I researched how to start a YouTube channel for months before I launched my channel. I took webinars, and I watched videos. I listened to podcasts, and I talked with professional YouTubers. I learned so much I could teach a class on everything the market tells you you should do to be a successful YouTuber. And so when I started my channel, I implemented what I learned, and guess what? It worked. In my first four weeks, my channel garnered about 32,000 views. The video below is my most popular so far with over 13,000 views itself.
Before I continue, here's some YouTube stats that might surprise you:
roughly 3% of channels get 90% of all the views on YouTube
90% of the videos uploaded to YouTube never even get to 1000 views
average view duration on most videos is 30-50%. That means, on average, viewers are watching between 1/3 and 1/2 of the duration of a video. My average tends to fall closer to the 50% on most videos, but I have had two that topped 70%.
88% of channels have 1000 subscribers or less (stats as of 2023)
2.5% of channels have between 10,001 and 100,000 subscribers and earn between $500 and $5,000 per month (stats as of 2023)
So why, despite having such a statistically great first month, was I so unhappy as a budding YouTuber? Because all I thought about was marketing. I stressed and strained over thumbnails, I analyzed data from each video I uploaded and every short I created. I used hashtags, and I watched countless hours of videos from channels with content like mine. I treated it like a job, and I'm usually pretty damn good at my jobs. But there was no creative spark for me. No excitement, no enthusiasm. Just me working to figure out how to make the next video more relevant, the next thumbnail catchier, the next click through rate higher.
To make matters worse, because I linked my Instagram account to my YouTube, I had strangers messaging me on Instagram demanding to know why I wasn't in my van, calling me a fraud for being at home (in my IG stories) rather than on the road (spoiler: my dog got deathly ill on the road and we had to make an unexpected trip back home for him), and repeatedly asking where my new video was at when it wasn't ready early enough in the evening. I certainly never expected anything like that, especially as a new channel with (at that time) only a few hundred subscribers. What, I feared to wonder, would happen if I had thousands or tens of thousands of subscribers?
But I'm not a quitter, and I very much wanted a space to experiment with long-form content, so rather than shut my channel down, I decided to follow Taylor Swift's advice and reclaim the land. I mean, given the abysmal stats cited above, what was I jumping through hoops for? Why was I caving to this market dogma that offers a piece of the pie if you chew just right, knowing all the while that there's only a third of a pie to begin with? So here's what I did to reclaim my YouTube land:
I started making videos I wanted to make without giving any thought to any audience but me, Cyn Alexander, table for one.
I stopped making those ridiculous thumbnails. If you do any reading on YouTube success at all, you know this is basically YouTube suicide, but I don't care. From this moment on, I refuse to make clickbait content or market myself in a way that makes me feel like a spectacle. My videos may get zero views moving forward, but at least my channel will be aesthetically pleasing (to me at least).
I cancelled all the original branding I had done and renamed my channel with just my name. My YouTube channel is now an ode to me, a gallery of my artwork, a record of my journey as a self-employed artist and small business owner, and a testament to my healing. It's a space for me to host camera clips and raw footage as I practice my skills with my cinema camera, and a black hole for me to speak my deepest fears and greatest dreams into. In short, it's mine.
I find the current conversations regarding AI fascinating, so much so I have a post coming next week about my thoughts on AI as an artist. But what makes me think about those conversations now, in regards to YouTube, is that one thread of them worries about the question of originality. When I look at YouTube, I don't see a lot of originality. And in the webinars and YouTube professionalization rhetoric, there's definitely no originality. The takeaway is crystal clear: if you want to have a chance to be successful on YouTube follow these tips and tricks. Hire a professional marketer to make your thumbnails. Script your videos. Niche down. The recipe is so prescriptive, the very recipe I followed to the letter and had such a successful first month with, we might as well all be robots. And while I know someone will inevitably site that one channel that's the exception to the rule, the statistics above highlight just how rare that one needle actually is in the haystack that is YouTube.
There was a time, what Julia Alexander (no relation, btw) calls the golden age of YouTube in her article, "The Golden Age of YouTube Is Over," when artists and creatives could turn to YouTube as a space of exploration and camaraderie. I don't know if that's possible now, certainly Alexander doesn't think so. But I do know that I'm as happy as I can be over on my channel that's now doing everything wrong. I feel like I've gone rogue, and I'm loving it. If you read my post last week on the challenges of vlogging with body dysmorphia, I think my changed orientation to the platform has even helped that. YouTube is now just my playground, and I am excited to see what games I can play. Feel free to frolic along if you'd like: