Thoughts and Advice from a 2-Year YouTube “Veteran”

“Tracey’s Basement”, my YouTube channel, has turned 2 years old! Technically it’s more than a year older than that, but for that first chunk of time it was just a fairly awkward me sitting in front of a camera in my guest room, trying to talk loud enough for the camera to hear without my family being able to listen to me from elsewhere in the house. Two years ago is when it was officially re-branded as “Tracey’s Basement”, after my husband helped me set up some shelves and lighting in our basement, in front of our collectibles. What followed was the slow development of something like an actual “show”, complete with nicer thumbnails, opening and closing bumpers, and eventually even co-stars, as Jason began to join me for most videos, with Adrianna jumping in every now and then when there was something “cute” to do.

Aren’t we frikkin’ adorable? 😀

Now, as we’re celebrating this milestone, I thought I would take the opportunity to write a post full of thoughts and advice for the upcoming YouTuber, because goodness knows I’ve had questions asked, and I’ve certainly learned a thing or two worth sharing.

1. Right out of the gates: When starting a YouTube channel, think good and hard about what you want to do with it, and subsequently, what you want it to be called.

One annoying thing about YouTube is that you create your account with a Google account, and the username and email address you choose for that account dictates what your username and email account for the lifespan of that channel. When I first set up my channel I used the Google account that I already had for my Android phone, which meant that I was using username “ToreshiTobinable” and an email address that was similar. At the time it didn’t seem to matter, but when the channel eventually became “Tracey’s Basement” and Jason and I started to treat it a little more professionally, it definitely didn’t look right anymore. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be changed, so now we’re stuck with it forever unless we want to start the entire channel over from scratch. Take that into account when considering what you want your channel to be for, because if you choose a goofy name now and then decide that you want to become a business later, you’re going to find yourself with a tough decision to make.

2. In those newborn stages, just forget about special equipment. Get creative instead.

It’s easy to think that if you want to make excellent videos, you have to have all kinds of cool equipment, and if you’re starting a genuine business that might be true, but for the average person, you’re really not going to want to spend money needlessly. The fact of the matter is that there’s just as much chance that you’ll end up deciding you don’t like it as there is that you’ll have a blast and want to do it forever. You really won’t know until you’ve been doing it for a while, and thus it’s pretty foolish to go spending a bunch of money on special cameras and lighting and so-on right away. Instead, think about what you have available to you and get creative. A lot of people start out recording on their phones which, honestly, have some pretty great video quality; you just have to figure out a way to set it up so that it’s steady (protip: little phone tripods can be picked up at places like Walmart for $20 or less). Lighting is a big issue for a lot of people, but can be circumvented by filming in a well-lit room at the right time of day – or you can go the route Jason and I went and pick up a few cheap clamp lights at a hardware store that you can stick right where you need them. Every YouTuber has their little tips and tricks, so if you’re having trouble thinking of any on your own, YouTube it! I guarantee you’ll find tons of results.

3. Figure out your niche and do your best to stick to it.

“Tracey’s Basement” is a “geek culture” channel, specializing in subscription service unboxings and toy/collectible reviews. The overwhelming majority of our videos are Jason and I talking about collectibles and toys, but because we’ve branded ourselves as “geek culture” no one would be surprised if we suddenly started doing movie or game reviews, or started up a “Let’s Play” playlist on the channel. That said, if you’ve set yourself up as an “unboxing” channel, and then start doing videos commentating on sporting events, your audience is going to find themselves extremely split. People who may have found you for the unboxings might leave you because they have no interest in the sports, or vice versa. That’s not necessarily to say that you can’t have multiple interests melded together on one channel, but you have to brand yourself in a way that makes sense if you want people to both find you and stick with you. Alternately, don’t be too rigid with your decision, because that can trap you in an inescapable whirlpool. I know several fellow “geek” channels who focus almost all of their attention on Funko Pops, and while that’s absolutely their prerogative, if the Funko Pop bubble popped (ha ha) tomorrow, they’d effectively have no audience left and have to start over from scratch.

