A Look Into the Lives of Full-Time YouTubers

photo Alex Areonesei

YouTube’s come a long way from the days of grainy vlogs and lip syncs on built-in desktop webcams.

From its scrappy beginnings in February 2005, the platform has grown into a launching pad for bona fide Internet celebrities. A handful of successful full-time YouTubers create and broadcast videos to audiences that are often fanatically loyal—and to many on the outside, that stature seems tantalizingly within reach.

“Within a month I gained 3,000 subscribers, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible’,” said Jeffrey Chang, a video creator from Montreal’s South Shore. “And then AdSense [a targeted advertising program developed by Google] came along [and] I got my first paycheck on YouTube.”

Chang, known as JeffreyFever on YouTube, gained unexpected popularity on the website through his technology review videos. He now has over 53,000 subscribers and close to 2 million views on his channel.

This past summer Chang quit school and his job to pursue his YouTube career full-time. He left for Los Angeles, the networking hub for YouTubers who are serious about their channels.

There are plenty of reasons YouTube has become the platform of choice for many would-be Internet entrepreneurs—not only is it free, but it also has a lovably DIY heritage of people sharing everything from their hobbies and daily experiences to videos of their beloved cats.

Stories like Chang’s have become more and more common as creative ideas and popular videos circulate the web with YouTube as their source, bringing massive amounts of attention to creators overnight. But for those who see some success beyond the typical fifteen minutes of fame—and especially those who partner with advertisers—this attention creates a pressure for consistency and a regular, episodic format that demands the same attention as a full-time job.

But can maintaining a YouTube channel really become a full-time career and help sustain a comfortable lifestyle based off ad revenues alone?

Jake Roper is well known for his video game-related content on the YouTube channel Vsauce3 and has over 2 million subscribers. He turned his YouTube channel into a full-time career after it launched in September 2012.

“Making money on ad revenue isn’t the most lucrative thing in the world,” Roper said. “So you really do need a lot of views, or large audiences to be able to sustain that.”

Roper added that while it’s possible to “make a living” off YouTube, a substantial amount of work is necessary.

YouTuber Ben Willingdorf from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, has been using YouTube for seven years. He argues that more than ad revenue is necessary for a real career. “YouTube by itself wouldn’t work as a career—[it] allows you to open doors to other things that work as a career,” he said.

“I don’t think it can be a solid source of income on a long-term basis. […] On YouTube usually you’re only relevant for 3 years and then you kind of dim down,” he said. “Mostly after 3 years people turn to brand deals and stuff like that to maintain their income.”

Having a YouTube career means being a self-employed registered business and dedicating most of your time to it every day. “Every moment that you’re awake, you’re working. It sounds like an exaggeration, but it isn’t,” Roper said.

“What is the asset? It’s you, the creator, right?” Roper continued. “Not just the videos you make but your personality on Twitter and Facebook, Instagram—[it] just becomes your life. Because your personality is what people are wanting to watch.”

Like any career, the life of a full-time YouTuber is not for everyone. Like any career, it requires a passion for making good work and a willingness to persevere through discouragement. And although working long hours are required to bring food to the table, like any career, being passionate about your job can be rewarding.

“It is definitely a job,” Roper said. “It’s not a job I dislike, but it is a job, it’s what I do day in and day out to make a living and just create content.”

Frequently asked questions for becoming successful on YouTube:

Are there any tips to getting started on YouTube?

A tip YouTubers often give to those who ask this question is start recording and uploading. Nothing can get done if the video hasn’t been started.

“The best tip I would give to a new YouTuber is just start filming, because you’ll obviously make a bunch of mistakes when you first start. And maybe your first 100 videos won’t be that great and it takes a while getting used to it. I think it is just to make videos and there’s no secret about making videos. It is just portraying what you imagine in film.” – Ben Willingdorf    

Next, is figuring out your audience. Choose a passionate topic you want to convey to your audience. There is an audience for any content. This is true, considering that the internet has no physical geography; your videos can be seen by anyone in the world who has access to YouTube. After all, this is how companies use to target specific markets through internet content. “What makes YouTube so amazing is that there’s always an audience for the kind of content you want to make. If you’re really passionate about it even a small audience that will always be there.” – Finn Harries (Jacksgap almost 4 million subscribers).

“If you could find something that interests you, and presented in a way that is interesting to other people, then you’ll just find an audience. Because, people love it, especially on Youtube right. People love that connection. Because, they can kind of feel it. Because the only thing between you and I generally is the computer screen. That’s it! And you feel like a human being what you are talking about seems important to you so it’s important to me. So it’s just finding that clarity I think that’s important.” – Jake Roper

An important factor to consider here is that, starting YouTube as a career can become discouraging if you don’t see any results in the first 6 months to a year. Start it as a passion and with time it will grow as a business.

