Interviews

Yung Skrrt Discusses Making Music On The Internet and Taking Creative Risks

Fresh off the success of his viral hit “McDonalds,” I talked to beatmaker and creative genius Yung Skrrt about his career as a musician, and where he sees the industry pivoting next.

Staley Sharples: It’s happening! We’re doing this. How is life? What’s going on?

Yung Skrrt: I’m doing pretty good. Just finished a lot of music. 

You can turn out so much music, it’s amazing. How do you stay inspired? Are there any days that you don’t make music?

I try to do something every day that advances me musically. The stream really helps because there’s an audience, so if I’m not being productive, then I’m being boring. It really helps me stay on track. Getting loops from other people so that I’m getting sounds coming in at all times really helps. I keep to a formula when I make my beats, so I don’t have to put too much mental energy into it if i’m not feeling it. I can rely on the formula I’ve created for myself. Plug it in, and I know it’ll be cool. Even if I’m not feeling it, I can just keep going through it, and by the end of the beat I’ll like it. 

Whenever you make beats on stream, there’s never a beat I don’t like. How long did it take to develop that strategy of what your musical flow is?

I don’t know when it fully developed. Maybe sometime last year, or something. It’s been the evolution of everything I’ve worked on coming up to eight years, or something?

Eight years?

Maybe almost nine, so it’s like, over the course of everything I’ve done it’s boiled down to this. It’s how I make stuff. I can’t really pinpoint a time, specifically, when I was like, “I have it now.” It just ended up this way and I was like, “Oh, cool.” I finally have an easy way to just take a piece of music and turn it into an instrumental pretty fast. 

When you find loops for the stream, do you usually have people send you loops or do you go looking and reach out to people? How do you find things to work with?

Tuesday and Thursday are my “loops with friends” days on the stream. Saturdays I do it with my subscribers. Luckily I have about a dozen, give or take, people that enter every time no matter what I do. I tell the subscribers to enter by posting an emote when I start a new beat, then I enter them in a marble race, then the winner sends me a loop. Every time I start a beat it’s between 10 and 15 people that enter. On Saturdays, I have people at the ready. During the week, I’m lucky that I have enough of a network that people will send me a bunch of stuff and it just works out. On my off-days I’ll just make stuff myself. Just pull up a synthesizer and jam out. That’s the loop. If I don’t have anything from anybody, I can just mess around.

I’ve gotten really into Twitch and watching people stream, partially because of Covid but partially because I love watching Twitch. How long have you been streaming, and what got you started on Twitch? How did you first come to Twitch?

I’ve had a Twitch account for years now, and I’ve always been intrigued by it. For the past few years, I would turn on Injustice 2 or Mortal Kombat 11 and opening the Twitch app on my XBox and being like, I’m just gonna stream. Why not? 

I had like 2 or 3 viewers. When it came to games, no one really tapped into what I do, but it’s really easy [to attract viewers] with music because I’m tested in that. I guess It’s a little easier to watch. I think August last year I did my first music stream. It’s been a little over a year. I would do it every few weeks, every month, slowly toward the end of the year. I remember going back to Atlanta, where my parents are from, to visit for the holidays. I thought, “I can’t wait to get back and start streaming more.” I started streaming every week, and it kept picking up, and then when quarantine started, I thought, “Everyone is at home. I am at home. I have nothing to do. I need to stream every single day.” I think it was from March 14th to April 11th, I went 30 days straight. On the 30th day I did a 14 hour stream.

I remember that.

It was technically the first Skrrtskriber Saturdays, because I said, “If you subscribe, send me something.” Then I did like 10 beats that night. I realized I had a good theme. That’s when that started picking up. Through those 30 days [I was streaming], I was able to do some research into what days were the best, the people that were coming in, how long I should go. What hotkeys are funny to people. Stuff like that. I ironed things out by brute-forcing it and doing it every single day. That’s my philosophy on everything: if you do something for long enough and hard enough, you will become a master. You will know everything you need to know about it by doing it so many times. 

One thing I seem to find talking to streamers is that you can have all the ideas in the world for your stream, but once you start streaming, you see what works—or doesn’t work. Have there ever been any trial and error moments where you tried something on stream and it didn’t work? How do you recover from that? 

