An unbelievable talent
I, like many people, spend a fair amount of time on Tiktok. Whenever I have a bit of downtime and I’m too tired to do anything else, I open up Tiktok to see what it has for me. As we’re all at the mercy of the almighty Tiktok algorithm, we never know what video is coming next.
My Tiktok ‘For You’ page is mostly filled with America’s Funniest Videos-style content, but the app definitely knows that gaming is one of my hobbies. Every once in awhile, Tiktok will sneak in something gaming-related for me to see. That’s exactly what happened a couple of weeks back, and it led to me finding Chris Lombardi.
Chris is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive singers I’ve seen. On Tiktok, Chris mostly provides a cappella versions of video game songs, and they’re absolutely incredible. I’ve heard a lot of game music covers over the years, but the amount of skill and passion Chris possesses is really something else. The second I saw just one of Chris’ Tiktok covers, I subscribed to his channel right away, and spent the next half hour going through his body of work.
Just as Chris is really starting to take off on Tiktok, I reached out to the man himself for an interview. You can find that entire discussion below, where we cover a wide range of gaming-related topics. From his favorite covers to the immense amount of work each video takes, there was plenty to talk about!
GN: How long have you been performing a cappella?
CL: As crazy as it sounds, I’ve only been making a cappella records for 2 years. I have been involved in music production for nearly 20 years, though. Prior to Chris Lombardi Acapella, I was a public school teacher for the last 10 years. Once we got sent home during COVID, I really wanted to get something positive out of something so jarring, so I decided to make an acapella cover of DuckTales. Then I asked 5 music teachers to join me on my next project. Then 15 for the next project. Then 30. Now we have over 700 members in our Discord from all over the world who sing with Chris Lombardi Acapella. I was even able to quit my teaching job to do music full-time! It’s been a fast 2 years!
GN: How taxing is a cappella on your voice? Is there a particular set of warm-ups you employ?
CL: I should be better about that. One positive is that recording short a cappella pieces in my home is not nearly as vocally taxing as daily live performance, or even teaching 5th grade math every day! There is definitely some vocal strain, but I try to not spend my entire day singing. There’s clerical work, arranging, mixing, mastering, looking for repertoire to sing, etc. If I was singing for the duration of my work day, I’m sure I’d experience much more vocal fatigue. Moving forward, as I get more busy, I’m sure I will need to look into vocal health a bit more.
GN: What do you find most satisfying about performing a cappella?
CL: The most satisfying part of making music for me is knowing that I’ve created something interesting that did not exist the day before. This applies to all music, not just a cappella. When I sit down to create a piece, there is literal silence. Nothingness. And once the piece is done, something exists that can possibly bring people joy. It sounds cheesy, but that is what it’s all about.
GN: How did you decide to perform game music in a cappella?
CL: I feel like one of the most powerful feelings life has to offer is nostalgia. People yearn for fond memories of years past. Video games hit that particularly hard because not only are the themes so memorable, but they nearly always are associated with having fun and being a child. It doesn’t get more powerful than that. Also, I’m a sucker for a great melody. I don’t prefer any musical genres over any others because I’m ONLY searching for a powerful melody/arrangement, and I’ve found the composers of these games really know how to create amazing (while short) masterpieces.
GN: What was the first piece of game music you adapted to a cappella?
CL: It’s tough to say if I’ve done something prior to this (because I might be misremembering), but I believe I did a cover of Bob-omb Battlefield from Super Mario 64 first. It’s always been one of my favorites, and it’s just so iconic. I’ve since done a remake or two, including a jazz reharmonization that I’m particularly proud of.
GN: How long does it take on average to take a piece of game music and adapt it for a cappella?
CL: That amount of time is getting shorter with each project I complete, thankfully. It’s tough to say because I rarely will sit down to work on ONE project all the way through. I might arrange a little bit, then move on to editing a video, then move on to editing some vocals, etc. This workflow is just better for me. However, if I were to do a project from start to finish without stopping, I would say I could get the audio and video for a 1-minute Tiktok done in half a day. Let’s say 4 hours.
