Interview: TheFatRat talks recent and upcoming projects, NFTs, plugins, and more
Christian Büttner, better known as TheFatRat, has been a huge presence on YouTube and in the video game music scene for the past decade. An independent artist who famously has no copyright restrictions on his music, Büttner has become one of the preeminent figures in his space while maintaining an ethos of making his work accessible to the fans. We sat down with him to talk about his recent album PARALLAX, his foray into NFTs, his preference for music software, and more.
We Rave You Tech: Could you introduce yourself to our readers who might not know much about you?
TheFatRat: I’m Chris, AKA TheFatRat, a music producer from Germany. I’m mostly known for making music that’s used in the gaming space and on YouTube.
We Rave You Tech: Could you tell us how you got started in the industry and how long you’ve been making music?
TheFatRat: Almost 20 years ago. I wanted to become a conductor first, but it wasn’t creative enough for me, so I asked myself- what would a conductor be today? Probably a producer. I just hustled my way into it; I tried to make it full-time, I could hardly make a living. By the end of the month, I had to borrow $20 from a girlfriend back then to be able to buy food! But after 7 or 8 years it finally got better.
We Rave You Tech: You recently tweeted that you were back to making music- can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been working on?
TheFatRat: Not really! Not because it’s a secret, but because I would just have to play you stuff. I’m just trying out new stuff. If you know my song “Unity”, imagine you never heard the song and then somebody asks, “what are you working on?”. Well it’s like video game but glitch hop and electronic… usually when I describe my music to people they are like “what”, no matter how hard I try, so I usually play it to them.
We Rave You Tech: It’s all a bit abstract at this point?
TheFatRat: That takes up the most time for me: finding the right song that I then go and finish. For me, I release about 5% of the songs that I start. 1 out of 20 gets released and 19 out of 20 end up on my hard drive. I’m trying to find those songs that I really want to finish.
We Rave You Tech: We’ve seen that you’ve begun a digital card collection in conjunction with RCRDSHP to expand the lore that you’ve built around your music- can you tell us how you got into NFTs?
TheFatRat: The people who were at the forefront of NFTs in music were people that were in my peer group when I started as an artist- not as a producer, but as an artist. That was 2011, 2012… I was in Los Angeles back then. Some of the people who were also making music in LA and blowing up through Hype Machine and Soundcloud were RAC and 3LAU. They were really close, so I followed them on Twitter, and we played shows together and everything. RAC was, I think, the first musician to ever make an NFT; 3LAU kind of made it really big. I watched them on socials and heard about it pretty early and was pretty interested in it, but I never felt that it would be the right thing for me because of how my fanbase is structured. I felt like if I said, “here’s an NFT for $1500”, it wouldn’t really work for them. They would probably be disappointed that it’s not something for everyone, which is what I usually do. That’s why when RCRDSHP came along, I said, this really fits me.
We Rave You Tech: We know that the main character of your story is set to be revealed through these cards- can you give us some hints about some of the other reveals and bonuses that await in the series?
TheFatRat: Pretty much most of the repeating things- the objects or entities in my artwork- they’re all kind of explained, why they’re there and what they mean. So far it’s not that much of a specific story. It’s a lot of background- we’re going to build on that in the future.
We Rave You Tech: What are your plans for building this story going forward in your next few projects?
TheFatRat: I’m not 100% decided yet. Probably a comic- I don’t know yet. Of course it would be possible to do a video game. Whatever it might be, it just has to be with the right people, so that I can give creative input but I’m not so occupied that it keeps me from making music. That’s a threat I see, because for 2 or 5 years it might totally consume you.
We Rave You Tech: I was just about to ask you if you were going to make a game- I remember when your song “The Storm” came out, there was that interactive game that was also released.
TheFatRat: Yeah, that was a lesson I learned. The team I worked with that made the app, they were great at executing what I told them, but they were not picking up the ideas and creating something out of it themselves. We were synching the design with the video- it took a lot of work, and it was really a lesson to be careful with this, and only do something like that again when I have people who are creative on their own already.
