My latest interviewee for The Confessional is a manager of several top YouTube talent (several of which generate over 100 million views a year). In this extensive interview, we discussed the business of YouTube, the goals of his talent (both on and off YouTube), and the how much money top creators are really making.

Some of the major points we covered were:

  • Subscription video on demand (SVOD) and YouTube competitors
  • YouTubers “making it” on television
  • YouTuber revenue streams
  • How much money his top creators are making in a year
  • How creators can better work with brands, and vice versa

The Confessional is a series of anonymous interview with influencers, brands, marketers, agencies, and MCN executives to get honest, no-bullshit opinions on working in the space — the biggest gripes, the toughest lessons, the most valuable advice.

The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.

You’ve been on YouTube for a very long time. How did you first get started?

I got started back in 2009, and I got started because I actually went to high school with another YouTuber. He’s still got pretty large following to this day.

I saw what he was doing and how we was building a community around himself. It seemed like a huge opportunity. So I started working with him a bit, and I was introduced to other creators and collaborate with them. I was able to turn YouTube into a career in about three months.

How has the community evolved since those early days?

What was really interesting about the early days is that once you hit a certain number of subscribers you were immediately part of the community. People had a sense of respect for you and vice versa. Once you hit that level, you could really approach just about anyone and do collaborations, or just strike up conversations and friendships.

As this community of a few thousand people exploded into the millions of creators you now have today, a bunch of micro-communities developed. Now, it’s like everybody sticks to their own clique. It’s almost like high school. So if you’re a beauty guru, you collaborate with other beauty gurus and you don’t really step outside that.

There’s just not as much cross-pollination as there once was.

I think a lot of the playfulness has disappeared as well. Now, we jump onto each new platform – push our audiences to them (the platforms), and then immediately we ask, “How do we monetize this?”

Speaking of fans, you’ve got a sizable following. What’s it like having fans?

It’s actually really interesting. I rarely use the word “fans,” I’ve allowed myself to use it as of late. This is something that I and a lot of my other YouTube friends struggle with.

We want to be humble, but also want to be respected in the same way that Hollywood celebrities are respected and perceived.  

Do you want to be put on the same pedestal as “traditional” celebrities?

Being labeled as a “celebrity” pigeonholes YouTubers because you can be recognizable without being a “celebrity.” I think it goes beyond celebrity. I think it’s about being a public figure.

There’s a new generation of influence sprouting up as a result of social media. You have people that may be an entertainer-creator or maybe they’re a body-positive influencer. There’s people with influence across spheres — politics, entertainment — you can be an influencer around anything now.

Whatever name we end up giving this new type of public figure, I think they are definitely going to be held to a higher esteem and value than they are today.

How has the perception and attitude towards YouTubers changed among brands and agencies?

The marketers have done a lot to catch up these last few years and they value what we do a lot more.

They’re beginning to recognize that we influencers are not a simple plug-and-play, where they can just say “Let’s put our bag of chips in this,” or “Let’s give them a bottle of water.”

They’re starting to take a step back and invite us in as collaborators. They’re asking what excites us and what ideas we have. It’s becoming a bit more of a conversation than it used to be.

Also, it’s interesting — as demand has increased, you see influencers being represented by four or five different managers and talent agencies. You don’t quite see that in the traditional talent world.

The fact that an influencer can be so freely represented and not be limited to one representative shows me that in some ways the influencer has more negotiating power than traditional celebrities.

I hear from a lot of the creators that “brands don’t get it.” To your point, and in my own experience, it seems as though brands are “getting it” more and more. Do you feel like creators are doing more to adapt and empathize with the brand’s perspective?

Yes and no. You and I have known each other over the years, we’ve seen people come and go.

For the most part, the ones that we’ve seen go are the ones that didn’t develop much business etiquette, or, even just the willingness to put aside some of their stubbornness to be open to some of those brand conversations and feedback.

The ones that have stayed around have been able to have conversations. They don’t just say no to an idea, they offer up solutions.

