Music has been an integral part of Daryl Barnes’ life for more than 20 years. The famed VTuber music producer now works alongside some of the biggest names in the business like VShojo, NIJISANJI, and Sinder.
She grew up around a karaoke-loving dad who pushed the guitar in her hands during school. While this ended up being a pretty handy way to earn street cred in the school yard in a superficial way, it also let her connect with her peers more deeply.
“Music kind of helped me break out of my shell a little bit,” she explained. “I'm pretty introverted by nature.”
However, it’s one thing to be a passionate musician who jams in their spare time. It’s another to dedicate yourself to it as a career, and actually find success.
Music, like most creative fields, is cutthroat. If you’re from the West and heavily influenced by Japanese culture like Daryl, it’s near impossible to make it your living.
But she tried. And tried again. In her spare time around study and work, she would make music for fun. However, it was through a college friend where the pathway to being a full-time musician lit up.
“A lot of composers who are like me, influenced by a lot of anime and games, are probably going to feel this: the market for being a ‘weeb composer’ and working in games outside of Japan is shockingly difficult. It's a difficult industry for sure.
“So after I graduated from college where I studied English literature, I was kind of bouncing between different office jobs. I still knew that I really wanted to make music into a viable career for my future.
“I got into game audio, scoring indie PC games. My first step into that was helping a friend — he was a game dev major, and I helped him with his final project, writing music for it. And then that ended up taking me down the rabbit hole of trying to be a game composer. That was my thing for a really, really long time until everything kind of took off.
“It was really difficult to find my niche. But VTubing was the perfect in-between of all of that.”
VTubing really fell at an opportune time for Daryl, thanks to one history-defining global event: “What few [game] contracts I did have going on basically disappeared overnight with the onset of the pandemic. [But] right around that time, that was when indie VTubing started becoming this huge thing.
“A lot of my friends who were YouTube singers or IRL streamers already started getting into VTubing. They realized ‘how much cooler would my stream be if it had custom music?’ And I happened to be the person that they knew that did custom music.
“Long story short, working with my friends who had transitioned into VTubing made me realize that it was going to be a viable thing in the future.”
Composing music for VTubers took Daryl down a different creative path compared to her previous endeavors.
It’s different making something for a person versus an entity. While personality has to flow in every piece to truly resonate with the audience, it’s even more important for VTubers that their music aligns with their brand.
However, she did have some support thanks to UTALIVE, her musician circle born with friend Leefan. Being able to work on these projects with others, and have close confidants who know the struggles, really helps with the isolation you can sometimes feel with freelance work.
All these opportunities and challenges make VTuber music, whether it be background music, song covers, or otherwise, a real joy for Daryl.
“Ideally the clients that you're going to be working with are wanting a piece of your musical identity,” she explained. “But being a freelance composer also means that you have to be willing to collaborate and compromise.
“I think the most terrifying thing is when they only give me one song as a reference and they're like ‘oh, can you make me something like this, but different?’ Like how do I make a song that is just as good as this without just outright ripping off?
“[But] I find that a lot of the time, you end up with something really cool that you would have never thought to come up with. And I think that's a great way to grow as a composer.”
That being said, the world of music production can be a bit of a black box. It’s not as clear what goes into it versus someone jamming out on a guitar on stage, or singing their heart out.
It’s rife with misconceptions, many Daryl’s had to tackle over the last couple of years especially.
“The one biggest misconception in the music space is that there's an absolute right way to do any one thing. Whether that be a way of composing, or a way of producing, or a way of marketing yourself, or communicating with clients.
“Freelance careers in general are very unpredictable with a lot of small moving parts. Everyone’s career is going to be completely different. So what works for one person will not always work for you.”
But what matters in Daryl’s case is that she found the route that worked for her, truly living out her dream.
She has that fame in the VTuber space now — recognition for her music work and an ability to make it a full-time career. Whenever she makes something new, and someone can pick out her work from the crowd, it always makes her smile
“Growing up, I thought the only real routes were either become a rock star or become a film composer.
“I had my misgivings about that because I thought you had to be super well educated in music… which is not true after all. But, it was very much a surprise to end up where I did.”
If you ask Daryl to pick out one piece of music that stands out among the rest, you’ll be told it’s like trying to pick a favorite child. Each BGM, each song has such significant meaning to her and the creator she’s worked on it for.
There’re some big goals she wants to tick off: getting a chance to score an anime soundtrack (yuri anime specifically, if she gets the choice) is one.
But she will likely always come back to the BGMs and music for streamers. One feeling she’ll never get sick of though is seeing VTubers and their fans listen to a piece for the first time and pinpoint her own identity. It’s that expression she was chasing back in high school.
“It does give me a huge serotonin boost when I see chat being like ‘hey, that sounds like something Daryl would write.’ And then the credits come up and they're like ‘oh shit.’
Daryl once dreamed her only path forward in music “was to be a rockstar and travel the world and perform on big stages.” And while she may not have achieved that in the traditional sense, she’s certainly a rockstar in her own right in VTubing.
“I think what I ended up with was just as cool.”
Learn more about Daryl's story in her Behind The Model episode.