The Internet is full of individuals trying to make a living doing something unique that appeals to the masses, that’s no secret.
Unfortunately, most people’s attempts flare out before they even have a chance to get started. However, there are always a few exceptions where someone’s idea to do something for fun manages to take off, become a phenomenon and lead to full-time work.
Take Smooth McGroove for example. A man who is well known for his YouTube channel where he, by himself, takes tracks from a wide array of video games, and fully recreates them in an a cappella arrangement.
No instruments; no digital sound boards. It’s just a man and his wide range of vocals.
McGroove, whose real name is Max Gleason, said that transcendence from a simple YouTuber to star happened basically overnight after trying to get out of, what he called, a creative block while attempting to write an original song.
“I came up with the idea to cover a video game song to break that block, which would keep me making music in the meantime,” he said. “To keep it interesting, I decided to cover it using only my voice. I had so much fun with it that I wanted to keep doing it and improving. The rest is history!”
Gleason originally wanted all of his music and videos to be released under a pseudonym, and without anyone ever seeing his face. Obviously the whole idea of never seeing his face didn’t work out, but what about the false name. Just how did Smooth McGroove become the lucky winner of the name sweepstakes?
“It started as a joke, actually,” Gleason said. “Smooth McGroove came up, which gave my wife and I good laugh, so I stuck with it.”
Gleason is no stranger to creating music. Growing up in a musical family, Gleason had guitars laying around the house when he was a child.
At the age of 11, Gleason decided to play the drums, and even began giving private drum lessons as a way to earn money while he was in college. The idea of writing his own music began after he started to learn to play guitar and piano while he was older, but he never expected any of his experiences would lead him to the success he’s seeing now as Smooth McGroove.
Gleason stated that while he started doing these a cappella covers for fun — starting with Zelda’s Lullaby from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – he realized he had something special going on after a few of his covers really took off in viewership.
“After I recorded Guile’s Theme from Street Fighter 2 and internet publications started writing and posting about me, I decided to take a leap and go at this full time,” he said. “It’s been a lot of work, but also very fulfilling.”
Going full time with his covers was a smart decision for Gleason as it takes him, on average, about 30 hours to finish an a cappella video. Some videos, he says, have taken him up to 60 hours to complete after figuring out, by ear, each individual track that makes up the full song. With a new video going up on his channel every week, 30-60 hours of recording, editing and publishing time is a lot to ask of someone, especially if they weren’t doing it as a full-time position.
Gleason’s success as Smooth McGroove has, admittedly, presented him with opportunities that he never could have imagined having. From collaborations with other popular YouTube channels like “Did You Know Gaming” to the chance to do work with various companies, the video game a cappella have taken him on a path that he could only have dreamed of.
When it’s all said and done, however, Gleason knows that if it wasn’t for the fan’s support of what he does, there would be no Smooth McGroove today.
“It’s what spurred me on to keep doing this after my first few videos got some really nice comments,” he said. “I have received some weird fan mail, though, but nothing too disturbing.”
And though Gleason records, edits and publishes the tracks on his own, there is one member of his family that often makes cameos into his videos.
His black cat Charl has made more than a dozen – and that’s selling him short – appearances in the various cover videos. But, with the inclusion of an animal into any of the videos, one has to wonder if Charl has ever done anything to throw off the recording of a song.
“Early on in one of my first videos, I hadn’t fed him that morning and he ended up clawing me trying to lead me to his food bowl,” Gleason said. “Other than that, he’s awesome and stays pretty chill when I put him in a frame.”
(Talk about one cool cat. Okay, that’s enough.)
As with any artist, there are always pieces of work that stand out as personal favorites. For Gleason, he says that it’s the songs that came out of production sounding a lot better than originally anticipated. He specifically mentioned Guile’s Theme from Street Fighter, Spark Mandrill from Mega Man X and Castlevania: Bloody Tears as his top three recordings.
With 90-plus videos under his built in a year-and-a-half of recording, his nearly 1 million subscribers on YouTube often wonder just how much more a cappellas Gleason has left in him. To that notion, Gleason says, he wants to just keep having fun making music.
“[I’m just going to] keep following what feels good to do because that’s what led me here in the first place,” he said.