Stop reading if you’ve never heard or said the following phrases:
- Nobody buys music anymore.
- Social media is a necessary tool for promotion.
- Giving your work away for free seems to be what is expected.
- But how do you make money?
Sound familiar? How about this: YouTube is what all the kids you know are talking about, and you’ve heard that some people make money through it. You’ve also heard that it’s the fastest growing children’s entertainment network in the world. You’d like to give it a try, but are at a loss as to where to start.
I was there a little over a year ago. This is what I learned when I started down the rabbit hole.
How I Did My Homework
The first thing to do is check out the YouTube Creator Academy. They have a wealth of information there for the taking, completely free. Use it!
After reading through all that YouTube offered, I spent several weeks watching YouTube children’s channels. There is a rich array of children’s programming, from the weird to the expected to the sublime. For example, fingerplays and educational songs for children are popular, and although there are several established leaders, like Katie Cutie and Patty Shukla, there seems to be an endless supply. They also require little in the way of props or other supplemental equipment, so are an obvious first step for teaching artists. Other popular forms are tutorials and crafts. As I learned what’s out there, I also searched for any holes in the programming I thought I might be uniquely qualified to fill.
Luckily for me, my brother is a filmmaker and had a spare camera, so my next step was to experiment. The next time he was in town, I asked him to help me develop my overall look. Never one for props, I wanted a simple, clean style that was easily replicated, cheap, and portable. Spend some time on thinking about this yourself—it really helps to shape your brand and makes future decisions easier. It doesn’t have to cost much; I just went through my closet to see what would work.
Some questions you can ask yourself:
What is unique about my show?
What do I most want to focus on?
How do I present myself when performing live, and how can that be translated to an onscreen presence?
Green Screen and animation are understandably popular on YouTube; they are eye-catching and present endless opportunities for creators with an imagination. If you are thinking of starting your own channel, I highly recommend looking into them as options. They can also help to define your overall look. For example, you could use a green screen to set yourself in exotic or fantastic locales, or partially animate your videos to add more visual punch. I decided to keep things as simple as possible in the beginning. That’s why I went with this light kit; at fifty bucks it seemed a risk worth taking.
Then we started filming.
Things I Learned Quickly
Make-up under lights is a whole new bag, and it’s amazing how drastically you can change your appearance. Raggedy Ann was my most popular look in the beginning. I eventually went to a Sephora cosmetics store near my house and asked for help—WORTH IT.
Framing can be tricky when you are including instruments. Playing the guitar complicated things on two fronts: the mix of my playing with my voice was difficult to get right and I couldn’t fit the whole instrument within the frame. I wound up switching to the ukulele so that I could have more close-ups.
A camera gives you none of the energy or reactions of children. Initially I felt uncomfortable and awkward performing to a camera alone. I often went too silly, or not silly enough (I know, doesn’t seem possible). I did find that having someone in the room, like my brother, helped immensely, because I could direct my performance at him. Ideally, you should work with someone who not only finds you entertaining, but also shares a sensibility with you. It should also be someone who is able to give feedback without you having to continuously play back the video or play to imaginary friends whose laughter you can’t time accurately.
Search terms revealed themselves to be invaluable. Since no one had ever heard of me, using search terms for particular songs increased the chances of a stranger finding me by looking for said song. Most of the popular ones are obvious: “Wheels on the Bus,” “Old McDonald,” etc. There are some surprising ones, however, like the ubiquitous Finger Family song. There are even video collections of early childhood classics with a baffling number of views, sometimes more than one billion.
Things I Learned After a While