Studenten

Student Simon is YouTube sensation

Strumming his way to success

By day, he is computer science student Simon de Wit; by night, he is Blanks, a YouTube sensation who makes his own music and reworks famous songs. Next week, he’ll be performing at the A2IM Indie Week in New York.
By Michelle Gerssen / PHoto Felipe Silva / Translation Sarah van Steenderen

They might just be the four most important days of his career: the A2IM Indie Week in New York will take place from June 17 until June 20. Simon de Wit (22), a master student of computer science, is one of three Dutch acts at the conference dedicated to independent music, also known as indie. ‘There was a very long waiting list. But then they told us we were through! It was so cool.’

Simon has been making music for a few years now. He uploads his own tracks and covers of famous songs to his YouTube channel Music by Blanks. He has more than 800,000 subscribers. His style swap, where he took Post Malone’s rap song ‘Better Now’ and mixed in a bunch of synthesizer sounds to give it an eighties feel, has been watched approximately 4.8 million times.

Sometimes, he’ll ask his Instagram followers to help him write both the music and the lyrics for a new track. Through polls, they can decide what they want to hear: something upbeat or sad, strings or piano music. He films his songwriting process and uploads it to YouTube. It’s led to hits such as the summer bop ‘Wave’ and the track ‘Don’t Stop’.

Grenade

‘We had this old acoustic guitar at home, and I sort of started playing it one holiday’, he says when asked how it all started. ‘I kind of liked it, so I started taking lessons. It all went pretty well, so once I’d learned a few chords I started singing.’ One of the first songs he learned to play was ‘Grenade’, by Bruno Mars. ‘It was a total hit back then, so obviously I had to learn how to play that’, he laughs.

He made videos with his little brother. ‘We made these mini-movies in the backyard with a camcorder. Then I discovered the vlogging community, which was mainly a thing in England at the time. I figured I could do that too, but in Dutch. I started making videos, and eventually moved on to music videos.’

That was during Simon’s second bachelor year, approximately two and a half years ago. He now works with a band, and his little brother plays the drums. His music studio is in his parents’ house, where he still lives as well. ‘No student house comes close to how great it is here.’

I decided to spread the master out over two years

So what’s it like to combine a fledgling music career with an academic education? ‘It was pretty easy to combine music and my bachelor courses. My weeks were pretty short; I only had ten contact hours. That was pretty easy, and super chill.’ It got harder when he started his master in computer science. ‘I decided to spread it out over two years rather than the usual one, or I wouldn’t have been able to combine it. The last few weeks were really packed. I had to write my thesis and do all the Blanks and YouTube work.’

In February 2018, six months into his master programme, Simon reached a turning point. ‘I had been posting One Hour Song Challenges, where I cover a pop song in less than an hour, for a while. I’d sometimes get responses from abroad, which was kind of weird since all my videos are in Dutch. Someone from Korea e-mailed me to ask if I could cover a song by BTS, a K-pop group, for their website. That video got two or three hundred thousand views, which was a lot back then! I gained a few thousand international followers after that.’

The One Hour Song Challenge for the song ‘Mine’ by Bazzi led to Simon doing his videos in English. The track went viral in the US, but Simon had done the video in Dutch. ‘Half a million views and a lot of the responses were about what language I was speaking. That’s when I realised I had to switch to English.’ That’s how he came up with his stage name, as well. ‘Simon de Wit doesn’t sound good in English at all. But then it hit me: Wit, blank, Blanks!’

Business

If everything goes according to plan, Simon will receive his master’s degree in a few months. ‘I’ve always loved computer science and I wanted to work in the field. But I don’t really think I’ll end up doing that anymore. If I had I probably would’ve started my own business. I still did, just a slightly different one than I’d originally thought’, he says, laughing.

Okay, so he won’t be working in computer science. What will he be doing? ‘I’d love to tour North America with my own music, make Blanks even bigger. And I’d love to help write songs behind the scenes, like Charlie Puth. He writes his own songs, but also works on tracks for 5 Seconds of Summer.’

The A2IM Indie Week could open new doors for him, as he’ll have the opportunity to meet people from the professional music industry and show them what he can do. ‘Maybe there’s a Sony guy who’s like: “I need to have a chat with you”.’

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