Smooth McGroove: How Humming Game Tunes Becomes Cool
Is it possible for a capella to be cool?
The success of the Fox TV show “Glee,” not to mention a jillion YouTube videos, says hell to the no on that. The genre is rightfully defined by relentlessly chipper performances utterly lacking in irony, or any apparent knowledge of the campy undertones.
Enter Max Gleason, better known by his YouTube handle, Smooth McGroove.
A drummer and drum teacher in Oklahoma City, Smooth is famous online for his amazing a capella renditions of classic video game themes. His videos aren’t just fun re-arrangements of classic game music — with songs from Sonic the Hedgehog, Castlevania, Street Fighter 2, Final Fantasy VII and Mega Man, to name a few — they’re also shockingly cinematic, with the screen split to feature recordings of Smooth singing every portion of the song, and video from the game in question in the center.
The effect is not only hypnotic, it also accomplishes the almost impossible task of making a capella music awesome, with Smooth sometimes singing more than a dozen tracks for a single song, all mixed together in the video. That’s a success more difficult to achieve than untyting the Gordian knot, and I had to know how he does it.
“I started off doing original songs, but one day I decided to arrange a Zelda song and record it using only my voice,” Smooth said in an email interview with Game Front. He also added that he never did much singing until he started recording. “I enjoyed the process so much,” he said, “that I kept doing it!”
Smooth’s process is fairly organic, which is another way of saying he just wings it. He said he generally listens to the original music track from the game repeatedly and picks out the various parts, recording each of them individually as he listens to them.
Finally, he goes back and re-records each track until they each sound how he wants them to sound — which is to say, he’s a perfectionist, and it shows. Take his cover of “Corridors of Time” from Chrono Trigger, embedded below. At various intervals, Smooth produces a rolling sound that, with some reverb, resembles the strumming of a full harp; listen to it with headphones, and the effect is more pronounced as the harp passes from ear to ear. Through techniques such as these, he manages the trick of making it sound like an original work.
How does he manage it? “Using a metronome helps immensely.”
An avid gamer and a passionate musician, Smooth said he’s always been interested in working with video games.
“Ever since I started playing games as a kid, I’ve felt a connection with video game music,” he said. “The era of video games that I grew up with had very powerful music, and I feel fortunate that other people enjoy listening to me do my versions of those songs. I’ve written my own songs inspired by my favorite video game composers as well.”
Smooth started his YouTube channel with random game songs that he liked, but said he now receives so many requests from his many subscribers that he tends to pick his favorites from among those. The upshot is that he intends to continue a capella video game arrangements until he runs out of good music, which he doesn’t see happening any time soon.
Meanwhile, Smooth’s online popularity has translated to offline success, at least in that it’s allowed him to spend more time on the creation of more songs and videos. “But,” he said, “I’ve also received several offers having to do with performances and other things along those lines. For now, I’ll continue to do what’s fun, which is why I started this in the first place!”