The Rise of the YouTuber (almost certainly pt 1 of many)

One of the main themes in my world over the last week has been YouTube, and the fairly new concept of YouTube Celebrities.

On Saturday various friends, each with kids themselves, came to meet Jacob. And in each case we ended up talking about the role of the media behemoth.

We chatted about which ones were favourites, why the kids liked them, what kind of content they put out, and a whole lot more. And by the end I was no further forward in deciding how I felt about it all.

What Do You Want To Be When You’re Older?

Make no mistake, YouTubers aren’t just mucking around. Well, in some cases they are, but they are getting paid handsomely for it.

Ask many a young person these days what they would like to do as a career, and many of them will tell you they want to be YouTubers. I’ve heard it from my niece, from her friends, from my mate’s friends - there is a desire to appear on the small screen like never before.

People aren’t just making careers out of sharing what they are up to. They are becoming millionaires. Not everyone obviously, but those who are succeeding are positively raking it in. In a lot of cases despite them being the focus of controversial news stories.

Logan Paul started 2018 by getting thrown off YouTube’s Google Preferred Programme after he filmed a suicide in Japan and made light of it. His advertising partners took umbrage and a number pulled their financial support. Yet thanks to partly to merchandising, Paul still went on to earn a reported $14.5 million last year, making him the tenth top earning YouTuber last year.

Coming in at number nine on those charts is PewDiePie, the most followed YouTuber. He’s hit the headlines a number of times in recent years, largely due to anti-semitic comments within his videos. Again the advertisers fell away. Again he rallied. And ended up earning around $15.5 million in 2018.

Unboxing Success

At the weekend the YouTuber that we discussed the most wasn’t Logan Paul, nor was it PewDiePie. It wasn’t Paul’s brother Jake, who was second on the top ten earnings list.

It was a seven year old boy.

Ryan Kaji’s YouTube channel has over 19 million subscribers. It was Ryan who took the top slot in the league table for the most earnings from YouTube in 2018, with he and his family earning a reported $22 million.

His content couldn’t be simpler. He unboxes toys.

Ryans Toys.JPG

Unboxing is not new to YouTube. Viewers love to see new products, from phones to fashion accessories, opened for the first time before their very eyes. It’s a process that not only can they connect to, but which makes them feel as if they are part of an exclusive club. To them, it means they are one of the first to get their hands on the product, even though their hands are nowhere near it, and they are in an audience of thousands, if not millions.

And if it works with devices and shoes, why wouldn’t it work with toys?

Not only did it work, but it was popular to a whole new audience. Which instantly made him a marketers dream.

Kids as young as four or five see him as a celebrity. His videos are what keeps them captivated. And I’m sure the toy companies are delighted to send him their new releases to maintain his popularity.

It Could Be You. Or Could It?

There’s a line I often use in my training, which discusses the democratisation of content. The idea that we no longer need expensive equipment, software or indeed high level expertise to put something online.

Social media and phones have put paid to that, making us all content creators every time we post, snap or stream.

And these days you can make a website within a few minutes, fully mobile and ready to share with the world.

Then there’s the likes of Twitch and Mixer, where gamers, musicians, creatives and more can share what they are up to live with us, wherever we are.

YouTube was at the forefront of the push to make content easy, becoming one of the big boys in a very short time. Videos didn’t need to be highly produced to be a success. In fact, the more real they were, the more connection they made with their audience. It was like ‘You’ve Been Framed’ gone global. And in most cases, better.

While others are at play here, YouTube was the birthplace of a lot of these new celebrities. And it feels like it’s only just beginning.

Hit The Like Button?

But is it a good thing? I’m still as yet undecided.

The promotion of the somewhat idealist concept that we can all be creators is a good one. I do believe there is creativity in all of us, and it’s a case of finding it and tapping in to it.

The flip side though is that the deluge of content quickly became a full-on tsunami, with little or no quality control. The chance for everyone to share actually makes it a lot harder to get eyes on what you’ve created, because standing out becomes nigh on impossible unless you get that little break of luck.

Personally I don’t think it’s done the music business any good for example. Sure, vinyl has made a semblance of a comeback, but we still live in a world where new acts find it harder and harder to break through. And those who do aren’t being compensated for their efforts or talent. As someone who has had a love of music for as long as I remember, I think the model of business that exists currently isn’t anywhere near to what it used to be, with no real value placed on what we consume. Those who get to the top get paid handsomely, but what about everything underneath. What about the artists that don’t have the big guys behind them to spend millions on promotion?

Media is continually changing, these days arguably quicker and in more revolutionary ways than it has ever done. And the rise of the YouTuber is just the start.

It’s Only Natural - Making Time For Creativity

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Neil and Liam Finn play at the Queens Hall here in Edinburgh.

The former is one of my all time favourite songwriters. Crowded House at the Edinburgh Playhouse was the first gig that I ever went to, and I’ve followed his career ever since, both in terms of new releases and retrospectively dipping back into the Split Enz back catalogue.

He always puts on a great live show, but this one felt slightly different. Sure, there were four Finns on stage making up the band (wife Sharon and younger son Elroy joining in the fun), but that wasn’t particularly new to me.

Embracing Creativity

In the last few years Neil Finn has cast off the shackles of having to answer to record companies, and has started to do his own thing. He’s experimented with his music and who he has played with. He has gone where he wants to go, and not where people expect him to.

The results have seen him record an album with Sharon to shake off the blues of their kids leaving home, take to the internet for four live sessions to record a solo album with an array of contributors, tour where and when he wants to, and even join the behemoth that is Fleetwood Mac.

It feels like Neil Finn is doing what Neil Finn wants to do at the moment. He’s submitted himself to wherever creativity takes him.

Neil Finn - Queens Hall, Edinburgh

Neil Finn - Queens Hall, Edinburgh

And you can see it in his live performances. I’ve yet to come away from any concert involving Neil where I haven’t felt that he’s given 100%, but the other week he was as relaxed and as ready to play as i’ve ever seen him. The set list mixed up Split Enz, Crowded House, Pajama Club (the aforementioned collaboration with Sharon), some of Liam’s songs, Neil’s solo stuff and of course, the recent album they produced together. The theramin was brought out for some overly dramatic playing. Hell, all four members of the band were all sporting their own black and white chequed suits.

The Personal Goal

I can’t help but envy. For a lot of reasons, both mentally and demands-wise, I struggle at the moment to be able to follow that fully creative path. To explore ideas as they come up, and see where they go without the pressure of there being an end or an outcome.

It’s something I’m working on, but too often the paid jobs take prominence. Which they should of course, but part of the appeal of being self-employed was the freedom to do more of my own creative projects.

It’s all about value. If that is only imposed on the work that pays the bills, there is a danger that it has an impact on the creativity you do for that work, as well as what you do for yourself.

It requires a different discipline. To have faith in taking that leap. Not holding your breath as you go. In wearing a black suit with thing white cheques across it and starting up Better Be Home Soon because someone in the crowd shouts for it.

It’s a goal for 2019. It feels like the key to moving forward.

And no, I’m not going to finish on a Neil Finn pun. Because that would be predictable, and fly against what I’ve just said.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

… dammit.