Broadcasting yourself - On starting a YouTube channel
So, YouTube. Love it or hate it there’s pretty much no way around it these days. It is the world’s second largest search engine, right behind Google. And no matter what your thing is, there’s likely going to be at least one channel that caters to your interests. I myself have been a passive consumer for a few years now, ever since a good friend and colleague of mine introduced me to the German YouTube comedy duo Space Frogs. It was only fairly recently though that I actually became interested in producing content on the platform. I had originally thought about getting started back in 2016, after leaving Apple, and actually filmed and edited a „pilot“ if you will, but never uploaded it. Why? Quite simply, it was horrible, and I had no idea what the channel was supposed to be about. Fast forward to April 2018, and I’ve been producing content on a somewhat regular basis for about a month, even though the subject is actually rather limited. So, I believe the time is right to start writing down my experiences with YouTube, and starting a channel. Yep, I know it's weird to write a blog article about YouTube, but sometimes, it is just better to have something in writing.
Now, for the last year or so, there has been quite a bit of uproar amongst established YouTube creators about changes in the monetisation policies on the platform. This also affects newcomers who are just setting out on their journey. It is vital that you do not let the noise about the „YouTube Adpocalypse“ stop you. In fact, there’s never been a better time to start producing content from my perspective. Granted, you won’t be able to make money from Day One, however, from my point of view, that’s an advantage, rather than a disadvantage. When you’re starting out, you’ll invariably find yourselves experimenting with the type of content, editing and presentation styles, and some of your ideas will bomb spectacularly. The thresholds for new creators give you the breathing space to find your niche, find your tone and your style, and to really get going.
Now, with all the preliminaries out of the way, lets get into the nitty gritty real life experiences that I’ve had so far while building my channel.
Planning and Preparation
|Your own channel, online and getting subscribers. It takes some work to get there, but it is worth it.|
It is vital that you don’t overdo the planning process, though. At some time, it is vital that you just start recording and releasing content. This is something that I learned the hard way both during my original YouTube attempt in 2016 and during the re-launch a month ago. There’s a phrase I read in a book years ago that comes to mind, „polishing the cannonball“. No, that’s NOT a euphemism for something, so get your head out of the gutter, for Pete’s sake! The phrase was originally used to describe navy torpedomen needlessly perfecting a firing solution even after they had achieved a solid lock on target. This phenomenon is definitely a risk when starting a YouTube channel, and I’m most definitely guilty of that as well. There are some things that you can only learn by actually publishing video. It may seem scary, but believe me, ist worth it. The feeling when the first likes begin showing in the YouTube Analytics, when the first subscriptions begin appearing, when people, even if its only a small number of them, begin appreciating your work, there’s nothing quite like it.
The one thing you’ll definitely need is patience, LOTS of patience. I’m about to begin my second month as an active content creator, and with an average of three videos per week, I’m currently at 13 subscribers, and a total of 254 views. Okay, weather forecasts are a pretty niche subject, but that gives you an idea of how slowly new channels gain traction, even in a relatively uncrowded section of the platform, after all, it appears that I’m the only YouTuber who regularly produces weather forecasts specifically for Ireland. I can only imagine how hard it must be in the „Beauty“ & „Lifestyle“ sections of the platform. So keep at it, eventually, you’ll reach a format and presentation style that’ll catch on. And please, for Christ’s sake, DON’T approach it as a business idea right from Day One. View it as a hobby, it’ll make things a lot easier.
