You've probably heard of Toby Fox's hit game Undertale, which has sparked thousands of creative fan works. One of the most notable gems is UNDERSONG, a YouTube-based musical that retells the iconic game in song and dance. I interviewed Tom Hart, the creator, about his creative process and journey.
What made you seriously pursue the idea of an Undertale musical?
This one is always fun to tell. When I started writing, I never intended it to be a full musical. I'd been listening to Ken Ashcorp, who writes themed songs around video games. I wrote a DanganRonpa song called "Kill or Be Killed" while tracking Undertale's development. Playing the game, I noticed a similar "kill or be killed" motif and wrote an original song from Flowey's perspective. I posted it 2 weeks after Undertale's release so it was one of the first Undertale fan songs. I then wrote "Gonna Capture A Human." My friend joked about a whole musical, but I did not get the joke--I decided to do it! Working on the musical has helped me to get through difficulties, and became personal as I was struggling to find a permanent home and dealing with medicinal poisoning. It grew to be something bigger than a direct retelling of Undertale.
What aspects of Undertale lend themselves to this format?
The main things that lend to its musical format are its brevity and strong focus on leading characters with strong motivations. It's easy and fun to adapt them to a musical format, which needs strong characters with strong motivations to keep it captivating while people sing for 7 minutes.
How did you recruit team members?
At the time, my Tumblr following was more active than YouTube, so I handled early recruitment through Tumblr, then Twitter and Casting Call Club. Many members left as time passed, but many remain with the project, even after 5 years.
I imagine people were eager to join?
UNDERSONG ended up being far less popular than Undertale: The Musical, which, featuring lyrical adaptations of the game's music, released more quickly. I was bitter for awhile and realized I could either stay bitter or choose to improve, and I chose to improve. To succeed on YouTube, I learned I needed to release more frequent videos along with my larger, slower-to-finish musical. This led me to create "Deltarune THE MUSICAL I'm Making So You'll Watch UNDERSONG," a more direct adaptation of "Undertale" sequel "Deltarune" that follows YouTube rules more closely, avoiding the punishments UNDERSONG's infrequent uploads without highly-searched words received.
What did the creative process involve?
I figure out melodies first. I build a riff and think about the story I'm going to tell before writing lyrics. I spend lots of time figuring out what I want to communicate and use lyrics to tell the story. Some riffs go back to early 2008--the oldest song in "UNDERSONG" is Z, for which I came up with the riff at 10 years old. Production involves composition, recording a scratch track with me playing all the characters, figuring out harmonies, levelling and mixing the music. I remastered nearly every song produced before 2017. It also involves figuring out who's playing the main character and recording.
What has the reception of Undersong (such as online engagement) looked like thus far?
Overall reception is small and the musical isn't done. When people engage on YouTube, I get one of two responses: "wow, this is the best," or "this is cringe." I get compared to Disney, partially because my songs are similarly rooted in classic advertising jingles. The most influential jingle has been "Smile America, Say Chuck E. Cheese," from which I lifted chord progressions. I use time-tested chord progressions that are proven to be pleasing and apply new lyrics, sometimes going against what the listener expects to hear so they question the characters as a storytelling device. Muffet's song is written in a major chord progression, but there's a sinister edge to the lyrics so cheeriness goes against content. There is also an unreleased song that focuses on characters in an uneasy position--strange and unnatural chord progressions a little bit aimless in the way they travel compliment the lyrics to create a truly uneasy atmosphere.
What's the next step?
Looking at Undersong, I intend to complete the show and do other shows afterward. I intend to use the growth past when I started on the show to finish it in a way that reflects my current life more than the life I was living in 2015. While the original ended dismally with a confusing edge, I would like to give it a more hopeful ending.
Tom's channel RecD is aimed at fans of video games and lyrical adaptations of high quality.[Featured Image: Flickr - PlayStation Europe]