How to not suck at YouTube (like I did for 14 years)

We all start somewhere! Bridgerton superstar Regé-Jean Page played a Bowie-inspired zombie clown in my first music video in 2010 BRILLIANTLY, but even he couldn’t save my YouTube channel…

Musicians can be particularly guilty of showing up to every social media platform and expecting the red carpet treatment – in this video I explain how to avoid my mistakes by asking yourself three simple questions.

Here’s the music video I talk about. And here’s the BTS video.

Scroll down for the video transcript, and subscribe to my channel for more!

THANK YOU for visiting my website! I’m Laura Kidd, a music producer, songwriter and podcaster based in Bristol, UK. It’s great to meet you.

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Have a lovely day xo

How to not suck at YouTube (like I did for 14 years)

Even Regé-Jean Page – the man people are saying could be the next James Bond! – even Regé-Jean Page, the Duke of freaking Hastings! couldn’t save my video.

This is a celebration video. I’ve reached a YouTube milestone, and I am shouting about it.

I wonder if you’ll switch this video off when I tell you the number…

It’s so easy to get obsessed by numbers, isn’t it, and easy to think that only really big numbers mean we’re doing well.

So, am I celebrating 100,000 subscribers today?


5000? 2000?

Today I’m celebrating 1490 subscribers to my channel – and I am genuinely delighted and excited about this because it proves that the changes I’ve made in my approach to YouTube in the past 18 months are working.

Let me explain.

I made music under the name She Makes War from 2004-ish to 2019, and alongside running a freelance video production business using old cameras like these, I started uploading videos to YouTube in 2007.

They’re not all public now, but I uploaded 276 videos to that channel. That’s a lot of videos.

The most subscribers my old channel ever had was 1490 – now down to 1489! – and that took 14 years. So you see why I’m celebrating earning the same number of subscribers in 18 months on the Penfriend channel.

I really do value every single person who finds me on the internet and registers their interest in what I’m doing, and I think those 1489 people are absolutely great. But after a while, I had to stop ignoring the evidence. I had to ask myself: how could I have got YouTube so very wrong?

I’ll tell you how, and I’ll tell you how I think you can avoid some of my mistakes in the form of three simple, fundamental questions you can ask yourself right here, right now, today.

Question 1: Is this helpful?

Videos that do well on YouTube are instructional, or entertaining, or both. Videos that are neither of these things aren’t worth spending your time on making, if you want people to watch them – and I include the majority of my 276 old videos in this category.

This is relevant to anyone making videos, but I think musicians can be particularly guilty of showing up to every social media platform and expecting the red carpet treatment. We’ve all grown up seeing successful artists treated like celebrities, so there’s a kind of inbuilt assumption that because we make music too, we’re automatically fascinating, and should be treated as such by hordes of people who would be so lucky to follow us online.

Even if this isn’t actually how you think – and I’ve never thought this way – it might be how you’re acting on the internet.

None of us are automatically better or more interesting than any member of our potential audience, so we need to think about what we can give through our videos, rather than what we are trying to get.

How are you helping people?
How is your video helping people?

Entertainment is helpful, showing people how to do something is helpful, hopefully me telling you off for doing YouTube wrong like I did for 14 years is helpful.

Question 2: What’s the story?

Story is everything. It’s how your mind processes information, it’s how you can learn to hold someone’s attention and how you can shape your experiences into something useful and entertaining on YouTube and elsewhere.

You know how boring it is when someone can’t tell a story well. They ramble on, fixating on what day of the week it was when the thing happened – Tuesday, no, Wednesday, but at what time?! What did I have for lunch that day?

It’s tedious, and nothing really happens, or the punchline comes way too early and then you’re just waiting for the whole thing to end. It’s a mess. It makes your brain ache.

Now, that’s annoying enough when it’s a conversation with someone you care about, but if that’s the gist of the video you just pressed play on, you’re not going to sit through to the end. And someone spent hours making that.

“Look! This happened!” is not a story, and when I look at my old vlogs and music video behind the scenes films I see this mistake in almost every single one of them. It’s not clear what’s happening or why, who I am, who the people on camera are or why on earth this video has been put online with the expectation that someone else – let alone many someones – would like to watch it.

I used to look at YouTube as one part of a many-faceted puzzle. I figured that if someone followed me on Twitter and was perhaps also on my mailing list, then watching one of my videos would make sense because they already knew me a little bit, and that would put the whole thing into context.

