Just a few years ago, two best friends in Los Angeles Googled how to make music.
Now, the YouTube tutorial- and internet forum-inspired duo of Eli Sones and Matthew Halper, known as Two Friends, tours the world and gets millions of listens on their remixes—primarily their Big Bootie Mixes, which are a hit on Duke’s campus.
Anywhere Duke students are, from fraternity parties to Perkins Library to Krzyzewskiville, you will probably find someone listening to a Big Bootie Mix. Perhaps one reason why is the duo’s connection to campus. Two Friends played one of their first shows at Duke in 2013 and played at Shooters II Saloon in 2017.
Two Friends’ Big Bootie Mixes—unofficial Duke anthems—are roughly hour-long upbeat mashups of current and throwback electronic, rap and pop music, from Journey to Post Malone, distributed for free on SoundCloud and YouTube. The latest, "Big Bootie Mix 15," was released in April.
Their music, including Big Bootie Mixes, original songs and other remixes, hasn’t just caught the attention of Duke students—the Grammy-winning EDM trio The Chainsmokers labeled them one of the most “underrated” artists in 2017. One key to their success: Sones and Halper, who graduated in 2015 from Vanderbilt University and Stanford University, respectively, have been best friends since middle school.
“We come from a background of being actual best friends, so it never feels like we’re business partners or co-workers where we need to keep everything PC,” Sones told The Chronicle. “We know each other so well that we get in such a groove working together.”
‘How do we make music?’
Before their days touring in places like Norway, Mexico and Spain, Two Friends didn’t necessarily think their future was in music.
Sones and Halper grew up in Los Angeles and went to middle school and high school together, immediately becoming best friends after meeting in seventh grade. Both had been “slightly involved” in music, but international tours weren’t really on the table—or anywhere close to it.
Even in college, just a few years before being recognized by the Chainsmokers, Sones didn’t think he would be a serious musician.
“It wasn’t like I ever thought my occupation would be music,” Sones said.
However, their musical talent didn’t come out of nowhere—Halper had played guitar his whole life, sang in the choir and taken music theory classes in high school, and Sones had played clarinet in middle school. Not virtuosos necessarily, but not schmucks either.
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The summer before Sones went to Nashville, Tenn., and Halper went to Palo Alto, Calif., for college in 2011, things got more serious.
The two were looking for new things to do and decided to start “messing around” with music. So they did the natural thing for them: opening up Google.
“That summer between senior year of high school and freshman year of college we went online and Googled ‘How do we make music?’ and ‘What program do we buy?’ and we just dove into it,” Sones said. “And here we are now.”
The process of learning how to make music consisted of everything from YouTube tutorials to forums to manuals, Sones said. In the early going, the final product wasn’t always pretty.
“Whenever we go back to the archives and listen to the stuff we made in the first year or two, we laugh at ourselves,” Sones said.
But those less-than-average songs were crucial to the duo’s development, Sones argued. By putting in the hours in Halper’s garage and having fun, making music “never feels like a chore or a job.” He appreciates the “low barrier to entry” for the genre as well.
Sones and Halper bring different strengths to the table. Halper has more of a music background, whereas Sones has more of a DJ background—albeit just as a “classic bedroom DJ”—something that Sones said plays well in their collaboration.
“We have a good system now where it’s important for us to both work on some things, big picture stuff, main ideas, getting started on songs, writing session, etc., and then there’s certain things where it’s an advantage for there to be two of us,” Sones said. “We have a good system now, and we know each other so well that we just have it down.”
Once they arrived at college, the two friends communicated on Skype, Facebook and email every day, bouncing ideas off each other. Anytime they had breaks back at home, they would take a "trial run" of what it would be like to do Two Friends as a career.
The duo had “traditional” internships the summer after the first year, but the rest of the summers were focused on Two Friends full-time, working out of Halper’s basement on a fold-up table with a monitor and speakers. Demand for their music was starting to grow.
‘How do I DJ?’
Once their songs started gaining traction, they began learning how to perform.
“There started to be a little bit of demand for performing, so we should sort of figure out how to DJ,” Sones said. “We again went to Google ‘How do I DJ?’ and figured out what sort of hardware and software we needed. Then, we forced ourselves to learn it and get to a position where we felt comfortable performing.”
They didn’t do any performances until their junior and senior years of college, when they did roughly five to 10 shows per year, including a performance at a Duke fraternity party in 2013. The shows were mostly opening gigs and fraternity parties.
“There was no money from that, just for fun and trying to get in that world,” Sones said.
Those summers, they took it more seriously, which Sones said was helpful for them to break out right after graduation.
“When we graduated, we went right into it,” Sones said. “We had our team with our management and our agent and were able to dive right in and not worry about having to do the setup stuff.”
Roughly six months to a year after graduation, the touring took off. In 2016, the duo began doing weekly shows and haven’t looked back since, getting on the road every weekend.
One of those early shows was at Durham’s Shooters II Saloon for a fraternity rush event in January 2017. Sones remembers the nightclub’s mechanical bull.
“We love Duke. That was a fun one,” Sones said. “Hopefully we’ll be back again.”
How Big Bootie Mixes are made
Big Bootie Mixes are roughly an hour long and consist of hundreds of songs and several sound bites from pop culture mashed-up together.
Sones told The Dartmouth that the variety of music they use makes their work difficult to classify.
“At the core, you could classify us as part of the electronic music and dance music realm, but we have a lot of other elements,” Sones told The Dartmouth. “There are a lot of pop elements, we’re influenced by a lot of stuff in alternative rock, hip hop [and] we include a lot of live elements in our music—90% of our songs feature some type of guitar that Matt records and we work a lot with saxophonists and trumpet players.”
Two Friends begins the creative process of mixing together all sorts of music by amassing a library of roughly 500 songs, with the ultimate goal of whittling that list down to around 200. They then organize the songs by key and begin a process of trial and error to see which songs fit together.
“It’s not that much of a blind process where we do super random things,” Sones said. “But it’s like, ‘This song is a super classic a capella that people will love to sing along to, this is going to be great, let’s find a great cool, high energy song. This is a great Calvin Harris instrumental, let’s see what this sounds like.’”
It used to be a much slower process but now takes about a month of “buckling down and focusing on it,” he said. Sones added they’re still working out of Halper’s basement, but it’s been upgraded.
Their favorite part of the process comes at the end, in which they add 10 or so sound bites sprinkled throughout the mix a day or two before it is done. Sones’ favorite one: a clip from 1994 film “Dumb and Dumber” in which lead character Lloyd Christmas says "So you're telling me there's a chance?"
Two Friends releases two Big Bootie Mixes per year, one around April and one in September or October.
“Each one, we really do try our best to see if we can beat the last one and make it the best one yet and jam pack it with songs,” Sones said. “Each one also gets a little tougher, not only because there’s added pressure on us to try to beat the last one, but also we try our best to not reuse songs if we can. There’s a limited amount of stuff we can work with.”
Sones said they spread out the mixes so that more new music is available, but there are fewer and fewer throwbacks to use. As for their latest mix, Sones said they are "really happy" with how it turned out.
“I’m not just saying this,” Sones said. “I really do think it’s our favorite one yet.”
They received a lot of requests for Lil Nas X’s sensational hit “Old Town Road” in their latest mix, but they said it “got big” after they had finished it.
“We’ll see what we can do with 16,” Sones said.
Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor
A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks.