8 Tips on Starting Out as a Youtube Musician
With Personal Insights from an Active Youtube Musician
Written by The String Player Gamer
So you want to be a Youtube musician, and possibly become an online celebrity. Well, I’ve got news for you buddy, it ain’t gonna be easy. But, once you’ve cleared out all the obstacles, things will be clearer, not easy though. It’s never easy, but eventually with hard work, and a little bit of luck, maybe it will be. My Youtube career isn’t what most would consider “big time” since I don’t have millions of subscribers, but I’ve had a lot of Youtubing experience and I’d like to impart some of that knowledge with you. Here are some of the obstacles that you have to overcome.
1. Having lots of patience
Sure it’s a cliche, but it’s a fact. Youtube success isn’t an overnight success, it never is. Unless of course you were already a big star outside of Youtube to begin with, it will be an uphill struggle. Sure you may have the occasional viral hit or two, but if you don’t follow through with consistent material, subscribers won’t come in droves. Patience is the key to your own Youtube longevity, but don’t push yourself too hard at the risk of burn out. Find your pace, whether it be monthly, weekly, or daily videos.
2. Play to your strengths
Are you an awesome guitarist? Or are you an excellent singer? Then by all means highlight that in your videos. I may have started my videos with my violin playing as the highlight, but that wasn’t my strength, there are so many violinists in Youtube that are way better than me, like my friend Mklachu. My strength is composition and arrangement, which is why I have varying musical formats in my videos but with a particular focus on orchestral music, thanks to my classical training.
3. Choose your style and crowd
Found your musical strength? Good! Now let’s talk about your style. Will you be doing live performances? Or will it be highly edited videos with visual effects. Will your music be mainly rock, or will it be acapella music? Choose the style that, again, not only caters to your strength, but also a style that you’re comfortable with to do over and over again. This will be your musical brand. Once your brand is established and you get enough attention, people will know what to expect from you and thus, attract subscribers that cater to this style.
4. Be relevant or timeless or both
Being knowledgeable with current musical trends will give you an edge. But, also knowing what kind of songs can stand the test of time is another side of the same coin. That parody of Gangnam Style maybe getting attention now, but who’s to say people will still search for it in five years time? You never know, but these are the kinds of choices that you will face when choosing your songs. Also, it doesn’t have to be actual songs with lyrics, it can be instrumentals as well.
I have chosen video game music as my niche in my channel. One of my videos called The Ultimate Nintendo Medley is one I can consider more under the “timeless” category since most of the pieces included are considered by many as video game musical classics such as the Zelda Theme or Super Mario Bros. Theme. On the other hand, my video collaboration with Youtuber and song writer Lady Game Lyric called Power Stars would fall under the “relevant” category as it is a parody of song Counting Stars, a recent Billboard topping hit of the band OneRepublic.
5. Start Small, but think big
Stay focused. It’s easy to want to make hundreds of videos and get stumped because you’re overwhelmed by too much freedom. There is a boring, but effective solution to that. Make lists. List every song that you want to make a video of, then prioritize which ones you want to come first. Take it one video at a time and make sure that with each upload, you’ve given it your best! Make a conscious effort to make the next video better than the previous. This is exactly what I did, and still doing it. Started with one video, now I have close to 200 videos that I can be proud of.
6. Use social media
Use Facebook, Twitter and all those social media sites to your advantage. But don’t be a spammer, otherwise people will just ignore you and your efforts would’ve been a waste. Start sharing, your video to a small group of people first; family, friends, and people who you genuinely think will be interested with your video. And if you’re video is genuinely good, people will share it around without you having to tell them to. Rinse, repeat, and watch as your view count and subscribers slowly stack up. Assuming of course, that you really have good and interesting material, that should be a given by now.
7. Be wary of copyrights
Now comes the tricky part. This one also needs constant research as most copyright laws are very broad that some wordings are open to interpretation. Just know that, every time you upload a cover of a copyrighted song, especially a famous song, you are breaking the law. Even if it’s you performing the song yourself, it doesn’t matter. If the melody and lyrics are identical, it is the same song and you can technically be sued.
So why are everyone and their moms with a guitar who sang “Let it Go” from Frozen not being sued?
Well, maybe they are and the media just isn’t reporting it. It is also possible that because there is just so many uploads that the copyright owners are just… letting it go? According to Youtube, at least 100 hours worth of videos are uploaded EVERYDAY, and a large chunk of those are definitely covers of copyrighted songs. There’s just too many that I guess copyright owners are choosing their battles, or adapted the “if you can’t beat them join them” attitude by just claiming the revenue from that video while still letting the uploader keep the video live without consequence. This is called the “matched third party content” system by Youtube.
So what can you do to circumvent this? Well, I can recommend three ways.
First, play original music, or if you have to make a cover song, give it your own twist that it will sound really different from the original song, but still recognizable, this is a technique I’ve seen many Youtube musicians use. But take note that this does not guarantee you safety from legal setbacks should your version still sound too similar to the original.
Second, join a multi-channel network that holds licenses for cover songs. A multi-channel network (MCN) is like a TV network for Youtubers. MCN’s such as Fullscreen offer many perks to accepted members like free licenses to a list of cover songs, they pull this off by making deals with record companies. For video game Youtubers, Machinima is a nice match as they hold numerous licenses to stream video game play footage without legal setbacks. Take note though that MCNs have membership criteria and some of them require a certain number of views or subscribers before you are accepted.
And the third option is to go for the “retro” route. I chose to cover mostly classic instrumental 8-bit video game songs on purpose, not just because they are timeless, but because they are mostly under the radar, as opposed to covering big time, top 40 hits which are lawsuit magnets. Acapella artist Smooth McGroove certainly has made a successful career covering retro video game tunes. I can go on and on about copyright issues, but bottom line is: be updated and be on the lookout for music news involving copyright issues. It helps to be in the know.
In my channel The String Player Gamer, I have established two styles that I do: orchestral arrangements or acapella arrangements of video game music. Sometimes, I branch out to a rock or metal style, but those are rare instances. I mostly keep to my orchestral style that’s because it’s what my subscribers expect.
Subscribers follow your channel because they probably watched a video of yours and want to see more of that style. If you keep changing your style, subscribers will probably leave because they did not subscribe to see that.
Remember, your Youtube success is directly proportional to your relationship to your subscriber base. Your subscribers are a big reason, if not the biggest reason, why you’re getting views. They are the ones sharing and watching your videos on a regular basis, and naturally they expect more of the same videos that made them subscribe to you. So going back to tip #3, make sure that you are comfortable in sticking to one style most of the time, because once you’ve become established, your subscribers will expect that style.
P.S. I didn’t even discuss monetization here because that’s a topic for another post.
And with that, I bid you good luck! Feel free to ask me follow up questions in the comments.