While many artists have tried to make themselves into YouTube sensations, few have succeeded to the extent which Boyce Avenue has. Here the group's frontman discusses their rise to YouTube success, and why they opted out of a major label contract.
Guest Post by Hugh McIntyre on Forbes
Many brands have tried to make YouTube work for them, creating premium content for consumers to engage with and hopefully share. A few have done it well, but they’ll all tell you that it isn’t easy. Even more artists have attempted the same, and the success rate might be slightly higher, but the platform lends itself to that slightly more.
There is one act that has not only found success on the site, but which has made a name for themselves as the biggest “YouTube band” out there. As of late last year, Boyce Avenue have accumulated an astounding 2 billion views and more than 7.5 million subscribers on the platform. What is perhaps even more impressive than the numbers themselves is the fact that the group has managed to do so with very little outside support. They are an unsigned band (now), and yet they can outpace even the best of them on YouTube.
I spoke with frontman Daniel Manzano about how the band has been able to become so massively popular on YouTube on their own, their strategy around creating content, and why they ditched their major label recording contract pretty quickly.
Congrats on the phenomenal success and the insane numbers. It’s pretty crazy actually. I want to start at the beginning. What happened to you guys when you were signed on a major label?
When we first started we had been working really hard on our original music and playing shows and we were doing the more traditional thing. Then at some point we had the idea to start posting videos on YouTube, and this was in the early days. People were posting webcam videos and it was very different than it is today, but it was very similar—doing the sort of democratic stance like now, where people are posting whatever they want. We thought, “People are finding audiences, doing so let’s jump in there,” and we did, and it took off right away. Then instantaneously labels came sniffing around, but they didn’t really know what YouTube even was. We also didn’t know YouTube’s potential and we still had traditional dreams of being a big, signed band, so we signed a deal. We thought it was the right move at the time.
Then we quickly discovered that it wasn’t. We instantly understood the loss of freedom that we had once had as an independent band. We couldn’t post videos whenever we wanted or however we wanted. Our fans were suffering as a result and we very quickly switched gears from trying to be the coolest signed band and to trying to get off of the label. I’d say about nine months after being on the label, we got off the label. It was nine months of them not really doing anything for us except maybe throw some red tape in our way. We ended up succeeding eventually and getting our record back and we went back to being independent.
It was pretty wild, but everything just boomed. Our whole operation doubled or tripled, our numbers, our stats, everything. It was like this perfect storm of YouTube finally found it’s own in the years since we had been gone and we came back with a renewed energy and passion. Within a month or two it reaffirmed that we had made the best decision possible as far as getting off the label and going back to being independent.
You’d say that the big differences between you being on the label and you being off is the freedom?
Yeah, I mean I’m not here to roast labels. They work really, really well for a lot of artists. Undeniably they’re still very helpful with radio to the extent that that’s a goal that a band has and so on and so forth, but in this modern era, in the era of social media and everything else, it’s sort of unprecedented what you can do on your own and how direct fans can really be.
For example, last year I want to say we posted some thirty videos that are all music video quality. The average band will release maybe three or four videos off of any type of album cycle, which could last three years. We’re in a position, because we do everything ourselves and because we don’t have to account to other people or abide by traditional standards of how all of our budget should be spent, we get to focus on what matters to us. What has mattered to us is making good music, making great videos, and touring. We’ve been able to throw ourselves into that. I don’t think we could if we were signed.
Would you be open to talking to a label again? Is that something that interests you as a band?
I wouldn’t say it’s something that interests me in the sense that it’s not something we’re actively pursuing, but we’ve always been very open minded and we’re always open to all sorts of ideas and all sorts of ways of getting our music out because ultimately the idea is to share a message to as many people as you can. I think it would have to be a really really creative deal if that makes sense. In other words, we’d be partnering more so to push the music out than to necessarily have them run the show.
You said you create thirty videos last year. Tell me a bit about the strategy behind when you roll these out, what songs you choose, what artists you opt to work with, etc.
A lot of it is decided ad hoc, which I think is the way it should be because what people want to see and want to hear is what we’re into at the time or in the moment. We let a lot of factors come into play when we decide what it is that we want to play or cover or post. A lot of it’s like, “Are we into the song?,” “Do we think we can do a good version?,” “Do we think we can add something new?”
Sometimes that challenge alone is enticing even if the song doesn’t fall in our genre. Sometimes you really surprise yourself. The only mantra we try to stick by is to try to post a video a week or three a month. That seems to be a good rhythm that works for us because it’s high quality music video type stuff. You want to give people a chance to share it, enjoy it, re-watch it, listen to it. You don’t want to just be posting a video a day. It’s more of a quality over quantity thing. We need time to really become part of the music. We don’t like just throwing stuff out there.
How much of your time as a band is spent with everything that comes with making these cover videos versus writing and producing your original music? What percentage of it is original versus cover?
The best way I would describe it is that the cover thing is more of a rhythm. It’s something that we’ve gotten down to a rhythm, and we’ve got a schedule and we treat it like a channel. There’s a little bit of discipline behind it. Original music is more as inspiration strikes. When we’re on tour we like to write on the bus. When we get home, if something’s going on in our lives, we have a studio now in town that we own, and we can go there and write.
As far as when we play live, we’ve been very fortunate. Our fans understand that our original music is very important to us. They love it. Usually at the live show, it’s like a 75/25 or an 80/20 in favor of originals. It’s a balancing act.
Would you say you make more of your income as a band touring, album and single sales, or YouTube?
It would be album and single sales and streams, then I want to say touring, and then YouTube. I mean it depends if it’s a big touring year. The other two categories are fairly comparable I would say.