Does video quality really matter in order to make a living out of YouTube?

Considering that views and number of subscriber plays a large factor on how much ad sense will pay. In addition, stats build up your credibility to gain sponsors. It is all based on getting those numbers. Some people use their phones as cameras, do little editing and gain a large following on the internet based on their personality and content.

“You see the reality of the situation is that it doesn’t matter the quality again, it’s the content. Who you are as a person, what you are talking about, that’s what you’ll want.” – Jake Roper

Is it harder to penetrate in the YouTube industry now than 5 years ago?

This answer varies depending on who you ask. Jack & Finn from Japsgap would say it has to do a lot with luck of being at the right place, right time. Other such as JeffreyFever who are in their beginning stages would give a different approach to the situation.

“Yes, it is definitely harder today than it was 5 years ago. Mainly because there’s just so many more, not even just content creators who want to start putting videos on YouTube, but also because major companies see this platform as another source of income. And therefore, a lot of big companies are competing against each other and now a lot of smaller YouTubers that are starting off are competing against each other. So it’s not, technically we are not competing fore say. It’s just that in the Search Optimizing Engine it’s much harder get discovered. […] I still don’t think it’s impossible.” – Jeffrey Chang

How to get discovered much faster?

There are companies such as UFluencer Group and Zype who help build personalities, brands, promote your videos and act as an agent for internet personalities. Details on functionalities with promoting companies are to be seen with them.What’s the one thing to keep in mind while making videos on YouTube?This question has multiple answers. As each content creator have their own reasons on how they keep themselves motivated and keep on moving forward with their careers as video producers. One must find their inner reason in doing YouTube videos.

“My main thing honestly is just I want to push myself everytime. Every video I make, I wanted to be better than the last video. Right? I never want to hit a point where I just kind of plateau. It’s always pushing, it’s always doing better and being more. So that’s kind of my thing. Because I think you can always grow right? Like you should never just be like “Oh you know I’m good, that was a great video, I think I’m going to just stick with it.” No, That was a great video but, I can make something better. And I think the audience expects something better, so that’s always a motivation too.” – Jake Roper

How to increase connectivity with other YouTubers?

Collaborations are a huge influencer that leads to success on YouTube. Finding someone who has common numbers as you on YouTube is a great way to begin. Working with other content creators will enable a crossover of each other’s audience by introducing one another. You can also try to collaborate with YouTubers who have a higher reach of audience than you, in this case try to bring something to the table of interest to be used as an exchange of favours.

How to find other YouTubers in your region?

YouTube has a few notable hubs around the planet. The most recognized ones are located in L.A., London and recently New York. Physical spaces are great motivators for networking amongst content creators. There are annual events such as Buffer Festival in Canada which bring like-minded people to one location. In physical spots, people can meet and exchange ideas which at the end increase productivity on the platform. However, what do you do if there are no physical community present at in your region. In Montreal, a group of local YouTubers have formed a community, known as Montreal YouTubers, which meet almost every month or two to network and form collaborations. Thus, the tip here is to form a community bounded to your region as other YouTubers might want this and benefit from it.

What would you do if YouTube ceased to exist?

This is a popular question which gets to be asked to almost any YouTuber. If tomorrow YouTube stopped existing, would one’s career just stop, forcing them to go back to more traditional careers? Here’s what some YouTubers had to say about this:

“I’ll be very sad. Hmm… If YouTube, ceased to exist? Hmmm.. I mean…. I guess, what did we do before YouTube? Watch television? Erkkk never watch television… erkk it’s a horrible, horrible, horrible future. Slash past that already existed. We don’t want that.” – Jake Roper

“I consider myself an entertainer from the time you know, … I was. I always wanted to be an entertainer. And when YouTube came out. It’s not like I changed who I was, I just kept growing as an entertainer. I wanted to be a singer songwriter. And I am. And Youtube gives me an unbelievable stage to like meet you guys face to face and all that stuff. And be able to talk to you guys. But if YouTube went away tomorrow, like MySpace went away yesterday, very recently. I would still be doing that. I would still have the same drive to connect with everybody and make everybody smile and I find someway to do that” – Mike Falzone

“I think we’ve caught the bug of creating content and I think if YouTube was like “Hey sorry, Google decided to delete us” you’re not going to, we’re not going to stop, you know, I’m not going to go back to being a Real Estate Agent, or you know making granite counter tops. This is an addicting thing and we love what we do. and so, there’s going to be plenty of platforms whether it’s YouTube or whatever. I feel like I would do this for the rest of my life. There’s no way I would do anything else.” – Shay Carl