Interview: Cameron / Venus Theory

Sound designer, musician, YouTube ace. A long form interview about music, voice, and how to grow and pivot in the ever-changing ecology of Online.
Or: a master class in channel evolution.

Slow Review Talk us through how you work — and how you plan your time. 

Venus Theory I live by the five and one rule. Because my to-do list especially — I have three notebooks where I write shit to do in different categories — I have two calendars, and then a desk calendar. That alone is enough to drive you crazy. But what I learned after a while was to pick five things to do per day. And just limiting yourself to that. Even with the biggest list, you look at these 7000 things and you pick five key things you need to do today. And then the ‘one’ rule is kind of an extrapolation of that: pick one big thing to focus on. You’ve got to make a hard choice to make an easier life later. So whatever it might be, whatever’s the biggest pain in the ass; what’s the biggest decision I can make today that tomorrow-me is going to be like, ‘cool, thanks dude’. So I pick five things to do per day and one focus item. 

Cameron Venus Theory, Mr Buckaroonie

SR To keep it all manageable.

VT It’s a much better way to declutter your mind, otherwise you’re trying to remember everything that’s going on. And then you’ve got this huge checklist of shit that needs doing. And that’s how I felt for a really long time — no matter where I was at, I never felt like I’d accomplished anything because the list kept growing. Whereas now, we have five things to do — that’s easy to check off. And one big project every day is like, if I get that done, that’s my day’s work.

SR It reminds me of a weekend list or a holiday list —  you think you’re going to achieve everything on the holidays and end up doing very little. Because the list becomes intimidating in the end.

VT It becomes easier to do nothing. One of the things that pisses me off is people who say that JK Rowling didn’t write Harry Potter until she was like 80. And people take this as an excuse to not even try. And that’s not it at all. You have to make big decisions.

SR You’ve got to put the work in. It’s the musician’s ethic, essentially.

VT You have to do something. Otherwise, it’s really easy to say, Yeah, I just wanna chill, things will happen in their own time. I’d love to sit around and drink beer and play video games all day, but then I wouldn’t get things done. 

SR What does your average day look like? There’s a lot of content angles going off at any one time.

VT My day kind of depends on the time of the month, really. Basically, I run a business, right? At the end of the day, it’s all part of being Venus Theory, Incorporated. Some days are just administrative, like answering emails, and meeting with clients. Scheduling, writing out my whole calendar for the month, due dates. 

The average day is: wake up, coffee, and try to have a good 45 minutes to not do anything. Then I write out my list of five and one things that need to get done. 

I work in order of energy consumption. The big thing is to wake up, figure out what I’m doing, attack it in order of how much energy it’s going to eat up. And then I can knock off the light tasks and be done by dinnertime. And unplug as much as I can. 

I’ve worked for a long time doing contract work and sound design. And for a while, that was a good way to build a portfolio and a career base and whatever. But after a certain point, and especially with some of the stuff coming out now, it’s not worth my time to make kick drums for $20 an hour for some label. 

Usually my workday is about 10 hours long. But it depends, some nights I’m up late because of a crunch project, or I need to edit a video again. Or I have a client who came back and said, Ah, this sucks, I hate it. Can you fix it by tomorrow? So it depends. I instituted ‘no work Saturdays’, and then I’m pretty strict about telling people to fuck off.

Hustle culture is good, in that it does work. Like grinding away at something for a couple of years is a great idea, because it gets the work done.

SR Yeah, but you need the energy for it, and you need to measure your time and use it efficiently. There’s always an opportunity cost lurking somewhere.

VT That became clear after a couple of years of doing this. If I take on this gig, is it a good gig? At first, any gig is good because I need to eat. But then after a certain point, am I gaining something from this? Am I learning something, am I furthering my brand or whatever? Because after a while it becomes a choice of, which is the better of two evils in this situation? 

SR To my eyes, you seem quite successful in the modern sense of having diverse online coverage and fingers in multiple channels, great video quality, interesting topics and product discovery. As well as being, at core, a musician who’s exploring the digital landscape and what that means for the art.

When you’re the consumer it all looks slick and easy and produced. It’s good to hear how much planning and production actually goes into making high quality content on a regular basis — it’s not always immediately obvious — it looks so effortless when done right.

VT You don’t want to weigh on people that you’re like, Oh, I’m super fucking stressed out all the time. But you’re constantly building on your online identity. That whole Morning Coffee with Cameron vibe was like, I want my videos to feel like you just came over and we’re just talking, right? Because there’s enough of that ego boosting thing on YouTube; a better way was to take a more personable approach. I strayed from that eventually, but that’s all part of the growing pains of a YouTube channel. 

