Let’s Interview: Video Game Lyrics Artists/YouTuber Man on the Internet!
As anyone who’s been on Discord, Reddit or YouTube knows, video game covers with lyrics have taken the internet by storm. Popularised by people like Man on the Internet, Juno Songs and Brentalfloss, the genre has gone from strength to strength over the last decade, with hundreds of thousands of covers for everything from Mario to Undertale and Friday Night Funkin’ having racked up millions of views online.
It’s an intriguing trend, and one which has only gone from strength to strength in the last couple of years.
So in today’s interview, we’re gonna try and make sense of it all. And in this task, we’re helped by one of the pioneers of the entire genre.
With that pioneer being the creator of the channel Man on the Internet. Known for creating covers of songs like In The Finale and series like Undertale the Musical, he’s seen an insane level of growth on his channel over time, with nearly 300 million views and 430K subscribers in just half a decade or so.
Time to see how it all happened, and what he thinks of video game covers, YouTube and gaming as a whole!
Starting with a bit of personal info So, who are you? Who is this ‘Man on the Internet’ guy anyway?
My name is Alex Beckham, I am the primary director and producer of the channel known as Man on the Internet. It gets slightly complicated because the name refers to both the group and the individual (which is usually me.) Sometimes the name refers to Darby Cupit, who also produces content for the channel and runs the Twitch channel, but YouTube is mostly under my purview. If all that is confusing, there’s a superhero in the banner and in most of the video outros, you can just call him the Man on the Internet : )
Where did your username come from?
A couple of layers to it actually. So in the days of the internet when I grew up there was this belief circulated amongst a bunch of really stupid people that there were no women on the internet. This is provably false but doesn’t stop me from joking about it to the actual women on the internet (ones I trust/know well enough to get that sense of humor, of course – doing this to randos would be weird.) It also refers to the trend of “well where did you learn that fact/opinion? Oh, just some man on the internet loudly shouting his beliefs.”
So all of that coalesced into the form of this really terrible superhero who flew around the internet making (hopefully) good content. It morphed a whole lot from the derogatory to something that’s relatively easy to remember and very hard to effectively Google.
And how did you get into gaming anyway? What was your first game?
When I was around six years old, I got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas with Pokemon Snap and Donkey Kong 64 as games for it. As someone who didn’t do great with social activity in school, having a game console to come back to was nice, and proved to be something I actually enjoyed doing. I wasn’t very GOOD at Donkey Kong 64 on account of being six but that was irrelevant.
Similarly, what games are you playing now and why?
The most recent game I picked up was Psychonauts 2, because I enjoyed the original Psychonauts when I played it on the XBox. There was a point where I had all three of the major consoles in the console war. I don’t now because of lack of space, and also lack of availability. But man do I want a PS5.
All that is to say Psychonauts 2 is really neat, it’s a whimsical yet also heartwarming look at mental health. The original is well worth it. Right up until the Meat Circus.
Did you always have an appreciation for video game music?
Absolutely, yes, and it’s all thanks to Grant Kirkhope. Jungle Japes has still never left my head, and a good tune will keep me engaged in a game for much longer than, say, if the graphics are shiny. Mayahem Temple, from Banjo-Tooie (another Grant Kirkhope), is my mother’s favorite video game track, and one that brought us closer together as her skill at video games and mine grew a little further apart (no offense meant to my mother at all! She had actual professional skills to worry about, I just had to press jump buttons good 🙂 )
What are some of your favourite game soundtracks of all time?
I obviously adore Undertale and Chrono Trigger, otherwise I wouldn’t have made musicals based on them. For soundtracks as opposed to individual tracks, I love Cuphead’s jazzy stylings, Final Fantasy XIV’s variety of amazing boss tunes, Mario Odyssey’s sweeping orchestra, and Breath of the Wild – which surprises people, but the minimalist piano tunes always tend to punctuate perfect moments as I turn corners and find something else to mess with.
