6 Years of YouTube as a Hobby
A friend and I were comparing our YouTube metrics and I realized how difficult it is to find honest, humble articles about this stuff. Most of what I find is like, “In about two years, I grew to a million followers.” For most of us “normies” who don’t want to do YouTube for a living, these articles/videos can be discouraging. So, I thought I’d share a little about my relatively modest YouTube adventure.
Below are screenshots from YouTube Analytics as to how things look for my Make Weird Music channel right now (7.25K subscribers). The numbers are looking good right now because:
- I’ve been doing some livestreamed interviews and
- The pandemic has shut down nearly all music-related press. (Normally, I get about 100 new subscribers and about 10,000–12,000 views per month.)
- People are probably bored and watching more YouTube.
(Houston, we have a diversity problem.)
I started Make Weird Music in a moment of creative desperation in early 2014. (You can watch me tell the story to 850+ strangers in the video below.) Originally, the site was meant to be a wiki-like hub for interesting music. I’d been making guitar- and music-related videos on the internet since 2006, but I didn’t take it “seriously” until mid-2015. That’s when I got a decent camera and some video capture equipment.
When I got started, I was using:
- Canon HV30 camcorder
- Blackmagic Intensity Pro PCIe video capture card
- 2008 Apple Mac Pro hot-rodded with various hardware modifications
- Home Depot clip lights with CFL bulbs and paper towel diffusers
- Polaroid 72" tripods from ebay
- A cheap 720p LCD on Craigslist
- Apple iMovie
I’ve never run ads on my channel because I hate ads more than I like making money. Make Weird Music never existed to make money and I barely make attempts to generate revenue. All the money I’ve ever made from the site came from:
- T-shirt sales
- Non-corporate sponsors
- Concert ticket sales
In 2017, I generated about $15,000 in revenue, but spent nearly all of it on hardware and concert-related expenses. Since then, I’ve made a few hundred bucks a year on donations (drive-by and Patreon) and t-shirt sales. Almost all of that money goes right back into the site.
By 2018, I had completely outgrown my little bedroom video studio. It was completely full of gear. Getting in and out of the room required unsustainable feats of physical flexibility. So, we took out a home equity loan and built a studio in my backyard.
There are a couple of pieces of anchor content that have driven a majority of the channel’s views:
- Steve Vai interview (80K views)
- Frank Zappa hologram tour (47K)
- Michael Manring’s hyperbass demonstration (39K)
- King Crimson “Fracture is Impossible” (35K)
Out of the ~170 videos that are publicly available on the channel, only 14 of them have more than 10K views. Now, keep in mind that my website is called “Make Weird Music,” so I’m not exactly looking for broad appeal here. However, there are plenty of channels in my “genre” with 100K or more subscribers.
Here’s the lifetime daily view count for my channel. All the other relevant graphs look like that, too. Most days, I get 200–400 views and pick up a handful of new subscribers (generally fewer than 10 a day). Those spikes are the releases of the popular Steve Vai, Frank Zappa, and Devin Townsend videos.
(Note: The $134 in revenue is largely from a concert video I put up for sale back when YouTube was allowing paid access to videos. I’ve otherwise made no money on YouTube.)
For whatever it’s worth:
- I don’t know how to place ads on YouTube
- I don’t think I ever got paid my $134 because Google AdSense is so complicated
- Make Weird Music is “just” a hobby; I spend fewer than 10 hours a week on it
For the hardware nerds, here’s what I use:
- Two Panasonic Lumix GH4 and Lumix FZ-2500
- A handful of Rokinon lenses, primarily 12mm/f2.0
- A&J 48" motorized camera slider
- Manfrotto 351MVB tripod legs with a Manfrotto 519 head
- Two Ikan Lyra LW10 1x1 LED panels
- Two Sennheiser MKE600 shotgun microphones
- Zoom H5 recorder
- Blackmagic Design 5" Video Assist
- Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro 4K capture card
- Blackmagic ATEM Mini (for streaming)
- Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (for streaming)
- Blackmagic Design Davinci Resolve
- 2017 Apple iMac i7/580 8GB/24GB
Happy to have hardware discussions and nerd out about video.
Here’s a recent video I recorded so you can see my environment and output.
And one where I’m talking:
I’ve certainly learned a lot and have come a long way. I look at videos I recorded last year and think, “What the heck was I thinking?!” Every video teaches me something new.
Making videos is hard. And those skills have almost nothing to do with running a video channel. Running a YouTube channel with a few thousand followers isn’t easy. The bigger your channel gets, the harder it is to keep up with the comments, and the less time you have to laugh at idiots who leave idiotic comments.
I still cringe at my old videos, but people watch them and seem to like them.
YouTube offers me a way to continuously improve in several skill areas:
- Video production
- Audio recording and production
- Script writing
- Public speaking and presenting with interest
- A brand I can stand behind
- A brand that connects me with tens of thousands of people I don’t know (90% of my viewers are not subscribers)
- Reaching out to artists I’ve never met/talked to
- Generating credibility
- Becoming more efficient (I used to spend far more time on videos than I do now)
In a world where everyone seems to have a YouTube and a podcast to share (especially during the pandemic), it’s still fun and a great way to identify my weaknesses. Thankfully, I’ll never run out of weaknesses to identify and being on video in front of the world is a great way to find them.
Some days, I look at these numbers and I remember thinking back in 2014, “If I get the attention of 250 people, that’d be incredible.” Now I see a video get 500 views and I think, “Oh that video didn’t perform well. Too bad.” Perspective changes over time. The notion of “success” changes. I spent a couple years really caring about the numbers. Now I barely look at them and I’m happier when I actually do look because it’s kinda impressive.
Anyway, this piece doesn’t really have a point, but I wanted to share and maybe encourage you to realize that even after 6 years, I only have a few thousand subscribers and I’m still happy making videos. You don’t have to be a major success to enjoy yourself on YouTube. Just keep making stuff and produce more than you consume. Make what you want to make. You can do it because you love it and for no other reason. You can do it to become popular. It’s up to you.