Known on the internet as “Blanks,” musician Simon de Wit has made a name for himself in several unique ways. Each of de Wit’s YouTube videos shows him making music in his basement with an infectious level of excitement that has earned him over a million subscribers.
Many of de Wit’s popular videos involve the Dutch artist putting his own spin on popular songs. His “Style Swap” videos are exactly what they sound like: He rewrites a song to make it fit the style of a completely different genre or artist. His ’80s remix of Post Malone’s “Better Now” gained traction outside of YouTube, to the point where he released the cover on streaming platforms. Similarly, in his “One Hour Song Challenge” series, he remakes songs to better fit his own music sound within one hour.
But de Wit is ready to grow beyond the world of covers. The videos that first drew me to his channel are his “Story Sessions,” in which he writes original songs with the help of his social media followers. Whether it’s choosing between the overall sound or “vibe,” deciding between two bass lines or sending in lyric ideas, de Wit gives voters control over every aspect of the songwriting process via Instagram polls. It’s satisfying to watch the song come together — and the final product is always perfect to blare in your car with the windows down. Most recently, he released his debut album, Nothing Lasts Forever and That’s OK, on Oct. 29. In a Zoom interview with The Michigan Daily, de Wit opened up about how his relationship with music and social media is constantly changing.
This interview has been edited for content and brevity.
The Michigan Daily: Your debut album, Nothing Lasts Forever And That’s OK, just came out a couple of weeks ago, and you also just finished your first tour. How are you feeling?
Simon de Wit: Pretty overwhelmed, to be honest! The album is something I’ve been working on for one and a half years. It’s been kind of a secret until I said, Hey, I’m gonna release this now! And all of a sudden it’s in the world, and people are forming opinions on it, and they seem to love it because the comments so far have been great. So it feels super surreal because … it’s not mine anymore. It’s everyone’s now. And touring, I’ve waited two years to play these shows after postponing. It was so cool to see people show up, and they know the songs! It’s a really weird thing for me and I love it.
TMD: If this was your secret project, does that mean that the creative process was pretty much the same as you show us in your YouTube videos? Was it all you, or did you have a team?
SW: I’d say it was 50% me, 50% people I teamed up with. There are a few friends I wrote some songs with, for example, “I’m Sorry” and “Asking for Too Much.” And then I wrote “Never Have I Ever” and “Turn Around” over Zoom together with two guys from Norway and Finland, which was a lot of fun. We got matched randomly and then we made a song. We were like whoa, this is super cool! And the rest is basically just me in my room getting excited.
TMD: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
SW: I don’t really know … Right now I’m really into “OK to Cry,” but it changes.
TMD: The reason I first started following you was because of what you call “Story Sessions,” in which you’re writing songs with your followers. How did that idea first come about?
SW: I was with some friends and we were brainstorming about YouTube. There was this concept going on where people would have a video titled, “My Instagram Followers Decide for the Day,” and they would wake up and post, “Okay, should I go to the gym or not? Should I eat healthy or not? Should I dye my hair or not?” And it was a popular trend … but I make music. Can I do something with it that’s music-related? I can go into the studio and ask them what they think is cool and make a song out of that. It just felt so natural.
TMD: When you go into a Story Session, are you going in completely blind or do you have a vague idea of what you want to do?
SW: I’d say completely blind. Sometimes when you start out, you’re not feeling like making an overexcited, happy song. But if that’s what the people say and you have to come up with something, it turns out kind of cool. Most of the time, I really don’t have any idea of what I’m about to make, I feel like that’s the most fun way to do it. If I were to come up with stuff beforehand, it wouldn’t seem as authentic.
TMD: How much fan input actually makes it into the final product?
