Does moving away from YouTube as a platform to pursue a career in a different medium equate to abandoning a viewership, or should long-term career goals come first? For a platform that acts like a perfect resume, why is it so hard to leave behind? TenEighty chats to Patty Walters, Jack Howard, Carrie Hope Fletcher and Tim Hautekiet to find out more.
For many creators, YouTube is an ideal platform to share their talents with a huge audience and to build a portfolio of their work while maintaining a high degree of creative control. It’s a medium in which they can cultivate skills and form relationships with industry peers before potentially making the leap into more traditional forms of media.
This kind of ‘mainstream’ success with seeds sown in the YouTube platform is a path that’s only recently been fully paved. Gone are the days of YouTube as just a niche corner of the internet with mainstream media constantly questioning the validity of its creators. In March, TenEighty chatted with creators about their working relationship with mainstream media: a conversation surrounding the opportunities now given to creators that help to legitimise their work. This shift has seen the birth of several projects outside of YouTube, from published books by the likes of Hannah Witton and Connie Glynn to BBC documentaries by Riyadh Khalaf and Grace Victory.
Although YouTube has proven itself to be an ideal launching point for those looking to pursue careers in creative industries, most don’t initially see it as a career move. Instead, it seems a decision born out of desire for a creative outlet – a natural choice for those wanting to publish their passion projects.
“I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker but I didn’t imagine the path to getting there involved YouTube,” says Tim Hautekiet, who recently graduated from the University of Southern California with a masters in film production. “But at some point I realised those two things could be one and the same, YouTube could become a place where I could put my films.”
Jack Howard, who boasts a wide range of credits in both his short sketches and long-form content, echoes a similar thought: “When I started, I was a bored teenager trying out something new. I figured out pretty quickly that I wanted to be a filmmaker but I didn’t know how to make that a reality.”
Patty Walters, lead vocalist in the pop punk band As It Is, reiterates the same uncertainty with his long term career goals upon starting his channel, but states that YouTube was a platform he chose with some degree of purpose. “In the early 2000s, it became pretty ordinary for bands and artists to get discovered off the back of their successful MySpace or PureVolume profiles,” he says. “So when both sites began declining in popularity in the late 2000s, I chose to embrace YouTube.” While he had hoped for success, as all striving artists do, he never really expected it to come from his channel.
For others, YouTube was something that came long after their first glimpses of success in their industry. “My acting career was already about 13 years strong before I ever stepped foot onto YouTube,” says Carrie Hope Fletcher, longtime West End actress with accolades from The Addams Family’s Wednesday to Les Miserables’ Eponine. She started her channel during her transition between child to adult actor, “making videos to quench [her] thirst for creativity and to stave off the boredom of not getting anywhere professionally.”
“I wouldn’t have achieved most or any of the things I have if it wasn’t for my YouTube channel.”
The way in which YouTube as a platform has affected the long-term careers of creators, however, differs drastically from one creator to the next. For Carrie, who already had a foot in the door of the West End world, YouTube allowed opportunities to knock elsewhere. “YouTube provided me with a platform to share my creativity and build an audience and an online profile so that when it came to turning my attention to my lifelong dream of becoming an author, half the heavy lifting – building a buzz and an audience – had already been done.”
Similarly for Jack, his channel is about establishing credibility, acting as a portfolio for his professional career. “By writing, performing, and directing for so many years I’ve not only proved that I’m capable of doing it, but that people are interested in it.”
“I wouldn’t have achieved most or any of the things I have if it wasn’t for my YouTube channel,” he adds.
But for Tim, a YouTube channel allowed him a medium on which to hone his skills through experimentation, with the dream of working towards long-form entertainment. “My channel was a way to experiment and get myself closer to that goal,” he says. “I suppose it did help shape my goals in that it gave me a path: ‘I’m going to keep making stuff here and hopefully build up the connections and experience necessary to be ready to make the leap into features one day.’”
Patty muses on a less tangible detail, that YouTube hasn’t changed his content so much as it has changed his mindset and perception of success. “My channel didn’t explode overnight, it was a very slow, gradual growth over five years,” he explains. “I felt the same pride and artistic fulfillment whether my videos reached a dozen or a million views.”
“I felt such an immense and magical investment in my work and the connection I shared with my subscribers,” he continues. “I can say with total certainty that fame holds nothing for me if it’s without that connection. As long as I’m proud and fulfilled by the songs we write, as long as they mean something to our listeners, I don’t need anything else.”
Growing over months and, in several cases, years of practice online in such a visible manner undeniably affects creators in one way or another. Whether it is the content they choose to create, the frequency in which they post, or the stylistic trademarks they choose to adopt in their work. The transparency of YouTube’s creator/viewer relationship, a topic TenEighty recently explored at length, means that creators have tens of hundreds of voices weighing in on every end product. It’s a dynamic arguably unique to the platform, and while maintaining a fluid, transparent relationship with an audience can allow a creator to gain valuable feedback or moral support for their content, there are pitfalls to such a seemingly personal relationship as well.