But the problem with that approach is that instead of offering a coherent piece of work that says something in and of itself, I was asking people to do extra work to tie things together from across multiple platforms. And, looking at the numbers, that just wasn’t enticing for even my most loyal supporters, let alone people already on YouTube looking for new channels to subscribe to.

Here’s an example: I have a music video and accompanying BTS video starring a younger Regé-Jean Page, one of the hottest actors of our time, and surely one of the most Googled. His name has been fully searchable on both of those videos since they were published in early 2010. That’s nearly 12 years ago.

The music video has now had 9.7K views, which is okay but not great for a video that’s been available for so long. I have a theory about the usefulness or lack thereof of music videos for indie artists – but that’s for another video!

Back to the story: this behind the scenes video, where you get to see even more of the lovely Regé-Jean acting, getting made up to look like a Bowie-inspired zombie clown and being silly on set has had…696 views.

That’s an average of 58 views per year. I’m surprised, but I’m also not.

It’s a classic example of “look! this happened!” and I’m a musician so I assume other people will find what I’m up to interesting, even if I forget to give any context about what’s going on, who I am, who these other people are, or even what the story of the music video is.

“When did I become angry clown?” – RJP

I use this as an example because even Regé-Jean Page – the man people are saying could be the next James Bond! – even Regé-Jean Page, the Duke of freaking Hastings! couldn’t save my video. I don’t blame him, he was brilliant in my video, and has always been a thoroughly lovely chap. It’s wonderful to see him doing so well. Well done, Regé-Jean!

The lesson here is: learn about story. In its simplest structure it’s a beginning, a middle and an end. Jack and Jill go up the hill to fetch a pail of water – beginning. Jack fell down and broke his crown – middle – and Jill came tumbling after – end. You can do that. I can hopefully learn to do that. It’s built into all of us.

Question 3: Why should someone subscribe to you?

We all want people to follow us online, but where are we taking them? Why should someone want to follow you? Where are you going? What are you about? What are your values, your hopes, dreams, and aspirations? And are these obvious in the work you’re sharing online?

My personal lightbulb moment with this happened when I started listening to the Creative Pep Talk podcast a few years ago. The host, Andy J. Pizza, is so good at getting you to think deeply about your intentions, what sort of artist you are and how to communicate that, so I always highly recommend his show.

I’ve never liked the idea that making music was considered to be for special people only, I’ve never felt entitled to success or money or the adulation of a crowd for what I do, so when I realised I could turn all of that on its head and put time and effort into encouraging other people to be creative via the things that I make, that was life-changing for me.

When I set up this new channel I laid it all out from the very start. I have three content pillars: creativity, mindful productivity and digital minimalism. If I come up with an idea for a video that doesn’t fall into one of those categories, it’s fairly easy to say no to spending time on it.

It’s actually very helpful to have those parameters to help focus my energy on the message I want to keep putting out into the world again and again, and hopefully that makes for consistency in my videos, which hopefully leads to people subscribing because they like what they’ve just watched, it was useful and told a story, and they can see from the other videos on my channel that there’s a thread running through the whole thing that fits with what they’re looking for.

Why do you follow other people online? Think about that for a minute.

People follow people who add something to their lives, and we all have something to offer…so, what are you offering?

When you know what you’re about, it becomes a lot easier to figure out where to spend your energy, and importantly – where not to. And if you’re not sure what you’re about, it’s really time to figure that out!

Reading, thinking, writing, reflection, getting to know yourself more – all of these things will help. And a helpful exercise to get you closer to that is to work out what you’re not about.

I’m least interested in sports, jazz, housework and beauty hauls, for instance, and that’s a really easy list for me to make right here on the spot – so why not write your own “least interested in” list? It might help you get closer to where you want to go, and help you to successfully invite your future followers to go on that journey with you.

I hope this video helped you today. I’m still learning, always, and I’m just going to keep experimenting with these ideas and see how I get on with my next YouTube target of 2000 subscribers.

Numbers schmumbers, I love creating videos and being in touch with you on this platform, so please do say hi in the comments and let me know how you’re getting on.

I’ve got lots of videos on the way, so if you’d like to travel on this adventure with me please subscribe if you aren’t already, and click like to help get this video in front of more people who might find it useful.

And thank you for helping me smash my first YouTube goal! At the time of filming there are 1508 subscribers to this channel, so thank you so much every single one of you for being here.

Next, I think you’ll enjoy this video I made about fighting your Inner Critic. You can do it.

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