This past weekend in Anaheim, CA was the world's largest gathering of YouTube lovers. Nearly 19,000 people attended the VidCon conference at the Anaheim Convention Center – located just blocks away from Disneyland.
The median age of attendee I would guess to be about 16. There were 10 year olds running amok with their oversized badges and sponsor-affixed ribbons to publicly proclaim how many booths they visited in the exhibition hall. And I spotted a couple dudes over 35 looking like the creepy old grandpas who were either YouTubers themselves, parents of an attendee or just someone who loves bubbly personalities on the internet a little too much.
At any given moment, a hoard of tweens would spot a famous YouTuber walking, talking or, believe it or not, eating, and dash full speed ahead whilst screaming OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD! You could fill the Los Angeles river with the amount of tween tears shed at VidCon. You thought this kind of mania only happened for the Beatles or Justin Bieber? Think again.
VidCon brings together some of the biggest names in YouTube. Most of whom, you've never heard of. And by you, I mean the average music aficionado. But you don't matter at VidCon. Boyce Avenue is more famous than Imagine Dragons and Tyler Ward is more of a star than Iggy Azalea at VidCon. Don't know who they are? Well you should. (More on them later)
A guy I met at the Defy Media party mentioned to me "it takes 30 minutes to walk to the Hilton." I was so confused as the Hilton was about 50 feet from the front doors of VidCon. Then I realized, this guy has 300,000 YouTube subscribers and the moment he shows his face he gets hounded by screaming tweens with iPhones and sharpies.
YouTube And Your Music Career Panel
The conference drew the majority of attendees for the signings, concerts and the chance to spot their favorite internet crush chowing down a food truck crab cake. There were also panels split between Community and Industry pass holders. Community panels were geared towards aspiring YouTubers, with panel topics like "Beauty Bloggers: Dealing With Hate," "Online Gaming Strategies," "Writing Comedy For YouTube," while the Industry panels targeted those who have built an ecosystem around YouTube: startups, MCNs, lawyers, managers, labels and anyone else wanting to understand the business behind the subscription base.
At the YouTube And Your Music Career Community panel, YouTubers David Choi, Tyler Ward, Mike Falzone, Alejandro Manzano (of Boyce Avenue), Meghan Tonjes and Peter Hollens sat alongside YouTube employee, on the Artist and Label Relations team, Margaret Gregory.
The panel was moderated by Peter Hollens. He asked the panelists the best ways to succeed on YouTube as a musician – along with serenading (through the mic) his crying baby wailing from the back row.
The room was packed with young, aspiring YouTube musicians who, by a show of hands, claimed they still buy music. Liars. But they had to look good in front of their idols.
The godfather of the panel, Alejandro Manzano(of Boyce Avenue), just 27, has amassed over 5.8 million YouTube subscribers to Boyce Avenue's channel. Tyler Ward openly admitted that Boyce Avenue inspired him to become a YouTube musician (Ward has over 1.6 million subscribers). Boyce Avenue started uploading cover videos 6 years ago and even their earliest videos have millions of views. Their most popular video, with 50 million+ views, is a cover of Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors" featuring the X Factor girl group Fifth Harmony and was uploaded a year ago.
All of the YouTubers on the panel stressed the importance of collaboration. Boyce Avenue (5.8 million subs) has collaborated with every musician on the panel except for Peter Hollens (720,000 subs) – but they made a public promise to make that happen soon.
Manzano said "Collaboration is key. If you look at this room, what makes it interesting is that there are so many different people on this panel. If there were just one person up on this panel it wouldn't be nearly as interesting or as informative."
Meghan Tonjes (180,000 subs) concurred that collaboration is extremely important especially in the beginning. But she said "not necessarily with other musicians, but the fact that there are other YouTubers who felt compelled to shout me out on TV or to use my music in a makeup video or to show up to a show and tweet to their fans."
YouTubers love supporting other YouTubers.
Tonjes said that making friends on YouTube has been very important to her and one of her best friends she met from YouTube is Mike Falzone (107,000 subs). She said they now tour together all the time.
"Don't feel like [collaboration] has to just be other musicians. It can be anyone that has any kind of audience and is passionate about what they are doing. [Their audience] will come over [to your channel] for something else that they can watch" – Meghan Tonjes
David Choi (1 million subs) encouraged collaborating with other people for production. Choi said he's not really into shooting videos himself, so he works with friends to help with that. He said "work with people who love what they do, whether it be videography or editing."
"Collaboration is definitely important. You can share your fan bases." – David Choi
Comedy musician Mike Falzone said he likes "life collaborations. I call it friendship."
