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How To Become A YouTube Superstar

YouTube is by far the biggest, best and most underused promotional tool for musicians. I have seen independent musicians build audiences of hundreds of thousands from their bedroom, using just a guitar, a $100 camera and hard work.

Promote your music with YouTube

But don’t just take my word for it – have a look at this recent interview with Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra & Atlantic records. Just before he says “and that’s how we came up with the idea for MTV” he is asked “What is the best way for artists to reach people who want to hear their music”

I have seen miracles happen coming out of YouTube. I think YouTube is the strongest place you can be.

And Holzman knows his stuff. (I’d recommend watching the full 5 min interview here, it’s brilliant.)

The best part about YouTube is just how few musicians are doing it well, meaning that there is plenty of space for anyone reading this to make their mark if they do it right.

Step 1: Equipment:

Buy a flip cam. They cost $150 and film in HD. If you’re feeling frivolous you could even invest in a $10 tripod (I’d recommend it, actually).

If you’ve got the budget for something slightly bigger, maybe have a look at a proper HD camera and some audio equipment – but this really isn’t essential to getting started.

Step 2: Watch and Learn

There are several styles of video making that work really well on YouTube. You should invest some time watching other successful YouTube musicians out there and start planning your own style and approach:

The Video Diary (vlog)

This is the personal diary of a musician. Each episode is usually about 3-4 minutes long. It could start with you talking to the camera (or, for a band, talking to each other) about the week you’ve had, the gig you’ve just played etc. You could then edit in any live footage you took of that gig/launch/rehearsal you filmed during the week – so for example you would say “We fantastic gig on Sunday” and then cut to footage of the gig. Then at the end of each video you could dedicate 30 seconds or so to fan interaction – answering some questions from the comments on last week’s video, announcing any competitions you might run on your website, asking them to post comments (e.g. song requests, asking them questions) etc.

Some Examples worth watching:

Have a look at these videos as good examples, not really of the content, but of the style of video and the editing that I think would work well.

Imogen Heaphttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnACHR_pbjY

In Imogen’s videos, she would give little updates over the two years of making her album. They would mostly be chat, sharing little bits of the album as she was making it and asking for feedback. By the end of the process she had all the fans feeling really involved, as if they had helped make the album, and a very strong following of people “guaranteed” to buy the album.

I think her videos were limited in their appeal and reach because they were too long. You’d have to be an Imogen fan to really “get into it” and watch her talk about this stuff for 10 mins straight. You should aim for about 3-4 mins, not too short to be uninteresting, but short enough to hold attention and for people to send to friends.

Natalie Tranhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irf0zRW_jw4

A good example of the style of videos you could make (and she’s one of the most popular YouTubers). As you can see, this style could let you get really good, regular video updates, but without taking up a huge amount of your time. It involves carrying a camera to anything interesting you attend during the week and then spend 30 mins on the weekend talking about it.

She’s also does a great example of highlighting the best comments left on the previous weeks videos and responds to them at the end of the video. This is also partly the reason so many people love watching the videos, and why her average video gets over 15,000 comments!

Alex Day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2Hwv1EbCkk

Alex is a fantastic example of a musician who gets it. You’ll notice that 90% of his videos aren’t to do with his music. He’s using his YouTube channel to lead a tribe (although I’m sure he wouldn’t describe it that way). He knows his fans and he knows the type of stuff they like and the sense of humor they have, so he makes videos they’ll really enjoy watching. He makes videos like his Twilight series, in which he summarizes and “critiques” the Twilight books chapter by chapter. He has over 100,000 subscribers on YouTube who watch every video he uploads, so when he uploads a new (home made) music video it easily jumps to a million views.

Song Centred Videos

The first lot of examples are videos which focus on the “diary entry” as the main content of the video. The other main style (and the one I personally prefer) places a new song as the focal point of each video.

If you watched the Jac Holzman interview I mentioned at the start of the video you’ll have heard him say that he never worries about singles – they’re viral in nature and good songs will spread naturally.

That’s the effect that this style leverages – people will always send a great video to their friends, tweet it or post it to Facebook.

Kate McGill: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DfjORi2wMA

Kate started out playing cover versions in her bathroom, recording them on a terrible camera (I think it’s her laptop’s webcam) and uploading videos to YouTube. Two years later she has 70,000 subscribers, she is uploading her own songs and she recently had a successful tour of the UK. At the end of the videos she’ll add 30-60 seconds of commentary, keeping fans up to date on what she’s doing, announcing tours or records or anything else she wants to promote or thinks the fans would find interesting.

Pomplamoose: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvYZMqQffQE

This couple are the best example of this video style. If you watch the video above (or any other video they make) you can see they put a huge amount of time and energy into making each one, and it really pays off, with an average of a million views per video.

I won’t go into how you might make money from YouTube in this post – but if you’re regularly attracting over a hundred thousand viewers per video and you can’t find a way to earn a living from that, something is amiss!

Step 3: Start Uploading

I’ve shown you a variety of videos because I don’t want to be too prescriptive. It’d be silly of me to assume that I could come up with the best ideas and tell you exactly what to do in each video, after all, you’re the creative artistic ones, not me! Play around with the camera, try things out and we can see what works and what doesn’t.

Talking to the camera on your own can also be terribly awkward at first, so the only way to get over it is to dive right in!

The Magic Ingredients

There are two magic ingredients to making a successful YouTube channel:

  1. Hard work
  2. Patience

These two elements are the reason that so few musicians are using YouTube effectively, because 90% of the people who start making videos give up when they realise it won’t explode overnight and that it involves constant work.

Video editing is boring….. really boring. Talking to a camera in a room on your own is difficult, and gets frustrating if you keep messing it up. When you upload your first video you’ll be lucky if it gets 100 views. It’s disheartening and discouraging.

But this is a good thing. This is why you’re going to succeed. You don’t need a stroke of luck, or a talent scout to “discover” you by chance, or any of the old improbable strokes of luck you once did. You just need patience and hard work. You just need to push through the dip when everyone else gives up.

And if making music is your passion, if this is what you really want to do, then the hard work will all be worth it.. right?

2 Comments

Christoffer Brandsborg 2:59 pm - 29th October:

Hi, I want to achieve my dream to become a proffesional fingerstyle guitarist, but I don’t know how… I compose my own songs, and add videoes to youtube, but I don’t get more than 1000-2000 views per video!

Here are my newest composition:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXadmB9tQG8

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