Independent a cappella musician Peter Hollens has largely sidestepped the problem of diminishing royalties for performers, building a YouTube following of more than 1.5 million subscribers and monetizing that audience to the tune of more than $30,000 a month.
The approach Peter embraced to building his platform as a musician can work just as well for brands, provided you have the same level of commitment to great content and audience engagement.
I invited Peter to Marketing Smarts to discuss how he built a large, dedicated following on YouTube and parlayed that success into financial security as a professional musician.
Here are just a few highlights from my conversation with Peter:
Building a following takes time, so don't get discouraged (02:44): "From zero to 25,000 followers took about 16 or 17 months. During that time, I was losing money. I was getting very little traction even with enormous working hours, but I started learning back then (2011 through 2012) what the correct algorithm was given the current state of social media and the platform. I started copying what I saw was working with the 'big boys,' embracing collaboration, and treating my peers as peers and not competitors. Took me a little while....
"I grew organically as a DIY artist with no manager, agent, or anything up until February or March of 2014. I was already fortunate enough to be having a tremendous amount of traction. Between all of my singles, I was moving between fifteen- and twenty-thousand singles a month at that point, and that's when the major record deal came knocking."
You wouldn't ignore someone who walked into your shop, so don't ignore online brand fans (07:18): "I think it is quintessential to respond and engage with every single person who even knows an inkling of engagement, even if that engagement is a troll. You respond to everyone. You make sure that everyone knows you're listening, just as though you had a brick-and-mortar shop and they walked into your bookstore and said, 'I love this place, what do you have here?' It's the exact same thing if somebody comments on your YouTube video, says anything to you on Facebook, or Twitter, or Tumblr, or Instagram; you have to respond. I think that's very important.
"Consistent content creation, utilizing collaboration to work with your fellow artists to share fan bases to share knowledge. Collaboration also isn't just what you see up front, as in 'these two people work together and they tell you to check out both of their videos.' Collaboration on the back end is truly everything you could possibly think of. How are you shooting your videos? How are you editing? What companies are you using? Who's providing value to you that's actually worthwhile? This creator revolution that's occurring truly is built upon creators' helping one another, so it's important for people not to just be stuck in their little artistic bubble, [but] to truly reach out and view their job [as] fan acquisition."
Videos are a must for acquiring fans through content (22:37): "Every single piece of content you make song-wise needs to also have distribution. Content is king, distribution is queen. The king is your single. The queen is your music video. And those need to be matched every single time, and if you're not doing that, you're doing something wrong.... This is how we do it.
"Every single thing that gets distributed now is with video. That's the best way to have any type of viral shared content. Your song isn't going to be shared to the third circle of people. If you consider your first circle of people your friends and family, that next circle of people... you actually might have met them and they might share it because (a) they like you, or (b) they feel sorry for you or whatever, but that third circle, when you finally get to that third circle, then you're actually acquiring new fans. And you can't do that with just audio. We're not in 1999 in some cool third-party blog post that people actually go look at anymore."
Peter and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
Music credit: Noam Weinstein.