Here’s my quick list of the top YouTube musicians as of 2023:
- Tate McRae
- Conan Gray
- Andrew Huang
- Violet Orlandi
- Lauren Babic
- Bella Poarch
- Audrey Mika
Obviously, there’s room for debate here – but hey, it’s my list. Let’s get into the details.
In the last decade, many artists rose to fame seemingly out of nowhere.
Some had been building their fanbase in the dark for years until they broke through, while others were lucky enough to reach stardom just after uploading their first video online.
Often, the platform allowing artists to achieve this kind of unexpected success is YouTube.
After Bieber’s incredible rise to stardom in the late 2000s, many other artists followed. Big names in the industry, like The Weekend and Ed Sheeran, are just some of those global superstars whose success started after uploading a YouTube video.
In today’s article, I’ll delve into the new wave of artists establishing themselves in the music industry thanks to their loyal fanbase on YouTube. Some have signed to a record label, while others preferred to stay independent. However, all of them have achieved a form of success that’d have been impossible in the pre-YouTube era.
Many great musicians are out there yet to be discovered, and many more are growing as I write this. But for this list, I choose a mix of those well-established musicians and a few that are starting to become prominent now.
1. Tate McRae
Canadian singer, composer, and dancer Tate McRae became well-known on YouTube in 2017 thanks to her original songs and cover videos of famous songs.
However, being a singer was not her original plan. Before becoming famous, McRae had already paved her path as a dancer at a young age, performing with Justin Bieber as a backup dancer for his Purpose World Tour and participating in Show So You Think You Can Dance.
McRae started her YouTube channel, “Create with Tate,” originally to showcase her dancing skills, but eventually, she began to upload her original songs. It wasn’t until her song “One Day” went viral that McRae’s path became clear. The intimacy of the video and the rawness of her voice and lyrics made her song unforgettable. Today, “One Day” has 39M views on YouTube.
After her unexpected success, McRae continued writing songs and uploading videos of herself singing to YouTube. Later in 2019, McRae signed with RCA Records and released her first EP, “All the Things I Never Said.”
In 2020 she released the lead single for her second EP, “You Broke Me First,” which became her most successful song reaching the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Her EP, “Too Young to be Sad,” was released in 2021, and her first studio album, “I Used to Think I Could Fly,” one year later.
This year McRae received five 2023 Juno Awards Nominations, including album of the year, single of the year, and songwriter of the year at the 2023 Juno Awards.
2. Conan Gray
Conan Gray is an American singer-songwriter from Georgetown, Texas. He started uploading videos on YouTube as a teenager in 2013, showing his everyday life and playing both covers and original songs.
He uploaded his original song “Idle Town” in 2017, which he wrote, self-produced and recorded. The DIY video went viral, and a year later, Gray was signed to Republic Records and released his debut EP Sunset Season.
Following his success on YouTube, he released his debut album Kid Krow in 2020 with two major singles, Heather and Maniac. The album reached number five on the Billboard 200 on its debut day. Two years later, in 2022, he released his second studio album “Superache” which debuted at number nine on the Billboard 200. The album performed well on international charts in Australia, Ireland, and South Korea.
Today Conan Gray has over 5M subscribers and over 1M views on her YouTube channel.
Claire Cottrill, better known as Clairo, is an American lo-fi singer. Clairo decided one day to record a video for her song “Pretty Girl,” which went viral and today has 91M views.
Clairo started creating music when she was 13, uploading her songs to SoundCloud and YouTube. In 2017 she recorded and uploaded a video to her song “Pretty Girl,” which went viral.
In the clip, Clairo wrote that she made the video to help herself feel better despite not being happy with her appearance. She talks about accepting yourself with all your flaws, a message that resonates with many young women.
After her overnight success, many labels tried to sign her, but finally, she decided to go with the independent record label Fader. She released her first EP, “Diary 001,” in 2018 and her second album, “Sling,” in 2021. Her single “Bags” was featured in Pitchforks’ 200 Best Songs of the last decade.
Over the years, Clairo had a USA headline tour, opened shows for Dua Lipa, and performed at Lollapalooza.
4. Andrew Huang
Toronto-based producer and musicians Andrew Huang might be the oldest YouTuber on the list, proving that you don’t need to be a Gen Z to launch your music career on YouTube.
Huang began his channel in 2006, uploading a variety of videos. In 2010 he uploaded a video that went viral and attracted more people to his channel: the song “Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows”. Huang stated he never intended to be that popular and wrote a song based on a comment left on her channel.
After that video, his channel rose to fame thanks to Andrew’s different thematic video series, such as song challenges where he covers songs using unusual items, production and music theory, audio gear reviews, original songs, and more.
Huang has collaborated with Hanna Hart, Rob Scallon, Hank Green, and Emily Haines from Metric, and today his channel has over 2M subscribers.
5. Violet Orlandi
Violet Orlandi is a Brazilian guitarist and singer-songwriter known for her gloomy covers on YouTube. She’s a metal singer with smooth and haunting vocals that have been compared with Evanescence’s Amy Lee.
After finishing her songwriting studies, Violet started her YouTube channel as a personal project to maintain her commitment to writing songs. She decided and committed to posting one video per week. Now she says YouTube has become her main job and source of income thanks to many people discovering and sharing her videos. Her channel has surpassed 1M subscribers.
Among her most viewed videos is her Disturbed cover of “Down with the Sickness,” her acoustic cover of Zombie by the Cranberries, and the rock cover of “Toss A Coin to Your Witcher” from the Netflix series The Witcher.
