Eric L. Interview: Completing Marathon Mode

If you haven’t heard of Marathon Mode, take a few minutes to read the previous article where Eric L detailed his plan to release a new VGM cover every day for 35 days straight. Well, dear reader, I’m happy to say that Eric completed Marathon Mode, and of course, the first thing that he wanted to do was to talk about his experience with yours truly.

First of all, congratulations on finishing Marathon Mode! Did you treat yourself for completing such a monumental task?

Thank you! It’s been quite a journey, and I’m just glad I made it! It depends on how you would define “treating myself”, haha. I’ve taken some time away from having any recording sessions, sure, and I’m planning to finish Chrono Trigger in the next week or so (I started it back in June). But, being the planner that I am, I’ve already started working on new arrangements, as well as planning some other large projects for my channel that reach into next year (nothing involving quite as many videos as Marathon Mode, that’s for sure!)

Were you happy with the audience reaction to Marathon Mode?

I was incredibly happy with the audience’s response to Marathon Mode, to say the least. Support came from all sorts of places--friends from home, long-time viewers of my channel, new viewers, and of course, friends from the video game music community. This has been the most ambitious project I’ve done so far, and I can’t accurately describe how much that support really meant to me without writing a book. I’m also incredibly grateful to have had the moral support of closer friends--it really helped to keep me grounded and remind me that there’s a life outside of making daily videos.

Did you see any channel growth as a result of Marathon Mode?

My channel did grow some throughout Marathon Mode, but not as a result of uploading daily videos. The most growth that I noticed was after any collaboration I did, and this isn’t out of the ordinary. Any other growth seemed to be business as usual, with the exception of overall views and overall watch time increasing, which makes sense as well since I was releasing a video every day.

Just because someone doesn’t click on a video doesn’t mean the video is bad.

What was the hardest part about Marathon Mode?

Really, the hardest part was being on a computer constantly. Whether I was recording, mixing, editing, designing a thumbnail, uploading a video, responding to comments, or anything else I might be forgetting, I spent a lot of time at computers. I address this some in the behind-the-scenes-video (see below), but even for someone like me that uses technology a lot, it began to feel like it was a bit much, and at times I would just leave my computer for a few minutes because I was sick of staring at a screen.

Were any of your assumptions or predictions proven wrong or inaccurate?

Some were, and some weren’t. I had a level of optimism that Marathon Mode might help my channel grow a bit larger and faster than it had before; however, based on information I gathered from my own channel analytics in the past, I more realistically expected that things would stay the same. 

My prediction regarding the performance of my Mii Channel on four different-sized trombones video was dead-on--I knew that it would do better because it was short and had meme potential. This was a bit frustrating to learn, especially considering that many videos took significantly more work, but not exactly a surprise--of course the internet likes memes.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned from completing Marathon Mode?

Just because someone doesn’t click on a video doesn’t mean the video is bad. I could make the best music video ever, and if it’s not from a game the viewer likes or the thumbnail doesn’t grab their attention, then they’ll never watch that video. Many of the videos I’ve released in the last 5 weeks have pretty low views and watch time, and I’m okay with that because it’s not that the music I’m making is bad, it’s just that not every video is for every person. 

Larger channels experience this same thing since they have a dedicated fanbase, but they also have sub-groups in their fanbase that’ll only watch covers from certain games. As someone who hopes to make YouTube into a full-time career someday, this sucks, but it’s the reality of the situation, and I kind of just have to roll with it. I have to remind myself that I’m doing good work even if my videos aren’t always reaching a lot of people, and that audience growth will come with time.

What skills do you think were sharpened the most as a result of MM?

I experienced significant growth as a musician. I treated many of these arrangements as though I were playing in a jazz quartet or trio, and for that reason, a lot of these arrangements never saw a written piano or bass part. I’d either play what the original tune did (which I would learn by ear), or I would improvise. This process forced me to be incredibly deliberate in what I played on both instruments, and was ultimately a great source of practice. 

Also worth noting is my progress as a trumpet player--looking forward to future arrangements, this is very exciting for me. Although I’m definitely no shred-master, and I still have some work to do on all of my instruments, I now feel like I now have more control over every instrument I’m playing and am able to perform more effectively on each one.