You have to be able to adapt and work towards a solution where everyone is happy with what they’re getting. It’s only a success if the creator is happy, the audience is happy, AND the brand is happy.

Some creators not willing to put forth the effort, and aren’t open to ideas or build off of ideas that are not their own.

 

Are you still with an MCN or are you independent?

All my channels are within different MCNs.

The deals I’ve structured are different than what most creators get. They’re in my favor more so than most of the contracts that these MCNs have with the 40,000 other people who signed with them.

What advice would you give to an up and coming creator? What kind of things would you advise them to keep an eye out for?

The first thing to keep in mind is that you’ve got a lot more negotiating power and leverage than you think.

In some cases I get 100% of my revenue. Oftentimes the MCNs will try to offer a revenue split over a certain amount of views. They say, “Hey, look, we did our math and over the last 12 months you averaged out this amount of views. We’ll do a rev-share split of this amount of views over your average amount of views.”

I say no to that because the last 12 months doesn’t mean anything to me. The last three months are going to be the most important numbers to me. And when you go down that math, you’re not going to come to an agreement.

I would also say if you’re going in with an MCN or any other company, you should do it with the idea of getting them to invest in you and your content (whether with upfronts or production support). By having them support you in creating more content, they’ll be invested in your success.

Also, limit your deal to no more than a year in length. Lastly, make sure you’re not just joining

for brand deals. Brand deals are great but you can get multiple managers and agents to represent you to get you those deals.

Where do you see the future of YouTube going? How do you juggle all these different platforms, and does YouTube have staying power?

I feel that YouTube is going to have staying power because of its massive library of content.

Facebook doesn’t have that much content, and I’m not sure if they are ever going to have it.

I think Facebook is similar to what YouTube was back in 2005-2009 — there are a lot more amateur videos and far fewer professional creator videos. YouTube on the other hand has really matured, and is closer to Netflix in the sense that the content has really developed and become more professional.

I feel that YouTube Red is a step in the right direction. And honestly, I think video platforms are going to evolve across the board between Twitter and Snapchat and everything else. We’re going to see different platforms cater to different types of content. I may go to Facebook one day to find a new viral video, but I’ll got to YouTube Red to watch something from a premier independent creator.

How do you as a content creator juggle all of these new platforms? How do you decide where to invest your time and develop an audience?  

It’s actually really natural.

I produce my content with the idea of being able to repurpose it for different platforms. So if it goes up on YouTube, it’s going to go up on Facebook. If it’s going to go up on Instagram it can go up on Vine.

Getting that content distributed across each platform isn’t really hard. I play around with each for a bit and figure out what works.

I took a great deal of interest in Facebook over a year ago and I played around with my content there and it did pretty well. Now I’m playing around with Instagram and it’s doing well there too.

I think people are thinking of their audience as being on every platform. The reality is that if it’s on YouTube, put it up on Facebook too. Put it up on Instagram. Put it up on everything you can. Do a quick edit and cut it down a little bit. Do whatever it takes. The amount of time that you’re going to put into repurposing and customizing content for each platform is going to show a return.

 

What’s the formula for success on YouTube? What does it take to build a successful channel?

It’s a combination of having fun and being logical. Everything I’ve ever done had to excite me and that doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t get frustrated with it or I wanted to not do it at some point. You’re going to have speed bumps. But I was very excited to start. Very inspired. And I was very logical. I asked myself, “Okay, how much time am I putting into this? How much money am I putting into this? If this was money, how much money is this of my time? And how quick of a return can I get off of this?”

So when you go from being a personality on camera to investing into content and putting a team behind it, the decisions you make are all about ROI.

So I would say, if you want to be successful, do what you love but put some logic behind it. Put some business sense behind it.

Anything else to add?

The one thing that I will say that I’ve noticed over the years within this industry is that publicly we all say, “Yeah, everything’s all great and dandy.” But, privately you turn to your friend and you’re like, “F this. This does not make sense. This is so stupid. This is terrible. This is horrible.”

We’re all having these private conversations with each other, but we’re afraid to have them openly because we think we’re going to make people feel bad or it’s going to turn into some sort of World War III.