The Musicians on YouTube panel took place on Saturday at Summer in the City 2017. It featured musicians Toby Randall, Emma Blackery, Jake Edwards, Pete Bucknall, and Leslie Wai. The panel was moderated by Zannah Perrins.
Zannah kicked off the panel by asking, “Have you found the label of ‘YouTuber’ is stigmatised?” Emma’s hand shot up. She shared her confusion over why labels are reluctant to sign YouTubers even though they have an established audience: “Labels are so scared of YouTube because they don’t understand it. They don’t understand that you can do videos and music. With me, they’re like, ‘You do comedy and music? Do you do comedy songs?’ It was one song!” she laughed, referring to the infamous Google+ song. Emma explained that when she was doing the promotion work for the Magnetised album, press labelled her as a ‘YouTuber musician’, said that label always precedes her, and shared how “some YouTubers had to quit YouTube in order to further their career”.
Pete agreed: “Traditional media is still not used to YouTube but it will change – it can’t not. Online is too much of a beast for traditional media to not adopt it and blend over time.” He also feels that the USA is more accepting of YouTube than the UK is.
Jake is signed with We’re Not Just Cats Records – a label specifically for YouTube musicians: “I’ve always seen YouTube and music as two separate entities. One day I’m making music and I’m a musician and then the next day I’m making videos and I’m a YouTuber”.
Leslie feels that that “in this day and age, there’s a lot of successful YouTube musicians – for example, Pentatonix are selling worldwide and still uploading on YouTube. Ultimately, nothing will stop me from creating music.” Toby has found that his label hasn’t been reluctant to let him make videos, and that it hasn’t been much of a problem yet.
Zannah then asked whether, for YouTubers, the end goal was to break into the mainstream. Emma responded, “My dream is to make the shit I want to make”, receiving a round of applause. She stated that if she left YouTube, it would be because she wanted to and not because of a label telling her (though she emphasised that she’s not intending to). Pete felt that some use it as a springboard, some use it as a platform itself and both are okay. However, he feels that “you should always be striving for the product. YouTube is your home, and if you want to move house, it’s okay if that’s the path you want to take.” Leslie shared: “I have an obscure end goal, I want to make music for video games and films – I basically want to be Hans Zimmer. But I’ll always have a YouTube.” Toby feels “YouTube is just a fun thing”.
The conversation then led to asking the panellists if they felt like they had to make personal videos in order to support their channels. Emma explained, “It comes very naturally for me to talk. I run my mouth, I get in trouble – it’s not a brand or a gimmick, I’m just an asshole.” She felt that YouTube welcomes vulnerability. Pete agreed: “YouTube welcomes your personality and who you are and whatever you want to create. It’s a beautiful thing, having YouTube as a creative outlet. I don’t think there’s a pressure, it just welcomes it.” Jake talked about how he’s always been open on his channel for the queer community: “It’s been a companion to my music – to really understand it, you have to understand my story and the journey me and queer people have been on. My music is another way for me to talk about everything I’ve been through. My music is my emotional outlet”. Emma agreed, pointing out that it’s not just YouTubers who share their vulnerabilities: “With Twitter, major artists are like that now. For example, if you follow [them] on Twitter, you see [their] personality. Back in the day, you emailed their management. And My Chemical Romance never replied to me!”
The conversation led to a discussion about impostor syndrome, with Leslie confessing that he felt it then and there on the panel. Jake now no longer cares about whether his audience is here for his music or only for his audience: “I don’t care if you don’t buy it, if you torrent it – if you’re connecting to it emotionally, that’s all that matters.” Emma agreed, addressing comments that she cheated her way to the music world because she had a YouTube following: “It doesn’t matter how you get there. If people only came to my shows because I have a YouTube channel then fuck it, I cheated!”
Zannah then asked Toby whether uploading covers to his channel boxes him in. He feels that “if people enjoy your style of singing, they connect to it, no matter how you sing it. They’re subscribed to me to hear my version of it. Pete and Emma agreed, encouraging him. Pete said “music is just another way of communicating or connecting” and Emma said, “You’re doing the exact right thing. You’re not in a box, don’t put yourself in a box.”
The panel took questions from the audience, with someone asking how they felt about people who used YouTube as a platform. Leslie said that everything is a stepping stone, “everything in life can be seen as a stepping stone, it’s all subjective. I think that everything that happens in life happens for a reason”. Emma shared that when she started to gain traction on YouTube, she was protective of it and “got mad when people stopped making videos. Now, I’m far more protective of a human that wants to get somewhere and achieve their goals, rather than a website which doesn’t care about us that much.”
Another audience member of the audience asked Emma what her plans were for the future. Emma stated that she wasn’t going to leave YouTube for a long time: “I’m here, I’m happy. With music – I’m writing new music, and hopefully there’ll be an album next year! Maybe!”
The next question was: “Do you ever find yourself stuck on what to do next?” Leslie replied, “All the time. Pretty much every day. It’s hard to gauge what your audience wants to see next. Some people are like, ‘What the fuck is this shit?'”
The final question was: “Do you feel like YouTube was needed to get what you where you are today?” Emma feels it was crucial, “otherwise I’d still be a waitress. I will always say I started on YouTube. Sometimes I hate YouTube, but I love it.” For Leslie, YouTube had always been one of his many platforms, initially gaining a lot of success on Vine – “without that, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” He also noted that for a lot of people, they were shy when they were younger and needed a platform to speak out. He mentioned Chester Bennington, and emphasised the importance of speaking up and to “look at your friends and make sure they’re okay”.
Toby also started on Vine, beginning in his bedroom: “When I was younger, I wanted to be a singer but when I was a bit older, I thought it wouldn’t be happening. I wouldn’t be here today.”
Photos by Jon D Barker.
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