GN: Walk us through the recording and editing process for one of your videos.
CL: Sure! So, the entire process starts with choosing rep. I usually get suggestions from fans, or if there’s a piece I particularly love, I’ll pick that. Then I need to find a midi file of the song. The site ‘Kingdom Hearts Insider’ is great for this, and there’s also plenty available on Musescore as well. This is important because the midi file really informs me of the various melodic/harmoinc parts in these OSTs. It’s not important that the midi arrangement sounds EXACTLY like what my record will sound like, because I arrange all my a cappella from scratch. But I usually look for ones that are at least TONALLY correct.
Then I load the midi up into my DAW (digital audio workstation). Some people use Logic or ProTools, or GarageBand, but I always say that it doesn’t matter which you use. The programs don’t dictate any of the music you make within them.
I WRITE and RECORD at the same time. Some arrangers will play and write everything they will eventually sing before they record their vocals. I don’t. I use the information in the midi tracks to decide what I want to sing and how I want to sing it. Lots of trial and error. This is, however, MUCH easier with video game music, as many of those decisions are made for me already. Syllables and rhythms and dynamics and inflection are all the biggest choices to make. My production background is key here, as I believe an amazing producer who’s a mediocre singer would have a much easier time making something excellent than an amazing singer who’s a mediocre producer.
Once the audio is complete, I then move onto the video portion. This is as simple as singing along to the various parts and putting them all together in After Effects. Then I usually add a gif from the game and maybe a background as well. Simple stuff on the video end. All the work comes in making the record itself.
GN: What piece of game music was the hardest to perform so far?
CL: The hardest aspect of these pieces for me is memorizing the “lyrics” for the video. I know that sounds silly, because most of the lyrics are “bah” and “ohh” and “deh” etc. BUT…that actually makes things harder. It’s so easy to mouth the wrong syllable in a video. Considering I write as I record, the syllables I use are usually not committed to memory by the time I’m ready to record video. So there can be a lot of redos on the video recording end of things.
I did a medley of A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Sonic 2 which had some very complex rhythms and syllables to remember. I made so many mistakes, I had to do them one song at a time instead of my usual “one shot” video format. In that video, you can see the flash transitions I used in order to accommodate the starting/stopping I had to do. That was the toughest piece.
GN: What song have you covered that you’re most proud of?
CL: I did a cover of Studiopolis Zone Act 1 from Sonic Mania that was incredibly difficult. The vocal lines were very fast and intricate and the timing was crazy. I absolutely love how it turned out, and it’s one of my favorite songs from any OST. So I’d have to say that one!
GN: Are there any Nintendo-related games or franchises you’re planning to tackle a cappella covers for in the near future?
CL: Always! Most of my content is Nintendo, and I’m always about to release the next one. By the time this article comes out, I’ll definitely have a cover of Dark World from A Link to the Past released, as well as a few others I’m sure. I’m also looking to do some older NES OSTs as well, like Double Dragon and Punch-Out. The options are always endless when it comes to these incredible Nintendo soundtracks!
GN: What do you think makes game music so perfect for a cappella adaptations?
CL: The universality. It’s the fact that any person, from any background or corner of the world, can hear an OST like SMB3 or Mega Man or Ocarina of Time and get the same AMAZING feeling. They don’t have lyrics, so they’re not language dependent, and they’re immediately recognizable. Even non-gamers know a lot of these themes. They might not know the game it’s from or the level it’s in, but they’ve heard it. And NOTHING is more universally loved than a great melody. Every human being falls for a great melody. Genre doesn’t matter. Great music is great music.
GN: Where can people go to keep up with all of your amazing performances?
CL: You can find my Linktree here and it has ALL my socials (TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc). My video game content is mostly housed on TikTok, but I make ALL kinds of music and post different styles on different platforms, so check it ALL out!