Breaking into Youtube

Riley J. Dennis
BURSTOUT Contributor

She has a BA in Writing Worlds, a combination of Creative Writing and Anthropology focused on realistic fictional world building. In addition to running her own YouTube channel, she has written and published three books under the Through the Portal trilogy. In the rare occasion that she has free time, she’s probably watching anime, playing Super Smash Bros., or reading young adult novels. She was raised in the Seattle area but is currently travelling across many different places.

My first YouTube video was published in January of 2015, and at that point, I had zero subscribers. Now, nineteen months and 122 videos later, I have just over 16,000 subscribers.

That still pales in comparison to the tens or hundred of thousands of subscribers that most big-name YouTubers have, but it’s enough that I have a nice little community of people willing to watch my videos and share them. So while I’m definitely no YouTube expert, I do have a bit of recent experience in starting and growing a YouTube channel.

My original inspiration was, of course, the YouTube community. I saw people like the vlogbrothers and Laci Green making incredible content that really inspired and helped people, and I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to make videos which could make people laugh as well as think. I wanted to be a part of this new media revolution — where we ditch our TVs and traditional media avenues to forge new paths into online video. It sounded exciting, and even though YouTube is now ten years old, I think there’s still a lot of room for growth within the community.

So I decided I was going to vlog. I generated some ideas and made some outlines for videos. Then all I had to worry about equipment.

My first videos were filmed on my smartphone. Most modern, high-end smartphones can capture video in Full HD 1080p, which sounds perfect, but there’s a lot more that goes into video quality than just pixel count. You can tell that the colors in my first few videos are pale and unattractive, and there’s absolutely no depth of field (the effect where the background is slightly blurred).

I filmed with just a white wall behind me, used a window for natural light, bought a small plastic tripod that I balanced on books on my window sill, and bought a Rode lavalier mic that could plug into the audio port on my smartphone. It was about as makeshift and cheap as possible, but it was something.

Two months down the road, I had made 19 videos and had only 54 subscribers. That’s when a writer I was following on Twitter (Melissa Fabello from Everyday Feminism) posted about looking for vloggers. I sent her a message, she liked the videos I had been making, and so I began making videos in partnership with Everyday Feminism.

It was a mutually beneficial deal: they had control over the content of the videos they were producing, and I got exposure via their website and Facebook page. I strongly believed in their message, so coming up with ideas and working with them on videos was amazing for me.

This is when my channel actually started to grow. By mid-June, after I posted a few Everyday Feminism videos, I made it to 1,000 subscribers. Most of these subscribers happened to appear around the time that Everyday Feminism shared my videos on Facebook, so I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of my subscribers come from there.

With this newfound guarantee of viewership, I decided to really invest myself in what I was doing. I bought a Canon Rebel T5i for video and a Rode VideoMic Pro for audio. I think there’s a clear moment in the history of my videos where the audio and video suddenly becomes much better. I put posters up on the walls to give the background a nicer look, and I began watching YouTube tutorials on how to improve my video editing skills.

The biggest trick that I found was overlapping the bits of my speech in Premiere Pro. (For editing, you’ll want to either use Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premiere Pro CC.) This allows me to make really quick jump cuts (the moments when I move from one side of the screen to the other instantly) with no silence in between. This is how most YouTubers keep their videos moving quickly and prevent the viewers from getting bored and clicking away.

The next step in my journey is just continuing to grow. I want to improve my branding by creating compelling cover images for my YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ pages. I want to create shareable content that my subscribers will want to show other people. And I want to branch out into new kinds of content to see what my viewers like the best.

If you’re thinking about starting a YouTube channel, the best advice I can give you is probably the same advice Shia LaBeouf would give you: just do it! Do it because you love it, and eventually, an opportunity for growth will present itself.

Get involved in the community. Follow YouTubers and bloggers who you admire and interact with them. Don’t just shove your content down people’s throats by tweeting your video at them screaming, “Watch this!” Foster real relationships with real people. Try to find other small YouTubers who you can collaborate with and grow with. There’s a whole community out there ready to support you, but you have to put yourself out there first.

Dreaming about having a YouTube channel isn’t enough, because when the opportunity does arise for your videos to be shared on the right social media network at the right time, you won’t have a library of content for people to watch. Once you have a good number of videos under your belt, you have content to show people when they want to see what you can do. And remember that videos on YouTube stay there for a long, long time. A video you post tomorrow might not become a hit until someone big finds it two years from now. You never know.

Being on YouTube can be expensive. You have to worry about a camera, a lens, a mic, lighting, a tripod, and editing software. If you’re unsure, dip your toes in the water using your smartphone like I did and see if you like the experience. I ended up enjoying video editing a lot more than I ever thought I would, but maybe your experience will be different.

At the end of the day, you should be making YouTube videos because you love to make them. I genuinely enjoy filming and editing every video. If I didn’t, I would quit and focus my attention on something else that I love (like writing). If you’re on YouTube to become the next pewdiepie or Jenna Marbles, the world is going to see right through that.

So that’s how I got started, but my story isn’t even close to being finished yet. If you want to start your own YouTube story, all you’ve got to do is start filming.

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