Rhett Price: Rise of the Violin Pop Star

Violinist and songwriter Rhett Price's first record, Kesha's Mom, defies genre classification and debuts at number 10 on the iTunes Alternative EP chart.

March 5, 2015

Recently, violinist, songwriter, and prodigious YouTuber Rhett Price ’10 packed a few things and then up and left. It’s not the first time, either. But this time is different. Price has set off for a 30-date tour with his band in support of his first record, Kesha’s Mom. Other than two cover songs, the bulk of the 10-track record consists of original material, and in this case, “original” means infectious pop songs where the violin is the lead singer. 

Climbing Charts, Blurring Genres

Debuting at No. 10 on the iTunes Alternative EP chart, the album has also made waves on Billboard’s Classical Crossover (No. 12) and Classical (No. 27) lists. And while that range of genre classifications might seem strange, the spectrum makes perfect sense for a guy with a pop star’s ambition and a long-held desire to show a younger and wider audience how diverse violin music can be. “I love when people think one of my songs is a cover,” he said, commenting on the fact that his original tunes have the same pop panache of the radio anthems he’s become known for covering on YouTube.

Always Say Yes

Price is a Greenwood, Texas native (“It’s not even on the map,” he says) who left for Berklee in 2009 when he had little more than the clothes on his back and his instrument. “I took as many performance classes and lessons as I could,” he said of the year he spent as a student, making a conscious decision to always say yes to any opportunities to perform or record. This often meant he had time for everything but rest. On one particular occasion, he slept only two hours within a 36-hour stretch—the rest of the time was spent recording, rehearsing, or in a lesson.

Watch the Boston-themed video for Price's cover of Michael Jackson's 'Beat It'

One of those recording sessions was with engineering legend and 2009 Berklee honorary doctorate recipient George Massenburg, whose client list includes Herbie Hancock, Billy Joel, and the Dixie Chicks, to name just a few. For Price, the schedule was ultimately unsustainable, but it was all worth it, because it meant not just experience and education, but the chance to learn with and observe masters of their craft, such as Massenburg, the genre-bending violinist Mark O’Connor, and jazz violin virtuoso Jean-Luc Ponty, who, according to Price, “just walked into class one day.” “In that one year,” he said, “there were so many people like that.”

From Boston to Austin (and Back Again)

After his time at Berklee, Price up and left again, this time for Austin, Texas, where he had no plans other than to keep performing. At first, he hopped around on friends’ couches, grabbing money from small bar gigs—again, saying yes to everything that involved playing music, even if it was in a supporting role. He started putting his entrepreneurial energy into social media, doing everything he could, from uploading short videos of his music onto YouTube to using Twitter to find gigs. 

He soon landed a regular sideman gig playing with a popular regional country band, but he knew early on that center stage was where he truly wished to be. After six months, he up and left for Boston again, taking yet another “leap of faith” as he puts it, in order to carve out a more sustainable solo career. “I knew if I came back to [the] Berklee [area], then there would be a lot of young musicians that are extremely talented…and maybe I could build things.”

Watch Price and Josh Knowles cover Taylor Swift's 'I Knew You Were Trouble'

‘Swift’ Rise to the Top

Upon returning to Boston, it would take Price five months before he could afford a room of his own, and much of his income included busking around Boston Common and various subway stations. In the spring of 2013, he and his co-busker, Josh Knowles, came up with the idea to record a more professional live video of their subway performance. They eventually chose Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and before they knew it, the video had gone viral (it has currently garnered more than 1.5 million views) and they were being congratulated on their overnight success.

But, according to Price, there was nothing swift about it. “It took me five years to make that overnight success happen,” he says. And it would take another two years of relentless pavement-pounding, social networking, and energy to bring Price to his official debut not just as a violinist, but as a songwriter and frontman, like he’d always envisioned. “If you know what you want to do,” he says, “don’t let there be an option—just do it.” And while Nike might make that last bit of advice sound easy, Price is evidence of how many leaps of faith it takes to make the dream happen.