YouTubers are seen as ‘personalities’ by virtue of being YouTubers: a precedent set by the popularisation of daily vlogging. “I never consciously created a brand for myself,” admits Patty, “but it’s undeniable that people come to ‘know’ you in the things you create.”
“…when I come offstage or shut the book and I turn the camera on, I don’t want to have to put on another character.”
With this link between personality and content, it can sometimes be hard to separate a creator from their creations. Imagine trying to study Shakespeare if, instead, your best friend had written Hamlet; the meaning of a piece of art can change drastically just due to one’s perception of the artist.
Tim admits that putting forward work that doesn’t feature himself in an acting role helps navigate this obstacle, allowing him more freedom with what he creates. Even then, he feels there are some limitations. “There’s definitely stuff I feel like I couldn’t make for my channel so perhaps there is a part of it that’s restrictive. I’d say I definitely have a sense of what I would and wouldn’t upload to my channel so my personality or brand does influence my decisions when it comes to making videos. But a lot of it subconscious. I know when it feels right.”
This is in direct contrast to Jack, who performs a number of highly visible roles in content he’s created on and off YouTube. For him, it comes down to separating ‘Jack of Jack and Dean’, the personality and character, from Jack Howard. “Even if people online think they know me, they really do not. I’m very careful about what I share online,” he says.
Even by scripting his work, both formally in shorts and more generally in vlog formats, he is able to place more distance between himself and the viewer that allows him creative freedom.
Carrie admits that there is very little difference between how she appears online and in real life. “When I’m acting I get the chance to become someone entirely different and when I’m writing I explore many different characters, so when I come offstage or shut the book and I turn the camera on, I don’t want to have to put on another character.”
Patty admits that there are still moments when he feels a certain level of pressure to meet the expectations of others. “There’s a fine line between being too transparent and too withdrawn, and I’ve seen my friends struggle with over-sharing, and I’ve felt myself struggle with under-sharing. It’s not always an easy balance to maintain.”
Enter the seemingly best case scenario: a creator is able to turn their passion into their professional career, one that offers both the stable platform and financial compensation that will allow them to further develop skills in their industry. But large absences from channels or full on departures from YouTube rarely go unnoticed, no matter the circumstance.
These reactions are most prominent in the comment section of videos where creators explain they need a break. For example, one of the top comments on Charlie McDonnell’s video Hiatus, in which he details the circumstances of his absence from the channel, asks, “…is it just me or has Charlie made this video about 8 times…?”. Another says, “people turn to YouTube now as a potential career move and I think it’s sad. Very little skill involved and it really doesn’t take a lot to do either”; A further one comments, “another YouTuber who forget he is a YouTuber and got caught up in all the perks and now returns to YouTube because he realised this is where he gets money and perks.”
Unhappy viewers also litter the comments of Casey Neistat’s 2016 video i’m ending the vlog. “Come on Casey, after 650 videos you leave us?,” reads one. Another adds, “his niche is vlogging and he’s amazing at that. I get that he has other pet projects and wants to expand, but just do a vlog once in awhile, perhaps once a week. That’s more than enough at this point.”
With the capability of amassing followings in the hundreds of thousands, it’s only natural that there be a variety of reactions, with many viewers ending up sad, angry, or hurt. Yet comments such as these, however well-intended, can be unintentional traps for creators.
“When a YouTuber discontinues their channel, it can feel as though those memories have been rearranged or tampered with in some way.”
Most creators feel for their audiences. They understand that, in addition to creating videos, they’ve cultivated a relationship between themselves and their viewers. “I don’t think it’s particularly fair to dictate how anyone should react to anything,” says Patty. “The beauty of any artistic medium is that the meaning is totally subjective and widely varying.”
“My friends and I have all made some absolutely absurd videos, some of which hold significance in people’s lives. Not because those videos were in any way profound, but because they’ve become nostalgic,” he continues. “When a YouTuber discontinues their channel, it can feel as though those memories have been rearranged or tampered with in some way.”
However, there are some reactions that creators feel are unwarranted. “It’s a huge shame when something someone loves comes to an end,” empathises Carrie, “as long as that negativity and disappointment is coupled with respect and understanding. It’s when the negativity turns into abuse that there becomes an issue.”
Jack echoes this sentiment. “I don’t think it’s irrational for someone to be upset about it,” he says. “Everyone gets upset when they lose something that they had an attachment to. But I don’t think it’s fair to the creator if they’ve done it for personal reasons or if they’re trying to distance themselves to try a new direction.”
Should their career take them to another platform, do creators owe it to their viewers to maintain their channel? Arguably, these individuals have played an important part in affording popular creators more opportunities. Outside of brand deals and partnerships, high view counts and subscribers are metrics that often speak to the quality and positive reception of content. Like Jack stated earlier, it establishes credibility – high numbers make you more valuable. But is there an obligation to repay those who have played a pivotal role in their career?
