June 11, 2021

Meet Derivakat, the Bard of Minecraft YouTube

Minecraft has become the unlikely setting for some of the internet era’s wildest stories. Ancient wars, necromancy, and the rise and fall of heroes all unfold on the Dream SMP —a “survival multiplayer” Minecraft server that’s become a beloved part of the Minecraft universe, used for narrative-driven roleplay by a number of high-profile streamers, including Dream, GeorgeNotFound, and TommyInnit. Intrigue, betrayal, and high drama unfold against an epic fantasy backdrop, creating a uniquely interactive sort of storytelling that’s attracted a curious and creative community of fans around the world.

Within this fandom is a community of artists—musicians, as well as visual artists, writers, and more—who riff on the setting and its characters, telling the stories of the realm through a variety of colorful new media formats. This community's output might seem like an unexpected way to engage with Minecraft on YouTube, but it turns out their work is as vast as it is varied, showcasing an energetic spirit that's exemplified by the 21-year-old musician derivakat, who’s become the bard of Minecraft YouTube.

Derivakat’s 2021 collection Records of the SMP tells stories from the Dream SMP with soaring vocal melodies and ecstatic production, ranging from J-Pop-style character anthems to experimental hip-hop and ambient mood pieces. She sings intense recountings of the high drama the characters experience on the server—offering some degree of plot summary in songs like “REVIVED,” but also digging deeper into the emotional truth and deep themes behind the improvised roleplay. Vivid visuals from fellow fans often accompany her songs, depicting some of the server’s most loved characters—offering a close look both into derivakat’s imagination and allowing all Dream SMP fans to interact with the stories even more intimately. Her music is clearly the work of a talented producer and songwriter, but it also demonstrates a loving affection for the Dream SMP, offering another window into the universe these creators have made.

Here, derivakat talks about her journey into the Dream SMP community and the complex worlds she captures in her songs.

How did you get started making music?

I studied music in college, and I've known I wanted to do music for a super long time. The Dream SMP music was actually just a passion project for me while I was still in college. I felt very restricted with a lot of the classes that I was in, what music I could write, and what I could write about—given that, you know, I was writing for a letter grade rather than just for me. So then with the SMP music, it was freeing. I could just write whatever I wanted. And if people liked it, then great. But people really liked it and it blew up.

What are your musical influences?

This is hard to answer because I work in so many different genres. I focus on catchy hooks, and I have a certain way of melody writing. I mix and master all my songs relatively the same. So there is some cohesion across my work overall. But then, you know, the soundscapes and the feelings and the moods and the content within each song are different.

How did you get involved in the Dream SMP community?

Last December, my friend introduced me to the Dream SMP. They had been watching for a little while before that, and I'd heard bits and pieces like, “Oh, I can't come over, I’m watching this huge lore stream!” So they told me about it and about the storyline. And there's a ton of people in the community—there’s writers, there's musicians. My friend was like, “Yeah, there's people who are writing songs inspired by the storyline, recap types of songs.” And I'm like, “This is so cool!” Then I gave it a shot and people loved it.

What’s so special about the Dream SMP in particular?

The Dream SMP is almost like a musical or an act, like a live stage performance done through the internet. So there's a real improv, voice-acting aspect to it, which makes it a very nontraditional medium for storytelling. And then you have all these artists in the community who are making traditional media based on that, which is really interesting—to see how you take something like that and you turn it into very traditional media and these ways that we're very accustomed to consuming art. So I think that's what makes the community unique. It’s also an extremely welcoming and open and vibrant community overall.

I have interacted with some of the members of the SMP before, but they're not involved in the writing process for my songs at all. I don't consult them for insight into their lore, as I believe what they've shown us publicly is how the characters should be interpreted, along with using my best character analysis. I usually work with the parts of the lore that most inspire me, rather than trying to do an overview type of song for the lore.

How has the community responded to the music?

It’s overwhelming at times with how interested people are in it and how much of a demand there is for me to finish things and make more. Personally, I try to focus on what I think I would want to write and what I think makes the most sense. But if there is something that makes sense that they want, then I'll give it to them, you know?

What is your process like? How long does it take you to produce a song?

My songs can take anywhere between a single day to multiple months to finish. For example, my song “Turn Back Time” took around 24 hours to finish, while songs like “Casino Royale” and “REVIVED” took 3-4 months from first concept to finished master. Sometimes things can come together really quickly, and I can make all my decisions quite fast, whereas other times if the concept is more complex, I have to work and often rework the song a lot to get it to where I want it to be. I don't have a set process for writing my songs; sometimes I find a lyric or a melody first, and sometimes I start with the production and composition.

How does the visual element of your videos come together?

For most of my videos, I've worked with artists in my community to commission them for the artwork. Typically I send them a draft of the song, along with ideas and concepts for the imagery and sometimes a rough sketch if I have an idea for the composition of the artwork. I usually let the artists I work with take a lot of creative liberties, as I like to see how the music and concepts inspire them.

Did you ever expect your work to get as popular as it is?

No, absolutely no. My style of writing music and sonically the type of music that I release is a little bit different from what a lot of other people release in this community. So, you know, to some extent, I did feel like I was filling in this niche pocket within the community. But I didn't know that it would get to the point where this was a huge, life-changing thing for me. It’s been really crazy.