Best Piece of Advice
All the panelists stressed the importance of being yourself. As different as each YouTuber's music is, the common thread is that they have a clear understanding of who they are and their audience understands them.
Tonjes stressed not to be a character because "the problem you'll run into is that you'll actually get sick of whatever character you create…people will connect more if they know your personality… and they know what you're writing is authentic."
"Be authentic. That's what makes people want to support you. Don't be a character. Be very much yourself." – Meghan Tonjes
David Choi said he's written "hundreds of songs" and that it all starts with the song.
"When you write a good song that can connect with a lot of people…that's the best way to gain traction for anything on YouTube." – David Choi
"If you're honest to yourself and you stay true to your brand, and treat it like a brand, and respect yourself, people will gravitate towards that. No matter how niche your market or your sound may be, just be true to it." Alejandro Manzano, Boyce Avenue
"You got to do it because you love it. You shouldn't do it because of the views and you shouldn't do it because of the money you could make someday…because you're going to figure out sooner or later you're not going to want to do it. It's a job. It's a business. But we love it." – Mike Falzone
"It's about being smart about your tags and titles and making sure you're searchable. The only reason I have a job now is because I was searchable." – Tyler Ward
The YouTube Artist and Label relations manager, Margaret Gregory, gave some tips of her own from working behind the scenes at YouTube and studying the best techniques from the YouTubers enjoying the most success:
"Consistency is so key. Consistency with content. Consistency on being true to who you are. Don't get discouraged when you've posted every week for 6 months and you aren't where you think you should be…because these guys have been doing it for a long time. They didn't get here in a few weeks." – Margaret Gregory, Artist and Label Relations, YouTube
How YouTube Is Supporting The Music Vertical
Hollens asked Gregory directly how YouTube is working to help musicians. Gregory highlighted 3 new things that YouTube just released:
The YouTube music team went through some of the top music channels and put together common themes that have made them successful. They put together "a hit list of the top 10 things" you should be doing as a musician on YouTube to be successful. She mentioned they have one specifically for EDM artists.
2) Fan Funding
Announced at the keynote address at VidCon on Thursday, YouTube will be integrating ways for fans to make donations directly through your YouTube channel. So far it has only rolled out to a few test channels. Users can sign up to be a beta tester of this feature here.
3) The YouTube 15
Jenna Marbles (13.4 million subs) will be hosting a weekly radio show on SiriusXM's Hits 1 featuring the top songs on YouTube – both from established artists and up and comers.
Tonjes, Hollens, Falzone and Ward use Patreon. Choi used Kickstarter and, more recently, had an app created specifically for him to allow fans to become subscribers. Manzano (Boyce Avenue) was the only one who has never used some form of crowd funding. Boyce Avenue became financially successful before crowd funding took off. They successfully make their income from sales, streams, touring and merchandise.
"Patreon is the way I'm paying rent right now." – Meghan Tonjes
"People who follow us on YouTube, think that they can play a very integral part of our careers. More so than a signed, major artist." -David Choi
"People want to help you. So let them help you" – Mike Falzone
"Put everything on Spotify" – Alejandro Manzano, Boyce Avenue
"Spotify outdid my iTunes sales last year" – Tyler Ward
"Streaming will be the future" – Peter Hollens
"It already is" – David Choi
Need a Label?
Boyce Avenue is the only one from the panel who has been signed to a label. They were signed for a very short period of time and Manzano said "it's not like the labels are the bad guys, it wasn't the right relationship for us. We were on YouTube for a year and a half and got a lot of label interest and we chose what we thought was the best deal."
"A lot of the people sitting behind desks… they need us. We happen to understand this new thing better than they do. And we should be aware of that" -Mike Falzone
Choi mentioned that YouTube now allows musicians to monetize cover songs. Gregory concurred stating:
"We do have a program for our independent artists where you can get a piece of advertising revenue from your covers." – Margaret Gregory, Artist and Label Relations, YouTube
Choi mentioned it's about 94% of the songs on YouTube. As a YouTube Partner, if you want to monetize cover songs just leave the monetize button checked. YouTube will find that it is a cover song and split the revenue accordingly.
"One video at a time. Don't get overwhelmed when you see a big subscription number. We all started from zero" – Alejandro Manzano, Boyce Avenue
"It's so ridiculously easy to get discouraged. All you have to do is look at that number under the video and picture those people. Those are real people. It might look like a tiny number.Picture 23 people looking at you. Clapping for you. Appreciating what you've done. Know that there's somebody on the other side" – Mike Falzone