She also writes music for her projects, releasing her debut album “High Priest Daughter” in 2021 and teaming up with Grammy-award record producer Toby Wright for the project She Won’t Live. She also collaborated with other YouTube musicians like Jonathan Young, Melodicka Bros, Ai Mori, and Holocene, with whom she toured in 2022.
Maia is a singer-songwriter and YouTuber from Oakland, California. She started uploading videos on YouTube at 17 under the alias mxmtoon and kept it a secret from her family until their videos began to gain more views.
She used to sing covers with only her voice and ukulele in her parent’s guest room. Then she started to share her original songs, where she spoke about her life’s struggles.
Maia self-released her first EP, “Plum Blossom,” and her debut album, “The Masquerade, Dawn, and Dusk,” for which she toured in the US and the UK. Later she signed with Kobalt Music Group and released two EPs, “Daw” and “Dusk.” Her second studio album, “Rising,” was released in 2022 with a headline tour in the US, Australia, and New Zealand and performances in the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Ireland, and more.
Maia acted as the singing voice for the character Alex Chen from Square Enix’s videogame “Life is Strange: True Colors.” She collaborated with artists such as Cavetown and Chloe Moriondo.
7. Lauren Babic
Lauren Babic is a Canadian musician, singer, and vocal coach known for her YouTube channel, where she covers popular songs in her unique rock and metal style.
For Lauren, singing was not the initial plan, but she believes singing chose her instead. She listened to bands such as Underoath, My Chemical Romance, and Linkin Park and decided she needed to let out all her teenage energy.
She first had to sing in front of others when she auditioned for a metal band, Red Handed Denial, where she finally ended up staying as a vocalist. She later joined a second band, CrazyEightEight.
As a self-taught singer, she decided to open a YouTube channel to practice her singing and vocal production. Releasing covers and collaborating with other musicians on the platform, such as Jonathan Young, Halocene, Cole Rolland, and First to Eleven, she started to get more attention thanks to her powerful voice.
Her breakthrough came when she released her version of Lovely by Billie Eilish and Khalid, where she delivered a heart-wrenching performance. The video has reached 18M views on YouTube and is her most-watched video.
She has released three albums and two EPs with her band Red Handed Denial and one album and three EPs with CrazyEightEight. As for her solo career, she released three cover albums and a Pop EP, “Silence Is the Only Sound.”
In 2021 she teamed up with Riot Games with an original song, “Zeri: The Spark of Zaun,” for the videogame League of Legends. Later in 2022, she was featured in the announcement trailer song for the videogame Remnant 2.
She toured with Phoenix’s band Halocene with whom she collaborated previously on YouTube during their USA tour in 2022, performing live covers they did together in the past.
In 2023 she started her journey as a vocal coach together with Chris Liepe, Spencer Sotelo from the band Periphery, and Lukas Magyar from Veil of Maya.
Malinda Kathleen Reese, better known as MALINDA, is a YouTuber, singer-songwriter, and actress best known for her Irish covers and original songs.
She started her YouTube journey by uploading parody covers of songs translated with Google Translate to create funny, mistranslated versions of classics. Her singing skills caught people’s attention, and eventually, she made a second channel where she uploads vlogs, song covers, and original songs.
Additionally, she’s known in TikTok for her acappella covers of Irish music in a dimly light room, which you can see on her YouTube channel. Her cover of the traditional sea shanty “Drunken Sailor” has more than 12M views on her channel, and features other TikTok folk artists.
Malinda has released three EPs, and her first studio album, “It’s All True,” will release as a visual album with a movie screened in selected theaters in the US. In 2021 she toured the US with special guests and folk TikTok celebrities such as Piper Ally, Violinist Mia Asano, Cullen Vance, and more.
9. Bella Poarch
The success of Philippine singer Bella Poarch started slightly differently than the rest of the artists on this list. In 2020, she shared a lip sync video that went viral as the most viewed video on TikTok. She created her YouTube channel soon after her TikTok success and started to attract attention from the media.
She signed to Warner Records in 2021 and released her first debut single, “Build a Bitch” which reached 56 on the Billboard Hot 100. The video clip got more than 400M views, featuring many of her friends and internet celebrities such as Larray, ZHC, Valkyrie, Mia Khalifa, Dina, Sub Urban, Bretman Rock, and Rakhim. In 2021 she released her first EP, “Dolls.”
10. Audrey Mika
Audrey Mika, a Californian singer known as “the girl with the pink toy microphone”, become a sensation on YouTube thanks to her charisma and stunning voice.
Her first video was an original song she wrote when she was 15, and she continued uploading covers. Eventually, she added her trademark toy microphone, which was loved by her fans and made her stand out among other YouTube musicians.
Audre Mika self-released her first two studio albums using GarageBand. In 2020 she released her first EP, “5 A.M,” with RCA Records. She collaborated with DJ Gryffin, rapper Kyle, Syagrace, and Tate McRae.
The R&B and bedroom pop singer thanked her fans for embracing her funny and weird side and supporting her on this journey. A promising artist to keep on the radar.
11. Final thoughts on YouTube musicians
Many musicians work on their YouTube channels and music and release new content daily, hoping to achieve what these lucky few did in just a few years; however, the music landscape is constantly shifting, and competition is fiercer than ever. If you want to kickstart your music career on YouTube, you can use these stories as a source of inspiration, but don’t expect things to happen overnight: if you do, you’ll soon lose hope and stop making music. Enjoy the journey, and have fun!