SR Talk us through how you built up your technical skills, your ear.

VT I grew up in the studio environment. When I was getting started (in my mind), music was made in a studio with a console, with a live room, and there’s drums and bass and amps and pedals and DI boxes. So I learned ‘this is how a record gets made’. And I think that taught me a lot about appreciating the art of recording and everything that goes into it, learning that a microphone at different angles produces a completely different feel. And learning about different consoles, the Neve sound versus the SSL sound or why would I want a tube compressor versus a solid state compressor. 

As I got a bit older, in my later teens, piracy was a big thing. So I would go to Limewire and download programs and play with shit. And eventually I pirated a copy of FL Studio. And it was crazy and super cool, but I was way too dumb to understand it. So I backed off and found a program called Mixcraft. And then I ended up buying a copy from Guitar Center and that was really when I started developing.

All of a sudden it was like, I can do this at home with a computer and use plugins. Eventually, I went to recording school for a year, which was awful and I didn’t really learn anything. But I met a couple of people who were really into electronic production. And up to this point I hated electronic music. This was the era when Skrillex was blowing up, late 2010. So Skrillex and Rick Ross and trap and hip hop and dubstep were all exploding. And I hated it. Because I was super Boomer-like, man, this isn’t real music, this is just computer shit. 

But then I sat down and tried to do it and realised, fuck, that’s really hard. So then I just kept tweaking and learning. And eventually I got my first synth plugin. I had no idea how to use it. But it became an obsession wanting to understand how it works, because it was making sounds I had never heard.

So that was where I started to develop my ear, like with the fundamental elements of sound and sound design. And when you put them all together, what makes them balanced and what makes it all feel right. 

A large part of that was also being interested in soundtrack music and video game music.

So in the back of my mind the sensibility was rock music and big stupid Metal Head, plus film scores and then the more atmospheric experimental stuff. Both of those inclinations with the embrace of technology, and then trying to make my own sounds and experimenting. Without any expectations — like, What if I put 10 delay plugins together? Oh, cool. That sounds almost like a reverb. 

And then of course, I’ve always had my own inclinations. Like when I write something it sounds like me and no one else. So all of those things coalescing over the course of five or six years — where I really started to figure out how I liked to make music and what I wanted to put into the world musically.

SR Were there any particularly influential artists or touch points, during that process?

VT Buckethead was a big one for me, because that was like the first time I heard a record that really made me feel something interesting. I love the idea that music makes you feel or think of something. I got into experimental music like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Tom Waits and really started deep diving in video game soundtracks and film scores. And instead of looking at the melody, it was always the texture, you know, what does the song feel like? Is it airy? Is it sad, and why? 

One of the biggest ones was discovering Trifonic, a relatively big American EDM artist who really pushed the boundary of cinematic electronic music without being too electronic. Blending guitars and acoustic instruments and textures with really complicated glitchy drums or vocals. And that was the turning point of, okay, that’s what I want to do. 

SR There’s a real satisfactory crossover where it’s not too much an electronic thing but retains elements of acoustic instrumentation. Like Brian Eno in the 70s —  there’s mountains of synths, but also acoustic guitars or piano, to keep that vibe of the real.

VT That was fascinating to me, coming from a background of studio recording, and then embracing the power of digital technology and plugins, and especially synthesisers once I understood them better. I’m like, Holy shit, I can make so many weird things with this, and really dive into that sense of organic electronic music. I’ve always been obsessed with creating that hybrid.

SR It’s something you hear in Miles Davis during the 70s. In A Silent Way is really one of those pinnacle records because you’ve got these long undulating pieces of edited performances, but with that blend of acoustic and electronic keyboards. There’s something really satisfying about that; it keeps it in two worlds, it keeps the body and the mind connected in a strange way.

VT Totally. And it’s like a really cool blend of ideas, of something you haven’t heard a million fucking times. When you hear stuff on the radio, especially here in the States, country music all sounds the fucking same, rap sounds the same because it’s all produced with the same DAWs, the same plugins etc. And then you find artists that really embrace that aesthetic, like Billy Eilish. A lot of her drums are foley sounds, and the synths are analog. But the vocals are really organic feeling. Like, I can’t stand her music, but I appreciate it for what it is. I love artists that push in those directions. Getting into Björk — Björk really does a ton of innovative shit, time-stretching samples to oblivion, or pushing her voice.

