Interview: Smooth McGroove on Becoming YouTube Famous

They say he looks like Jesus. They say his vocal chords are made out of velvet. He is Smooth McGroove, and we had a chat with him.

Paul Tamburroby Paul Tamburro

Smooth McGroove went from relative anonymity to a celebrity within the YouTube gaming community seemingly overnight, after his awesome acapella rendition of 'Guile's Theme' from Street Fighter 2 blew up on the internet, He now has half a million subscribers on the video-sharing site, and his acapella covers of gaming themes regularly attract millions of views. So how does he feel about about becoming "YouTube Famous?" I tracked down the bearded, velvet-voiced wonder to discuss how he feels about his newfound popularity.

Crave Online: Your acapella covers have been covered by many mainstream gaming sites such as Game Informer and Kotaku, and your cover of ‘Guile’s Theme’ from Street Fighter 2 has gotten over 3 million hits on YouTube. How does it feel to have gone “viral”?

Smooth McGroove: It feels pretty good. It was unexpected. When I got over 100,000 views on one of my Mega Man videos, my wife and I were just like “that’s awesome!” Then the Guile video came out and in the first day it had just blown up, I was like “wow this is crazy!” The Kotaku article was just nuts because I’d never expected to get that kind of coverage, and one of my friends was just like “oh man, you got the Kotaku treatment!” So yeah, it’s been fun.

You’ve got nearly 500,000 subscribers on your YouTube channel despite posting your first video just 9 months ago. How have you managed to build such a large following in such a short period of time?

I have no idea. It was just a few months ago when I was kind of hitting my stride with these acapellas that I was looking at some other people on YouTube, I was looking at some other people doing guitar covers, vocal covers of video game songs, and I saw this one guy that I really liked who had 50,000 subscribers and I was like “man, if I keep doing what I’m doing maybe in a year or two I’ll have that big of an audience!” To look at my subscribers now and to see I’m over double that is pretty humbling, y’know? I’m thankful for it. I don’t know if I’ve done anything special really, but I do spend a lot of time on the audio side of the videos. I spend a lot of time mixing, and I guess I’ve got more refined and maybe that’s part of it. I don’t know. I guess a lot of people just like the beard.

It must be quite nerve-wracking to broadcast yourself to an audience as large as YouTube’s, especially now that your videos are being watched by hundreds of thousands of people. Did you ever feel apprehensive about sharing your talent online?

Yeah. When I was first started doing this I was doing Ocarina of Time stuff because it wasn’t too tough and I had confidence that I could sing it, but back then I had 50 subscribers or something… now I have all these people who are going to get a notification when I upload a video, and I’m very self-conscious about it. I’m fortunate to have received a lot of really good song requests [from fans]. I’m about to upload a new song in a couple of hours… but I’m self-conscious about it. It’s a song that I’ve gotten a lot of requests for, but it’s one of those where even though I’ve done all the mixing and mastering and I’ve got the video edited, I’m still self-conscious and I’m apprehensive about putting it out. It’s a weird feeling. I like it, because it makes me push myself to make sure it sounds and looks good, but will it be up to everyone else’s standards? But I’m still having fun, y’know, and as long as I can keep that mindset, that I’m doing this because I love it, then I can keep a smile on my face and keep making videos.

What made you decide to start posting videos of your music onto YouTube?

I posted music online before, back on MySpace. I’d been working on MIDI samples with programs like Reason, and I was getting my feet wet and having a lot of fun because it was the first time I’d ever actually wrote music. I’d been a drummer since 11 years old. I’d played drums in punk bands, in metal bands, in jazz bands, so when I hit college age I started thinking “I wonder if I can record my own music?” So I started recording some MIDI stuff, and of course it was video game style. I go back and I listen to that stuff and it was inspired by video game music. I put it up on MySpace and some friends and family were like “oh, that’s cool!” and it was fun but it didn’t really go anywhere. 

Then a few years later I started a band with some friends of mine and, of course, I was the drummer. I wrote half the songs, they wrote the other half and we did some more rock stuff inspired by The Flaming Lips, The Beatles and Radiohead. We had a lot of fun doing that, we posted that online and we got a lot more feedback and a lot more exposure because it was a lot more polished as I was doing the mixing. I got a lot better at it and we even got invited to our local college Battle of the Bands. That died down eventually, though, because bands are kind of like being married – it doesn’t last unless everyone is completely happy! So I had this lull where I didn’t do any music for 2, maybe 3 years and I was just hanging out and playing a lot of video games. 

Then all of a sudden, I just got this inspiration and I was like “I’m gonna make some music!” So that’s when I started doing some rap stuff. I started rapping about League of Legends and World of Warcraft raiding and stuff like that, and that’s how this all kind of started.

Your channel combines two elements that have proven very popular on YouTube: MysteryGuitarMan-esque unique musical accompaniments, and video games. Did the popularity of these two things factor in on your decision to create the type of videos that you do?

In my case, music is my living. I make a living doing music lessons and I’ve put a lot of money into equipment over the years. As far as the other end of the spectrum. I didn’t really think of anyone other than people who enjoy video game music watching my stuff. If you look at my early videos, they’re original songs that are just about video games, and I was having fun with that, I was rapping [laughs]. I’m not a rap fan, but I had fun with it, and I think humour is good in music. When I started doing the acapella stuff, that was just to challenge myself, honestly. The first song I did was Zelda’s Lullaby, and I just love that song. I was just like “I love this song – I wonder if I can cover it? I wonder if I can cover it with just my voice?” I’m a project-oriented guy, and that sounded intimidating to me, so I was like “I’m going to take that on!” I gave myself a week to do it, to get into the stride of it, and it was rough. I go back and listen to that song and I wanna redo it, but I leave it up because it gives viewers a perspective on how I’ve grown.

If the popularity of your YouTube channel continues to grow, is it something you’d consider doing full-time, or do you want to strictly keep it as your hobby?

I have two answers to that. I want to keep this as a hobby, and I want to keep this as something I love. But I also realise that because of the exposure I’ve gotten, that if I want to I can make this something much bigger than what it already is, if I continue to put the amount of effort into it that I do. I’d love to do this for a living. It’s been my dream since I was 11 years old to do music for a living in some way, shape or form. I always dreamed that it would be for some band that I like, but if you told me back then that I’d be singing video game covers for a living and doing arrangements with them with just my voice, I’d have laughed, but I’d have also said “that sounds awesome,” and if you asked me that today I’d still say “that sounds awesome.” It’s something that I love to do, and I’ll continue putting in the effort as long as people continue to enjoy it.