knowledgeable about all things musical, but the reason he’s become so popular is not because he’s an expert — it’s because he’s a fan,” says Mike Rowe, an author and Emmy Award winning host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” who also counts himself as a fan.

“It’s his enthusiasm that’s contagious,” Rowe says. “Even if he’s geeking out on musical theory or raving about the contributions of a producer I’ve never heard of on an album I’ve never listened to, I’m always interested in what he’s talking about, because he’s always interested in what he’s talking about.”

I experienced some of that enthusiasm in person. As soon as I entered his studio, I immediately fell into an in-depth conversation with him about a jazz guitarist we admired. He was so easy to talk to that our conversation lasted 30 minutes before I remembered to turn on the recorder.

Beato’s love for music is not restricted to any genre. In his videos, he gets as excited talking about a drummer bashing away to a heavy metal tune (he often yells “Woo!” or “That’s insane!” when playing videos of featured musicians) as he does discussing “dynamic control” and Bach with the jazz pianist Brad Mehldau.

“He can find something interesting in any kind of music,” says Keith Williams, a guitarist and friend who has his own YouTube channel, “five watt world.”

“He’s the consummate teacher,” says Williams. “He talks about music in a way that is not going to put you off. He doesn’t have a need to prove to you how much he knows.”

Beato explains what traits all great musicians share

The centerpiece of “Everything Music,” though, is Beato’s in-person interviews with famous musicians. His interview style is a throwback to an older era in television, of cerebral talk show host Dick Cavett. Gifted with a virtual photographic memory, the musicians often break out into a bright smile when he recalls an obscure recording session or nuance to their song.

His conversation last year with legendary jazz pianist and composer Keith Jarrett would make any journalist proud.

Jarrett is a formidable pianist who doesn’t suffer fools (he once said he redefined the piano like John Coltrane transformed the saxophone). In his prime, he was an animated performer known for the physicality of his solo live performances. But after suffering two major strokes that left his left side partially paralyzed, Jarrett no longer performs in public.

Beato got the ultimate jazz tribute: Jarrett invited him to his home in New Jersey to talk shop. During the interview, Beato regaled Jarrett with an encyclopedic knowledge of his music, never once bothering to consult notes.

But at the 31-minute mark, Beato does something unexpected. He plays Jarrett a video of the pianist at a live concert. A youthful Jarrett stands before the piano, with his eyes closed in ecstasy, accompanying his playing with the involuntary sing-along vocalizations he is known for.

Beato looks at Jarrett with an uncommon tenderness after he stops the music, and says, awestruck, “You were riding the wave.”

Jarrett nods at his observation, his eyes misting. He then says something unexpectedly witty, and poignant.

Beato approaches each interview like a jazz musician.

“I don’t use a script,” he says. “I have an idea for what the video is going to be. And I just turn the camera on and I just film it. I usually have an idea for the first question but after that, it’s just improvised. I just listen to what they say and have a conversation.”

After years of interviewing so many musical greats, Beato says he’s noticed a pattern: Almost all of them have an obsessive component to their character.

“These are people who have put in a million hours into practicing, composing, recording and writing,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what the genre is, whether they’re jazz, classical or rock musicians. They’re all analytical, thoughtful people who can sit in a room and practice straight for 10 hours.”

A childhood filled with music

Beato could have been describing himself as well. He grew up in Fairport, a suburb of Rochester, New York. It was a big music town, near the prestigious Eastman School of Music. It also produced two iconic musicians: drummer Steve Gadd and trumpeter Chuck Mangione.

He comes from a large Italian Catholic family with seven siblings. Music filled his childhood home. His father collected jazz records and loved the jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. His mother played piano by ear. Two of his aunts taught music, and a younger brother played guitar.

A music career seemed inevitable. It began, though, with an accident. He broke his ankle at 13. Forced to stay home, he picked up a guitar and taught himself to play. After learning how to play songs he heard on the radio, he was hooked.

“I still feel at 60 the same way I did when I was 14,” he said recently in a YouTube video. “I love to play the guitar as much I did when I was 14… I’m always practicing.”

He attended Ithaca College in upstate New York, but it wasn’t a smooth transition. He failed his first audition to their music school, stymied by nerves and poor preparation. He tried again and got accepted, earning a degree in classical bass. He then earned a master’s degree in jazz guitar studies from the New England Conservatory of Music — and returned to Ithaca six years after his failed audition to teach jazz studies at the college.