So discovering that and artists like Ben Frost and Borgore, artists pushing bubstep in weird directions so it was more interesting than just screechie bullshit. And then getting into Igor, or Ruby My Dear, or Lowercase was really interesting. Lowercase is a whole genre about field recording, basically. One of the biggest albums — and ‘biggest’ is relative here — but one of the biggest albums is called Forms of Paper. And it’s just a bunch of recordings of paper. Turned up really, really loud, and that’s it. That’s probably not something you’re gonna put on a dinner party. But I love shit like that. Because it makes you question what are the boundaries of your definition of music and sound? I love challenging that because I had a roommate at one point who was really into Japanese noise rock. With people putting guitar pedals together, just letting it feed back like an art installation. And that was it. I’m like, What the fuck are you listening to? And he’s just, Dude, shut up. Man, just listen to this one. And it was just more khssssssssh — even though I thought it sounded stupid, it was really pushing what I identify as ‘music’.  Artists like John Cage did great stuff with that. Even, what’s that Brian Eno long now project?

SR The Clock of the Long Now.

VT I love ideas like that. Just because it makes you re-establish your frame of reference, of how much there is to be done, and what people will accept. I think it takes a lot of the creative pressure off — not everything has to be top 40 polished. If it’s interesting it’ll find an audience.

SR Alternatively, not everything has to be BeatDetectived and AutoTuned up the wazoo.

VT Not everything has to be done a specific way, no matter what people tell you. There’s a lot of sound out there — so let’s explore.

SR I think that’s one of the key missions of music — to keep it interesting. Like you said, pushing the boundaries, but also constantly working out the definition of what is and what is possible as music. In the case of Eno, what’s the minimum that you need to make it an emotional experience. 

VT And that’s why I love the idea of the hybrid approach because with synths and plugins, you can do whatever you want now.

And especially with AI tools, the boundaries are just limitless.

But I think it’s nice to have to reframe it in a somewhat traditional context of, How do I explore these boundaries in a way that’s something I could survive on?

I’m making musical experiments all the time. They’re just there. Most of the time they sound like complete shit, and they’ll never get released, but it is fun.

SR And at the same time, you’re chasing a feel, you’re chasing some kind of resonance on an emotional level or whatever. You need the experiments because they will also lead to those moments. Is immersive audio, is Atmos on your horizon as well? Is it a fad?

VT Not at all. I don’t fucking care. I think it’s a lot of money being pushed around for people to be like Dude, Atmos! And I don’t even know how many people contact me saying Hey, I’m an Atmos engineer, and I would love to remix your album in Atmos…

I’ve had an ungodly amount of people invite me to their studio to have ‘the Atmos experience’. And the Dolby people are there to sell me a studio setup, and I just don’t fucking care. Like I understand the idea behind it, but I don’t understand the difference between Atmos and 7.1 surround sound and why the average person would give a shit. OK so it’s like a movie theatre sound system where you’re listening to Dolby 12.1 and it sounds amazing. But if you give my grandpa a Dolby Atmos system to set up in his house, it’s gonna sound like shit. So really, what’s the difference between that and surround sound? And is the average consumer going to adopt the technology to where it’s worthwhile for me to care about it?

SR There’s a huge gap in the consumer entry to the experience, and the R&D to make it accessible tech-wise. Who’s going to pay that much money to bring a cinema-grade setup in their home? 

VT Or the amount of acoustic treatment necessary, the setup and the technical know-how required for all that… I guess the better point to make is that out of all the people who’ve told me about Atmos, I’ve never once been asked by someone who actually buys my music: Will this be available in Atmos? I don’t care.

SR The cynical part of me says we might just end up with a slightly better version of binaural. You know, 5.1 didn’t really happen because people weren’t going to faff about with tiny little speakers and cables running everywhere. How is this any different unless there’s going to be some huge R&D for a product that’s simple for consumers to use? And so Atmos might be an expensive studio experience that stays in the studio, which is a shame.  Steven Wilson, the guy from Porcupine Tree — he’s doing amazing mixes in 5.1 and Atmos. But it’s limited to specialised studio rooms that you have to be invited to.

VT I would love to mix my albums in Atmos, especially the ambient stuff. I’m sure that would be super, super cool. But then what?

A lot of the time they’ll say, Hey, come do this. And then you can make a YouTube video about it. And it’s like, well, what the fuck am I going to put in a YouTube video? A Venus Theory recording of an Atmos mix.

