How Musicians Work Insanely Fast — A Brief Guide to Making Content Quickly

Field of Hopes and Dreams from Deltarune, performed by SixteeninMono shortly after the game’s release.

As a new incredibly inspired video game sweeps the world, the fan art and specifically music community is bustling like the elves in Santa’s Workshop starting a triple shift. Everywhere you turn there is a new interpretation of the sequel to the acclaimed indie title UNDERTALE, fittingly called DELTARUNE. Both RPGs herald clever, albeit simplified and “retrofied” graphics, chipper but often intense and thematic tunes, and have received thorough praise from the gaming community. After the creator Toby Fox released the sequel to an unsuspecting fanbase, game-musicians and cover artists got to work instantly to be the esteemed 1st to cover a piece from the soundtrack — I want to talk about why, and provide a loose guide to how anyone can create their own inspired fan piece in record time. For my own credentials in the art of fast content, I’ve released around 3 or 4 videos within a day or two of the source’s release — Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s announcement, the Deltarune’s release, and even the release of the TV show Rick & Morty’s 2nd season each having a related video out on my channel. Let’s talk.

Follow your gut instincts, no time to endlessly tweak/re-track — no perfectionism allowed;
Self-imposed hard deadlines will make wonders: “I **have** to do this by this day/hour!”
— Dacian grada, youtube musician, on creating his covers in 1 day

Why 1st Place Matters

Many bystanders watching the race may ask “Why are these people losing sleep and rushing to create fan content? Shouldn’t they take their time?” Rightfully this is still a bit of a mystery, but as one of those racers I’d like to share my piece. Simply enough, the first person to release their cover will surely be rewarded by the Youtube’s, or whichever medium they choose’s algorithm. They are rewarded by appearing first in search results, occasionally first in other social media searches (Twitter, Facebook, Google), and thus will obtain the most views and/or subscriber growth. To go even further, there have been several precedents of talented musicians covering music from very popular games, films, and other trends — many of whom have developed a stronger, larger fan-bases as a result. While there are very important factors that may have influenced their success, it is clear that it benefits one to be first from this point of view. A prime example is from the aforementioned musician Dacian Grada who took this faster approach for DELTARUNE. This guide will assume you too have chosen to optimize how you work so you can release content more frequently.

Guitar skills, singing skills, mixing skills… you know, skills

Before you embark on working faster and creating faster, know how to do your process and know it well! There are going to be dozens of musicians with minimal experience who utilize various skills to optimize and improve their content — Humor, video editing or screenplay skill, etc. There are also musicians who spend years practicing their craft, gaining experience, and building skills that they can comfortably use at the drop of a hat (or new game announcement). Knowing your instrument is invaluable, being comfortable playing in different keys should your chosen cover require it, as well as ear training. For example, when I released my Super Smash Bros. Ultimate cover I utilized this skill to discover the song was in the key of E minor. This completely skips the guesswork of arranging! I also recommend using mix templates, a feature in many audio software that let you save EQ, Compression chains, levels, and even complex drum track layouts. 

If you are content with a previous project’s sound and general instrumentation, you can also Save the project as your next one. This is faster than starting from scratch and guessing which settings worked best, though it may not always apply. A quote from Materia Collective arranger James C. Hoffman

Learn shortcut keys for software and setup templates for things you do over and over.

As he stresses, you can quickly get started with these daunting tasks by doing work ahead of time. Know your video editing software— Everything from slicing, adjusting lengths of clips, fade ins/outs, and where to find your color correcting/grading should be be second nature. Soon you’ll be listening to the TV while you slice your shots up.

Schedule It Up!

Slice your day or even your week into manageable chunks; a planner or Google Calendar can work as well! Figure out how soon you’d like to be finished, and find a reasonable time frame to do all the major tasks. A reasonable time frame, for example, would be giving breaks, staying hydrated and eating when necessary, and allotting time for work, school, family, and other obligations. That being said, every pocket of time you have can be used figuring out arrangements or transcribing chords to paper. An example of my day would be:

12PM — Lunch break, listen to song and figure out the chords. Arrange on paper

5PM to 6PM— Come home from work, Create new project and load previous mix templates. Mark up arrangement in DAW

6PM to 7PM — Cook and eat dinner, Begin tracking drums (in my case programming)

7PM-8PM — Track Bass and Rhythm Guitars

8PM-9PM — Track Lead Guitars, and Program any synthesizers. Finalize mix

9PM-10PM — Film performance in first half hour, edit video

11PM to Bed Time (or next day)- Edit video and release

Saxophone and narrative-driven SubversiveAsset covers Homestuck’s “Gold Pilot” within one day as a personal challenge.