The biggest thing that I wish I could do is just game. I’ll get on [Twitch] and play Mortal Kombat 11 or Tekken 7 and I’ll have half the viewership. Even though I think I’m actually really good at Mortal Kombat and Tekken 7. I’m into the professional community, the actual FGC community of Mortal Kombat. If you were to break down the streamers that I follow, It’s a lot of Mortal Kombat and Tekken streamers. Music is still so new too, but it’s probably half and half split between fighting games and music people. There hasn’t been anything on the music front where it doesn’t work. I guess when I record vocals I one-take freestyle something with no lyrics, just saying nothing and trying to get the melody out. I have to do it over and over again, and write the lyrics and re-record it. With a beat it all makes sense, but vocally it’s a whole process. 

It probably feels awkward, but as somebody watching I don’t feel awkward or disinterested. To your point, people are probably now used to it and realize that this is just a part of the creative process.

My favorite is stuff that makes you go, “What the hell is going on here? This is insane!” With streams like mine, I’ll just break into some stupid moment or I’ll break into this beat. I guess that’s a testament to Twitch’s longform, where you gotta be there for a long period of time to catch the best moments. 

I’m curious about your Mortal Kombat and Tekken experience—why those games? How long have you been playing, and who’s your favorite character to play with for each game?

Favorite character to play with is easy. I’m Jade on Mortal Kombat and Hwoarang on Tekken. I’m a loyalist. I get really good at one character, and then stick there. MK has been part of my life since I was 6. I remember getting chicken pox and being like, “I’m really sick, can I please rent this M-rated game, please?” 

There’s something about fighting games that’s intrigued me for almost my whole life. I got an Xbox One, and started playing Mortal Kombat to the point where I was entering SoCal regionals. I only won one game. I went 1 and 2 and got kicked out. But it was a crazy experience. That’s how I started getting into the competitive community. 

I’m good enough to beat anyone casually, no question, but then stepping into the real stuff I would lose and get extremely discouraged. I was playing some online Xbox tournaments and would get top 8 and do pretty good, to the point where the best player on Xbox is quoted as saying I’m the best Jade player on xbox. I think they were just being nice, but either way I have that quote that exists in my head. 

Who would’ve thought that gaming would have the surge that it has? It’s crazy. All those years we were told not to play games. We could have been Ninja!

Look at Ninja. Look at the entire platform of gaming now moving to music and everything else. It’s crazy the connection we have to everything. 

It really is. You look at Twitch, and it’s the future of a lot of forms of entertainment. Music especially, there’s so much there that you can do. You’re gaming. You’re making music. You can have this variety of interests that you link together. And it’s fun to watch, too. 

It’s funny you say that, because on one Saturday, I was doing this Skrrtskriber Saturday stream and my friend Pollari was like, “I’m coming over.” He sat over here next to me and played Rocket League on a different TV. Xbox has this thing called Console Companion where you can stream your Xbox to your computer screen, and that’s how I stream. I pulled up the Xbox app and pulled up the stream of him playing Rocket League and just put it right above our heads. People could watch him play Rocket League or watch me make beats at the same time. He only played for a little, but I figured out that technical aspect of playing games and beats at the same time. I could do this now. 

Talking about viewership, I feel like gaming naturally tends to have more viewers. Obviously, big channels like that will have more viewers. You can also look up a game you’re interested in and find people playing it. With music, how do you reach new audiences or grow your audience?

Luckily, because music is so new, a lot of people will go into the music tab and find me. I can say at this point, I’ve done a lot in terms of making my own music. Or with these stupid remixes or this Twitter stuff. So someone knows me through something here or there. Sometimes I’ll ask, “Why did you come into the stream today?” People will say they clicked [the] music [tab] and that I was the first recommended one. I think Twitch has been putting me into the algorithm pretty heavily. I’m glad that’s helping me out in terms of [reaching] brand new people who haven’t even thought of me in general or seen anything I do. I’m lucky where I have this kind of platform built up. I have 7,700 followers on Twitter, 10,000 on Tiktok because of “Hit It.” I’ll post on there and get like six likes and then someone will comment, “why is this person verified with six likes?” My TikTok is kind of cursed.

TikTok is very cursed. 

I post on all my platforms, so that everybody who follows me can have some opportunity to check it out or not. That’s how I got it started at least, by posting everywhere and being serious about this. Every time I go live you’re going to know, so you know to come through. It’s fun. That definitely helps out a lot, having these social media platforms that I have already. I also did start from zero on this. I had like 100 followers [on Twitch] and I’ve built it up to 5,300 followers. It’s been really cool to start from complete scratch and see what works, what brings people in, and how the algorithm works. I’m really grateful that people think I’m entertaining because I’m being goofy as hell. I’m just a goofball. 

