How to grow your YouTube subscribers
There is little doubt that starting a YouTube channel and becoming an online guitar teacher changed my life for the better. In this article, I hope to show you how it could have a similar impact on your life.
Remember, many principles of success on YouTube also apply to any platform or creative project. I could use the same principles I have learned to grow the next new app or break a band. Therefore, I hope this article will appeal to a wide variety of hope and aspirations you may have for your online world. But of course, I’m slightly biased towards musicians and teachers, because we’re the best :).
My story in short
I started uploading guitar lessons to YouTube in 2009, the same time as I began being a part time self-employed guitar teacher. I had multiple jobs at this time to make ends meet, as is often the case with musicians. I was the singer/ guitarist in a three piece cover band playing indie music at weddings; I was the in house tech at venues such as 02 Academy Leeds and The Leadmill in Sheffield; and I taught guitar lessons 1 to 1 from my home studio (aka spare room).
The best thing that could have happened
These jobs actually worked well together and for a number of years, I thought this would be my lot in life and I was pretty satisfied with it. However, at the start of 2013, I made a video called ‘Play TEN songs with two EASY chords’ which went over 100,000 views within a couple of months. In hindsight, there is no better video to advertise what I stood for. Had any other video I made around this time gone viral, things might not have gone as they have, but more on this later.
Having pretty much waited all my life for any opportunity to make a living as a musician on my own terms, I saw even this blip on the YouTube stats graph as my golden ticket. I promptly handed in my notice and left all other jobs on good terms and aimed to capitalise on the opportunity I saw by making more videos that anyone worldwide could follow. I then focussed on building an online syllabus of guitar, along with becoming fully booked with 1 to 1 private guitar students.
The worst thing that could have happened…
In late 2013, 6 months after my biggest video had started going viral, I had an RSI type hand injury out of nowhere; no accident, no event. It just hurt one day, and it hurt for the next 2 years. I had meetings with doctors and surgeons, but they couldn’t work out what was wrong. Perhaps a trapped nerve they said, but they couldn’t find it and couldn’t offer treatment. From there, I spend £1000s over those couple of years on acupuncture, myofascial release, you name it. I travelled from Leeds or Manchester or London every couple of weeks for months at a time seeing anyone from chiropractors to physical therapists. I was desperate to capitalise on the opportunity that YouTube was showing, but I couldn’t. I was desperate and tried everything. Honestly, the best thing that helped? This https://scenarworld.co.uk/ They are magic.
However, even when I was injured, I still kept on teaching 1 to 1 (you can teach guitar by talking alone easily, especially to beginners) and my youtube stats kept growing, even if I couldn’t make new videos. Forget income protection insurance, youtube was still providing income and security even while I was out of action! Had I been a full time live working musician, I would have had zero income for these two years.
TOP TIP: YouTube and online content can not only be a side income, but can be essential support income for if you are ever injured, out of work or take time away from touring etc.
In 2015, when I eventually could play guitar again without pain, I picked up like I’d never been away. I had tonnes of ideas for videos and couldn’t wait to film them. I’ve since created courses, guitar lesson apps and even started a piano lessons YouTube. I’m now able to work from home or anywhere in the world with internet access, all on my own terms, and the stats are still growing daily. With all that has happened over the past 10 years, it is my opinion that you can’t afford NOT to attempt to grow a following. I shared many of the tips I share below with Damien Keyes 2 years ago, and he has recently proved that in 2 years you can be earning a real part time income with YouTube.
I’d love to help you reading this to use the same tools that worked for me to achieve whatever goals you have, so let’s get stuck in!
Part 1 – what worked for me
There are essentially two ways to build your following on all the big social media platforms;
– Appear in search results for key phrases e.g. in my case ‘ Guitar Lessons’ etc (this includes search results for hashtags these days)
– Become an ‘influencer’ where your content becomes a ‘must watch’ for your subscribers
The fact that I earn a full time income from a purely internet based business is down to a knack for popping up in online search results. My top guitar lessons on YouTube and my website rank highly on google and YouTube (owned by google) and that was my intention when I made them. My Andy Guitar APP currently ranks in the top 4 results for ‘Guitar Lessons’ on the Google Play store. I don’t have as many followers on instagram or facebook as they are not as search orientated, but this is fine. I learn lessons from what I see on those platforms, but as long as google and youtube are rocking, then all is good in my world.
I choose to make beginner based lessons because this is what I always did best when teaching 1 to 1.
TOP TIP: Whatever works for you in the real world, try and put this online in your videos, blogs and content.
Now let’s get stuck in to some things I’ve seen work on YouTube specifically.
Key qualities of a popular YouTube channel
Title and image/ thumbnail are key
Amazingly, if a youtube video has great image and title that makes people want to click, and people click on it!
This strays into ‘click bait’ territory. In my opinion, click bait style tactics are fine – the thing that makes your video NOT click bait is making sure your video fulfills the promise of the title and thumbnail for the viewer.
Have a gambit/ a strong reason for people to watch, read or listen
All my most popular videos have a strong gambit element ‘Play ten songs with..’, ‘Learn guitar in 10 days’, ‘Electric Guitar Lesson 1’ etc all rank higher than more standard ‘tutorial’ titles.
Represent an audience; speak to them and for them
I represent beginners, especially those that have struggled with learning guitar in the past. If I can make something easier, I often will. As an example, I also don’t expect my audience to all practice guitar for an hour a day, so I often choose to film content that they can do even if they haven’t practiced in a while. Many teacher just dismiss students like this, I embrace them and give them something they can do. And a YouTube channel to subscribe to…
Find you’re niche, but don’t discount mass appeal
On the face of it, my channel is for people that play guitar (for arguments sake, let’s say 25% of adults) Actually, my most watched lessons are all intended for people thinking about starting guitar, or who always wanted to but never really started. This means the potential audience interested in my flagship videos is arguably much bigger than a regular guitar lessons channel.
