‘There’s a randomness to the Internet that you can never really predict.’
SINGAPORE — Less than 10 years ago, it would have been unthinkable to make a living from YouTube. These days, YouTube is big business, with the number of channels earning six figures increasing by 50 per cent year on year. According to a Google spokesperson, there are several ways to monetise content on YouTube, including advertising via Google AdSense, paid subscriptions, and merchandise.
There are also YouTube Spaces — production facilities where creators are given tools to create video content, can attend seminars and workshops, and so on. In Asia, there are YouTube Spaces located in Tokyo and Mumbai. Generally, to access a Space, you need to have a YouTube channel with at least 10,000 subscribers.
One person who has benefitted from YouTube exploding onto the media landscape is Kurt Hugo Schneider, who was recently in town for Spikes Asia, a festival that brings together creative thinkers from around the world.
The 28-year-old American producer and musician is best known for his frequent collaborations with singer Sam Tsui, and he has gained over seven-and-a-half million subscribers on his self-titled channel to date.
The Just a Dream video, a cover of the Nelly song that features Sam Tsui and Christina Grimmie, remains the most-watched video on the channel, with more than 100 million views since it was uploaded in 2010. This is a fact that still stuns Schneider to this day. “It just blew up, and I have no explanation as to why it happened,” he said. “Sometimes, there’s a randomness to the Internet that you can’t control.”
That is not to say that the millions of views on his other videos happened by chance. With 400 hours of video uploaded every minute on YouTube worldwide, it takes something special to get the hits that Schneider does on his videos. Here, the prodigy — who taught himself to play the piano in high school, and can play several games of chess simultaneously, while blindfolded — tells us more about his relationship with frequent collaborator Sam Tsui, and just how to make videos go viral.
Q: How did you start collaborating with Sam Tsui?
A: I’ve known him since middle school, well before YouTube was created. We were on the same bus route as he lived down the street from me. Sam was always this artistic kid with an amazing voice. We also went to Yale University together, and that’s when we got our start creating YouTube videos together.
Q: How did you get into producing music and videos?
A: I started producing because I wanted stuff to sound good. There were tons of amazing musicians doing the music programme at Yale, but most of the recordings sounded terrible, as if they were recorded under water. The question I wanted answered was: “How do you make something sound good, technically speaking?” And then it went on to: “Now how do you make it look visually pleasing?”
Q: When you started in 2008, was it always your intention to use YouTube as the primary platform to showcase your work?
A: At the time, we didn’t think about it too much. For us, it was just a great creative outlet, and YouTube is a great platform because it allows you to get instant reactions from people. It was just a decision that made sense.
Q: At what point did you realise that you could make a business out of YouTube?
A: When I could pay for rent (laughs). Seriously though, I think if you have people care about you enough to follow you on YouTube, and there are enough of them watching the videos you create, that’s a business right there.
Q: Do you think you have cracked the code to making videos go viral?
A: I know a lot about it, but I wouldn’t say I’ve cracked the code. I’ve put out videos that I thought would be huge, but did not get as many views as I expected. And there are some (videos) I think are just run of the mill, but get over 100 million views. There’s a randomness to the Internet that you can never really predict. But if you’re always thinking about why someone would want to share that video, then you give yourself as good a shot as anyone.
One good example of something shareable is our Michael Jackson Medley, which featured Sam “cloned” six times on a stage, covering 15 Michael Jackson songs in a three-minute video. It isn’t enough to post a good cover of a famous song, because that’s been done before. But having all those elements come together to create a wholly unique result is probably the reason why that particular video blew up.
Q: What are your top three tips to getting noticed on YouTube?
A: First, be consistent. And if at first you don’t get the response you hope, don’t give up. It took me a year to get my first 2,500 subscribers. Second, be original. Don’t do something that someone else is already doing. For instance, I think one of the things that made my channel stand out was using everyday objects to make music, and the fact that we shoot and edit our music videos in unique ways, either using “cloning” or shooting it in one take. Third, and most important of all, don’t forget to ask yourself why someone would want to share your video.