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Exclusive: Rob Scallon Covers Slayer's 'Angel of Death,' Explains Making Money Off YouTube

Rob Scallon, 2014.
Courtesy of Rob Scallon

Rob Scallon

Some things work best in pairs: peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, heavy metal and... banjos?

That's right -- Rob Scallon became a viral internet sensation when he released a banjo cover of Slayer's "Raining Blood," which currently has more than 3.3 million views.

Today Billboard is premiering Scallon's banjo cover of a different Slayer track, "Angel of Death," taken from the same album -- 1986's classic Reign In Blood. Check out the new video from the prodigiously talented multi-instrumentalist below, as well as an original song Scallon wrote, "Anchor."

We also chatted with Scallon and found out how the financial breakdown for these Slayer covers works -- apparently his YouTube channel is his full-time job! To learn how that works, read on. 

When did you start playing music?

When I was nine or ten, which would have been 1999, 2000. I was just kind of a fidgety kid, and my parents thought it would be a good idea to get me a drum kit, as well as for my brother. So we got a drum kit for Christmas and that was the first instrument that we had. And my dad had a few guitars lying around. From there on I just got really into it.

How many instruments do you play?

Anything with strings on it that I can get my hands on is an instrument that I'm gonna learn. I recently had someone ask me how many instruments I have, and it came out to around 19 or 20. I really enjoy playing drums and as far as that, anything with strings on it -- strings are all gonna work the same way, it's just a different apparatus that it's on. I'm more of a guitar player though, and I can halfway play cello and upright bass and ukulele and these other things.

When did your project with the metal covers get going?

They started really racking up steam only four or five months ago… I've been on YouTube and making money on YouTube since like 2008 -- it's been like a job of mine. I was able to go full-time on YouTube about a year and a half ago. I'd always done covers, I'd always done a whole lot of different things, but these very specific metal-on-non-metal instruments really started with the ukulele video. The "War Ensemble" video was the first one that really took off. It's just a lot of fun, so I've been doing it since.

How do you actually make the money on YouTube?

There's a lot of different ways. The easy answer is just from ads. I'm partnered with Google so that revenue is split between YouTube and I. And in the case of the covers, -- this is actually pretty new, you weren’t able to do this prior -- there's a three way rev-split that makes monetizing covers possible. So with these Slayer covers, for example, the revenue from those ads is split between Google, Slayer's management, and myself. So everyone's happy. The last "Raining Blood" cover had Slayer trending on Facebook, which I was really happy about. They make money, I make money, YouTube makes money. And there's also the song sales, which are kind of a new thing. I don't really know how that's gonna turn out yet because it's really delayed, but for that I go through a company... they handle all the legal stuff so Slayer gets their proper royalties and then I can also sell the cover on iTunes.

Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’ Gets a Banjo Cover

Have you always been a big metal fan?

Oh yeah, totally. Really any music with a talented string player is something I can definitely get into, and metal is kind of the extreme of that. It's very, very difficult to play, and that's something as a guitar player that I really admire and really enjoy. You know, learning a metal song is very much a challenge. And that's a lot of fun. I’ve been a metal fan for quite a while. I was in a metal band as a drummer for maybe three years.

Have a lot of bands been reaching out to you? You're a YouTube star and you’re obviously really talented. If I were in a band, I’d be trying to kick out my guitarist…

A little bit. There's two bands right now that I sort of play with. As far as the business side of things, I'm not really much of a musician -- I'm way more of a YouTuber, if you will. The bands that I play with are YouTubers. I'm in Hank Green and the Perfect Strangers -- a lot of people might be familiar with Hank, or the VlogBrothers, or at least his brother John because of The Fault In Our Stars being so popular right now. I'm in a band with Hank and a bunch of other YouTubers and that's really great, we just got back from a tour. And I also play in Driftless Pony Club, which is another YouTuber type of band. I think some people use YouTube or the internet as a stepping stone, like, 'Oh I'm gonna get an audience and that's gonna get attention from a major label or something and that's gonna get me in a 'legitimate band.'" But for me, the internet is where I want to be.

So if Slayer reaches out to you and asks you to join you're going to respectfully decline?

Laughs. Well, no... Well, first off, there's absolutely no way they'd want me playing with them --

They could use a ukulele on stage.

They could use a banjo solo. (Laughs). I have heard at least Kerry King [from Slayer] and his wife saw the ukulele cover, which I thought was cool. I think I might be quoting them wrong, but I think he said that it was "fucking rad," so that was cool to hear. And with the "Frantic Disembowelment" cover, Cannibal Corpse posted it, and that was really cool. If something like that came along, maybe I'd reconsider, but I'm very much at home playing with Hank Green and the Perfect Strangers. Our tour was fantastic, by the way, and our album has been doing really great, and I'm really proud of it.

Do you feel like your life has changed now that you've gone viral?

Yeah, totally. Everything's easier! 

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