Another year (month? day?), another YouTube celebrity is born.
Mike Tompkins is having his turn; ever since the twenty-three-year-old Ilderton, Ontario–raised, Toronto-based artist started uploading his elaborate a capella covers of huge pop hits like Miley Cyrus’s “Party In the USA” and Katy Perry’s distressingly enjoyable “Teenage Dream,” he’s been amassing millions of views, and, with it, lots of major-media attention. With recent love from the awful(ly influential when it comes to these sort of things) Perez Hilton and appearances on the Today Show and the Ellen DeGeneres Show (where it was revealed that Timbaland was a fan and wanted to work with Tompkins), it’s safe to say he’s a hit, making his way offline and into a sign-o’-the-times music career.
In case you’ve yet to take a look, the novelty of Tompkins’ videos is that he re-creates all of the music using only his mouth. “Honestly, It’s all me. No instruments or synths,” Tompkins recently defended on his Twitter. “But as you see in the videos I will pitch shift some stuff up/down an octave. Nothing fancy.”
A working knowledge of Pro Tools and some spare time aren’t quite enough to pull off these little gems; as a producer, Tompkins has a deep understanding of music, and started perfecting his now heavily featured beatboxing technique at the wee age of eight. Previous cred comes in the form of his producer title on long-time friend Shad’s Juno- and Polaris-nominated The Old Prince album, and after earning a diploma in production at the Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology, he’s been been working on his own original material while, of course, honing the detailed skills we already know him for.
The charming videos are rife with glimpses not only into Tompkins’ disarmingly genuine and goofy side, but into his process, with the use of some handy post-production work to show brief instructional elements. His most recent, a cover of Rihanna’s “Only Girl,” features a brilliantly wordy and friendly and Shad-y verse from Shad himself, the two of them showing some of Toronto’s downtown (including the subway and Yonge-Dundas Square) to, presumably, the whole wide internet. Try not to love it.
And, as in demand as he is, it turns out that all it takes is a quick message to the self-professed “Artist/Producer/YouTube Guy”‘s hundreds-of-thousands-of-subscribers YouTube channel to get him to happily chat with us via email late last week about the whole thing. So we’re sort of exactly like Ellen. No big deal or anything.
Torontoist: So, first of all—holy cow. Your videos totally blew up. Did you ever expect this level of attention? And what’s the media circus been like?
Mike Tompkins: They did? Haha. It has been really cool to see what has happened in just under a year. I don’t really expect anything in life, but it was my goal to make a viral video. After today I’ve now made three. Everyone has been very supportive so far.
Did you start doing these a capella creations only as recently as your first video was released?
Yeah, “Party in the USA” was the first time I thought of doing something like this. It was supposed to be a joke.
How did you first start developing these tracks?
I am a music producer/mixer, so I understand the production side of music. When I listen to a song, I’m not just listening to the melodies and lyrics. I listen to everything that makes the song what it is. From the elements that make that background synth sound that you can barely hear, to the pattern the hi-hat is playing. I just try and recreate all of it with my mouth.
Are you still experimenting and building on your techniques?
Yep. Not just musically, but in a business sense too.
The lovely Shad appears on your latest song. Of course you’ve worked with him before, too—are you old London pals?
Oh yes! Shad’s family are old family friends. I love the Kabangos, the world needs more people like them. I think I’ve known Shad since I was 10. He was one of my brother’s groomsmen.
It’s been said that your interpretations are “better than Glee.” Discuss.
Who said that? I wish my life was a musical…everyone does. Most people are afraid to admit it. And that’s how Sue sees it.
Why the decision to make pretty slick-looking videos to accompany the songs, as compared to the standard YouTube webcam fare?
Sure, I could have probably made more videos this year if I was just using my webcam, but then the videos wouldn’t be as cool. I’m still running the same budget (for my videos) as someone with three hundred subscribers, v-logging in their basement. Which is close to $0.00.