Out of all the people that have pitched it to me, it’s always been another engineer or a representative of Dolby in some capacity. So I think it’s just a marketing push. And yeah, I have yet to see any actual tangible benefit for the average artist. When that day comes, sure, and if I get people asking for it, sure. But I’m not holding my breath. I think it’s a lot like 3D TVs. I’d give it a year before anyone quits caring.  

SR What’s one key tool that really helps you do your job? Or was there a real game changer in terms of creating music, workflow, output, getting it all together?

VT Workwise, Reaper has been the most indispensable tool for me. Reaper is everything great about ProTools, but it’s not ProTools. A lot of my work is doing sound design and scoring and Reaper lets me do all my stuff. And then I tell it: hey, take all of these samples, chop them into transients. Make sure every sample is no longer than 500 milliseconds, then run it through this tape simulator, then export it as a WAV file and normalise everything to -1 dB. I could tie that all to one key command and have an entire sample pack rendered and ready in like five seconds. 

Organisation-wise, there’s an app called Milanote that I use for everything else, from client work or even just my grocery list, it’s so well structured.

There are certain plugins I like and certain pieces of gear I use, but I think at the end of the day, a lot of that stuff is interchangeable. I don’t think any of that was necessarily like the game changer. 

SR I like the slant you’ve taken in your videos lately, taking a more philosophical and  critical approach to creation, inspiration and related anxieties. You understand very well what algorithm relevance means and the pressures the system, the metrics have put on content creators to keep pushing out regular content. Yes, it’s all part of the ecosystem now — you have to work to break through the noise of the internet. But what are we doing this all for in the end, and how it does come back to simply creating good things.

VT Yeah, that’s where I’ve been aiming to take the channel for the last year or so, to push the storytelling aspect and the philosophy and psychology of creative work. Because honestly, if I have to make another plugin video, I’m gonna fucking shoot somebody. 

At the end of the day, I’m like anyone else in this field. I love talking about gear. I love talking about pedals and nerding out about sample rates that to any other person makes their eyes glaze over. But you know, you meet another engineer, and you’re like, God, damn, dude, have you heard this new tape thing? Now when it comes time to sit down and work on the channel, the last thing I want to talk about is another synth plugin or another reverb pedal. Especially because I’ve been doing YouTube for, what, five years or whatever  — been there, done that, and I’m kind of over it. 

When you think of all the big music YouTubers, I think of Andrew Huang probably being the peak of that mountain. Andrew has been doing YouTube since it started. So outside of that, there’s a cap to how many people care, right? Like if you go and talk to all of your friends about NWA, and maybe out of 20 friends, three of them might care about it. And that’s the problem you run into after a certain point, especially with YouTube — if I’m just going to focus on plugin videos and library reviews, and mixing tips and stuff like that, that’s a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of people. That’s the audience I serve. And within that, if I’m talking about expensive analog synthesizers, how many of them are willing to drop say $4,000 on an Oberheim OB-X — not fucking many. So it’s just not worth it to pursue that after a certain point. 

So that’s why I’ve been stressing the storytelling aspect of the channel. And the mindset videos are so much more applicable to people. Because I get a lot of comments like, ‘I’m not a musician, I’m an author or a visual artist’. And a lot of the points I touch on are relevant to them too. So the proof has been in the numbers, I think that’s where I want to go because there are already so many channels serving the music market, that at this point, I don’t know that I have anything else to say that’s interesting. 

SR It’s good that you’re bringing the mental health aspect to it,  the bigger picture of what creative satisfaction looks like in this industry, the reality of the work.

VT There’s not a lot of people talking about that, which just seems odd. Like there’s a lot of self-help channels on YouTube, which I guess is sort of the same thing, but not through the lens of a creator. A lot of them are just general improvement, you know, how to be more productive, or how to wake up early, you lazy piece of shit. So I think that’s kind of my new niche that I want to keep working on. Because I just don’t know that it’s worth hearing me ramble on about chords and shit anymore.

SR Speaking of rambling, have you done voice training or voiceover work in the past?

VT Well, I did some voiceover work as a teenager. I did local radio commercials and stuff. But I’ve never been all that interested in it. You know, it’s okay, and it can pay pretty well. But like with music, in the voice acting world there are maybe five people who get all the jobs and then there’s 3 million people fighting over the same five jobs.

SR There’s another video.

VT My only qualification or interest is that I sound like a car commercial. But beyond that, I don’t care. And every once in a while now, if I get the right offer or something is funny, I’ll do it — because I’ve done some voiceovers for medical commercials and weird stuff like that. I did one recently for a makeup company in Germany. In English that is. But it was a makeup company that just needed an American throw at authoritative, like y’all.

