It’s an unlikely success story. Dry- witted, professorial-looking New York University students Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino met while enrolled in the Steinhardt Music Program and began collaborating on show tune-y music. With Vaccarino as co-writer and manager, Axel released an unsuccessful solo CD. So they rechristened themselves as a duo, A Great Big World, and their Broadway-style compositions went everywhere. One early number, “This is the New Year,” was performed by the cast of TV’s “Glee,” and poignant piano ballad “Say Something” (from the duo’s new EP of the same name), recut with Christina Aguilera, went to No. 1 on iTunes after being featured on “The Voice.” The full-length “Is There Anybody Out There?” is due next year.
How did you guys meet?
Ian Axel: We met because Chad was in one of my classes, and I was looking for someone to write music with. I knew that he wrote his own music, and he seemed nice, so I found out he was going to be in a practice room, practicing his trumpet. He’d already said he was too busy to hang out or hear any new people or work on any music, so I stalked him. I went down these crazy corridors where everyone was practicing, and I looked in each little window until I found him. And then I convinced him to be my friend, because I played him my music and he actually liked it.
Chad Vaccarino: I know, I know! But I played trumpet in middle school, and I don’t know why I picked it up again. I was in a band at the time in college, and for some reason I was like “Yeah! I’ll pick up trumpet as an extra instrument!” And now we’ve been playing it in our show, and it’s a good touch — a nice introduction to what we’re all about.
What crucial things did you learn from the music-biz courses?
IA: I think the publishing stuff and the legal stuff was really helpful, because we had to read so many contracts after college. And on the publishing side of things, we’re songwriters at heart, so just figuring out how splits work when we started writing was essential.
So you never needed a lawyer — you can parse a record deal yourselves?
IA: I think we definitely need a lawyer now. The contracts are way too intense and there’s just too much at stake. The contracts are like novels at this point in our career!
IF YOU GO
A Great Big World
Where: Café Du Nord, 2170 Market St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Tickets: $10 to $15