SW: Sometimes what they choose is just not gonna work, so I give them the choice again and they vote for the one I want. But usually, what they choose is what ends up in the song. Melodies almost never translate perfectly into the song, but I can’t listen to every idea, so there might be some really good ones that I never heard. Lyric-wise, in the beginning, I would copy lines if I thought they were really good, but then I started releasing the songs. What if the song blows up or does something cool, and a lawyer says, “Hey, I have an interesting case here?” Then we’d get copyrighted. So what I try to do is take the inspiration I get from people and combine them. I’m kind of throwing it all at the wall, picking the things that I like and combining those into something new.
TMD: Is there anything specific that determines whether or not you release one of these songs? Is it determined by audience engagement, or is it a personal decision?
SW: Engagement definitely helps — if you make a song and it does really well, you’re definitely going to consider releasing it. But it’s kind of like a gut feeling. I’ve made a few Story Sessions in the past where the song feels cool, but it doesn’t feel right to release it. Sometimes I make a song and then listen to it two months later, and it’s still super cool and I still love it. When that happens it’s time to release it, but yeah, it’s kind of a mixture.
TMD: I believe you recently switched doing these collaboration sessions from Instagram to Discord. What was the reason behind that switch? How is the overall process different?
SW: That’s a great question. I tried it once in Discord, but I found out it doesn’t work as well. The way we set it up was to put people into groups and then I would make each part of the song live with those fifteen people. But if they’re shy or nervous, then there’s no input and I’d just get blocked creatively. It’s really hard! On Instagram, I come up with two ideas and ask people which one they like, they vote for it and I can move on. With Discord, if I have two or three bad groups after each other, I’m gonna get stuck. It also can take a lot longer and it’s more draining socially because every 15 minutes you have to get the people hyped up. You don’t have time to grow into something deeper with each other. I mean, it’s perfectly possible to write a song with ten people over Zoom in three hours — I’ve written multiple songs over Zoom — but with a new group coming in every 15 minutes, that way didn’t work.
TMD: I’ve seen a couple of your videos on TikTok where you put together a song and then you rock out to it in your car. Everybody seemed to really like what they were hearing; do you have a favorite social media platform for interacting with fans and promoting music?
SW: Right now I feel like I’m going through an identity crisis! YouTube has always been the best platform for me, especially when I was doing a lot of covers because people know the song and will click and watch the videos, just click (on my videos) for the covers. But right now, I want to do more original stuff, and I feel like I have to find my place again. TikTok is different because you can do whatever and sometimes something goes viral, but I don’t feel like I’ve figured it out completely. When a video goes viral, new people see it every time — I don’t know who all those people are! On YouTube, I always know my community; I recognize the names. I feel very comfortable on Instagram too, but I feel like it’s not the best platform to grow your audience right now. I’ve set a goal for myself that I want to get really good with TikTok, and then I want to find my new thing on YouTube.
TMD: The “new thing” being your original music?
SW: Yeah, exactly. If I keep doing covers, I’m just going to become “that guy who does covers who now has an original song.” I want to do my own thing.
TMD: In the comment sections of your Story Session videos, somebody is almost always commenting something like, “You should put all of these into an album and you should call it something like Fill In the Blanks.” How do you feel about that idea? Is that something you’d ever consider later on down the road?
SW: This is the hardest question! To be honest, I don’t know. My first feeling would be, I don’t think so. With this album I just released, I’m trying to get some sort of narrative or stylistic direction going. And this idea just feels … almost too simple. That being said, maybe I’m overthinking it. Having good songs in a collection is nice; there are arguments for and against it. Let’s say at this moment, I would say no, but who knows?
TMD: Any plans for you to tour the U.S. at some point?
SW: There are definitely plans of going to the U.S. in 2022. The hard thing as a European is you have to figure all the visa stuff out if you want it to work. It’s so uncertain right now. In my country, the Netherlands, COVID cases are at an all-time high even though 80% or so of people are vaccinated. But, I think we’re able to get back into the U.S. at this point, and I’ve always dreamed of going to America for music. So next year, we’re definitely looking into the options.
Daily Arts Writer Hannah Carapellotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.