I never did get voice training or anything like that.

SR But the voice adds something to the Venus Theory videos. Okay, you’re on the baritone spectrum, you’ve got that authentic vocal control, it helps push the videos along. 

VT In school, I always had fun doing public speaking; it’s never really bothered me. And learning what makes a good presenter. And my dad was huge into that — my dad is like a business guy. He’s so good at just talking out his ass. Where if you put my dad in a room full of people, he’ll know everybody in like, 10 minutes. He’s one of those guys you say ‘Sell me this pen’. And you’ll want whatever he’s talking about. So I think growing up with that made me really good at articulating ideas and being good with people, even though I’m pretty antisocial. I’m not really someone who goes out or talks to people much. But yeah, learning what makes a good speaker, what makes people listen to you, etc. 

I think that comes across in the channel because I focus a lot on writing my videos.

Making sure there’s a clear narrative and a clear point to watching what I’m about to do.

Because in the age of content, I mean, out of all the YouTube channels out there, let’s say 30% of them actually make content. And out of those 10 million channels, let’s say you could choose from any of them. So if you’re going to spend 15 minutes on your lunch break watching me then I want to make sure it’s a really fucking good 15 minutes. 

I think a lot of that’s about learning to deliver things authentically; learning to talk like a fucking person. Learning to articulate an idea clearly and concisely and learning where the humour works into it.

What way can I phrase this, that makes you feel the way I want you to feel as I’m saying this, or is there a better way to do this? What’s going to make this more punchy?

I’ve never done formal training on any of that stuff. When I was a kid in fifth grade I got a cold and lost my voice for like a week or so. And the voice came back just like this. It maybe got a little bit deeper as I got older, but by the time I was in high school, I already had just this big, burly grizzly bear thing going on. Which was funny. 

So yeah, I think that’s a huge part of what makes my channel work. Even if people don’t think about it, I think I sound like I know what I’m doing.

SR Tell us more about the writing process as part of video production.

VT The first thing I write is What is the takeaway? So in two sentences, articulate why should you care? What do I want you to get by the end of this video, or want you to learn, or I want you to understand or feel this. 

It’s part of the overall checklist I have for videos or my music: does it hit the point? Did I nail that? Is it structured the right way? Is this absolutely the best way to do it, and is the order of information correct. 

Looking at it more as a writer of just, I feel I play the role of both narrator and the character. Often, it’s about thinking of what context is the narrator providing? And what is the character doing? What is the level of exposition necessary here? Or, knowing what the point of the video is, What am I not telling you yet? What am I using as a narrative device to drive the story of the video forward? So that you don’t just skip to the end. 

And you know, playing the Useless Narrator character, who provides just enough information to get you somewhere, but not enough to explain what you need to know or what the character doesn’t know. I think that’s part of what makes a good song or even what makes a good mix, is that super high-level analysis of ‘what is the point’? And what am I going to do to get you there? And what can I add to make this make sense, and what can I take away to make it interesting?

SR Without clutter, filler and the endless calls of ‘coming up…’

VT My first [writing] pass is just the vomit pass, I just throw every fucking idea possible out and then I have this huge pile of garbage. And then I pick through that, this idea is good, where is that going, this one’s stupid. And then kind of build it from that. 

And then I do a dry read, to feel out what my tone of voice is? What is the camera angle going to look like? What am I seeing in my head as I’m saying this, and I make notes of that. Just like when you’re checking a mix, you hear it back, and edit as you go.

SR It’s that constant jumping in and out of listener/creator, listener/creator.

VT Yeah it’s really hard to do. But it’s a skill you develop over time, kind of learning to switch hats. There are modes, I think, and I’m very much the same way with music and mixing, especially when I’m writing music: I’m purely just writing. I’m not worrying about the technical shit yet. I just want to get the idea out, same with the videos. Here’s my video script and rambling, rambling, rambling. Then I put on my mixing engineer hat or my editor hat and I comb through it, what’s working, what’s not, what do I cut? What do I add? Is the structure good? And then I put on the technical hat, like is the flow of information correct? Is the mix good? Is this punchy enough? Is this funny enough? And then comes the overall producer hat: is this the best combination of results for these elements? And then poof, you know, make it happen. Mix it down. Onto the next one.

SR This sounds like a writer’s process to me, the methodology is pretty much aligned. So I’ll look forward to your book coming out soon, at all good booksellers.

VT I’ve been requested to do that a few times. And I’m really on the fence about it, because I’m thinking What a fucking pretentious shitty thing to do. Like, Hey, man, I’m a YouTuber, and I wrote a book… But I like, really like writing.

