How ‘The Dirt Man’ Went Viral on TikTok and Inspired Some Wild Lore

How ‘The Dirt Man’ Went Viral on TikTok and Inspired Some Wild Lore

If your TikTok feed has been flooded lately with hilarious references to a mysterious figure known as “The Dirt Man,” you’re not alone. Carter Vail’s song is just 30 seconds long but has inspired covers, jokes about wives puzzled by their husbands’ new bedroom habits, and practically an entire Dirt Man Extended Universe.

Gizmodo talked with Vail, a 27-year-old musician living in Los Angeles, to learn more about what it’s like to have your song go viral in an era when musicians can garner millions of views on TikTok while still seeing relatively little in financial return.

Vail told us about his favorite renditions of “The Dirt Man,” what he thinks of the potential TikTok ban in the U.S., and the bands that inspired him growing up.

If you’ve somehow not heard the “The Dirt Man,” you can watch it on TikTok below or check it out on Spotify.

The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Gizmodo: When did you realize “The Dirt Man” had gone viral?

Vail: I guess that’s like three days after I posted it. I just started getting a ton of messages asking me to post it on Spotify. And then someone recognized me in public and said, oh, you’re the Dirt Man. And I was like, okay, clearly this is one of the ones that does well.

Gizmodo: Is this your first big hit on social media or did you have others that have taken off like this?

Vail: There have been a couple through the last like four years that have gone really well. This might be the biggest one or maybe the one that has had the most staying power. Like Zane Lowe keeps on playing it on his radio show and that’s never happened with my comedy songs before.

Gizmodo: It’s interesting to hear you say that you’ve already been recognized in public. What kind of reactions have you had both, I guess, on social media and from people who spot you in the wild?

Vail: It’s been overwhelmingly positive, thankfully. People seem to really like it, which is strange because, you know, when I was making it, I was like, this might be the dumbest thing that I’ve made yet. But, you know, the stuff that you don’t expect to work, that works really well. But, yeah, people have loved it so far.

Gizmodo: I’ve seen so many covers and new videos playing off the concept of the Dirt Man as this character. Do you have any personal favorites that you’ve seen of people covering the song or sort of doing their own take on things?

Vail: Someone did a talk box voice cover, which I thought was fun. And we opened up an open-verse challenge so people can, like, expand upon the lore. And, you know, just seeing how people have come up with stories about it has been a lot of fun. Actually, I think may be my favorite collaboration that someone has done for it… someone made a Dungeons & Dragons character sheet for the Dirt Man. And, you know that just cracked me up.

Gizmodo: That’s very funny. So obviously this might be a sensitive question, but it’s one that I think a lot of people have today about the creator economy. Have you been able to make any money from “The Dirt Man”?

Vail: [laughs] Uh… not enough. You know, the way I look at the social media side of things, especially for music, is, it’s really good leverage to get better deals going forward. It’s not like anyone’s paying me to make those funny videos, but the more people enjoy that kind of stuff, the more likely someone from a big music label hears it and then finds my other stuff. So it’s more of a tool than an actual, like, money-making operation.

Gizmodo: Makes sense. Do you have a day job, or do you make music full-time?

Vail: I make music full-time.

Gizmodo: And how long have you been doing that for?

Vail: In the last five or six years.

Gizmodo: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like TikTok might have the most views you’ve gotten on various platforms. Is that accurate?

Vail: Yeah, I think it’s at almost 14 million on TikTok.

Gizmodo: And Instagram seems like it’s doing pretty well too. I don’t know what the view count is on that.

Vail: Yeah, a couple million… probably four or five.

Gizmodo: How do you feel about the potential TikTok ban? Does it concern you at all?

Vail: I think it would probably not be great for my business, but it would probably be much better for the amount of time I spend on my phone. Though I think for humanity, maybe it’s a good thing to ban TikTok. [laughs] And, you know, there are plenty of other platforms, YouTube and Instagram and all that. I’m not too concerned about it.

Gizmodo: How did you get into music? What’s your background that brought you to the music that you play today?

Vail: I have been doing music seriously for the last, probably, eight years. I went to college for audio engineering and out of school I started working as a guitar pedal manufacturer. A lot of soldering, and I had that job for two weeks and decided I absolutely hated it. And I have not had a job since, and I’ve gone through, you know, being very broke for a while. But yeah, I mean, my main thing is the serious music that’s on Spotify, which is… I just put on a song called “Harder to Kill” yesterday. And the nice thing is, you know, people come for the comedy music and a lot of them find the serious music and come to the shows and buy the merch and it’s all good stuff.


Harder to Kill (lyric video) – Carter Vail

Gizmodo: Do you still make guitar pedals or is that something that was more of just a job?

Vail: It was a job. Before that I had worked in some studios as like a repair guy. And because I’ve been out of the game for so long, I think if I tried to repair a piece of audio equipment now, I’d probably really fuck it up.

Gizmodo: [laughs] So do you ever collaborate on production efforts or is it all you?

Vail: The album that’s coming up right now, the full record comes out July 19th, was a collaboration with my roommate Noah Tauscher, who is a really talented producer and songwriter as well. And in terms of like the comedy music, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Tom Cardy, who is another kind of musical comedy guy on the internet. We’ve done some stuff together, and that’s kind of the most collaboration I’ve done so far.

Gizmodo: How would you describe your musical style? “The Dirt Man” has been stuck in my head for… I find it, you know, entering my brain just at random times now, just because I’ve heard it so many times and love it. But it’s hard for me to sort of pin down what the style is, and I think you’ve successfully worked in a lot of different genres, but I’m curious how you would describe your own musical style overall.

Vail: Yeah, I mean, the stuff that I do for like Spotify, for the real records, I’d call it pretty firmly indie rock. For the music on Instagram and TikTok, I like to go through as many genres as possible. Like, I’d call “Dirt Man” bossa nova, but with like bedroom, lo-fi production elements. But you know all of those kind of songs… it’s funny, it always takes about 30 minutes to write and make those kinds of songs, and then, inevitably, you know, it does so much better than anything else I’ve made. It was half humiliating and frustrating and half really cool and exciting.

Gizmodo: So, who would you say has influenced you most musically for, I guess, both sides of it? Both your more humorous stuff and your more serious stuff?

Vail: I think the biggest influences I’ve had for both sides of it… I think there’s a lot of musicians that do the serious and kind of funny things well in a really cool hybrid way. Like, there are parts to Vampire Weekend that are definitely kind of funny. They’re also a very serious band, and bands like Weezer where there’s definitely some funny silly stuff in that, but they’re not exclusively a comedy band. Aside from that, when I was growing up one of my favorite bands was the Barenaked Ladies, and they did a lot of comedy stuff. And so I think that was the first time I got into like really funny music.

Gizmodo: I saw you’re planning on doing a national tour soon. Is that still in the works? Have you worked out any cities or dates for that yet?

Vail: We don’t have any cities or dates for it yet, but we do have a show in Los Angeles on July 17at El Cid.

You can keep up with Carter Vail’s music at his website where merch is also available, and stream his work on platforms like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Spotify.

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