Photo by: Alexander Shatov on Unsplash
The Stupendium is a UK-based YouTube musician known for their songs based on video games, having attained hundreds of millions of views in the process. Their YouTube channel stands at over 800,000 subscribers and nearly a quarter of a billion views, with some of their more viral hits having attained over 10,000,000 views individually.
The Stupendium has a unique way of approaching content creation. Rather than limiting themselves to one style of music production, they tailor the specific attributes of a song to whatever they deem to fit the project best.
“I think what excites me about making music is that I like to try and make music from within the universe of the franchise, or of the world I’m making the music about,” said The Stupendium. “So, it varies a lot. I don’t stick to one particular genre; I try and match the genre and the feel to whatever I’m doing — which I guess is more of a ‘musical theatre’ way of approaching music than a ‘regular’ musician. So, it’s nerdy, video-game-infused wannabe musical theatre, on the Internet — without a theatre.”
The Stupendium didn’t start out on YouTube as a musician. Their path to Internet popularity had many stops along the way, with them creating a variety of different types of content before finally settling on their niche.
“I’ve been doing YouTube for a lot longer than I’ve been doing music. I sort of fell into music by accident. I think my first upload was about a decade ago; the platform wasn’t that old when I started uploading to YouTube. Over the years, I’ve done all sorts of content: I’ve tried vlogging, I’ve tried character comedy, I’ve tried Let’s Plays, and the first one that stuck was when I tried doing some silly songs about games — because that was the sort of content I was really enjoying at the time.”
The Stupendium had played around with music before, having studied it in college as a bit of a “slot filler,” but it had never been a field that they expected to find a career in. It had been fun to study, but they didn’t use it again until a couple of years ago.
“I wish I’d paid more attention in college,” they joked.
While The Stupendium is now known for uploading original songs, in the earliest days of their YouTube channel, they uploaded covers.
“I kind of wish I still had the free time to do covers, because it’s quite nice to let your hair down and just sing someone else’s song for once.”
Throughout their time doing covers, the influence of musical theatre could already be felt throughout their work.
“Most of the covers I did were musical theatre songs; that’s a big influence on my work. And there’s a whole load of them I listen to, and think ‘I really want to do a cover of this,’ but I don’t know where I’m going to find the time.”
As it turns out, achieving Internet fame can take a bit of trial and error. It wasn’t until one particular project that the musician’s career on the platform began to take off — in fact, their time as The Stupendium nearly ended before it could truly begin.
“I’d been doing YouTube for so long, and never had any success. I had three or four different channels; I’d never had more than 100 subscribers on any of them, no matter what I tried. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to do one more video, and I’m going to pour loads of work into it and combine everything that I know into this one video. I’m going to write a nerdy song about a game, I’m going to fully animate the music video, I’m going to make the best video I possibly can — and if it does well when I release it, great. If it doesn’t, I’m done. I’m leaving YouTube, I’m going to find another hobby.’ And that was the song that went viral,” they said.
It was life-changing, allowing The Stupendium to transition to doing YouTube full-time within 18 months.
Before long, The Stupendium had begun creating connections within the industry. From then on they began their time taking part in collaborations with other creators such as Dan Bull.
The Stupendium’s music can be described as nerdcore, which refers to a specific type of hip-hop music dedicated to nerd or geek culture. Nerdcore is home to a close-knit community in which many creators are known to be friendly, and is a niche within a niche of Internet content.
“I’m really quite blessed to have made the friendship group that I have. I owe a lot to Dan Bull. I was a really tiny channel with no followers when Dan Bull first noticed my work and invited me up to work with him, which was amazing. And having been a fan of his for years and years — it’s mind-blowing I can now call him a friend after being a massive fanboy.”
In 2019, The Stupendium saw the release of what is arguably their most popular song to date: The Fine Print, a piece themed after Obsidian Entertainment and Private Division’s game The Outer Worlds. But the song’s rise to Internet glory was not as smooth for The Stupendium as you might expect — the song rocketed to online popularity not because of their original upload on YouTube, but rather an uncredited snippet of the song a user published to TikTok. The snippet, which eventually launched into a TikTok trend used in over 100,000 posts on the platform, should have been a great thing for The Stupendium’s career — except that no one knew who had created it.
“The overall result has been great. The initial reaction was very frustrating, because I went viral when someone else uploaded my song and didn’t credit me, and that’s what went viral. A lot of people were asking, ‘is this a cut song from Hamilton? Is this a Bo Burnham track I haven’t heard?’ No one knew it was mine. So, actually, it was really quite frustrating for a long time.”
The story here has a happy ending for the creator. After getting in contact with TikTok, The Stupendium was able to convince them to retroactively add their credits to the app’s sound file. Over time, the audience who enjoyed the sound found a way to their YouTube channel.
“Overall, I’m really happy it happened. Initially, because I’d never used TikTok before, I didn’t quite understand what was going on; I just knew that someone uploaded my song and it had literally millions of views — far more than I had on my upload on my YouTube channel — and no one knew who it was by. It was a learning experience.”