As for individual tracks, my taste is eclectic bordering on madness, but to pick just a few –
- The Chase – Suikoden 2
- Room of Angel – Silent Hill 4
- The Dark Colossus – Nier (also Nier Automata)
- God-Shattering Star – Fire Emblem Three Houses
- Daughter of the Dark God – Octopath Traveler
- Zero Two – Kirby 64
- Awakening the Chaos – BlazBlue
How about some of your favourite remixes? What other YouTube musicians and cover artists do you like to listen to?
I have a whole bunch of YouTube musicians I listen to in phases, the ones I consistently come back to are Kamex, RetroSpecter, SharaX, Malcolm Robinson, Jonathan Young, Caleb Hyles, Annapantsu, CG5, Aviators, Violet Orlandi, GAMetal, FamilyJules, and Adrisaurus.
Either way, let’s talk about YouTube now. What made you want to start a channel?
I had the Man on the Internet channel for a few years before I started uploading anything to it, but I was inspired when listening to the Undertale soundtrack and connecting to the character of Mettaton to start writing down some lyrics, intending for Death by Glamour to be a one-off. Then maybe a two-off with Metal Crusher. Then it spiralled from there. At first I thought it was going to be a fun side project while I worked on my voice acting career. Then YouTube started paying me for it and, again, it spiralled from there.
And why a video game music channel anyway? Did you have any other channel ideas before?
Yes, all of them bad. Mostly let’s play ideas with some kind of gimmick or another. I grew up on YouTube in the days when the Angry Video Game Nerd ruled the gaming sphere, a million imitators sprung up, and DeceasedCrab brought Let’s Plays to YouTube. This was also around the time when reviewer channels, like AVGN or the Nostalgia Critic (and all their imitators) had someone burst into the reviewer and go “DON’T PLAY THAT GAME/WATCH THAT VIDEO! I’m a warning from the FUTURE!” or something.
This all leads into the one idea that came dangerously close to getting off the ground, some version of the Terminator doing playthroughs of games involving robots and/or time travel. I believe a copyright-friendly version of Skynet sent him back in time to infiltrate YouTube or something, plot in those days was always contrived and a dumb excuse to play the games. I also think there was a sitcom archnemesis in the form of Marty McFly? It was a mess of an idea and whatever the target audience was, it wasn’t going to reach them.
Were you inspired by any other creators there?
Believe it or not, no! While I’m aware other people had been lyricizing video game soundtracks before me (Brentalfloss immediately comes to mind), and I know for sure a lot of people came after me, the idea was from my background as a theater kid and my love of video games. Good thing, too – channels that follow the leader rather than following their passion tend to fizzle out. There are those that don’t, of course – but it’s always better to follow one’s own dream rather than someone else’s!
Regardless, people most know you for adding lyrics to video game songs. What inspired you to make these types of songs?
Like I said, I’m a theater kid. Spend enough time on musicals and people singing their hearts out to whatever music is around them just seems kind of natural. As for Undertale in particular, the series that started it all, a roleplay board I was on, actually! Basically the second Undertale came out people started a mad dash to claim Undertale characters to RP as. With… varied degrees of accuracy. Now I hadn’t actually heard of Undertale, I guess I started playing to think “surely it’s better written than THIS.” And it was. And the music was good too.
How do you choose the songs to cover?
For full musicals, it’s what songs are iconic and can help tell the story – so while Dummy from Undertale is a catchy tune, the Mad Dummy doesn’t really do anything to help move the story forward, so that song ended up being an extra not included in the full musical. For individual songs, or smaller packs (referred to on the channel as Musical Bytes), it’s what songs I like. There used to be a Patreon poll where my Patrons could vote on what song out of a couple they’d like to see, but my backlog is packed so that’s shelved in favor of occasional Google forms that can be filled out (one private for Patreon supporters and one for the general audience!)
What about the voices each character is given? The likes of Mario and Luigi are obvious, but most video game characters don’t have any voice acting, let alone full lines…
There’s a lot you can tell about character personality just from the way their lines are written! It’s the same as any other voice acting job, you find a personality and a life from the lines one is given and you demonstrate what kind of voice that person would have. To use yet another Undertale example (I know, there are a lot of those), a lot of fans gave Papyrus a voice that was an impression of Skeletor, and Sans a voice that was an impression of Cr1tikal, but those were voices that didn’t really fit the actual personalities of the characters, just their appearances – and involved accents that the two could not have picked up in their geographical isolation. Darby (voice of Papyrus) offered that same level of energy and optimism in a far more realistic sense, while Steel (voice of Sans) provided both emotional depth and relaxation in a way that didn’t feel forced, like so many other voices.