SR I think you’ve hit that crossover really well, with the voice and tone of your videos, you’re working that line between performance and authenticity.

VT A huge part of this is, I want to push what music YouTube is. Because inevitably I hit that plateau and had to pivot a bit broader. You know, there’s only so many people that care about Serum, so many people who care about Cubase or music theory. So you tap out. But music YouTube doesn’t have to be a person in a room with some plants, some keyboards and a bunch of lights and go ‘like and subscribe’. You have to pivot and push the sorts of topics and structure more.

What I make is a podcast you can look at.  

And I always think back to my wife’s parents. Her dad was a musician, and her mom doesn’t care about any of this stuff. But sometimes they watch my videos. And you know, the running joke in her family is, oh yeah, we put those on to get to sleep. But it made me think:  If there are people out there like that, who are watching my videos, how do I make them care? And how do I put this in such a way where even if you don’t really understand what this is about, you’re at least interested in it. 

And then maybe a year or so ago, I was hanging out with my wife in the kitchen. And she was doing dishes and had a YouTube video on and kind of floating about the kitchen and every once in a while would look at the video, or just listen to it. And another light went off in my head: that’s how I need to structure stuff. Because most musicians when they’re watching YouTube are probably not in their DAW. 

If I’m in the middle of writing a song, the last thing I’m going to do is watch YouTube. If I need a tutorial, maybe. Like if I’m in Pro Tools and I need to bounce to a certain folder. I might pop on YouTube and watch that. That’s a one-and-done content transaction. There’s value added in that you accomplish something, but there’s no value added in the existence of that creator. There’s no reason to subscribe, and there’s no reason to come back to them. 

So that was when it all came together. Okay, I need to structure videos with a story, I need to give you a reason to watch the whole thing. Because if you’re gonna spend time watching something, you’re probably not doing anything else. And I have one shot to make sure it’s really interesting and useful. I need to provide value in a way that doesn’t necessitate replicating what I’m doing, like: use this plugin, click here and do this then that. That’s super annoying and tedious; that’s not why you go on YouTube.

SR But from a communications point of view, that makes sense. Because you want something to last, and a plugin video might only be relevant for a month or two.

VT I really started focusing on the creative mindset because it’s more broadly appealing. And my mission lately is pushing the channel in a direction that challenges the medium of music YouTube — with better cinematography, and really good colour grading and making shit that’s worth watching. But like I said, doing it in a way where you don’t have to look at it, because half the time I’m on YouTube, I’m listening to a video but I’m also coding or doing something else. 

SR Something that’s lost in a lot of content, is while it’s trying to sell a product or service, the latent questions of Does it make you a better musician? Does it improve your workflow? Does it make things happen you couldn’t have done before? — are downplayed. Sure that’s the ecosystem we inhabit now, but there’s very little emphasis on for example improving your musicality or your artistic chops.

VT Yeah, I think there are YouTubers who happen to make music. And then there are musicians who happen to be YouTubers. That’s the big difference. One of the running jokes with a lot of musician friends is you don’t look up your favourite YouTuber’s music; most of the time, it’s pretty terrible. 

There are people who are just passionate about gear, so they make videos about gear, and then they start getting paid to do it. They do reviews and get free shit. And that’s how they make money: you click the link, you get the thing, and I get the money. There’s a lot of collectors and hobbyists like that. Whereas, I think there are very, very few professional musicians who happen to run a YouTube channel, let alone one that’s actually worth watching… But the line does become pretty blurry. Because it’s more favourable to present yourself as an authority figure on music, and therefore my opinion about this pedal or amp is the one to listen to, click the link. To me a lot of that, in the end, is bullshit. And working both sides of that fence, and knowing how much money companies offer you to say nice things about stuff. It’s pretty easy to look at that and say, Okay, so this is all bullshit. But now, I’m in the very fortunate position where if I do have a question about a product, I’ll just contact the company and ask them to send it to me. Don’t know if I want it or not. Just let me borrow it please? Thanks.

SR Any future projects or plans you’d like to share? Big-ass soundtracks, your own synth plugin perhaps? 

VT I’ve had a couple ideas, I’ve been asked to do a course a bunch of times. And I’m thinking about doing that but it’s such a huge time sink. Plus, there’s the stigma of a YouTuber selling a course. 

Or maybe a book on the more creative philosophy stuff, which I don’t know, again, seems kind of stigma-like, another youtuber selling a book. I think that’s stupid. 