Tell me about your Discord. It seems like you work on music with your subscribers. How has that been as a social platform for you?

It’s conglomerating everyone that may be a fan of what I’m doing into one forum. If I go live, if I drop a song, I have a place to post it where figuratively everyone should be invested in it because they joined in the community. It’s kind of grown into its own thing where people are collaborating. I don’t know if you saw, but in August of 2020, my Discord made their own album together. 

Yeah I did! I thought that was so cool. 

To me, it was like I was like a counselor at summer camp, but I let everyone do whatever they wanted. That was a hard lesson in deadlines if you want to be a musician. If you want to make something for real, it’s got to be done by this date. No ifs, ands, or butts. You gotta work. You gotta do it. It was a crash course. Maybe we’ll do another one soon. That was the most interactive thing the Discord has done. Compared to a lot of Discords, mine isn’t that crazy. It’s got about 900 people, which is awesome. I just have a group of people that I post with and hopefully, they’ll be into it.   (Since then I’ve been hanging out in the Voice Chats live with people and just talking about whatever or playing music, really connecting with everyone in there.  It’s been incredible getting to know the people that tune in to the streams!)

If I was a young producer, I would want to join producer discords, because you supervised making an album. People can get all these great pieces of advice from producers who’ve been doing this for a long time. You’ve been making music for 8 years. You have a lot of experience. Everyone can benefit from and learn from each other too.

I’ve only been producing for 8 years. I’ve been playing drums since I was 15, been in a band since 15 or 16, played keyboard since I was 10. So music’s always been a part of my life. 

What made you make the switch to producing? Do you still play drums?

Every now and then. I kind of get bored after 10 minutes because it’s just one instrument whereas my computer has all the instruments. Honestly, [I started producing] because my band broke up. I was only playing drums in the band. I wasn’t making music other than playing drums in this band, and when they broke up I still wanted to make music. So I picked up FruityLoops and started producing. 

You have an EP that came out with AObeats—tell me about making that together. 

We made that last year (2019), August-ish. We’ve had a relationship for a while. Facebook just told me we’ve been friends for six years, starting today. It kind of started because I was producing as part of HYDRABADD from 2012-2015ish. I was producing under Catt Moop for a while and DJing and Moving Castle kind of welcomed me into the crew then, and showed me support and reposted me and stuff. I have a song on the Moving Castle compilation, it’s the last song on there. We played Counterpoint together. They stayed at my parents’ house one night. We try to keep in touch. He was just like, “Let’s make some stuff.” We made the beat and I did the vocal. “On The Worst Night,” we did that all in one night. We ended up making 5 songs that we’re both really happy with. It just took this long to be the right time, I think. I felt like I needed to put out more engaging material. This is more of a slow build song. A song you need to sit with to really appreciate, because it’s more about the songwriting and the feeling of it all. This whole year I’ve been putting out songs that are right in your face. Faster, more energetic songs.

We had a lot of really good sessions and it turned into an EP. It’s been doing good, because Fantano did a lot. That’s always phenomenal—when the biggest critic on the planet says your song is good and it’s got a good vibe. 

That’s a huge deal. You’ve gotten your song played by Fantano. 

“On The Worst Night” did get on Fantano’s new music Friday, which is crazy in itself. 

Throughout all these years, I can say…he’s my friend now? It blows my mind. Everything I send him, he supports and retweets me. Just lately, in the past six months, he’s been ultra supportive. For example, the Twitch thing. He was live for 9,000 people. He was like “I thought it was really good. I love you Yung Skrrt, you are my Internet hero. You’re a great producer.” He’s just been so supportive of me lately, and it’s so surreal. Because he’s definitely the biggest music critic on the planet. I don’t know a critic who has more respect and more pull than he does. It’s insane. That’s another example of someone who brute-forced their way into dominance. He’s been doing this for over 10 years. Two different channels that have multi-millions [of followers]. You can’t deny his impact and his work ethic. That’s why I respect him so much. 

Part of being a music critic is putting your opinion out there, people might disagree with it, and that’s the point. You want to get people talking to you about music. I feel like if someone challenged me and told me their opinion, I’d be like, “OK, here’s something I can learn now.” It is a respect thing. Sounds like he thinks you’re making great music, which you are. You’ve got great tunes, a great stream, great memes, You’ve got it all. 

That’s all you need these days

Also, you know, hours and hours of hard work and patience.

