There’s a new class. Class of YouTube.
YouTubers are some of the hardest working creatives out there.
With a combined (some of them have multiple channels) audience of around 1.2 million, or the same audience figures as a regular programme on a smaller UK broadcaster, we meet six out and proud YouTubers, who aren’t leaving their careers in the hands of some out of touch station programmer or network exec. YouTube blogging, or vlogging, if not the future is definitely about the now.
It seems the world and their video cameras are up on YouTube making videos. The promise of book deals, crossing over to mainstream media and millions upon millions of fans, or subs as I’m told they’re sometimes referred to, seems tantalisingly easy to achieve. After all where’s the talent in turning on a camera and talking for 10 minutes about anything and everything?
In this new age who is now the sieve. In days past network execs, focus groups and critics used to be the sieve, weeding out the crap ideas, the weak scripts and the wooden presenters. There was a system, and much like the music industry of past, those charged with commissioning had control over what, when and how you watched it.
Now YouTubers have put the schedule in your hands. You are the sieve. You are now the casting couch. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of vloggers are vying for your attention. However, in this new world, just like the old fame formula, only a few will make it, but for how long is anyone’s guess.
In amongst the cat and the Charlie-bit-my-thumb videos there are some gems, some really interesting commentators. Activists, psychologists in the making, social commentators and those who would find a perfect home on QVC, but just how influential are YouTubers and in a world of constant, unrelenting distraction, does it pay to lay it all out online? When every second of your life is bared for all to see, every detail pored over by thousands of viewers, what more is there to say?
Six YouTubers, Miles (combined channel subscribers: 600,000), Will and RJ (combined: 350,000) Nicola (combined channels: 532,000), Ken (41,640) and Jake (73,400) cram into our studio for this month’s cover, cameras are out as they enter the building. It becomes clear that we’ve become material for their vlogs. No doubt within the coming days videos will surface of how we roll and that’s okay. We’re down with being hip.
After our “Save By The Bell” inspired shoot, we get to it. I’m dying to know the why, the how and the how much?
So why did you start?
WILL: I knew when I started it was where the weird kids went to express themselves. I saw a friend of mine making videos. I saw that vlogging was a thing and that YouTube wasn’t just a place for cat videos. That made my mind explode. I decided to give it a try myself.
MILES: I started because I was bored and had nothing else to do. So I started making videos for fun. I was just having fun with it.
RJ: I started because I started dating him (pointing at Will)
In the world of vlogging is there such a thing as over sharing?
Who’s guilty of over sharing?
WILL: I think we’ve all been guilty of over sharing at some point.
JAKE: I try to keep my personal life as separate as possible. As much as I do all of my online stuff and my YouTube videos I have a personal life that I keep out. I don’t generally post too many photos of me and my friends or what I do for work. But I do talk about issues in my life, the things I’m thinking about. I try to keep that line, because I don’t want to become that person.
WILL: Depends on the channel really, because what Jake does with his channel is different from what RJ and I do on our channels, because we film everyday, it’s like a video diary. Even then there are things that inherently just should be private. There’s no formula and everyone has different values on what they share and what they don’t share.
KEN: There are sometimes when you wish you could edit it out
NICOLA: (Smiling) Oh like there was this one time that I was vlogging…
KEN: Oh yeah, he thought it would be a good idea to surprise me in the bathroom. I was naked.
NICOLA: But I thought you couldn’t see it… (Because it was dark)
KEN: I was like ‘do not upload that…’
NICOLA: People screenshot it and started brightening it.
KEN: Brightening the exposure. So my penis is somewhere on the Internet.
WILL: I did not know that…
JAKE: I will be Googling that later.
So what separates vloggers sharing their lives, to Kim Kardashian over sharing?
RJ: I think one of the reasons why people are starting to gravitate to YouTube, especially the younger generation is because they’re so over saturated with that overly produced crap and they can kinda sense a little bit of the artifice involved. This feels a little more organic and you know for a fact that everything you see is real. For the most part.
NICOLA: We get to choose what we share.
WILL: Which makes me so comforted knowing that I’m in control of what’s being shared.
JAKE: When you get to a certain size (number of subscribers) you become quite accountable. Things you say things you do… you’re impressionable.
Is the goal then to crossover from YouTube celebrity to Kim Kardashian? To be in the mainstream?
MILES: Not necessarily. We all have our different goals. Being on YouTube can also be a bridge for that to happen. For me personally it would be to get into entertainment or to act or whatever. For Ken it could be for cooking,…
KEN: I’m indifferent really. I’m not saying I’m against it. If it happens it happens I guess, but it’s not my goal.