I wanted to get back into scoring and stuff, but that industry is sort of dying, especially with the AI tools out there. So I don’t really know that that’s worth pursuing. 

The weird part is, I’m at a position now where I had a lot of goals and already achieved them.

So I don’t really know what I want to do now. I would love to score a movie or a video game, a bigger one. I’ve scored a couple already. Maybe a plugin at some point, but again, that’s just like a meme at this point, YouTubers releasing really shitty plugins. I’ve tried to develop my own but I just don’t know enough about the coding and the math. I’m collaborating with a couple of companies on some plugin ideas. But, again, how much interest is there in that really? Do we all really need another fucking plugin?

SR You sound worried about the eventual clichéd aspects of ‘YouTuber does X’ 

VT It’s just something you have to be aware of, because there are certain lines you can’t uncross, right? Like, as soon as you do your first sponsored video, there is no going back. Now to some people, you’re just a corporate sellout. And as you release your first plugin, collab or sample pack, now you’re just trying to sell shit all the time.

SR But that’s the reality of the commercialised ecosystem we live in now; the whole ‘sellout’ argument is just 70s logic that doesn’t apply to anything today.

VT Though, I get people making fun of my channel too, saying ‘yeah man, those who can’t do teach’, that’s what they’re saying.

But yeah, I don’t know. Because futurewise, it would be cool to do some of those things. I’m not too upset if they do or don’t happen. You know, for me, I really just want to keep pushing the channel and see where it can go. Because music-wise, before I was Venus theory, I was in a ton of bands. And I’ve been on labels, and I’ve done tours and all that. And I’ve worked in the corporate world for a while, and that sucked.

I’d like to release my own music. But I’m not in any hurry to do that. Because music doesn’t pay the bills. It’s just a very small piece of the puzzle. So going forward, it’s about doing projects that advance the growth of the channel. What’s a project I’m interested in doing? And just being more selective about picking the work that’s actually cool stuff I haven’t done yet or seems different.

Otherwise, I’m stuck making algorithm food. And that’s boring. 

SR Exploration is the key element here perhaps, maintaining the bottom line whilst keeping it interesting.

VT And retaining a sense of challenge, because otherwise you’re just doing the same thing until it runs out. And when you do a new thing, asking How can I push this idea a little further? And what’s a risk I can take with this? Like that video I did recording reverbs in a cave. And that video just did absolutely fucking terrible. But you know, I’m glad I did it. I learned something from it. Fun, but yeah, I’m not too worried about a whole lot of that.

SR And at the same time, to push against what the algorithm is suggesting you should be doing.

VT The video I just put out (The dark problem with music production), was such a random video that I’ve had on my script shelf for months. I filmed and edited that in a day, which I’ve never done before. So super quick turnaround. And that is now my best performing video on the channel ever. In a matter of like four days or so. So that was another really big learning experience — okay, so this is the vein of content people are resonating with right now. I’ve done that content in the past — I just wasn’t paying enough attention to it, even though I want to focus on talking about the more philosophical aspects of it all. 

SR It is a long game, a long tail with content that might suddenly become popular or make a meaningful connection that could be years in the making. So you’re basically investing in a kind of long present.

VT For sure. And the big thing for me is trying to build something with longevity. Like I said, there’s those one-time channel transactions, and there’s channels you go back to. Because I think a lot about the channels I watch, whether it’s about filmmaking or cooking, or video game design or video essays on random shit. And asking Why do I keep going back to this? 

I wanted my videos to be a Venus Theory video and not a YouTube video. I want to push the idea of what a YouTuber is, especially in the music space. 

If someone wanted to imitate my format, they certainly could, but they’re never going to be able to do it the way I do it. Because everything is presented from such a personal, subjective standpoint, someone could totally steal that format. I’ve already seen a couple of YouTubers try, but they’re just really fucking bad at trying to do what I’m doing.

SR You can’t authentically copy an identity.

VT Exactly — if I want to sound like the next Stevie Ray Vaughan I’m just going to sound like a really shitty off-brand version.

SR You and every other 10,000 Stevie knockoffs with a Strat.

VT The thing is, what am I pushing into that long game? What’s the value I’m providing that makes me different? And what’s something that gives me enough flexibility to pivot, when I inevitably get bored of what I’m doing.

SR This is the classic modern creator’s dilemma. It’s not just creative with a lower case C, this is a life, this is a living…

VT Every musician, every studio engineer, every baker, every visual artist, every author is a content creator — whether you like it or not. You need to get on Instagram, you need to get on fucking TikTok, you need to make a YouTube channel, you need a Facebook page, you need to get listed on Google.