Another skill that grew a lot was my ability to make decisions quickly. When making daily videos, there isn’t a lot of time to sit around and think “what if?”. Every part of the process has to be abbreviated in order to keep from falling behind. Whether it was deciding what style to arrange a tune in, if I liked an improvised solo, or even something as simple as the color of the thumbnail, my ability to make a creative decision more quickly has greatly improved.

Did MM highlight anything that you think you could improve upon?

One thing I noticed was that my video quality can be somewhat inconsistent. I think this comes partially from operator error, and partially from the filming equipment I use. Especially in working with collaborators, I noticed that some of my footage was unfocused, even poorly-lit at times. Other times my footage looked great; however, I’d love to get a more consistent video quality from my camera, and this is definitely something I’ll be investigating.

Don’t do it alone, and work as far ahead as possible.

What collaboration was the most fun?

Each collaboration was a great experience in its own way. Working with friends is always a lot of fun, and each collaboration brought its own challenges as a producer. In each collaboration I did, there was at least one element (usually more) that I hadn’t worked with before, whether they were classical woodwind parts,filming outdoors, working with a vocalist, or mixing an entire big band. Discussing with collaborators how to approach each of these elements helped me develop my skills as a producer in ways I couldn’t be more thankful for. I think the ones I was definitely most outwardly excited about were the Pokémon Champion Battle cover and Destiny Islands cover, which makes sense given how large each ensemble/arrangement was. Nevertheless, I had a great time working with everyone who appeared in a video over the last 5 weeks.

Which cover was your favorite from MM?

Hands down, my favorite cover from Marathon Mode (maybe my favorite cover I’ve ever done) is my cover of “Destiny Islands” from Kingdom Hearts. “Destiny Islands” was a tune that I had wanted to arrange for a long time, but I could never settle on how to do it. I was reminded of this tune around the time I joined GameLark for Hearts of Light, and shortly thereafter, I realized that a big band would be the best format to tackle this tune. I really enjoy big band music and am a MASSIVE Kingdom Hearts fan, so to hear my arrangement of this tune come to life was a wonderful experience and has definitely inspired me to do more big band writing in the future.

Would you do anything different if you had to do it all over again?

If I had to do it over again, I’d likely try to include more ways to get the audience involved beyond just showing them videos and replying to comments. In the planning stage of Marathon Mode, I had considered taking an audience poll to see what songs people wanted me to cover that week, but this fell apart because I didn’t think I’d be able to keep up with it in real-time. Looking back at it now, that’s absolutely something that would have been doable on some sort of scale.

I’d also hire someone to help edit videos. Given that I was doing most of the legwork for Marathon Mode myself (with the exception of collaborators’ parts), I became very tired. There were points where I would be up until 2 or 3 in the morning mixing or editing, then turn around and get up at 6 or 7 to design thumbnails before a recording session. Needless to say it wasn’t healthy, and it definitely wore on me for a couple of weeks. Any help at all would have lightened the workload and freed me up to be able to better take care of myself. I’d hire editing help because of any part of the process, that would be the part I’d be most likely to trust someone else to do well.

If someone else were going to attempt something similar, what advice would you give them?

I have two big pieces of advice for anyone considering something like this: don’t do it alone, and work as far ahead as possible. In combination with the fact that I’m incredibly stubborn and sometimes unreasonable, working far ahead is the main reason I was able to keep up with Marathon Mode and not miss a day. With that said, if I had to do it for much longer I probably would have broken down. I don’t care who you are, if you try to do this alone you will experience the same exhaustion I did,  maybe worse. Like like any other dumb 20-year-old with a dream, I went into this thinking I was much more durable (dare I say indestructible) than I actually was, and I met levels of exhaustion (sometimes even pain) unlike anything I’ve experienced in my entire life. In hindsight, it wasn’t worth the struggle, and if I had gotten some help I would have been better off overall.

Is there anything else that you would like to say about MM?

Marathon Mode was just the beginning for me. For a long time, I’ve dealt with pretty severe imposter syndrome when it comes to my abilities in a lot of what I do, but especially when it comes to making content on YouTube. Finishing Marathon Mode has shown me that I’m capable of great work. I’ve been paying attention to some of the projects I’ve seen friends in the VGM community take on over the years, and they continue to inspire me and push my limits towards even greater projects--some that are about more than making music on YouTube.

What a journey! If you’re interested in a real-time view of Marathon Mode, GameGrooves is proud to present the very first video premiere of “Behind the Scenes of Marathon Mode - A Vlog Compilation!”