WILL: The beauty of YouTube is that we’re all here, we’re all best friends and all have such different goals with our channels. There’s different content out there. I don’t think any of us know what’s in store. We just kinda roll and go with the flow.
KEN: We don’t even know what’s happening five minutes from now.
RJ: It’s always difficult when you get the questions what’s the point? What’s the goal of YouTube? If and when it actually does go somewhere, you’re like “Okay, I guess I’m going to ride this horse for as long as I can.”
NICOLA: When you reach a certain goal you’re always making new goals. I don’t really think there’s an end point. There’s always something new to strive for.
RJ: It’s like fashion. Fashion is never finished.
So if ABC or HBO got on the phone tomorrow and said: We’re gonna do Gay Friends we want you six to be in it would you be happy to do that, because suddenly you’d go from something you have control of to something that is heavily scripted and edited.
JAKE: We all understand how the entertainment industry works. We’ve all dabbled a bit… YouTube kinda does that. We all have a big group chat; we’d literally ask each other “what do we think?” It’s a community, we’re friends and any opportunities that pop up we usually run it past each other.
RJ: It’s funny you should mention Friends, because when we’re at a YouTube gathering and I meet parents and the parents are “like why are my kids losing their minds over this?” I’m like, “picture Friends but imagine that Phoebe, Ross, Joey – all of them are all real people and everything you see happening is real and better yet, you can actually directly interact with them on twitter or in the comments on videos. How much more excited would you get to watch each episode?”
KEN: The characters that you fall in love with or identify with are actually real not fictional.
So are you the new entertainment industry?
NICOLA: We’re separate.
RJ: Whenever there’s a new media platform everybody
always talks about how it’s going to replace old stuff and it never ends up happening. Movies didn’t replace radio, TV didn’t replace movies, the Internet didn’t replace print, it just evolved. Things learn to play together.
KEN: We have our own playing field, because we don’t fit in yours.
So how do you take your channel to the next level? To reach the dizzying heights of hundreds of thousands or millions of subscribers?
KEN: There’s no formula.
JAKE: It’s like a combination of luck and being charismatic.
NICOLA: It also helps if a bunch of your friends also do it.
RJ: Having a distinct voice. Knowing what makes your perspective unique also helps.
JAKE: Being passionate. If you’re going to make a video you do it 500 per cent you don’t even give it 100. You go for it and if you want to talk about something you talk about it like it’s the most important thing in the world.
RJ: If you don’t have fun making videos how do you expect someone to have fun watching you?
How important are production values?
JAKE: Ultimately I don’t know sh**.
MILES: People place importance on it now because everybody has a super HD DLSR camera and it’s not necessary.
RJ: You can pretty much use whatever works for you… YouTube has democratised the process. You don’t need a big expensive set, cameras or lights just as long as you have a really entertaining voice. I will say this though; once you upgrade you can never go back down. If you just start off with your iSight and you can make it work that’s fine. But the minute you upgrade you can’t go back down and go back, because people will notice and start to complain.
MILES: I did that once. Fu** ‘em.
KEN: Even the length of blogs… We used to vlog and they’d be 3 to 5 minutes and we uploaded a 15 minute vlog and they (the audience) were like “Yeah we like this…” When we went back down they were up in arms.
So YouTube want people to stay longer and longer on the site, you’re part of the cogs that make the whole thing work. Do you get much say in the pre-rolls or the ads at the bottom?
Ever seen an ad, where you’re like ‘I don’t want that against my content?’
WILL: All the time. We get Mormon Singles. Christian Mingle…
JAKE: I’m like; oh you’re missing the target market here just a little…
RJ: Romney advertised on my channel, and I was like oh sweetie… No.
What about private sponsorships?
NICOLA: It’s really important to like what you’re promoting.
WILL: People will catch it if you’re disingenuous.
JAKE: It’s still us, it’s still authentic, the second it changes, not only do we notice but everyone watching does.
KEN: It feels contrived.
RJ: No detail goes unnoticed on the Internet.
MILES: If I don’t like something, I’ll put it up and review it and tell everyone how bad it is.
RJ: This is why you need to know your brand. Once you know what works for you.
Can you talk about how it felt when your channel changed from your hobby to your business? The moment the first sponsor called up or when you went from 5 subscribers to thousands.
MILES: For me it was when my Like Mah Status video blew up. It was all over the place any my current MCN (multi channel network) Style Haul called me and they invited me to partner with them and I, being only 17 or 18 at the time, was like: ‘Okay… Money’, and I signed my life away for two years.
I was able to fly myself out to VidCon, and get hair extensions for the first time…
WILL: and a goddess was born…
VidCon is the largest multi genre online video conference which has been held annually in California since 2010, this year’s conference will take up five floors of the Anaheim Convention Centre.