“I always think of myself as a jazz musician,” he says.

He left Ithaca after he signed a deal to be a songwriter for a major music publishing company. He moved to Atlanta in 1994 and joined a rock band that never got enough traction. Their first record producer was fired, and then they were dropped by their label. He supported himself by offering private guitar lessons and built his home studio after drifting into record producing. He eventually produced an estimated 750 recordings.

He still had a passion for music but lost the desire to produce records.

“It got to the point where so much of the way records got made was less and less about playing together in a room, and the skill level of a lot of the people that I worked with started going further down,” he says.

How Beato struck YouTube gold

Beato eventually started a family. He and his wife, Nina, have three children, all named in honor of rock royalty (Dylan, Lennon, and Layla, with the latter being the title of an Eric Clapton hit). His face lights up when he talks about his family on his YouTube channel.

It was Dylan who inadvertently helped his father strike YouTube gold.

In 2016, Beato decided on the spur of the moment to make a video demonstrating Dylan’s perfect pitch. People with perfect pitch can instantly identify each note or chord played without the benefit of a reference note. An estimated one in 10,000 people have that ability.

Beato played a series of notes and polychords on the piano as Dylan, then a fidgety eight-year-old, stood with his back to his father and correctly identified every note. Beato posted the video on his seldom-used Facebook page (he had 30 followers at the time), and within days, it had a million views. It now has 4.2 million views.

He created his YouTube channel that same year after watching the video take off. Beato now makes enough money through ads and merch from his channel, as well as selling music tutorials online, to support his family.

Yet there’s a deeper reason he started his channel. He’s created a replica of the music community that nurtured him as a kid. His mother died three weeks before he started his YouTube channel. He talked to her virtually every day.

“My YouTube Channel was a way to honor my parents and leave something for my kids. And give back because I was so fortunate to have such a rich environment to grow up in,” he said in one video.

As articulate as he is about music, he says he’s not sure why his videos tend to do so well.

“I make videos about things I’m interested in; that’s my only criteria,” he says. “And it seems like other people are interested in the things I am.”

Look closely at his playlist, though, and a pattern emerges. His most popular videos are countdown videos like “The Greatest Solo of All Time,” or “Rick rants” such as “The Latest Top 10 is …Sh*t.” My favorite is when he takes a song and dissects it with a series he calls “What Makes This Song Great.” He often skillfully replicates the song on his guitar or keyboard.

In a recent video on Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer,” he relied on his experience as a music producer to explain the song’s appeal.

“You can tell songs written by professional songwriters,” he says after playing the video. “They have a level of sophistication — people who have done this over and over. They don’t reach for the things they’ve done a million times.”

Beato’s thoughts on the music industry’s future

There’s another component to Beato’s channel that became important to him: his role as a music educator. He’s a big believer in placing well-funded music programs in schools. He says they teach kids to think, and that many of the biggest leaders in Silicon Valley, like the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, were musicians.

He’s worried about the future of music. The rise of Artificial Intelligence will put more musicians out of work, popular music is getting progressively shallower, and fewer kids are learning how to play instruments, he says.

“I took my son and three of his friends to a dance at school, and I asked, ‘So are you going to have a band?’” he says. “And they said, ‘What are you talking about? It’s going to be a DJ.’ You know there were 20 bands in my high school. Everybody played guitar, bass, and drums.”

What’s his advice for someone who wants to be a successful musician today?

“The ability to promote yourself on social media is pretty crucial,” he says. “You need to have a social media presence and be good at making videos with short form content to promote your brand and yourself as an artist.”

Beato has plans to expand the range of his videos. He says he wants to include more women and young artists. And he wants to interview more musical legends, such as singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell and jazz legend Herbie Hancock.

There may be one additional reason for Beato’s popularity.

Music is a universal language. It’s one of the few communal experiences that brings people together, regardless of race, creed or color.

His Everything Music channel offers something for everybody, from fussy jazz snobs to trivia geeks curious about the “Top 20 One Hit Wonders of the ‘90s.”

Beato’s ability to strike a common chord with so many different people may not sound as epic as a Jimi Hendrix solo.

But in an increasingly divided world, that skill is also worth applause.

John Blake is the author of “More Than I Imagined: What a Black Man Discovered About the White Mother He Never Knew.”

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