Speaking of voices, quite a few other singers appear in your videos too. How did you find all these people to work with, and how do you cast them for each cover?
They auditioned. It’s really as simple as that! I’ve only reached out to specific people a handful of times (for instance, CG5 as Donkey Kong in my rendition of Jungle Hijinx,) every other time I make a casting call – for larger projects, like musicals or full dub projects, it’s public, but for smaller ones it’s internal (because I already know my voice actors and would want to work with them again.)
What really amuses me about this question is that the concept of just having auditions that are open at certain points for certain roles seems so strange to a lot of people. I’d love a world where I could just pick and choose who I wanted, automatically knowing their voices and knowing that they have a totally free schedule and willingness to do whatever, but auditions get good results.
Which of your covers are your favourites?
I listen to a fair number of my videos back even after their published date, but a series I really love in particular that I think other people sleep on is the Zelda musical bytes. It’s not as bombastic as other tracks I’ve done, in fact it tends more minimalist (it’s based on Breath of the Wild, which I discussed earlier) – but it’s still pretty emotional. I teared up a couple of times writing the songs of loss and moving on, honestly.
And for those who prefer bombastic, well, that pack also has Molgera. Which fits the bill.
Any least favourites (or songs you’d do differently now)?
I’ve had several bad ideas for songs that never got off the planning stage, but for ones that DID get published, most just needed a bit more time in the oven. I have Marc as a full-time mixer now, maybe he’d be able to fix up stuff like Let the Battles Begin, or Born to be Bone. Born to be Bone probably needs just a straight up rewrite though. I’ve learned a lot since I started, I’d even go back and polish up the Undertale musical if I had unlimited time/budget.
People often compare your work to that of Juno Songs, and there’s a bit of a rivalry between some of the fanbases as a result. What do you think of the situation?
We’ve tried to stop that rivalry quite early and quite often, actually. It never leads to anything good. To go on a bit of a tangent, in the days of Undertale the Musical, there were several other groups also formed doing lyricized music tracks – of Undertale specifically, though several moved on to other projects. And with that came really, REALLY bitter rivalry, sometimes from the fans and sometimes from the groups themselves. The vast majority collapsed in on themselves because people were too busy saying XYZ was better than ABC to actually enjoy the music. So “rivalries” between groups that do similar things accomplishes nothing.
For Juno specifically, I think the comments really got nasty when I uploaded Zinnia after Juno had a version of Zinnia out for a while. Somehow I stole from Juno despite the lyrics being different, the vocalist being different, and Juno making a different art piece for mine. We kept pointing this out until, for the most part, the comments stopped. At first it was irritating, because accusations of theft are not fun to deal with, but now I find it more amusing than anything because at this point it’s willful ignorance.
Caption: The two versions of the Zinna song by Man on the Internet and Juno Songs
Have you two ever considered working together on a cover? I know you’ve sung in each other’s songs a few times…
This question is based on a flawed premise, we already work together. Juno was working with me before Juno Songs was a channel. Juno’s been an artist and vocalist on the channel for years, and I’ve been a vocalist for Juno Songs for quite some time, too. When a YouTube comment says “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Juno Songs, but maybe you should collaborate” I can’t help but think of this old internet meme about Slowpoke proudly announcing news that everyone’s already heard.
How does it feel knowing how many people love your work? Did you expect to reach 430K subscribers, or see videos hit millions of views?
Good god I did not expect the reaction to be this big. I just write lyrics for fun, at no point did I think thousands upon thousands of other people would flock to it. It’s not necessarily the size that really floors me, though. Every so often I get a comment, or a message somewhere, saying that my videos brought someone back from depression, or saved their life, or took them back to happy memories of childhood. That’s the kind of thing that makes numbers not really matter. That’s the kind of thing that really makes me think that through all I do, just writing lyrics to music from video games that didn’t have it before, maybe it’s worth something. If it helped at least one person like that, maybe it’s worth something.