Topical content vs evergreen content (aka legacy videos)
– Topical videos good for instant views but will fade over time and become irrelevant
– Evergreen content or ‘Legacy videos’ GROW over time, creating expediential growth
– A mixture of the two is key, but know which your video is before creating
You do you in the video – but the title and thumbnail will likely be the determining factor to whether people click to watch or don’t (people often do judge a book by the cover…)
TOP TIP – Use the ‘auto complete’ feature on YouTube and google to find the most search for terms, phrases and key words
The order for SEO style youtube titles should go in the following order;
Searchable item > qualifier > series name if needed
e.g. Guitar Lesson 1 – Absolute Beginner? Start Here! [Free 10 Day Starter Course] currently at 3 million+ views
“Guitar Lesson 1” – searchable item
“Absolute Beginner? Start Here!” – qualifier, says who the video is intended for
“[Free 10 Day Starter Course]” Series name
OK, but where does the money come from?
Frankly, this is always what everyone wants to know. “But how do you get paid for this?”, “You can’t afford to do this full time, can you?”.
Well, you can these days. Even as little as a few thousand views a month can lead to a real part time income. Here’s where the money comes from, in order from most to least for me personally;
– Selling digital guitar courses, which are available from my website and Andy Guitar app
– Youtube ad revenue
– Selling books and DVDs of my courses
– Affiliate income (amazon affiliate among others)
– Brand deals
– I don’t currently offer any private 1 to 1 or group lessons, but I can go back to this at any time
Part 2 – what works for others
Success leaves clues. Online success leaves clues that you can easily look back at a trace what works for others. Most of my top videos were actually inspired by the titles and concepts used in fitness videos. But remember, online success is usually platform specific – meaning if you get big on Facebook, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get big on any other platform.
Listed below are a handful of amazing creators that are knocking it out of the park in terms of their unique mix of original music output and great YouTube and Instagram content. As much of what worked for me 10 years ago is not as effective anymore, I have chosen creators who have grown a substantial following in very recent years;
For any musician studying at college, degree or masters level today – please check out Mary Spenders YouTube channel. In my eyes, it is the best example of maintaining original music output and live gigs along with growing a YouTube and Instagram following and working with brands.
Mary often releases original songs, music videos and performs live. She also has a regular show Tuesday Talks where she travels to interview other musicians and creatives, along with general travel vlogs of touring, or just a rant on a topic she has a strong opinion on. This balance of original music and touring along with having a regular YouTube ‘Show’ is what I think all studying musicians can learn from this. And she’s based in Brighton these days.
I’m grouping these two legends together as both went from seemingly nowhere to 1 million YouTube subscribers in relatively little time over the past couple of years. Both took their love and talent for guitar and photography respectively along with learning cinematic film techniques to make their videos and vlogs look more like short movies than YouTube videos.
This isn’t for everyone, not everyone can learn to make YouTube videos look like Edgar Wright movies. However, I’d also point out that both of these guys might not have made it had they not been allowed to make their own videos. With someone else doing the filming and editing, their videos may not have stood out from the crowd and their success may not have happened.
Part 3: what can work for you
In summary, there are really only two methods to grow a YouTube following. These can happen separately or alongside each other;
Method 1 – SEO
All the techniques used to rank your website via google are exactly the same way video gets found on YouTube (which is owned by google…). Try to get your videos to rank for the keywords that people search for in your niche, and create engaging videos that live up to these search terms.
Method 2 – Influencer
This method uses techniques more akin to email marketing and brand development than SEO.
Method 2 becomes even more important on Instagram (and facebook) where search results aren’t the way things get found. You need the algorithm to put you in the feeds of users, rather than people searching for something and finding you.
A rant about Instagram, and what we can learn from it
Instagram is the biggest new social media platform. Most people who 3 years ago thought it was just for photographers or models have now made an account and scroll it daily.
At the time of writing, I have 7,260 instagram followers, so I really can’t tell you diddly squat about how to get a million followers on this platform that you couldn’t find on any other internet blog. However, the Instagram influence has been massively felt all across the internet, especially on YouTube.
The instagram effect is that we now expect everything to look cinematic and beautiful. You yourself don’t have to be model good looking in any way, but there is not excuse these days for you content not to look as good as possible!
Here’s a few other FAQs and misc points I’d like to add
You don’t have the be ‘the best’
– Be wary of needing to be a better player or better cinematographer before feeling like you deserve to start
– Posting something imperfect is better than never posting
What you can do versus what an audience will want from you
– Usually a very narrow crossover between what an audience wants and what you do
Gear advice from all the pros
– Get the most from the gear you have
– £1000s camera equipment does not equal views
– Lighting is everything. Good lighting with bad cameras is better than vice-verse
– More expensive equipment is usually harder to use and harder to get good results than with cheaper gear. Spending 1000s can initially lead to worse results if you don’t know how to use the
You don’t need to talk on camera
– Jam track videos/ ambient music for relaxation, asmr or sleep are all massively popular these days
– Gear reviews, unboxing or music lessons do not need your face in the video for success.
Should you make a website?
– Making a website alongside a YouTube channel has been key for me
– Website / apps drain time and resources, so this is NOT for everyone
– Consider a simple blog if you like writing or prefer photos
– Consider a podcast (on both YouTube and podcast platforms) if you’re a talker but don’t want to appear on camera.
Remember – many principles of success on YouTube apply to any platform or project
– Title and thumbnail are key
– Have a gambit or strong reason for people to watch, read or listen
– Represent an audience
Recommended further reading
Gary Vee YouTube channel and ‘Crushing it’ book. Essential if you’re new to all this and trying to figure out where to start.