Remember Vine? A number of artists found their big break on the six-second video hosting service, including Shawn Mendes, a 19 year-old Canadian pop-singer, and Us The Duo, a husband-and-wife folk-pop duo. This past July, I watched Us The Duo take the stage at Vancouver, Canada’s renowned Vogue Theatre, and was struck by their loyal following. Many artists attract an online following, but few are able to both leverage and continue to grow this following as successfully as Us The Duo. How did the couple gain its following on Vine, and how did they grow their loyal audience even after the platform closed? Keep reading!
Michael and Carissa Alvarado met in Los Angeles in 2011 on set of a music video. In 2012, they married, and in 2013, they began uploading six-second covers to Vine. By 2015, the couple had amassed 4.8 million Vine followers. They signed with Republic Records in 2014, recognized as the first artists signed to a deal after a break-out on Vine. In June 2018, Us The Duo wowed America’s Got Talent with their audition, featuring an original song they wrote for their wedding as their vows to each other (yes, that’s right-- awwww!). They have since made it through to the Top 48 of the contest.
And they weren’t kidding.
Creating a Connection Online
In a saturated industry with countless talented artists, how were Us The Duo able to gain this kind of following and recognition? The powerful connection that the couple created with fans online led to their success. On Vine, fans appreciated the couple’s wide variety of covers that resonated with music lovers of every kind. The duo created their own seasonally-appropriate jingles; performed everything from The Lion King to Ariana Grande, and from Wham! to The Lumineers; and even posted footage of them singing in the crowd at concerts.
Their creativity, humor, personality, and love for each other made their six-second clips feel authentic. The couple made each video their own with unique branding touches, such as beginning every video showing only the lower half of their faces, then panning up to show their entire faces. They posted high-quality content of this nature frequently, and often shared personal content, featuring YouTube videos like “Husband Does My Makeup” and a “Name That Tune” contest to decide who would wash their car, closing with calls to action like, “oh yeah and come see us on tour.” Fans appreciated feeling like insiders and developed a relationship with Us The Duo, soon referring the couple as “Mom and Dad.”
Creating a Connection On Stage
Not only did fans feel this connection online, but Us The Duo delivered the same engaging performances on stage and further strengthened their connection with fans with their vibrant personalities and love story.
When Us The Duo are on stage, they seem to genuinely be having a great time. As an audience member, you feel sometimes like a fly on the wall of an in-home recording session, rather than a professional gig at a historic theatre. Carissa Alvarado, now 6 months pregnant, laughed out loud when her husband, Michael, sang the wrong lyric of their song, “Together,” announcing, “What I’ve found out is that pregnancy brain actually rubs off on the husband, too.” Greeted by laughter from the audience, she continued graciously, “But that’s cool, I’m glad we’re in this together.”
Later, following what seemed to be an impromptu jam session, Carissa exclaimed, “I felt like I was in the game,” and flexed a bicep. Over laughter from the crowd, Michael asked his wife, “Alright, so you wanna get sassy?” She agreed, “Yeah let’s get sassy,” as they broke out into “Goodbye Forever.”
Us The Duo add personal touches to their performances by embedding details of their own love story. When introducing “Make You Mine,” Michael explained that “this song is about the course of our relationship in 3.5 minutes.” The audience went wild when Michael turned his gaze from the crowd to Carissa while singing, “When you know it, you know it, and I always knew with you.” When the duo sang “Near or Far,” Michael explained it was “one of the first songs Carissa and I wrote together” at the start of their once long-distance relationship.
Us The Duo fans are known for their exceptional loyalty. It was difficult to hear Carissa over the crowd until the chorus of the duo’s opening song.
Many of the Duo’s fans come in duos as well. That’s right… in the crowd, there were young couples everywhere. Hand holding, cheek kissing, two-stepping... you name it, I saw it. Standing in the mosh pit, I felt more single than watching a rom-com in theater on Valentine’s Day.
You can’t help but feel that Us The Duo’s music is a celebration of love. They sing about love, they’re in love and many of their fans are in love. This is perhaps the strongest source of connection between Us The Duo and their audience, and every part of their messaging is aligned with this key connection. Even the opening act, Justin Nozuka was noticeably on-brand, closing his set by asking fans to sing along: “A million miles away and I’ll still find you,” a message that resonated with the Us The Duo base.
During the show, I had the chance to chat with two fans about their four year journey as Us The Duo followers. The pair, a couple (surprise, surprise), raved about their previous experiences at The Duo’s shows. “They make every show personal… we’ve been to four shows and they’re all memorable for different reasons. Two tours ago they brought a band with them, and it was a totally different dynamic-- it was a lot of fun.” I asked what kept them listening long after Us The Duo’s Vine spotlight came to a close, and they cited the duo’s presence on Spotify, Instagram and YouTube. “I keep up with them on Instagram because they always say where they are, so it’s easy to find out when they’re coming to town.”
The couple sheepishly admitted to owning several Us The Duo t-shirts and posters from previous concerts. The apparel, which was available for sale in the lobby, featured a minimalistic, fashionable design well-aligned with the duo’s vibe.
Us The Duo are not only present on social media, but they’re also responsive. Michael introduced a cover, explaining, “We posted on Instagram and asked which song we should cover on our next tour, and this was the most-liked comment on that post. I’d never heard it and I told Carissa I thought there were way too many lyrics but she said it was a beautiful song… but I know you guys will have heard it since you voted for it!” In a subtle call to action, Michael both inspired the audience to engage with the duo online, and demonstrated the value fans can find by interacting with their pages.
The connection that Us The Duo created with fans on Vine, and thereafter on other platforms, has led to undeniable, lasting fan loyalty. What could have been a short-term fifteen minutes of fame on a fad social media platform has turned into a brand that continues to grow and resonate with fans. There need be no do-overs for this duo.
How Can You Brand for A Break-Out? Here’s the Summary:
Create meaningful connections with your fan base.
Keep your messaging (everything from a single Tweet to selecting your opening act) on-brand.
Engage with your audience on a consistent basis-- “making it” on social media platforms rarely happens overnight and often requires long-term building.
Personalization is key. Making fans feel like “insiders” by tailoring and personalizing your content will strengthen your value proposition.