4. Learn about and put effort into the finer details of uploading a video.

A lot of people expect to simply upload a video and have it magically be found, but you have to understand that there are hundreds of thousands of hours of content being uploaded to YouTube on a regular basis, so the chances that anyone is just going to stumble across your random video is extremely slim. To give yourself a better chance, learn about the finer details of setting up a video, such as the title, description, tags, and thumbnail. Tags, specifically, are what will help people come across your video, because they’re like search term hooks. For instance, if your video is about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you should have tags like “teenage mutant ninja turtles”, “ninja turtles”, “tmnt”, and so on. Additionally, in order to get the best bang for your buck with tags, run your own searches on YouTube to see what kinds of things come up. If you start typing “Teen-” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” pops up automatically, that means that it’s something that people are searching regularly, so you know it’s a good tag to use.

5. Try to be at least a little bit professional.

I’m absolutely not trying to sound like a mean girl here, but you’d be amazed at how many videos I pass by because of the level of professionalism that’s lacking in the YouTuber. That’s not to say that you have to be in a suit and tie, enunciating every word while standing at full attention with a perfect smile on your face and never moving your eyes away from the camera. What I mean is, just think a little about the face you’re putting forward. I’ve seen so many videos in which people will be talking and then just take a huge, wet coughing fit, or sneeze and run their sleeve along their nose, and then just continue talking as if nothing ever happened. It’s completely off-putting, because it makes the watcher think that they’re not good enough for you to have basic manners in your video. I, more than anyone, understand that sometimes “blooper” moments happen, but that’s where editing comes in. If you’re the kind of person who is constantly making mistakes, or has long awkward pauses, or sprays snot everywhere expectantly, take the initiative to learn a simple editing software. Pretty much every phone, tablet, and laptop comes with some kind of basic software that is incredibly easy to learn, so I’m not asking for the moon with this one. Just do what you have to do in order to put your best foot forward.

6. BUT, also have fun and be yourself.

Almost as off-putting as someone who sneezes directly at their camera mid-video, is someone who is completely and utterly false in every way. This is situational, of course, as there are plenty of YouTubers out there who are purposely playing a character for their “show”, but if your channel boils down to you speaking to an audience, just be yourself and own that. It can be tempting to try to portray a persona that you think people will like and gain you attention, but trust me when I say that this road does not lead anywhere enjoyable. Sooner or later, wearing that mask all the time will begin to drag you down. As anyone with problems such as depression and anxiety and they’ll tell you flat out: putting up a false persona is incredibly exhausting. Do it for too long and before you know it you’ll find yourself avoiding videos, loathing your viewers, and maybe even flat-out quitting. I say this from experience, because it very nearly happened to Jason and I. Since speaking to a good friend about it and realizing what our problem was, we’ve made a valiant effort to have fun, be ourselves, and not worry about what other people think, and it has made the channel fun again. Remember: if you’re not enjoying it, it’s not worth doing.

7. And speaking of “not worrying about what other people think”, you’d better grow some rhino skin.

Everyone knows the old joke about toxicity in YouTube comment sections, but most people don’t consider that it’s something that will happen to them once they start getting views. So I’m telling you right now, without the tiniest shadow of doubt: YOU. WILL. GET. ASSHOLES. It might not happen right away, but it WILL happen sooner or later, so prepare yourself for it. If you’re the kind of person who breaks down at the slightest confrontation, you may want to consider turning off commenting, or else just moving on with the idea of a YouTube channel right now. If you’re the confrontational type, understand that once you get into it with these types of people, you’re dedicating yourself to dealing with them forever, because the second you give them any kind of attention, they’ll stick to you like glue. The best thing you can do, honestly, is ignore them completely, or delete and report their comments if you really don’t like having them sitting there on your videos. Either way, just be prepared, because it will definitely happen. I’ve had people question my ability to be a parent, threaten to write bad reviews on my books if I didn’t do the types of videos they like, and harass me over the inclusion of my husband because “things were so much better when it was just you” (can you say, “Creepy”?) I have YouTuber friends who have received everything from hate-filled rants to literal death threats. Your individual experience might not be that drastic, but you have to be ready for the worst, because there are an unlimited number of morons out there, and every one of them seems to gravitate toward random YouTube videos to get their kicks.

