Alex Day is living a lot of modern musicians’ dream: He’s making money off of his music, performing to hundreds and thousands of adoring fans and, to top it all off, his album Epigrams and Interludes charted higher on iTunes than Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience when it dropped in the UK last week. And, most intriguingly, he’s doing so sans record label — building his career on the backs of his YouTube fanbase. The O Music Blog recently hit up Day to get some tips for aspiring musicians looking to go online.
Before we launch into Day’s tips, it’s important to note that although his name may be new to you, the musician is no lucky amateur. He has been a YouTuber since 2006 and was one of the first entrants into the Partner Program (whereby talented YouTuber can earn money, among other things) in 2007. In addition, he’s been writing music since age 15 and has been in his share of bands. So, although it’s impressive than an unsigned artist beat out J-Timb, it’s not as though he’s some fresh-faced, newly minted act. However, his success shows that if you’re a hardworking musician and you can use available platforms to your advantage, it’s possible to make it in the music realm sans the suits.
Read on for some tips from this YouTube pro:
1). Choose the right platform
I would definitely recommend YouTube over anything else, because YouTube is the biggest platform for a start. It also is the most commercial, which I think is an important thing. Where on Vimeo and Dailymotion there’s no way to really significantly profit from the videos, on YouTube there is a possibility. If you’re looking longterm, YouTube could be a really significant income stream. For me, it’s the second to my music sales.
I also joined YouTube for feedback. When you see a video on other platforms, it doesn’t really seem like there’s much engagement happening. [On YouTube] you can see comments and view counts. People can comment and like or dislike. I joined initially because I could show my friends and family the videos I was making, but I wanted unbiased opinions so I knew how to get better. YouTube is great for that.
2). Before you launch your video account, think about your user name…
Make sure not to make the username something stupid — something you’re going to regret. My username is ‘Nerimon,’ which is the name of a Digimon that I invented when I was 10 because I wrote Digimon fan fiction. As a result of that — because it was a word I made up — it was always free as a username. And it was great, because I didn’t have to have, like, AlexDay1989XX or whatever. But I never thought I’d also have to explain that to MTV. So now I have YouTube.com/AlexDay and it redirects.
But, yeah, you don’t want to rely on that. Make sure that you have something that’s relevant and that you’re happy with.
3). Keep your content diverse
Most of the videos I make are fairly easy to make because they’re just me talking. The music videos I put a lot more effort into. I think the balance is important. I wouldn’t want to just make music videos because then everyone would only get a video every four months. And I wouldn’t want to make the music videos on a handycam, because I want to make them the best that they can be. In the meantime, between those — I think it’s good to just kind of communicate stuff. You don’t need to hire a cameraman for every video that you do.
I don’t like talking about music all the time — it’s the same in real life. I don’t talk about music all the time. I talk about other stuff because I have other interests as well. It’s the same with my YouTube channel. I’ll talk about something funny that happened to me that day or a TV show that’s starting soon. I think that’s a better approach.
If I find a musician on YouTube and all they talk about are songs, or tour or their recording process or whatever, I can’t get anything out of their channel unless I like their music. Whereas for me, if you don’t like my music you can still find me interesting.
4). Don’t linger in the comments
No one is making you [read comments] and no one will know if you don’t. That’s the foolproof method [to avoiding trolls]. But that’s hard for people, because you’re making stuff for people to enjoy, so you want to know what they think of it.
My general thing is when I first upload a video I’ll read the comments for six hours or so — just to get a feel for what people think of it. That first six hours is usually enough to get a sample of what everyone in general will make of it.
5). Don’t wait until you have an album to release content
Focus on one song instead of an album. It really baffles me with independent musicians — they’ve never released anything before and they have a few songs and everything and they’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to release our first album soon.’ And I’m like, ‘You haven’t even released a song. Just release a song.’
Especially if you’re starting out, the audience expectation level is the same whether it’s a single or an album. You might as well work on each track individually, give it its own moment in the spotlight, and then you essentially have 10 exciting moments instead of one. People know more of your songs because you’re showcasing them individually.
6). Make music an event
Making music an event is the thing that I’ve always found most engaging. About a month or so before I’m ready to release a song I will upload a video saying, ‘This is my plan. Next month I’ll release a song.’ I always want to try to do something with the song. I don’t want to just say, ‘I’m releasing a song. Buy it,’ because people have no reason to that.
So instead, it’s, ‘I’m releasing a song, I really want to get it in the charts,’ or, ‘It’s my birthday, so I really want to see the song does on iTunes, or, ‘I’m releasing three songs, vote with your wallets on the one you like best and I’ll make a music video for that one first.’ Make it more of an interactive experience.
7). YouTube may not be for you
The good thing about the Internet is that everyone can find their niche — whereas before you’d have to have a really mainstream hit song in order to get your stuff out there, now you don’t have to that because if you go online, you can find your audience and you can make a living just selling to your niche. Which is cool. I found my niche and my niche is people who want to be happy. I’m sure there’s a niche for death metal, also. Anyone can find their audience as long as they’re making good stuff.
Image courtesy for Facebook, Alex Day