We Rave You Tech: How do you think NFTs and platforms like RCRDSHP will impact the music industry in the future?
TheFatRat: I see NFTs as a new form of merchandise. They’re great, especially when you’re an international artist like me. I have a very spread-out fanbase, and doing normal merchandise is quite a challenge. It’s not that simple to deliver a hoodie worldwide… but with NFTs, it’s a lot easier. You don’t have to deal with shipping and things like that. I don’t think it’s going to replace normal music consumption or anything like that. People’s digital identity represents them more and more because that’s a lot of where we interact. That’s where NFTs come into play.
We Rave You Tech: Your overall sound is often described by others as glitch-hop: how would you define your sound in your own words?
TheFatRat: I would define it as gaming music if you want to put it down to one term. Glitch-hop is kind of wrong- the groove that I use in some of my songs, like “Monody” for example- “Unity”, “Jackpot”- that’s from glitch-hop, but then actual glitch-hop would be glitchy, like have actual glitches in it. Gaming music, I think, is the best term because that’s where you find music that has a similar vibe to what I’m doing.
We Rave You Tech: What are some of the plugins and software that allow you to create your sound?
TheFatRat: It’s a lot! I’ve been collecting plugins since I started- I buy everything and get all the updates. Fabfilter has a lot of stuff that I use… Valhalla. I love Omnisphere for sound design. An instrument that I use that isn’t that common is Gladiator– it’s a synth that has a very unique sound with its oscillators. Other than that… some Softube stuff. I’ve recently discovered it. Especially Softube Tape, I really like that.
We Rave You Tech: Any personal favorites?
We Rave You Tech: There seems to be a bit of an East Asian influence on some of the songs on PARALLAX (“Hiding in the Blue”, “Pride & Fear”)- what were you influenced by in this latest record?
TheFatRat: I am very much influenced by the music that I grew up with, but something that clicked with me when I first saw them as those Hong Kong kung fu movies in the 90s. Like Jackie Chan- they were like medieval Asian movies, but kung fu. They had this Asian sound, and I loved them so much. Some movies, when I watched them for the first time, were total revelations. The atmosphere of those movies just stuck with me until today, and that’s the reason why I use it.
We Rave You Tech: How did you achieve these Asian-inspired sounds?
TheFatRat: I have a couple of sample libraries. Koto Nation, I think it’s called. [I use a] Guqin, but I often stack it up with electronic sounds and double it up with different samples so sometimes it’s a very acoustic sample… Roland, that’s something I also use as well. The Roland Cloud has these romplers, those 1080 synthesizers. They have something that sounds between acoustic and electronic, so I stack them one on top of the other. It creates a sound that still sounds alive and acoustic but also cuts through an electronic beat.
We Rave You Tech: For me, the intricate strings and tight drums have been the highlight of some of your work in the past couple years- how do you go about creating these?
TheFatRat: One thing that I’ve discovered is solo strings, not an orchestra, like one or two violins, one viola, one cello, one double bass… the library that I use the most is Spitfire Solo Strings. I use that quite a lot, usually on the legato preset, with a lot of automation. I love automating the vibrato- when you start with zero vibrato and then increase it to maximum, you have a feeling of gaining intensity without adding loudness. Like on my song “Let Love Win”; you can hear this very clearly. It’s a very subtle way of adding intensity, and a technique that I like a lot. For the drums, I’m using XLN Audio’s XO plugin where you can source your entire drum library on the cloud. You can very easily change drums; when you have a sound, you can very easily find similar ones. My problem is that I often have a specific sound in mind already, and the challenge is to find that sound. With synths, I usually design them myself, but with drums, I usually don’t like to. And then bass compression, bass saturation, to glue everything together.
We Rave You Tech: With the exception of songs such as “Fire” and “Arcadia”, the chiptune aspect of your work is a bit more understated than it has been in the past- is this a conscious move towards a new style?