For The Stupendium, the idea of taking music videos to the next level is an exciting one. Their ambitious nature has resulted in each major project of theirs feeling more substantial than the last. Over the past few years they have progressed from predominantly doing animation, to live action on a green screen, to complicated large-scale studio projects, to full set builds.
In their most recent large-scale video, multiple set builds can be seen.
“I have a video that I’ve been wanting to make for a couple of years now — I’ve got the song finished — which, if I do the video how I want it, will need five sets built. It’s just in terms of getting bigger, doing larger, more complex productions.”
Before becoming a full-time creator, The Stupendium worked in animation creating business presentations.
“Stuff for corporate and commercial clients — very boring stuff, very drab; it paid the bills, but it wasn’t fun to do. It was the sort of things like health and safety videos for employees on oil rigs, or videos to tell employees of a bank how their finances were for that quarter. Really dull stuff — stuff that only exists because big companies realize their employees don’t want to sit through a meeting or a memo about that, so to get them to pay attention, they think, ‘oh, we’ll have an animated video explaining this boring business talk.’”
Knowing their work was going unappreciated left the creator feeling unmotivated.
“You start to realize after a couple years of doing that, you are making content that actively is content nobody wants to watch — which is very demoralizing, and no matter how good you try and make it, it’s still content for an audience who is being forced to sit down and watch it, and would rather be doing something else.”
Leaving that job to do YouTube full-time has been a dream come true for the creator, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a learning curve.
With Internet popularity comes the need to maintain a social presence online. The Stupendium is no exception to this rule, and they interact with fans on social media more than many other creators even attempt to — namely through Twitter.
“It’s been a bit of a crash course, I was never one for social media; I uploaded to YouTube for years but I never really did Twitter. I had a Facebook account for talking to family, and that was kind of it. I still don’t have an Instagram or anything. It’s been fun; I really enjoy it,” said The Stupendium.
“I think given how much my audience, my community and people out there give to me by watching my content, engaging with it and supporting me, the least I can do is try and engage by giving back. And, it’s just really fun to be able to tease things out there; to put out little snippets of upcoming projects. Every time I think of a dumb joke, I have an audience to make a dumb joke to. Instead of just saying it to whoever’s nearest to me in the room and annoying them with it, I can annoy thousands of people with my dumb jokes. It’s been a lot of fun, and I really do enjoy engaging with the audience in that way.”
For most web-based celebrities, being recognized out in public or through “meet and greets” is just a normal part of life. Fans of YouTubers are known to enjoy meeting their favourite creators in real life, but the timing of The Stupendium’s major channel growth coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in them experiencing less of these moments.
“There have been a couple of occasions: predominantly at things like conventions, or nerdy events where you’re more likely to run into someone who watches your content on YouTube. I got noted a couple of times at conventions pre-pandemic, but I’ve not been to any conventions since 2019. But it’s been nice; it’s been very surreal running into someone.”
Not every experience with viewers in the real world has been pleasant, however. Sometimes, fans take these moments too far — something The Stupendium can tell you firsthand.
“Sometimes, it’s a bit creepy. I had someone tweet me a picture of me sitting on a train once. ‘I saw you on the train this morning.’ And this was back when I had an office job still, and I hadn’t left that yet. It was me looking very miserable on a Monday morning commute. The channel still had only 50,000 to 60,000 subscribers at that point, quite small in the grand scheme of things — so to have someone recognize me on my commute was very weird.”
As the world begins reopening, The Stupendium believes that more moments with real-life viewers will start to pop up.
“I can probably count on maybe one hand, maybe two, the number of times I’ve been seen in public. But I imagine as the channel’s grown so much, and as the world’s opening back up, it will probably start to happen more.”
The Stupendium derives creative inspiration from a variety of places. One of their songs was inspired by them moving houses in real life, which happened to align with the theme of a popular game at the time.
“The reason Room for Improvement exists is because I’d just bought my first house and it needed a lot of decorating. I made content ahead of time to fill that gap that I took time to move with, but it took longer than I thought and I hadn’t made enough, so I thought ‘I need a music video that I can make whilst also decorating my house,’ and there was a popular game about house decorating, so the stars just aligned there. ‘Well, I’ll film a song about that, and film myself decorating my actual house to make the music video.’ So, that worked out quite well.”
Of course, the vast majority of The Stupendium’s songs are based on worlds created inside video games. It’s not always as easy as writing songs that they are passionate about; occasionally, intricate decisions need to be made to decide which video games will receive song adaptations.
“Because my content’s so infrequent, I have to be much more selective with what it’s about, so it’s always a really delicate balance of what I think will do well, and what I’m actively interested in writing about. If what I think will do well is not something I’m actively interested in writing about, it’s about finding a way to make that interesting to me. For example, Among Us was massive. I, personally, am not a fan of Among Us, but the idea of writing a song that’s about a murder mystery in space, that was exciting. So I focused on that element of it, and then Among Us was the set dressing around that.”
Selecting a video game to create a song about is only the first step in the process. Once a decision has been made, The Stupendium begins the process of songwriting, which is more delicate than you might expect.