Stick to the Plan!

Fittingly composer and arranger Christian Jesse James offered on the subject of working fast:

Plan, Plan, Plan! If you have to work really fast on something it makes all the difference in the world if you have a general idea on what you need to accomplish and when.

Get to work with your plan, and learn to be okay with changes. You can keep an eye on the clock, in case certain tasks take longer, but always weigh how important each segment is. If you aren’t finding things to gel, switch things up or try to change the order of tasks to fit your workflow better! Take advantage of shortcuts, other people who could help you mix or perform parts, and roll with the inevitable punches. The way I view it, maximize your time on the important aspects (either having great video, a standout performance, or a high quality production, etc) while reducing time on the other less extraordinary parts. As progressive rock guitarist Legendav can attest throughout his own experiences recording quick but fantastic covers of the Persona 5 soundtrack…

I have my DAW already loaded with all of my amps, Superior Drummer, and all of my mix/master settings saved. Same goes for my video editing. Anything I can do to make sure 90% of my focus is just actually recording.

If your tools are ready to go, you can get to work.

What’s so special?

There is a strong and understandable notion that a rushed product is not good — I would say that a rushed product is more likely to be of worse quality, but chances are your audience may not notice. With the strength in your performance, your skills, and your personal brand’s polish, you can keep your quick cover exciting and up to par. Consider remarkable ideas that the audience will enjoy beyond just the trendy title — Tie in the source material into your video, keep exciting tropes when arranging (I like to use guitar solos, changes from heavy instrumentation to acoustic/electronic ones, unique or original sections, or even re-arrange the order of sections in the original song), consider a narrative style video, utilize B-Roll, etc.. I also enjoy using transition effects between shots, upbeat motion in the camera, and try to color my videos to match the overall feel and tone of the song. Leave it to songwriter and metal musician Shady Cicada, another frequenter of the fast-cover approach, who builds his skills without sacrificing his signature sound or quality…

Throw notes at a screen until some of them vibe with you and then work off of that. Practice song writing a lot.
— Shadycicada, youtube musician & songwriter, on recording and writing music

A Little Help from my Friends

Other musicians have always been the best tool possible to improve your craft. Particularly, having a friend assist you in listening to your mix with fresh ears, viewing your video with an unbiased approach, or even help in others ways is invaluable. Have a trusty friend help film you or invite collaborators to avoid tracking parts yourself. Another help is from having another musician working on their song in a short amount of time for some friendly competition — after all community effort is one of the most inspiring factors in the VGM scene right now. Consider sending your work to a message group, a Discord, or community where giving feedback is commonplace.

Additionally you’ll want to have any time-saving tools by your side! Make a copy of your favorite music project, and use it as a starting point or template! As far as speeding up your process, I highly recommend a means to monitor your camera as this process is traditionally done by 2 or more people. Either use a long HDMI cable to monitor your camera from afar, portable monitor, utilize Auto-focus, or use a remote control to focus your shot perfectly. Another great technique (idea I got from Sab Irene) is to draw out a small story-board of your edits and planned video ahead of time! No matter what, the objective is, in my opinion, to keep your signature look and sound while making your final product on time.

Have a good template to start from if you have a distinct style, and then an organized workflow. Multitasking when possible obviously helps. Each person is different so it takes a bit of experimenting to find what’s the optimal way for you
— Ferdk, Youtube musician, on working faster

Finalizing

When your final task is done, say “done”. It’s finished. If you sought out to make the “Minimum Viable Product”, the best version you can make without using more effort than necessary, you should feel accomplished, and ready to celebrate. Be happy that you’re finished, people will enjoy it, you’ve accomplished something, and you can finally take a proper rest!

Hopefully with these steps and your own motivation, you can power through and make content you’re proud of and fast.