Why do you think video game covers with lyrics do so well on the platform anyway?
I think it goes back to Disney a little bit. Disney is a cultural juggernaut that helped shape the childhoods of millions, if not billions, of people – and they’re known for their music, their songs, etc. I’ve had my work compared to a Disney musical sometimes – so I guess there’s a bit of overlap. Overlap is really the name of the game here – people like games. People like music. I’m reaching an audience that enjoys these things, these things that bring out happiness, that bring out excitement, that they want to go back to and listen to, again and again.
There is, of course, the other, less whimsical explanation, in that it depends on the game it’s from. Something like Friday Night Funkin’, that’s going to blow up, because FNF is extremely popular at the time I’m writing this and people want to consume every piece of media they can from it. Lyricized music from it fits that bill.
Is YouTube your full time job now? If not, are you excited to make it so in future?
YouTube is currently my full time job. It’s more involved than a typical 9 to 5, as it involves not just performing, but also writing, editing, and (mostly) managing – I have a cast and crew of over 40 people from all around the world, and keeping every clock ticking at the same rate is hard. Administration in any job is what people rarely consider but it’s important, it takes up most of your time, and it’s a valuable life skill for if/when YouTube no longer becomes a viable occupation.
What other plans for videos do you have at the moment? Are you working on covering any songs that you think people will go crazy for?
Currently I’m working on a few Musical Bytes packages, one that’s a general collection of a few indie video games and one that features legendary Pokemon from the eight mainline games. I (and my other writers!) put them together before Legends Arceus was announced but we may have at least something for Arceus, who knows?
Do you ever worry about the future of YouTube, given all the issues with monetisation, questionable copyright claims, etc? What are your backup plans there?
All the time. YouTube is decidedly user-unfriendly, almost by design. The very same creators that make up the content that, frankly, makes YouTube, are expendable because if one of us protests there are a thousand more who will flock to take that spot. Advertising is how YouTube gets its money and they will cling onto it at any cost, to the point of setting up a system where any malicious actor can claim they own Mario and refuse to budge despite evidence to the contrary. It’s really easy to make these claims, too – it took me about five minutes of Google searching to figure out how to DMCA (I had to because someone uploaded one of my songs onto iTunes and other platforms).
The unfortunate thing is there is no real competitor to YouTube and thus they have no reason to be better. No other company or platform has the solid backing to take on Google. I considered DailyMotion but the advertising there wasn’t great and they told me to screw off when I asked them a simple tech support question. Soundrop is a helpful resource as a musician for distributing songs but for long-term my plan is “get as many backup sources of income as possible before I’m forced to search for a new main.”
Finally, what advice would you give someone wanting to start a YouTube channel (perhaps as a video game cover artist or musician)?
Prepare for the early years to be tough. Music is a universal topic people can enjoy but at the same time, people enjoy sticking to what they like, and starting with no audience is a grind that can last for a while. I am lucky but also an outlier in that I didn’t do much word of mouth, people just came because Undertale when it was at its cultural peak gave me a boost.
Now, if you can handle the early years, and if you can handle the administration, follow what you enjoy. There is always the option of doing what’s popular, following trends like a madman and trying to see what the whims of the algorithm can provide for you, but if you’re not doing what makes you happy, the job will just be a job, and the joy won’t come through. If you have genuine passion for what you do, and put the work and time in to polish it and make it worth putting out there, the audience will come.
Yeah, the early years of YouTube are absolutely brutal, and it’s really easy to give up early given how little support the platform gives new creators and the difficulties of marketing videos. It’s why we run the underrated gaming channels series here on Gaming Reinvented, and why projects from smaller creators are given a lot of focus on the site.
Regardless, if you stick to it, keep improving your work and focus on a subject you do best, you should definitely find your audience over time.
Still, thanks to Man on the Internet for the awesome interview, and we loved hearing about your videos, background in music and YouTube career as a whole. Hopefully everyone else enjoyed it as much as we did, and we hope to post another interview on the site in the next few days as well.
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