One thing that will help you gain traction within the YouTube community is interaction with likeminded channels. And by interaction, I don’t mean spamming the comment section with „Subscribe to ME and I’ll subscribe to you“, or „CHECK OUT MY CHANNEL!!!!!!!1111111“. I mean actual, meaningful interactions that show you’ve watched the other channel’s video and are engaging with it. Give honest feedback, ask questions, and later maybe ask them for their feedback to a certain topic, maybe a certain video. Don’t link to your channel too often, though. That kind of interaction really sucks for an introvert like me, but believe me, it is vital. As is promoting your content on other platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, that one social network we all love to hate, Facebook, and whatever else could be out there. Don’t simply rely on that most fickle of all internet creatures, the YouTube algorithm.
|YouTube Creators Academy should definitely be your first stop on the way to building a channel. Is it the be all and end all? Certainly not, but it is a great place to start.|
|The YouTube algorithm is certainly one of the biggest mysteries out there. The Get discovered model in the Adademy should really be a top priority for you!|
Speaking of YouTube itself, you should definitely check out the YouTube Creator Academy, especially if you’re brand new. Granted, it’s just another online learning platform, but it does offer a good insight into the workings of the platform, and also gives you some really good advice, often from actual content producers such as Rhett & Link. That advice may not always be universally applicable, you don’t need to worry about a detailed shooting schedule and crew coordination when you’re literally a one-man channel, like I am. Still, even those courses contain useful tidbits of information that can come in handy. There’s also a TON of actual YouTube channels out there that can help beginners. Think Media is definitely one that I regularly check out, as they cover both the beginner and the professional sides of YouTube. Another one would be a VFX/Make-Up channel of all things, Glam & Gore. While most of the videos on that channel aren’t really my cup of tea, Mykie, the girl that runs Glam & Gore also has a series of videos for at beginners aimed at things like lighting, audio, what camera to use, etc., and you should definitely check that channel out if you’re just starting out. I definitely did when I made my first attempt.
Speaking of attempts, don’t try to be perfect from the start. Failure is ALWAYS an option, to steal a phrase from the Mythbusters, and you should never take it personal if a video doesn’t perform well. I mentioned in the opening that YouTube channels don’t become eligible for monetisation until you’ve reached a relatively high threshold. At the time of writing this, the threshold stands at a total of 1000 subscribers, and 4000 hours of watch time within 12 months. If you’re just starting out like me, those figures seem astronomical. However, that also means that you have a ton of space to experiment without the risk of losing ad revenue. Use that space, and the freedom that it brings with it. Try different formats. Try different editing styles, camera positions, and presenting styles until you find that fits your personal style while also resonating with your viewers.
Hardware & Software
Also, please don’t invest heavily until you’re moderately sure that you are going to keep producing your channel. While YouTube has meant that the prices for cameras, microphones, etc. have dropped significantly over the next few years, and even professional companies like Rode Microphones now have budget mics for YouTubers in their line-up, a new camera, tripod, and mike can easily cost well upwards of 700€. If you’re just starting, use as much of what you already have as possible. Many modern smartphones already have surprisingly good cameras built in, cameras that are on par with many mid-level point and shoot cameras, and the microphones are pretty good as well. If you’re using an iPhone or an iPad, you’ll likely have access to iMovie, which is basically all you need to edit your first videos. There’s no need to dish out hundreds of Euros for Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere & After Effects when you’re just starting out. That being said, if you already have a decent DSLR or Bridge Camera, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. The only thing you should invest in is a tripod or two to get started, but even that won’t cost you a fortune. Amazon Basics tripods are available from around 40-50€, and even usually expensive manufacturers like Manfrotto have tripods in their line-up that come in at well under 100€. Add a smartphone bracket for the tripod, which shouldn’t be much more than 10-15€, and you’re good to go. Another thing you should invest in an Office 365 subscription, at least if you ask me. As much as I like Apple and OS X, the cross-platform abilities of Microsoft Office are just a really compelling factor. In addition, OneNote is a great "scrapbook" for any content ideas, both for YouTube and other platforms. In fact, this article first took shape in OneNote.