The Fantano stuff had me messed up low-key because I only saw everyone being negative [in the chat]. I felt like maybe my personal music isn’t it because I saw 9,000 unsuspecting people say no. And then I played it again on the stream and was like, “Fuck them! This is a great song.” I love this song, I don’t even care. It’s definitely like—I wanted to give it to a Justin Bieber type. I was like, we should send this to someone to cutbut then, you know, we didn’t. And it’s my song. 

I think it’s great. It’s perfect the way it is. Maybe it wouldn’t have had the same magic with someone else singing on it. 

Y: I’m a believer in that, too. I was just talking about this with someone the other day. You know that Zedd song “The Middle”… You see the NYT breakdown on that song?

They had a writer cut it. I thought it was great. They had 20 other people cut it until they found Maren Morris and I just thought, “I would hate to be that writer.” The industry perspective on that is you get someone big to make it bigger. But I just couldn’t imagine writing something like that, a hit song, and [then have a label say that] we’re going to get everybody but you to sing it. That just sounds like it hurts. I’m kind of a person who is anti-industry on every level, low key. It’s kind of weird to think [about] because we’re in the industry. We’re a part of it. These people are not here for the music. They’re here for the money. Being around those types of people hurts me and it hurts my soul. I’m trying to make the best music I can, and they’re just looking for the best way to make a dollar off of it. 

It’s messed up because the artist is not compensated fairly on any of these streaming platforms. Even on Twitch, they take half of your cut. 

I’ve seen so much coming up now that I never want to interface with them again. I’m never going to sign a deal. There is a need for [labels] because a lot of people don’t have the capital to do the ideas that they want, especially with music videos. Or with marketing, people don’t have the connections and the avenue. It makes sense that this exists. Say there’s someone that’s just a singer. They have no production experience or music video experience. It makes sense to work with a label, take an advance up front, get them to pair you with producers, get them to market your stuff and pay for the music videos. [For] someone like me, who’s figured every aspect of it out, it would be a disservice to pass off my creative control to anybody. 

You just see people get signed into really crappy deals. There are so many opportunities for mentorship and investment in music. I think there are ways to support smaller artists and to help them expand their network and do the projects that they want to do. There’s ways to make money doing that, but you’re not going to be the head of Universal or Sony or something making millions of dollars a year doing that. You have to actually be invested in the artist. People get screwed over all the time. These are someone’s literal hopes and dreams that you’re crushing and it’s fucked up to see people go through that. 

That’s one thing that I think was positive about all the things that Kanye West said [when he dropped] his 10 contracts on the timeline. We need to see what the biggest artists in the world’s contracts look like right now. Even though he was kind of digging himself a hole in that. I think he was just saying, “look at how crazy this is.” And it was. I think he got eight million dollar advances on certain things. He would just be eating money for these artistic purposes. Some would say that he signed up for that, that’s his own choice. I don’t think he was posting it to be like, “they’re wrong for what they did to me.” I think he was just posting it to be like, “look at what my deals look like.” This is standard. Obviously he’s way above standard in terms of the payouts, but the stipulations of things are pretty across the board. Labels doing that makes sense, because they’re giving them money up front to cover that difference. But at the same time, labels taking 80% of [money made from] music is crazy. 

If I was working an 8 hour day and someone said, “we see all the work you’ve created, and you did a great job, and now we’re going to take 80% of what you made today while doing that.” That wouldn’t fly anywhere. It’s not right. We all enjoy music and we all are watching, streaming, and listening more than ever now because we’re always at home. So pay people what they’re worth, and pay people for their work.

Labels do have the capital to give up front. I will say for everything I’m saying negative about labels, the system does make sense in how they do it. I think the landscape is changing to the point where we don’t need the labels anymore. And I’m saying we as collective artists in general. Music artists. The labels were necessary to get a lot of these high paying music videos and marketing. Like they’re essentially a bank loan and a marketing company and a solicitor. If you play it like that—you go in there and say I have full creative control, you put so and so amount toward recording and video and marketing—the terms make sense because they have to make the money back. The crazy thing [about] the general major label split is they’ll probably take 80-85% and the artist will make 15% and the rest goes to the producers. Also the producer will get an advance up front. Like a couple thousand dollars. Which, if you look at it, a million plays on Spotify is about $3,400 USD. If you own 100% of it.

You’re making pennies.

