By Matt Sandler, musician and founder of Chromatik.
I get at least a dozen emails a month from musician friends who want to build out their YouTube presence.
I don’t claim to be a YouTube expert, but I spend a good amount of time at Chromatik working with artists and the YouTube ecosystem. We’ve built the Chromatik channel to over a million views (led by the extraordinary Kelley McKinney), and I’ve worked on musician friends’ channels with over 50 million collective views.
Through the process, I’ve noticed some clear do’s and don’ts when trying to build a quality YouTube presence. If your goal is fame and fortune without hard work, move along. But if your goal is to build a lasting community for your music, then follow the general guidelines below to a million views and beyond…
1. YOU NEED TO START
Failure isn’t your biggest obstacle to success, it’s not even starting. Most people talk the talk, but never actually walk the walk. You want a great YouTube presence? Start making videos…today.
I know that there’s a tune you can crush. Maybe it’s Classical Gas, maybe it’s Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Perhaps 15 seconds of a popular chart? It doesn’t matter. Spend 30 minutes recording and uploading it to YouTube…today.
Start viewing YouTube as a sandbox for playing, performing, and sharing. Not everything you upload to YouTube needs to be perfect or professional quality initially. We’ll get there. But as a relative unknown in the YouTube ecosystem, you’ll want to just get comfortable with the recording and upload process first.
2. BE PROLIFIC, ON A SCHEDULE
One of the YouTube myths I hear all of the time is – “I just need ONE video to strike it big.”
So what do folks do? Pour a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money into producing an incredible video. Cool. Assuming that you rocked and it miraculously went to the front page of Reddit, you now have 100,000 views and a couple hundred subscribers. Now what? Can you replicate that?
The unfortunate reality is that 100,000 views and a couple hundred subscribers doesn’t get you very far in the YouTube ecosystem. Not to mention, with over 100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, there’s a 1/1,000,000 chance of you achieving that result.
The myth is dangerous because it forces you into an assumption that “if you build, they will come.” Which, as many creatives – from musicians to tech startup founders – learn quickly, just isn’t the case.
So let’s focus on starting small and building a community. Without a miracle, the only replicable way I’ve seen to build a successful YouTube channel is by being prolific and regimented with content production. One of my favorites, Gabe Bondoc - now with 272k subscribers and 48 million views! – was phenomenal at this early on (thanks for the recco, Corey!).
You’re learning or writing new tunes every week, right? Great. Set up a regimen. Chose two or three days a week, every week that you’re going to spend 30-60 minutes recording a new tune and posting to YouTube. Not every tune needs to get 100,000 views. Rather, start with a goal of fifty views on each video, and work your way up. We’ll talk growing viewership shortly.
3. RECORDING TIPS
Your videos do not need to be professional quality, but they should look somewhat polished. Here are a few quick tips:
- Don’t record in your messy bedroom, for goodness’ sake. Find a space that looks hip, or at minimum, neutral. You want to be the focal point.
- Use your phone or laptop camera to record visuals. Trust me, it’s good enough. But if you’re going to spend a few bucks, upgrade your mic. I recommend Blue (Spark Digital, Yeti, or Snowball) and Apogee (MiC) microphones.
- Backing tracks are clutch when playing popular tunes. If you’re a solo instrumental artist, it adds a tremendous amount to your video performance to play the melody in context. You can find almost any backing track you need on iTunes.
- Many YouTubers record audio first, and then mime/sync the video to get the visual right. Not saying that it’s the best way, but think about how you can most effectively record videos for quality and time investment.
- If you’re not great at AV editing, I suggest investing some time into learning. If you need some help along the way, Fiverr has great folks who edit videos, design intros, and more for just $5.
4. TITLE AND TAG PROPERLY
YouTube is currently the second most popular search engine in the world. While bloggers and websites spend a lot of time thinking about search engine optimization (aka, how to appear at the top of Google search results), many YouTube creators don’t give the same amount of thought to their videos.
What if, when you typed in “Katy Perry Roar,” your video was the first search result? You’d get millions of views. Obviously that’s unrealistic, but you get the point. Where you fall in search results matters.
Check out the YouTube Playbook for some basic details on how to title and tag your videos. It’s important.
5. BUILDING AN AUDIENCE
We’ve established that you’re posting great videos to YouTube regularly. Now’s time to build an audience.
Simply put, passively posting to Facebook and Twitter will only get you so far. Your video will get viewed by a few of your friends and family, and then disappear from the stream/newsfeed after a couple hours.
Before anything else, read 1,000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly.
To build a sustainable YouTube channel, you need to drive conversion to channel subscribers. And that’s going to take some hustle, both inside and outside the walls of YouTube. Most folks will never just happen upon your content and share it to their friends. So for the sake of brevity (another post on building an audience to come), here are a few thoughts to get your brain a’moving…
- Regular, personal communication paths to friends and family, asking them to check out your videos and subscribe. Email Newsletter, Facebook messages, Twitter DMs, Instagram Direct, Snapchat, and more are all potential communication paths.
- Make a clear call-to-action in your video and video description.
- Sharing on video communities like wimp, Reddit, and Plug.dj. Remember to respect the rules and community.
- Outreach to bloggers who feature “Top YouTube Videos of the Week” or write about music closely related to your style/influences.
- Work with friends and other YouTubers. See “Work With Friends” below.
The point being, you likely will not build a lasting YouTube channel by simply posting to Facebook and Twitter. Get hustling.
6. THE MOST POPULAR MUSIC, HAPPENING NOW
We talked briefly about SEO for YouTube. But the core variable with SEO is building content interesting to a target search audience.
People use YouTube search just as they do Google. They type in “Katy Perry Roar” or “Lorde Royals covers” with far more regularity than your name or “jazz saxophone.”
So, game that user behavior by covering the most popular music, happening right now.
Let’s take an example — if you were to create content on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” there are thousands of back-catalog videos already there that you’re competing with. Many with thousands, or millions of views. Hard to win, especially if you consider the low search volume today for MJ’s “Beat It.” Regardless of how popular the tune is in pop culture.
But if you create a video today for Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” (or any other tune that spiked on the charts this week), you’re entering the search competition with the same amount of views, time, and opportunity as anyone. And the search volume for a tune like this is 100x that of Michael Jackson in its first four weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
You may not love the most recent tune by Katy or Beyonce, that’s fine. Find a way into one of the top tunes, by layering in your performance style, technique, or a full-on remix to make it your own. If you hit the right cover and timing, I promise it will pay dividends in views and subscribers.
7. WORK WITH FRIENDS
You’re only one person. You’ve tapped your network, hustled to get additional coverage, and done great thus far. But how do you expand your reach even further? Work with friends.
Pretty simple equation. More people involved = most potential reach. Collaborate on a few videos, and ask them to share to their friends. Or better yet, have their friends subscribe to check out future collaborations.
If you have YouTuber friends, there are a plenty of cross-promotional things you can do together too. YouTube’s written a great primer on this, so I won’t re-create the wheel.
This process is going to take a serious investment of time and effort. Building an audience for your music is not simple, but hopefully I laid out pretty straightforward guidelines for success. You going to need patience and resiliency. 1 million views won’t come overnight.
As a musician, most of our dreams circle around playing for an audience. But we all wish that we could get more stage time with a captivated crowd. YouTube can be that vehicle for you. You have the talent. Now put it into motion.
And if I can be helpful in any way, please feel free to send me an email (mdsandler at gmail dot com) or message on Twitter (@mattdsandler).