|Plan ahead and make sure you have more than enough time for recording your video. By the time you end up here, in front of the camera, you should have a good idea of what you want to do and have a rough outline for your video.|
One huge thing you should be aware of is the time factor. Even a short five minute video will likely take you at least 30 minutes to record, probably longer when you’re just starting out and don’t really feel comfortable in front of the camera yet. By the way, don’t worry when that happens, it is likely something completely new for you, and that always tends to throw people off. You’ll get used to it once you get some practice. I’m a pretty strong introvert and tend to get quite a bit of stage fright when I have to present something, or perform on stage, but even I’m getting more and more comfortable in front of the camera. Editing the recorded footage is another time sink and can easily take two to three hours depending on how complex the edits are. My own forecasts are nothing special, still it takes me about two hours to combine the footage with the separate audio track from my lapel microphone, get all the titles in place, cut out all the unneeded breaks, pauses, screw-ups, weird noises, etc.. Another hour usually passes for uploading the video, tagging it and writing the video description, adapting the thumbnail, or laying out the end card. So plan accordingly, and make sure that you’re able to both record and edit any video with only a minimum of interruptions. There are a number of good courses about production planning on the YouTube Creator’s Academy, make sure to check them out and pay attention, it’ll save you a lot of grey hairs later on.
|You'd be surprised how much time you'll spend editing your video, so once again plan ahead, and allow enough time for this.|
You’re likely going to be dealing with a rather prolonged period of little to no activity on your channel, even after uploading the first few videos. Use the time to take a good look at YouTube studio, both with regards to the mobile apps and the website. You’ll likely be spending quite a bit of time there. At first, you'll likely only use it to upload and publish your videos, but once your videos start being watched, this is where you'll find all kinds of handy data on your videos, like how often they are watched, how long viewers stay with a video, what search terms bring up your content, and even where your visitors are from, what gender and age they are, if they are already YouTube or Google users.
|YouTube analytics are the key to tailoring your videos for your audience.|
|Most statistics arrive with a bit of a delay, but still, the amount of details you can glean from that is impressive.|
As for myself, I already had quite a bit of equipment before starting, due to my interest in photography. My current DSLR, a Pentax K-S2 was purchased with exactly that purpose, photography, in mind, although the swivel display and microphone input make it quite handy for video as well. The only problem is that the camera doesn’t refocus in video mode. My main tripod, a simple Amazon Basics light travel tripod, comes from the same background, and more precisely my fascination with long exposure photography, light trails and the like. I work with two microphones. One is a Rode Videomic Go, a shotgun mike mounted on top of my DSLR, the other one is a Rode SmartLav+, a lapel microphone that uses my iPhone as an audio recorder. As for editing, I’m using Final Cut Pro on a late 2012 MacBook Pro Retina. I used to work at Apple, so I was able to acquire hardware and software at greatly reduced prices, something I obviously took advantage off. I also have a number of extra tripods, my old bridge camera, and a smartphone bracket to mount my iPhone on a Tripod if needed. Apart from the microphones, all of the equipment was already in my household, so I didn’t really have to purchase much. Once again, use what you have available, and start improving once you’ve got a bit of experience, and know which areas need improvement.
|That's my "studio" setup. You don't need to go all out like I did, though.|
There’s also a ton of resources and tools available online. Obviously, Google has a ton of free resources that will help you run your channel, such as the YouTube Creators Academy I mentioned above. Google Trends will also come in very handy if you’re looking for a trending topic to latch on to with your video, or if you’re looking for good search terms in general. Other platforms, such as canva.com are also extremely handy. Almost all of my channel artwork was done on that platform, and the entry level is actually free. You do need to pay for things like the ability to export transparent .png files, for example for use as watermarks on your channel, however, for most of the editing work, even the free version will be quite sufficient.
And that’s pretty much all I can think off at this moment. Of course, there’ll be more as my channel progresses and (hopefully) grows over time, so I will come back to this topic every now and again. And yes, I’m planning on making a video to accompany this article, once I have the time and miserable weather for it. In the meantime, feel free to check out my channel, as small and monothematic as it may be at the moment, let me know what you think, and maybe subscribe to it if you like what you see. There’ll be more than just weather forecasts there in the future, I’ve gotten the ideas written down already. See ya then!