I think that’s my definition of the modern musician, or just the modern creative of any kind — they are a content creator first.

And that content one day might be music, the next day might be a video, then some Instagram posts of them in the studio, and then the content the next day might be a newsletter. And, I think AI is going to be a huge, huge part of that, too.

SR How do you see AI playing out? Is it just about faster workflows and automation, or real and proper creation too?

VT I think it’s a little bit of everything. Over time, music has just become a commodity. I think that’s why music is so competitive now. Anybody can be a producer. And the barrier for entry is so goddamn low compared to when I started. Especially compared to the 50 60 70s, you know, you had to be a band, you had to be good, and you had to have money. And a label. But now it’s like, you could spend $300 on a Walmart laptop and have a DAW, a bunch of plugins and everything you need to make a record. 

So I think the AI stuff is going to be partly a collaborative tool. And that’s something I really like; I love generative music and algorithmic composition and things like that, where you get an idea, or you set up a system of rules, and it spits out something and you take the parts you like and build off of that.

And I love the idea of enabling another generation of people. And I think that’s what Splice and Loopmasters did, it democratised the process of creating where you don’t need to know how to record a drum kit to make a great dubstep drum loop. You could just fucking download one. I think that’s where the AI stuff is heading. 

I can see a future where there’s some kid in England who’s a really great lyricist, but just a really shitty songwriter, or just a really bad mix engineer. And they could write their song and say, Hey, I have a contemporary R&B song in the style of Ed Sheeran meets Duran Duran or whatever. In B minor at 140 beats a minute. And then the AI would be like, here’s some drum loops. And here’s a guitar line. And here’s a melody hook. And then you might say alright, computer, now mix it. Boop. 

AI mastering is now a huge thing. All right computer, master it, cool. All right, computer, I need artwork. Okay, cool. And then upload. I love that idea — it brings a whole new set of musicians and creators to the table. 

But as always, quality is what floats to the top — because a lot of people are going to be lazy and take advantage of these tools and systems. It’s like what we’re seeing with AI art, like Midjourney now — where everyone’s saying ‘I’m a visual artist’, because they’re typing some shit into an AI. 

The thing people fear is that music is going to be taken over by robots, but I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s going to play out more like a collaborative tool, a creative tool, an assistant. And in some cases, it’s going to be the new composing house. There’s a lot of tools and I’ve been sent a few of them, consulting on a few. Some of the stuff that’s coming out in the next couple of years is unreal. 

One I’ve been playing with, I’ll write a loop and feed it to the AI and say, I want a guitar loop that goes with this, and it’ll look at it and then spit out a guitar loop. It’s all computer generated, and it fits most of the time. It’s not perfect, but like, close enough, or sometimes it is really good. And sometimes it’s awful. 

Or think of a filmmaker, right? I’m probably not going to have the budget for John Williams. I might have an AI tool and my video editing software, and I need an underbed for this scene that’s morose and dark, and sounds like fog. So I, as a non-musician, can speak my creative language to an AI and it’s going to spit out something that’s going to work. So I think AI is going to erase a lot of those jobs. But I’m not afraid of that. I think it’s just a tool to adapt to.

SR More like add-ons, rather than the main source; as we’ve seen before with so much technology. The blockbuster budgets might be rare, but most movie productions will be on the indie scale, so they’ll need these tools. 

VT And I think that’s a cool idea. I think that’s the narrative I’ve been pushing with my channel, especially around art for art’s sake. Because I don’t see a lot of these jobs existing in the future, let alone sound design, which is why I’ve been pulling back from it so much. With the sound design tools I have access to right now, I can literally say Make a drum kit, and it’ll spit out a drum kit. Sometimes it’s not great — but in the next five years, it’s going to be fucking perfect. So why worry about that? And what value am I providing? By making shit that an AI can replicate? 

You know, I used to make pretty good money making dubstep drum kits or Serum deep house presets, or whatever. But in three to five years, that’s going to be done by a computer. So what sounds am I going to make? Or what music am I going to make that a computer’s not going to understand? And how do I boil it down to the purest essence of what I want to do, and why. Whether or not it’s commercially successful, who fucking knows, and frankly, at this point, who fucking cares? Because eventually, it’s all going to be computer-based anyway. So I think it’s about the pursuit of fulfilment, that’s what it’s all about in the end.

Venus Theory on YouTube

Author: Rino Breebaart

Editor. Writer. Secret bass player.

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