For the past year and a half I've been co-hosting a YouTube video series called Vertical Hold. It's been an interesting learning curve on a number of levels. Here are some key lessons if you want to build your own YouTube presence.
Camera picture from Shutterstock
Vertical Hold was born from a series of discussions I was having with fellow freelancer (and a man I sometimes refer to as my Mexican non-union equivalent), Adam Turner. We both wanted to do a project of some kind together covering technology issues that we could own, operate, edit and (if feasible) make money from. It's the freelancer way, after all.
A year and a half in, and Vertical Hold is ticking along nicely; we could always use more subscribers (unsubtle hint, there), but across YouTube and subscription via iTunes or RSS, we're doing pretty well, and we're happy to have been able to secure sponsorship for all of Vertical Hold's run to date, making it a profitable enterprise to boot.
Equally, though, it's been a learning curve, because both Adam and I are writers first and foremost, and standing in front of a camera, recording yourself and editing the final results isn't something you just casually drop into. Here's five things I've learned along the way.
Don't use Skype
Or at least, don't use Skype unless you have to, and preferably only for communications, not final recording. Our first episode used Skype and Call Recorder to capture both sides of the video, and while that's a very easy way to set up a split screen effect, the end video quality will never really cut it. I've been using Skype for more than a decade now, and I've never once had a completely "clean" call experience. When you're chatting to overseas relatives a few blips are workable. When you're recording for others to watch, it needs to be better.
We do still use Skype to run the conversation that's being recorded, but the video that's used is from a separate camera and audio connection to enable the best possible quality.
Video is stuff you can see, but it's very hard to hold the attention of an audience if they can't hear you. Yes, we've made a few mistakes along the way, and in some cases software has made those mistakes for us, but the one thing we figured out needed rapid improvement was audio quality.
This was especially true because the core of Vertical Hold is a discussion on technology issues, and that means that it's vital we can clearly hear each other, and then that the audience can hear us. The realities of modern technology means that it's very simple and quite cost affordable to handle a lot of the aspects of video production, but audio is something that you really shouldn't skimp on. Buy a decent microphone, make sure it's properly positioned and recording well before you start, and you'll save yourself a lot of headaches later on.
Learn when to shut your mouth (or open it)
We're both pretty capable of going off on a rant when there's a tech subject we're passionate about, and to a certain extent Vertical Hold couldn't exist without it. At the same time, though, the episodes with the best viewer feedback have tended to be those where there's some solid back and forth banter between the two of us, even if we're not disagreeing. There's a learning curve to working out when to interject, and when to stay quiet.
It's more than that, however, because doing this kind of production as video means that you're always on camera. I discovered after a while that I have a habit of leaving my mouth ever so slightly open, especially if I'm pondering something. Call it a nervous tic, if you will, but it looks terribly gormless on camera.
Flexibility really matters
Scheduling a show produced in Sydney and Melbourne with two extremely busy hosts is an interesting matter, doubly so when we've also got family duties to attend to. It's exceptionally easy to lose an audience by simply not producing new content, but we've made an episode of Vertical Hold every fortnight (excluding Christmas breaks) by being as flexible as possible when it comes to working out when we'll record each episode. This has included last-minute late night recordings to allow for family holidays, and the most recent episode which was filmed in Melbourne and London. Again, something of a technical challenge, especially when it came to lighting, but one that we worked around, rather than giving in to.
Flexibility also means listening to the audience, which is why we've recently made an audio-only version available (iTunes here, RSS here) , because while we didn't set out to make a podcast per se, a lot of feedback suggested that people wanted to listen to us during their commutes. That's flattering, so we've accommodated for it.
Mistakes are going to happen
I could fill an easy episode — and probably contravene a whole host of YouTube standards — with a Vertical Hold blooper reel, which would range from technical mishaps to software catastrophes to one of us simply forgetting their lines and swearing at the camera like a demented sailor.
Actually, from time to time, that's both of us. Sorry mum. I know it's not big or clever.
The difference between a mistake while writing and a mistake in video is quite profound, though. There's all sorts of studies that suggest that with text simple typos can often be overlooked, and in the Internet age it's often just a quick edit correction away in any case. When you get something wrong on video, or a random cat wanders into shot or a courier turns up at your office door while you're having a heated argument about the death of the NBN, it's a much bigger problem.
Part of that is just recognising that video takes serious time to get right. That's both to prepare, and to develop skills. I'd like to think that we're still on an upwards trajectory in the learning curve space, but it's also because making a decent fifteen minute show takes a whole lot more than fifteen minutes, especially accounting for errors, reshoots, random swearing, yet more editing, and rendering. Then there's uploading, and if you do want to get me swearing like a sailor, ask me about the piteous state of uploads in a non-NBN world. Be prepared to wait a while, though, as I might get slightly ranty.
It also means you've got to be willing to own your mistakes when they happen. An error in the most recent episode saw a quantity of Adam's speech cut out mid-video, and, upload speeds notwithstanding, we fixed that as quickly as possible and got a fresh copy out to subscribers rapidly, with an apology for the mistake. When you're presenting, it's not just about the topic, but about yourself, and as such trying to dodge any errors or omissions is a breach of trust with the viewers.