TheFatRat: No, no, I wish I could make conscious moves in my productions- I probably could, but it doesn’t really work for me. It’s just whatever comes into my head, whatever I feel at the moment. Like I said before, I make so much stuff and most of it never gets released, so the purpose behind that is not thinking too much. I often make like a song a day- that’s a lot- so you have to move forward. If I don’t like it, I have to move forward. What happens, especially when I do this for weeks at a time, is that I totally stop thinking about stuff. You just get into a mode where you have an idea and you put it down- it’s like getting a creative flow. That really helps me to make music that I like, but it really prohibits any sort of concept, to a large degree at least. There’s no space for planning. I have an initial idea and I go with it, and then something totally and completely different from the original idea comes out of it. I follow my intuition.
We Rave You Tech: How has your equipment and software changed over time? I imagine it’s changed quite a bit.
TheFatRat: No, actually not! The DAW has changed, I started on Cubase and moved to Logic, and now I’m on Ableton. I tried going back to Cubase but I really like Ableton, especially since they’ve had comping-that was the one thing that I was missing. I’ve been producing in the box for 20 years now. I love having to do everything at the computer, I love having full recall. I just focus on the music, and not on the gear. I have a musical idea, and I want to have the shortest way to reach the idea in my head. Sometimes I find people, bring them to the studio to record strings and other acoustic instruments or send it to them, so it doesn’t sound out of the box. I try to cut down on the plugins I use, just so it’s about the music and not about hustling with the music.
We Rave You Tech: Every song on PARALLAX was released one-by-one, sequentially, with its own artwork and instrumental version- can you explain why you chose to do it this way? Will we see this approach again from you in the future?
TheFatRat: I don’t know if I will use this approach in the future- It’s got some upsides, some downsides. The main reason for me is that I’m very centered around YouTube, and I was always wondering what the best approach would be. If you put 10 songs out at once, it’s hard because people will get confused. This is a certain amount of songs, and they are supposed to be in order. It’s different from Spotify or Apple Music. That was kind of the idea behind it- I wanted to give each song a space to breathe.
We Rave You Tech: The vocals on many of your songs have this sort of floaty quality that allows them to stand out- can you tell us how you achieve this effect?
TheFatRat: I think the most important aspect about vocal sound is actually the rest of the song- just give it enough space to breathe. It’s way more drastic than anyone would think. Whenever I get somebody else’s production, and they’re not quite happy with the sound, I always make space for the vocals- like 10x as much as there was before. Like take one sound and cut away everything above 300 Hz and take the other sound and cut away everything under 10 kHz so there’s a huge hole in the frequency range- then you can put the vocals in. I think that’s by far the most important, most underrated thing.
We Rave You Tech: The Warrior Songs EP (done specifically for DOTA) and “Infinite Power” (adopted as part of the Rocket League soundtrack) were both closely tied to video games- is there a possibility of more of this in the future, either with DOTA, Rocket League, or others in the video game space?
TheFatRat: I don’t plan it at the moment. I enjoyed making the DOTA 2 music pack because there was no specific creative input from Valve. I like that because before I started my own artist project, I was working for other people for over 10 years. I enjoy it so much when I can make all the creative decisions when I have nobody I have to explain it to. I just do what I feel like. So I’m not searching for any of these.
We Rave You Tech: You would be open to more of these kinds of collaborations?
TheFatRat: It depends, it would really depend. If I were to make a song for Super Mario or the new Elder Scrolls, games that I personally love so much and have been a big part of my life- that would be a reason to do it. But that would probably be the only reason- if it were a game series where I’m so involved personally and it means so much to me that it would be a personal, lifetime achievement to have music on that game. That would be the only reason for me.
As Christian would add, his collectible card pack with RCRDSHP is ideal for his fans because they are affordable for everyone, payable via credit card, and include some cool game features that you won’t want to miss out on. RCRDSHP, for those who aren’t familiar, is a platform for fans to get digital collectibles from their favorite EDM artists. Founded by industry veterans with equal experience in dance music and in business, they aim to level up the music industry by providing the means for engaging and creative interaction between artists and their devoted fans.
Image Credits: TheFatRat