8. For the love of puppies…don’t expect to make any money.

SO many people think that all “successful” YouTubers are rolling in that sweet, sweet Adsense revenue. I’m here to tell you that that assumption is laughable at best. Yes, we all know that there are YouTubers who are making major bank from their channels, but they are the exception, not the rule. They are the lucky ones who managed to hook on to something that people gravitated to. However, the majority of us aren’t nearly that lucky. Ad revenue earnings are based on a algorithm that takes into account views, watch time, and engagement (likes, comments, etc.). And all of this is multiplied by a ratio that YouTube assigns to you based on your subscriber level, retention time, and other factors. Basically, YouTube assigns you a number that boils down to “we’ll give you this much money for every so many views”, and that number isn’t nearly as high as you might imagine. YouTubers with millions of subscribers who get multiple-millions of views per video are absolutely making excellent money, but a few thousand subscribers? Good luck affording a nice meal per month. I’m not trying to be discouraging; just honest. I’ve spoken to people who think that having 4000 subscribers on my channel must mean that I’m earning a living from it, but in reality I’m making something like $25 per MONTH from that ad revenue. Even someone with a hundred thousand subscribers isn’t big enough to be making more than a minimum wage check. Adsense simply doesn’t pay out that much. So if you’re looking at YouTube because you’ve got some idea about becoming an overnight sensation and making a ton of money, reconsider.

9. Don’t get discouraged.

I’ve pointed out quite a few possibly discouraging things, and honestly, with all the changes that have been happening with YouTube lately (the adpocalypse, the Logan Paul events, and so on and so forth) I’m only really scratching the surface of how difficult it can be to get a foothold in YouTube. That said, I also want to impress upon newbies that if YouTube is something you really, genuinely want to do, don’t get discouraged. It can be hard when you put in a ton of effort only to get a handful of views, but there are always new things to try and more advice to find if you’re willing to go looking for it. Plenty of YouTubers  are more than happy to share what they’ve learned, and there are countless videos, articles, and more online to help you figure out what you’re doing wrong, what to focus on when you’re doing it right, and what to try to get yourself more visible. If you really, really want this, it’s all about putting in the effort to figure out what needs to be done. Get out there and figure it out!

10. LOVE it, or leave it. YouTube should be a PART of your life, not your ENTIRE life.

There are many big YouTubers out there who actually have created a business from YouTube and now make a living from their channels, and even they would – for the most part – tell newbies that you can’t let your channel consume you. There can be an insane amount of work required to build a quality YouTube channel, and the bigger you get the more work is going to be required, but never, ever, let it take over your entire life. That’s how you end up hating everything about it. Life always has to come first. Have an emergency and need to take off for a while? Your true followers will understand and will wait for you. Having a complete mental breakdown or fatigue so intense you can barley keep your eyes open? Take off; even if your subscribers are upset, you aren’t going to do them any good by completely falling apart in front of their eyes. Whatever your personal situation, if you push yourself too hard because you feel like you have to do videos, that you have to provide entertainment for your subscribers, you’re going to hate both the channel and yourself, and it’s all going to go downhill from there. In those times, take it from me, and remember that you likely started this whole thing for fun, to join a community, or to stretch your creative muscles. In the end, you owe your subscribers nothing, especially if it’s at the expense of your physical or mental health. If you feel like you should quit, in order to keep the rest of your life together, do it. Trust your gut. If it’s not quite that severe a situation, but you’ve found yourself in a place in which you feel smothered by your channel, step back, take a breath, and figure out what you have to do to make it better. If you’re not LOVING your channel, something needs to change, one way or the other, and you should always choose the change that is best for you.

So those are my thoughts, opinions, and advice. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my points? If you’re a YouTuber yourself, do you have any thoughts of your own? If you’ve been thinking about becoming a YouTuber, do you have any other questions? Feel free to share in the comment section below. Cheers!