PICTURED: L-R JAKE, RJ, KEN, WILL, MILES, NICOLA
RJ: As far as our channel was concerned when we went to NextUp.
WILL: We applied for this programme, very last minute, out of thousands and thousands of channels that applied only 30 were selected. We only had like 25,000 subscribers at that point…
RJ: But you’re taking workshops from YouTube in how to engage your audience, best practices and they are there telling you, “Listen…”
BOTH: “You Can Do This!”
RJ: “If you take this seriously you’re on to something”. We were living in Florida at the time and they were like “move to LA…”
JAKE: For me I was like “How does YouTube know who I am?” they take the time to actually select out the people they think that can really do something with it. They give us advice.
RJ: It’s a game changer for sure.
Is there ever a worry that you’re going to piss YouTube off?
KEN: Hummm… that happened. I was in YouTube’s Next Chef. I suddenly had traffic coming in my channel and they were saying there were some illegal clicks. I have no clue what that means. So they shut down my channel.
Is it easy to get reinstated?
KEN: No. It’s impossible.
RJ: Did you get click bombed?
So do you have to start again?
KEN: Yeah, I had to start all over again.
RJ: I had to start another channel too. There was a hiccup at YouTube and you’re back to square one.
KEN: You cannot use your name or email ever again to make a channel. You can, but you cannot ever be partnered again.
JAKE: You’re blacklisted.
Is it important to be partnered?
KEN: That’s basically how you get paid.
Do you read your comments?
RJ: You have to go through your comments. YouTube isn’t just posting videos on the platform; it’s also about building a community with your audience. So you do have to interact with them.
KEN: There’s also a difference between someone giving you a nice criticism and there’s people who are just awful.
WILL: As far as our channel goes, I have to have RJ go through our channel and go through all the crap before I can actually go through and respond. As a daily blog so many people tend to pass judgement on the way you live your life. I never realised how upsetting my day-to-day routine has been for a lot of people. The littlest things, the way I set my silver wear on the table… the way that I decide to go to bed… really upsets people.
RJ: What we eat, how we eat it…
WILL: How I decorate. I wanted to put blinds and curtains up… my comment section was just filth.
RJ: YouTube gives you tools. There’s the remove comment button, ban user button…
JAKE: And you can filter certain words.
RJ: You can put “faggot” in your filter and as soon as that word is used the comment is removed. There are tools at your disposal. There was one video that just seemed to get a ton of hate and it was really vitriolic. That was when I decided to start blocking people. I noticed, I really only had to block five people. They were the ones that were leaving comment after comment after comment. I just had this epiphany that there are people who are just spending hours upon hours just going through trying to be negative. It’s more of a reflection on them than us.
KEN: It’s more of a compliment for you.
RJ: There are people who are like if you block one account they’ll create a whole new account… gurl… come on.
Will vloggers destroy YouTube in the same way bands arguably helped destroy MySpace?
KEN: I don’t know but… Everyone has their own voice on YouTube; everyone has their own audience.
RJ: I don’t think YouTube is going to become MySpace unless a Facebook type thing comes along and makes it obsolete.
JAKE: They’re really ahead of the game. If something’s not working they’ll change it. They’re really intuitive and dynamic and on top of it.
MILES: They’re connected to Google. They’re powerful.
JAKE: I don’t think it’s something we need to worry about it’s more about us being adaptive to anything they change, we need to fall into, which they’ve done many times in the last year without telling us.
RJ: Things can change without warning and you have to be able to go with the flow. YouTube pretty much changed the game when it comes to online video. Right now there’s no other platform out there that has the audience.
In a recent interview with Out Magazine (JAN 2015) Tyler Oakley (6,800,000 subscribers) said there was no hierarchy. That no one is above anyone else in the YouTube community… Is there a YouTube hierarchy?
JAKE: In a perfect world…
KEN: I plead the fifth.
MILES: It’s there for sure.
RJ: All that can change. Nothing is permanent on YouTube. Just because someone’s the sh** now, doesn’t mean that’s going to be that way forever. The mighty have fallen, multiple times.
JAKE: I think it’s important for people who rise right to the top to give the people who are smaller advice and pick them up, hold their hand, still talk to them and don’t get too big for your boots. At the end of the day… they started at zero.
RJ: Everyone starts at Zero.
JAKE: Tyler Oakley, all of us can agree, nobody works harder. He deserves every bit of success he has, but because he endlessly works.
RJ: I think all of us are here, partially because somebody who was bigger than us helped us…
WILL: and gave us a leg up.
This interview was taken from Issue 12. Subscribe now and don’t miss another issue
The editor and chief of THEGAYUK. All in a previous life wrote and produced songs on multi-platinum records.