June 2011. Martha’s Vineyard. Cal Shapiro and Rob Resnick, the two members of crossover band Timeflies, are hard at work in a white-walled room with a handful of friends, beer cans everywhere, a computer in the corner, and a standalone mic in the middle. OK, maybe not your traditional definition of “hard at work,” but somehow, it is. Resnick, better known as Rez, throws on a personally-remixed version of the Kansas classic “Wayward Son,” while Cal walks up to the mic, smiling. “Another Timeflies Tuesday,” he says. “I had a few Bud Lights, so it’s gonna be a good Tuesday, goddamn.” Two years later, that video has over 2 million views and Timeflies is in the middle of a national tour. It’s headlining. The dudes play the 2,700-person Orpheum Theater in Boston on Friday. And it’s sold out. To some, even after shuffling through the duo’s more than 150 videos on YouTube, Timeflies’ success just might not make a whole lot of sense. Sure, these guys are talented, but they’re regular. They do the same things we do. They’re too normal to be famous. How did they do it?
In early 2010, a Cambridge native named Sammy Adams dropped a sickeningly catchy, autotuned remix to Asher Roth’s “I Love College” (he also changed “love” to “hate”). Nothing has been the same since. “I Hate College” was a song every kid privileged enough to attend college could relate to, for better or worse. It was a braggadocios blend of hip-hop and pop addressing all the highs and lows of college life, and the end result was an overarching statement that, although we hate the academic side of college life, we certainly love all the parties. This philosophy may not have applied to everyone -– hell, it may not have even applied to the majority -– but there was a huge market for it nonetheless. Adams was a seemingly regular dude pointing out the obvious with the help of a nice melody and it brought him fame.
Cal and Rez were then students at Tufts University, just minutes down the road from Sammy’s hometown. They likely spent at least a little bit of time partying to Adams’s hit record. And combining their musical talent with their business acumen, chances are they probably took some notes on how he did it, too.
The duo joined Facebook as Timeflies on Oct. 22, 2010, and immediately began engaging fans with daily posts, mostly centered around music they began releasing consistently the next month. They supplemented their catchy, lighthearted pop/rap tunes with a steady stream of photos, clever, eye-catching merchandise (boxer briefs with “Timeflies when these come off” written across the back), and a video series campaign called “Timeflies Tuesdays” that’s still running three years later. Everything worked hand-in-hand, and the resulting brand encapsulated a lifestyle that hundreds of thousands could connect with.
Leveraging the power of social media and blog support from major college music sites like Good Music All Day, Fresh New Tracks, and BroBible, Timeflies cemented its identity and generated a steadily increasing following to go along with the rising quality and quantity of content. By the time they were ready to drop a full-length project in September 2011, they skipped the whole free download step and put “The Scotch Tape” for sale on iTunes. They had released 43 videos on YouTube in less than a year, and through that dedication to their fans, they had built a following that felt immersed in their story -– almost as much a part of the success as the musicians themselves. Coughing up $7.99 for some new music was nothing.
Timeflies became content kings, and the members’ understanding of direct-to-fan marketing allowed it to rise remarkably fast. Since The Scotch Tape, the duo has released one free mixtape and two EPs on iTunes, the latest being “Warning Signs” last month. Those three projects total just 21 songs, yet Timeflies is traveling the country performing sold out shows for thousands of screaming fans every night. Its fan base, consisting largely of teenage girls, represents the feel-good, party atmosphere created by the music. Essentially, it’s a bunch of people who would have killed to be in that white-walled room on Martha’s Vineyard. To the general public, Cal and Rez look like a couple of bros who bro out like the rest of the bros we go to school and grow up with. The same familiarity and relatability that might make it difficult to understand how they separated from the crowd, though, is exactly the duo’s recipe for success. They’re us – an over-the-top, relentless, consistent, musically-inclined version of us.
That “Wayward Son” video filmed at the Martha’s Vineyard house still tells you everything you need to know about Timeflies two years later. These guys are having a really, really good time doing what they’re doing, and they gained a massive following by delivering everything with a “you can do what we’re doing, too,” regular-guy attitude. Two weeks after “Wayward Son,” they dropped an official video for a song called “Cars Money and Fame” because naturally, why shouldn’t life take you from drinking Bud Lights in Martha’s Vineyard recording freestyles with your friends to all the success you could dream of two weeks later? At the end of the day, that’s an illusion –- at least in that period of time. But that’s not what matters. Fans watched and believed, and they’re purchasing music and concert tickets two years later because they still believe.
Timeflies is currently headlining “The Warning Signs Tour” in support of its “Warning Signs” EP, a four-track collection released on Oct. 14 via Forty8Fifty (its own label) and Island Def Jam. The main supporting act for the tour? None other than Sammy Adams. Both he and Timeflies splashed onto the scene in similar ways without any real path laid out for them and rode the wave all the way into 2013, so the pairing is fitting.
We can call the music frat-rap, we can call it hip-pop, we can really call it whatever we want; it doesn’t make a difference. We can acknowledge their success or write them off as bros who caught a couple of lucky breaks; they don’t really care. Timeflies created a movement, and the lifestyle-based music is just a piece of the puzzle. The show goes on at The Orpheum Friday night, and it doesn’t appear the curtains are closing anytime soon.