It’s a third of a cent per play. If you own 100% of everything, you’re making $3,400 every million plays. If a label is to pay someone up front, 2000 dollars, and the song doesn’t get a million plays. I’d say the producer kind of came out up front. Maybe the label will make it back in a few years if it keeps making plays. It kind of makes sense that they would give producers a certain amount of money that they wouldn’t have made off the song anyway. So it’s kind of worthwhile. My philosophy is, if you’re going to work with the label, make sure they’re going to pay you more than the song would make otherwise. So that it’s worth it. Otherwise, maybe just put it out yourself. Lotta nuance. Every label is different. Every song deal is different. Every album deal. Every deal that comes out of everything is completely different. 

Do you think you would ever start your own label to combat the major label stuff? Do you see that as something you wanna do in the future? Or are you invested in just working on your projects. 

When it comes to that, I kind of have the Skrrt Digital label, which I release all of my music under. It’s not anything serious. It’s just what I upload my own music under. I’ve given some thought to people I see making good stuff but I also don’t have those connections. The reason labels can thrive is because they have the plug in with those Spotify playlists. They have the plug in with those marketing companies. All the resources you would need. I don’t really have that. If I were to sign somebody I wouldn’t be able to help any more than they can help themselves. Someone was messaging me saying “sign me.” I was like A) don’t sign to a label, fuck these labels. B) I don’t have a label C) I wouldn’t be able to help you. I don’t have the type of pull you think I do. Everything I do is luck. I put it out there and people like it or don’t like it. You can’t force that type of stuff. I would need someone to back me, I think. Someone with the experience. A lot of people do side labels with major labels. A friend of mine has a new imprint himself on a different label. Technically, he can use their resources. He gets a project, he can submit it through their resources. It’s not guaranteed. Starting my own label I don’t know. I feel like I’d need to be able to offer more to somebody. A good label deal takes 50 percent, and that sounds like I would be going against all my principles if I signed anybody and took 50 percent. I will say that I’m working with Moving Castle right now and that’s the deal they have on the table. Which I am consciously agreeing to. I don’t know if it’s something I could do to someone else.

Never say never. I think Twitch is such an emerging platform with playing music, though with Amazon doing their DMCA crap…

I had to get Moving Castle to whitelist my Twitch because I was getting DMCA’s for the new song. 

That’s insanity to me. It’s just totally missing the point. This could grow into something so huge. They could be a Spotify competitor. I honestly think that.

A lot of people don’t like it either. A lot of people don’t like stuff where it’s like, Why are you complaining about it?

Like what?

SoundTrack. They started a new platform called SoundTrack for Twitch that’s copyright-free music. A library. DistroKid allows you to submit to it now. So I submitted all my music to SoundTracks so all my music so it should be good. It’s new. Like a week and a half, two weeks old. I haven’t used it but I’ve submitted all my music to it so I know I’m good. 

So you won’t get paid for it, but you can play it anywhere on Twitch?

That’s the thing is that I think they are trying to do it so they pay royalties out. I don’t know for sure. The fact that DistroKid allows it as a platform means that they’re probably collecting in some sort of way for you. I have since discovered if you play a song through the SoundTrack app that it just plays the song through a secondary audio source so it doesn’t get a DMCA takedown.

That’s huge. I don’t see why more people aren’t talking about that. I don’t see why people would complain about it. It seems like a really good thing. 

I see people just saying, Twitch is trying to not pay artists! I just think people playing a song on a Twitch stream is so negligible and people need to calm down. 

What’s your favorite song you’ve ever made on your stream, and why?

Oh shit….[thinks, laughs] there’s 600. One of them is definitely the Left At London song because we made that live on Zoom. It’s in 5/4 time signature—I like to do things that are completely different. Anything I can do or release that hasn’t been done is my favorite kind of music. Me and Blackwinterwells made a song called “Unguarded” on the stream. There’s a beat with Aaron Cartier [that I made] that’s just insane. The Chon ones are classic. I made one with Slug Christ that was really good. He’s like my brother, I was in a band with him for like 5 years. I was happy to get something from him. One we did on the front page of Twitch. It started with a loop from Lunafreya, and then Blackwinterwells added to it, then Laura Les added to it, then Shaliek added to it and then me and Pollari rapped on it and we put that out. That’s a crazy collaboration.

Anything else you want to plug?

New EP with AOBeats out now. Watch me on Twitch. http://live.yungskrrt.com or http://twitch.tv/yungskrrt. Follow me, I’m @yungskrrt everywhere I guess. I’m doing a lot!

I just dropped “McDonalds,” “Askelobefitz,” and “Sativa Mode” new songs this year too. Turn up on my music!

Follow Yung Skrrt on Twitch.

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