Ten million YouTube views (Part 2)

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I mentioned a few days ago that my YouTube channel is over 10 million views which begs the question: what is the business significance of that? This post will be geared more for you music professionals, but if you do anything online, you might be interested.

Before I start this, I need to repeat something that I said in my last post. Getting a lot of views on YouTube does not mean what you think it does. You can be a very lousy musician and get millions of views. You can be a great musician and struggle to get hundreds of views much less millions. If I am being honest, your ability to navigate the world of online marketing is probably just as important than your actual music skills. However, (obviously) the better of a musician you are, the higher the likelihood of success on YouTube. In the end of the day, people have to actually want to watch what you produce. There is no getting around that.

I could talk a long time about this subject; and I think the way I want to do it is to answer some questions I would ask if I were interviewing myself. Here goes:

How important has YouTube been to your success in music?

It has been and continues to be very important. I would rank it in the top three along with my blog and Facebook. I might be tempted to throw Pandora in there instead of YouTube but while I get much greater exposure on Pandora, I generate a lot more revenue from YouTube.

By the way, there is no reason to think that YouTube’s importance is going to diminish going forward. My YouTube exposure has grown fairly consistently and last month was my highest month ever in terms of views (just over 200,000).

What is the greatest factor that influenced your ability to see success on YouTube?

There are a few things. First, I can point to the time in 2012 where I decided to purchase views. Essentially, during that time, I bought around 1.4 million views for one penny each. Here is how it worked: when people went to YouTube and searched for a term like “christian pianist”, I paid to be in the top results. My goal was to pay for exposure and get those people eventually to my site to buy something.

For a time, that worked quite well. I was generating roughly $10 in revenue for every $1 I spent. Especially when you are selling mostly downloads, those numbers are great. However, Google/YouTube changed some things back in 2013 that made the strategy stop working, and I never purchased ads again.

Looking back, buying those views changed things for me though. Look at this chart and you can see that even after I stopped buying ads, I had a base of people looking for me and watching my stuff. Before I started buying, I might have had a thousand views/month but after I stopped, I was at 60,000 view/month and it has grown from there.

While this worked for me, I don’t recommend you spend money on YouTube advertising because you can lose your shirt. Again, I am not doing it anymore myself.

A second big thing that I did that put my YouTube channel on a good trajectory was my show at Gwinnett Performing Arts back in 2012. It was a very expensive production but the money came back quickly because of the videos that we were able to produce from that show.

Third, I tend to go the extra mile in terms of production quality. I don’t feel the need to keep my YouTube videos on the same level as albums in terms of production; but I use good equipment, and I make sure that what I do musically is pretty clean.

If you don’t believe in advertising to build a channel, what do you suggest?

There are lots of basic things that you can research online and while they tend to seem minor, they add up. I am referring to such things as responding to comments, encouraging cross-linking to Facebook, posting regularly, etc. There are lots of blogs out there that discuss this.

However, of course the best thing you can do is generate good content. Get video software (I use Final Cut Pro) and some decent recording equipment and focus on making good music with the highest production quality you can. Yes, there are low production videos that get millions of views on YouTube but that is not the norm. You don’t have to spend a fortune on production but you need to care a lot about it.

What about going viral?

My highest viewed video is 1.3 million views and it is probably 5-6 years old. That is not viral by any measure. My average videos are at around 30,000 views (calculated simply by dividing 10,000,000 / 300 videos). However, if 30,000 watch a video and .001 of them purchase something, that is not bad. On this site, with an average purchase of $100, it means an average video would generate $3,000. While $3,000 is not significant in itself, when you have a lot of videos, it adds up.

In other words, forget about viral videos and just focus on putting out a lot of quality videos. As Solomon would say, cast your bread upon many waters.

Do you take advantage of the ad revenue sharing option that many YouTubers rely on?

No, I choose not to do that. The truth is that to make real money on YouTube, you need a lot more than 10 million views. Optimistically, you can expect about $1000 in revenue for every million views; but I am told that number is shrinking (and maybe more in the $750 range). My ten million views might have generated $10,000 but I would rather use my videos as advertisements for my own offerings (music and instructional). You might argue that I could do both and to an extent you would be right. However, my feeling is that running ads across all my videos would drive away a lot of people and end up costing me a lot more than $10,000.

I can’t say this bluntly enough: the perception about making money with YouTube advertising is pretty much a myth. (Sadly, I read recently that 1 out of 3 UK children want to be YouTube stars for a living when they grow up.) The reality is that there are at best a few thousand YouTubers that are going to make a decent living this year from ad revenue. Again, you need tens of millions of views a month to get to that level. Think twice before you turn on ads on your videos getting a few hundred or few thousand views. You will make nothing and will cannibalize your future by turning some people off.

What about copyrights?

Copyrights are a sore subject with me. My refusal to break copyright law is the single biggest thing that has held my channel back in terms of views because it limits the songs I can post. The bottom line is that if you cover current popular songs, you get lots more views. I stick with public domain and I miss out on that.

On the flip side, this is all changing and I am rethinking. More and more, copyright owners are welcoming covers on YouTube if the video owner is willing to split revenue from running ads on them. As just mentioned, I don’t like running ads so that is a problem for me but I can see changing my mind. If I can’t run a video without ads, perhaps I should go ahead and accept ads on that video. I have the ability to turn ads on or off on specific videos, so I can leave all my other videos alone.

What are some other tips you can give?

  • Be generous to the max. People appreciate it.
  • Be thick-skinned. No matter how much you give, some people will still bash. They are likely competitors or would-be competitors. (As an aside, I will tell you something that I admit gets under my skin for some strange reason: sometimes people will watch an instructional video and then post a comment that the piano is out of tune. I see it as unbelievably petty to watch a free instructional video and rather than say thanks, choose to complain about a few notes out of tune. However, that is how some of us are, especially we that are musicians. It is like we think it is our job to find fault with every musical presentation we see or hear.)
  • Provide real value, not teasers and samples.
  • Long videos seem to work extremely well these days. My fastest growing video is a one hour compilation I did. Within a year, it will be my top video by far. Don’t hesitate to post an entire album as a video to YouTube.
  • Focus on doing well in the YouTube search engine. There are many articles online that can help with this.

I think that is about it. To be honest, I invest very little effort into YouTube. I probably should focus on it more but it has been a gift that has kept giving with very little babysitting. In that respect, it has just been awesome.