Smooth McGroove is not your average YouTuber. He makes a cappella arrangements of video game music, and has amassed just over 1 million subscribers and over 100 million views on his channel as of September 2014, all in just under two years. In addition, he also has close to 200,000 likes on his Facebook page and over 50,000 followers on Twitter. His unique style and musical talent has not gone unnoticed and he is growing more and more popular by the day, so I took the opportunity to ask a few questions while I had the chance!
Tell us more about your music background.
Smooth McGroove: I grew up in a very musical family. My mom and dad met in a band audition, and our garage growing up was a converted band practice space with drums, guitars, etc. Some of my earliest memories consist of loud muffled music coming from the garage and my mom singing as she cleaned the house. I took some piano lessons at eight years old, but my teacher constantly scolded me for learning by watching and listening rather than reading the sheet music. I ended up quitting piano lessons to focus on other things, but got back into music with drums in school band at age 11. My dad talked me into taking drum lessons and I quickly realized that I learned much more during one thirty-minute weekly drum lesson than I did in an entire week of school band. I quit school band after one year and kept taking lessons until I graduated high school.
During high school I played in several bands, mostly punk-rock, which was a lot of fun but it also gave me that invaluable experience you can only get by playing music with other musicians. I got a scholarship at the University of Central Oklahoma playing Jazz drums, which opened me up to much more dynamic playing and made me a better drummer. Throughout high school and college I continued to play guitar and piano, though not as serious as I took drumming. I started giving private drum lessons around this time and kept that up until my YouTube channel started rapidly growing.
What inspired you to do a cappella covers of video game music?
SM: Honestly a creative block forced me into trying something new and completely different than what I normally would do musically. The idea to record an entire song using only my voice popped into my thoughts one day, and it gave me that excitement and inspiration to give it a shot and make it sound good. I've sung along to music my whole life, but I've always been a shy guy and have never enjoyed performing in front of people unless I could sit behind a drumset. The ability to sit alone in my living room and record track after track at my own pace felt very natural and it kept me motivated. It still does!
How do you choose what songs to cover?
SM: I've been a huge fan of video game music my whole life, and so from the beginning I've had a huge list of songs I'd like to cover. Fans request hundreds of songs a day, so I've also discovered some new games and soundtracks through that which I'm thankful for!
Can you describe your arranging process? For example, do you use any notation software such as Finale or Sibelius, or do you simply hand-write out or even track a loose outline first?
SM: In the beginning, I used my ear to pick apart the songs and just winged it from there. That method works, but more and more I try to find some version of notated music to get me started with my arrangement. It speeds up the process quite a bit and gives me something to go off of. I generally use Steinberg Cubase to record and arrange.
How much post-recording production goes into your recordings and videos, such as editing, mixing, etc.? Do you use melodyne or autotune when you record?
SM: The amount of post-production depends on the song. Some songs don't require much mixing, EQ, added verb, or editing. Others require quite more of it to make the mix sound listenable. I've never used melodyne, but I dabbled with autotune when I recorded a few vocalists back in 2007 and aside from humor purposes I really don't like that software. I'm a fan of brute-force recording track after track to get it right, and if I have a massively difficult melody line I'll spread it between two or more tracks or just punch in a small section. In the end it sounds much better to me.
From start to finish, can you give a rough estimate as to how much time goes into each of your videos?
SM: From the easiest to the hardest songs I've done, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. A lot of it depends on how long I spend on the arrangement, how motivated I am, and if I'm working long days recording. I always seem to spend longer than I think recording these songs because I always want them to sound better.
What is some of your favorite music to listen to, both video game and non-video game music?
SM: I really like music that "wows" me. I love the feeling of listening to music that really takes my mind somewhere it hasn't been before, or somewhere in a new way. Outside of video game music, I've been listening to a lot of Noah Lennox, Tame Impala, Dirty Projectors, Fleet Foxes, and pretty much anything else that has fantastic harmonies or melodies.
What are some of your goals for the future? Is there anything you haven’t done yet that you really would like to?
SM: I'd like to continue to make music! Honestly though, I have a lot of songs that I'd like to do a cappella versions of that I haven't yet. Mostly video game tunes, of course, but also some non-video game tunes. I'll continue to follow what feels right because that's what led me here in the first place!
You can check out Smooth McGroove’s videos on his YouTube page, and follow his social media pages below:
About the writer:
As a musician Jessica started at an early age, playing piano and flute throughout her childhood, but she discovered singing and a cappella during high school and was immediately hooked. In college she sang with and directed the Boston University Allegrettos, doing most of the arranging as well as producing an album, and sang with friends in her hometown during the summers in Henry Fonda & the Falsettos. As a post-grad she has continued to arrange for various collegiate and high school groups. Some of her other interests include Boston sports and all dogs, ever.