“Obligation? No, not really,” says Tim. “Though I obviously think if you built your success on YouTube from people watching and supporting your stuff on the platform it’s nice to keep them engaged after you’ve found success elsewhere.”
Ultimately, it seems to be an entirely personal decision. For some, finding time to make videos may not be a luxury available to them while pursuing other projects. “When I was making Jack and Dean of All Trades, I basically disappeared from YouTube for about eight months,” recalls Jack. “However Anna Akana always manages to keep uploading regardless of her other projects. It’s admirable, but I couldn’t balance all that.”
“I feel like creating art out of obligation is unhealthy and ultimately unfulfilling for both the creator and consumer.”
“As someone who started out YouTube with all the time in the world to focus on and hone my channel… and then got my dream job which diminished my time for YouTube considerably, this is a difficult one,” admits Carrie, whose content has become less frequent as her career outside of YouTube soars. “[In this case] their audience just needs to have a little patience,” she explains. “Spinning plates is extremely hard!”
Patty contends that creating art for the sake of it leaves both the creator and the viewer emptier than before, and should a YouTuber maintain their channel out of accountability rather than passion, the entire reception of the content changes. “I feel like creating art out of obligation is unhealthy and ultimately unfulfilling for both the creator and consumer,” he says.
“There should always be a reciprocal respect between an artist and their audience. Certain things have to come before any project, like happiness and health, and if an artist needs to temporarily or permanently distance themselves from their work, that has to be respected.”
It’s this transparency between viewers and creators that differentiates YouTube from its competitors, the relationships created that give it more color and life than a professional portfolio alone. But just like any relationship, mutual respect and understanding is essential on both sides.
“People put things on YouTube for free so if they stop in favour of something else I don’t really see that as a betrayal,” explains Tim. “Maybe it’s different if you’re a huge YouTube personality… maybe then the connection to your audience is different and it would be more understandable if the audience felt upset by their favourite creator leaving for something else? I honestly couldn’t say. But I feel like if you’re musician or a filmmaker and you discover success elsewhere, surely that’s part of it? Surely that’s always been part of the plan?”
“When I was a kid I used to be incredibly passionate [about] karate,” begins Carrie. “I don’t have my old karate teacher calling me up now, telling me I sold out because I decided to become an actress! Sometimes people need to let things go in order to make room in their lives for other passions. It’s like a break up! Difficult, but sometimes, necessary.”
And what of those who still would like to see their faves pop up in their subscription boxes for years to come? Do channels have a lifespan, and is it unrealistic to expect them to run indefinitely? “It was really just the beginning of exciting things to come, back in 2012,” explains Carrie. “Now, however, things have progressed so quickly and so dramatically that things are constantly evolving and I don’t really know if there’s any way to tell how long it’ll all last.”
“It becomes this really complicated balancing act… at some point I think most channels lose that battle.”
After all, YouTube is a social media site. It’s not unreasonable to assume that, in the next few years, the site may lose out to a competitor or fade away into irrelevance. Is it fruitless to mold your goals and ideas of success to such a fleeting medium?
Tim notes that the act of constantly reinventing yourself in ways that are consistently ‘successful’ on YouTube can be futile. “Once you find something that people really connect to they want more of the same yet they want you to innovate and it becomes this really complicated balancing act,” he adds. “At some point I think most channels lose that battle.”
Patty builds on this, adding that lastingness on this platform is not only dependent on a creator playing to their strengths, but also knowing what defines success on YouTube. “I feel like algorithms dictate success just as much as talent, vision, branding, or marketing does,” he says.
“That doesn’t mean that success is random or in any way unreachable, it just means that a greater understanding of your platform is an extra tool you can manipulate in your favour,” Patty clarifies. “There’s no guaranteed method of staying relevant, but there’s no longevity without relevance.”
But even among the uncertainty, Carrie remains optimistic of the site and the talent that will continue to shape it. “I don’t think YouTube will ever really die out,” she adds. “I think it will just keep adapting and evolving to whatever’s new.”
Ultimately, YouTube is a tool that has allowed talented creators to hone skills and make content on their own terms. But, to refer to it as simply a tool feels hollow and inaccurate. To strip YouTubers of their interactive communities is to miss the point of the site entirely. Relationship and community building are key to the whole atmosphere, and while they help creators develop and grow, they are also sizable inhibitors when creators find themselves outgrowing the platform as they set their sights on goals that stretch beyond online content.
The most important part of this move between mediums is respect, both from creators, as their audience mourns the end of an era, and from viewers, as the creator continues to pursue their passion. After all, it’s a relationship, and solid relationships are built on mutual understanding.
“I’ve seen people climb high and then fall down low, but I’ve also seen people ride the wave of YouTube and their content changes as the site does,” muses Jack. “But I’ve been doing this for 10 years. I want to be able to move on to a new challenge.”
Check out some of the following features by TenEighty:
- YouTube Goes Mainstream
- The Creator/ Viewer Divide
- The Evolution of Online Beauty
- Clickbait: Tactical or Unethical?