Growing a YouTube Channel: An Update


Heading into this year, I made a commitment:

Every week, I’d post a video to YouTube.

My goal was to build a following on the platform, and my rationale, as I outlined a few months ago, is this:

  • My entire business is dependent on search traffic to Two Story Melody.
  • Over the next few years, AI (like ChatGPT) is going to eat search engines for lunch.
  • If I want to keep eating lunch, I need to build another source of traffic to my business.

YouTube, for me, was the clear-cut choice to diversify my audience.

It features short-form and long-form videos, it offers space for meaningful depth, and it’s a great platform for creating what marketers call “evergreen content” (i.e., material that lasts past the day you post it). In other words, it’s not TikTok.

(All right, all right, I’ll stop hating on TikTok. I know I’m beating a dead horse here. Sorry.)

Anyway, I’m a few months into this now, and I figured I’d use today’s newsletter to share a quick update on how the YouTube stuff is going.

It’s been an interesting ride. And I’m relearning lessons along the way that I think are helpful for anyone trying to grow an audience.

Those lessons are…

1. Audience-building takes time.

I started with two or three subscribers. Today, I’m up to 93. There’s been some progress, but I won’t lie to you – the growth curve has felt sooo slow.

I didn’t set month-by-month goals, but I think I expected to be farther along by now. I have a friend who got to 1,000 subscribers in less than a year (so over 80 / month) and I have an asset he didn’t have: a music blog with a bunch of traffic. I figured that just by embedding videos into some of my top posts, I’d grow pretty quickly.

That hasn’t been the case.

Part of the reason growth has been slow, I think, is because I’m honestly not very good at YouTube.

Like, I’m not great at speaking. I throw in too many caveats and one-line asides when I talk. You can edit that stuff when you write (or in my case, you can choose not to), but on camera it undercuts your authority and makes your videos drag on.

And I didn’t really understand the platform. I approached YouTube from an SEO background, making content for keywords. But what I’m finding is that it’s much more story-driven; if you can tell an interesting narrative, you’ll get more algorithmic love than if you hit a search term directly on the head.

So I started from behind.

But here’s the thing that’s encouraging: I’m getting better.

My most recent video got around 700 views over its first four days. That’s 7x what I usually get over that span, and I think it’s because I’m starting to learn the game of video titles and thumbnails. It’s all about being catchy – although wow, I am so tired of taking pictures of myself making weird facial expressions for video thumbnails.

(Related aside: If you have an iPhone, you know how it’ll make little custom slideshows of “Memories” in your Photos app? Since I’ve started building a YouTube channel, my “Memories” now make me look like a weird, role-playing narcissist:

Just imagine these shots with a Ken Burns effect, rotating one after the other beneath an upbeat, hand-clapping instrumental track. The slideshow was cheerfully titled “Your February in Review!” and it was enough to make me question what the hell I’m doing with my life.)

The lesson I’m relearning in all of this is something I’ve preached for years: Consistency is the key to building an audience.

By posting consistently, I’m learning what works for me, I’m getting better at executing on it, and I’m giving myself more at-bats.

Yeah, progress is slow, and no, the path isn’t playing out to my expectations; my goal was 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year, and I don’t know whether I’ll hit that or not.

But I do know that if I can stick to a posting schedule, growth is inevitable, even though the process is a grind.

2. Comparison is soul-crushing.

I think one of the hardest things about being an artist / creator / human is the tendency to compare ourselves to others – and I find the urge to compare becomes more acute when you enter the playing field yourself.

In other words, before I was making YouTube videos, I would watch videos from Andrew Southworth or Damian Keyes or Rick Beato and think, “Hey, nice video! Nice for them!”

Now, I’ll watch videos and think, “Hey, nice video! I’m worthless!”

It’s the same thing with music. When I’m actively writing songs, I can’t listen to music without comparing myself to other musicians – it’s almost like their witty lyrics are an indictment of my own mediocre efforts.

When I take a break from making music, I don’t go to that place; I just enjoy other people’s art.

The lesson I’m learning here is the same one I learned in my high school talent show: Art is only fun if you win!

Just kidding.

In seriousness, I’m not sure there’s a takeaway from this observation, other than to reiterate the obvious: a) comparison is never the point of creating something, and b) if you feel this, you’re not alone.

Which leads me to my final point…

3. Connection is the point of creation.

My most recent YouTube video is the first time I’ve felt an encouraging level of engagement on the platform. It’s got 20-some likes and 13 comments, mostly from people who seem to be really interested in the content.

That feedback feels so helpful.

And there are two reasons why:

  1. Engagement gives me direction on what kind of content to make.
  2. Engagement makes me feel like other people care about what I’m doing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that second point.

One of the main reasons people give up on creative projects, I think, is because they don’t feel connected to other people. For example, maybe you make an album and put it into the world – and then you get 45 Spotify streams, 44 of which are probably from your mom. Feels lonely, right?

And it’s hard to be motivated to make more music after that.

On the other hand, you’ve got a band like U2. They could easily have hung things up a decade ago (some would argue they should have hung things up a decade ago) – but they just booked a run of shows in Vegas, and I was struck by Bono’s statement explaining their rationale:

We don’t want to let people down, least of all our audience… the truth is we miss them as much as they appear to miss us… our audience was always the fifth member of the band.

There is nothing in this world like creating something and having it connect with someone else.

It’s life-giving.

The lesson here is that the sooner you can build connection, the easier it’ll be to keep going.

It’s just how humans work. The sooner you can get engagement, the better chance you’ll have at building over the long-term, because you’ll be encouraged that what you’re doing matters.

So, whenever you start something, I recommend directly asking your close circle of friends and family to follow it from the outset. Those people won’t be your “fans” in the cool sense of the word, but they can provide positive input – and that helps so much.

Create stuff. Connect with people. Keep going.

That’s the update on YouTube / my two cents for this week. I hope it’s helpful – and I hope you feel encouraged to stay the course with your music.

As always, here’s wishing you good luck.


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