“It varies a little by song, but generally I try to map the song out on paper, verse by verse, chorus by chorus. I work out: ‘what is the narrative of this song? What story am I trying to tell here? What theme am I trying to explore? How do I break that down into smaller chunks, and how am I going to arrange them,’” they said. “I basically make a little written map of the song and all the ideas, and then that’s the framework I try to follow.”
The amount of time it takes to write a song is another conversation entirely. Every songwriter has a unique style and approach, and for The Stupendium, writing usually takes a while.
“It varies, but I am a notoriously slow writer. The fastest song I ever wrote was Vending Machine of Love, which I started writing at 8 p.m. one night and I blacked out, and I woke up at 6 a.m. with a finished song in one session. That’s never happened before, and never happened since. Normally, anywhere from one week’s worth of writing sessions to several weeks’ worth. It really does vary.”
“I very much work one line at a time, and sometimes I will sit writing for an entire night. I will get maybe four or eight lines by the end of it, but I will be fine-tuning every syllable as I go, making sure that everything is exactly right.”
To create such major projects, The Stupendium cannot work alone. There are many different elements that need to come together to create a finished video, and the creator invites individuals with diverse talents to help them craft the best content possible.
“In terms of production staff, it’s me and my partner, who I hired on about a year ago to work for me full-time. She’s a video editor; so she now edits my videos and I do the VFX. So, she’ll take the raw footage from a film shoot, she’ll edit it to the music; and then I’ll then go into that and add the animation and the VFX onto it. I have a network of other freelancers, who I work with depending on what’s needed. I have a guy who’s very handy and builds sets, I have a couple of friends who work in animation, I’ve got a music producer who does a lot of my music production now, lots of things like that. I’ve got a guy who’s a brilliant props fabricator, so if there’s props that are too complex for my partner and I to make, he’ll do that.”
The Stupendium continues to work hard on upcoming projects, including one that, until now, has remained a complete secret.
“A song for Cult of the Lamb is my next big music video,” The Stupendium revealed. “I haven’t told anyone outside of the people who’ve worked on it with me about that. Hopefully, it’ll be releasing around the time this article does. I’ve got some big projects next year that I’m planning, that I won’t reveal any details about yet — but there’s some big things on the way.”
The Stupendium has dreams beyond even their upcoming slate of unreleased videos. In fact, some of their biggest aspirations have nothing to do with YouTube at all. So what does the future hold for the creator?
“There’s two things that I’d love to do, and they’re not necessarily on the channel. In terms of my career, I want to get into voice acting for TV, film, video games, and so on… I’d love to write a full-length musical; that’s a big career goal of mine.”
The Stupendium’s work is often compared to pieces from musical theatre, which stands to reason considering how much this art form inspires the creator.
“I’m a huge fan of Tim Minchin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Weird Al, Bo Burnham; really smart, clever, funny, intricate lyricists. They’re definitely big influences. Particularly Lin-Manuel Miranda; I think Hamilton was a big influence on my writing style early on.”
The Stupendium has covered a variety of unique themes in their songs, while continuing to relate most of them to video games. With so many unique songs, they have a difficult time picking just one to consider as their favourite.
“I love them all for different reasons. If we were to talk about an emotional song, the song I’m most proud of is something like Fragments. In terms of what it means to me as an achievement — as a kid, I was the biggest fan of the game Evil Genius, so when Evil Genius 2 came out just over a year ago and I was asked by Evil Genius to make a song for them as a sponsored thing — that was a huge thing for me. I’m immensely proud of that; I love that video. In terms of video production and scale, it’s some of my most recent ones. I love The Toybox and A Pizza the Action, which were big productions with multiple sets and complex costuming. It’s very hard to pick one specific thing I like the most, because I like lots for lots of different reasons.”
The Stupendium shared a piece of advice that they would give to their past self, if they had a chance — something they wished they’d known at the time.
“I would tell my past self, me at age 20: Don’t be afraid of not deciding what you want to do. When I was younger, I struggled a lot knowing what I wanted to do in the future. I would jump back and forth between ‘I want to be a musician, I want to be an animator, I want to be an actor, I want to be a singer, I want to be a writer.’ And I never focused on any one of them, because I couldn’t pick. So I never really settled on one of them and worked really hard on it. I just kept bouncing about between them, really paranoid that I’d never be able to settle down. Because of that, I may not have mastered any one of those, but I’ve gotten pretty good at all of them. I’ve managed to find a path where I can do every single one of those things at the same time on YouTube, and I think it’s one of the few careers where you can do that. So, don’t be afraid that you don’t know what you want to do with your life at age 20, because you don’t have to make the decision that early.”
So, what is The Stupendium’s legacy? While they are known for a variety of factors, there’s one thing in particular that the creator especially wishes to be remembered for.
“I spend a lot of time focusing on my lyricism. It’s something that I workshop a lot; I spend a lot of time on it. I think if I can be known for anything, I’d like to be known as a good wordsmith, as someone who can write well. My music videos are fun, for YouTube they’re pretty good; but they’re not going to blow anything major out of the water. But I think lyrically, that’s my strong suit, and I think I’d like to be known for that.”
The Stupendium’s channel holds over 800,000 subscribers and uploads on a regular basis. Check out their channel to hear more of their work.