‘Draw With Jazza’, is an Australian YouTube channel hosted by Josiah ‘Jazza’ Brooks, a 28-year old artist from Gippsland in Victoria. Currently, the how-to channel has around 1.9 million subscribers.
I spoke with Jazza about what it takes to be successful on YouTube and the most important things you need to know to grow your audience.
Josiah’s story, like YouTube’s, is one of evolution.
Six years ago, he was working as an independent animator and game designer, predominantly with Adobe Flash. But watching Flash slowly disappear at the start of the iPhone era, Josiah realised he had to get off a sinking ship. He’d had an old YouTube channel, with a random spattering of clashing video ideas – art tutorials, gameplay, random videos about not much at all – and noticed that it was the tutorials that had attracted the most attention.
It was there that ‘Draw With Jazza’ was born. An arts and how-to channel that provides lessons and guides like a modern day Art Attack, Josiah started with simple tutorials of anatomy and poses. Those videos, which are almost ancient now, are filmed with a simple webcam, an average microphone and minimal editing.
Today, ‘Draw With Jazza’ approaches 2 million subscribers and lays claim to videos with millions of views. This is his full-time job, with full-time hours. It’s a business.
How did he go from zero to two million?
Your Channel Is A Business
The first thing to remember is that if you want to make a career from YouTube, you have to approach it like a business. “When I started this YouTube channel, I started it from the angle that I needed it to become a business.”
It’s refreshing to hear a content creator so open about their intentions when moving to YouTube, especially because if you broach the idea of quitting your job to move to the platform, you’re likely going to be met with some awkward resistance. It’s not seen as a legitimate career path because it’s a platform saturated with content creators and finding success is difficult.
“I approached it with as much of a proactive business mindset as possible, having said that, I barely had about 100,000 subscribers when I was able to start to turn that into my full-time job”, Josiah explains that even before he had a subscriber base, he began to look at outside sources that might help make his channel a viable business.
“I started to think about how to monetise it before I had an audience”
He approached the CEO of Newgrounds, where he had been posting his animations and games for a number of years and asked for a sponsorship – just enough to get him off the ground and keep the money coming in – and as Josiah puts it ‘he took a risk’ on him. It paid off.
“I find it strange that some people feel like it’s a conflicting idea that you can be creative and also be a business minded person”
Content Is King
It sounds like marketing speak (probably because it is) but not heeding the advice ‘content is king’ is one of the pitfalls of many YouTube rookies. Building your audience isn’t as easy as turning your webcam on and recording yourself talking about how you’re going to the gym that day or what milkshake you had with dinner. There’s more to it than that.
“The first thing you need to be looking at is the marketplace and thinking ‘what isn’t there and how can I bring value?’” Josiah began with tutorials because at the time he believed that was the content that YouTube was lacking. His instincts were right, but it’s not just the type of content that will brought new eyeballs – tutorials certainly existed six years ago – but of course, it was the delivery too.
“You’re either making niche content that isn’t there or you’re producing it in a new, or in an interesting way. You’re making something people haven’t seen before. The trick isn’t to be like the popular ones, it’s to try and see what you can do.”
You Don’t Need High Production Values
This may be obvious to a lot of content creators who are already successful – especially those that use the platform particularly for vlogs – but high production values aren’t necessarily seen as a must-have asset.
Watching Josiah’s videos, it’s clear that he understands the benefit of good production. His content is well-lit, sounds great and looks fantastic. His aesthetic fits his personality, he sits in front a gigantic colourful mural of pop culture icons and avatars and his presentation style is upbeat and snappy, which helps keep you focused.
I asked Josiah if he thought that those high production values helps to grow an audience and he laughed.
His answer was, quite simply, ‘no’.
“I don’t think that if you’re starting a YouTube channel that you need to go out and buy the most expensive camera or mic or anything like that, you can get affordable stuff that carries what you need to carry across.”
“Realistically, I started off with a webcam and a shitty computer in a scabby old house. But what matters is the voice coming through. What matters is: Are you being authentic?”
Authenticity, it seems, is the real key.
Authenticity and Integrity
As YouTube has evolved to become a more personality-based platform, Josiah evolved to make his videos less straightforward tutorials and get himself in front of the camera a lot more. You’re probably used to seeing an avalanche of ‘Hey guys!’ and ‘Subscribe and give me a thumbs up!’ on YouTube nowadays, but six years ago, that wasn’t necessarily the norm.
“If you can maintain authenticity and integrity, which is more viable on social media than it ever has been in history, and run a business, while creating your art, then it’s a win-win. There are now ways that you can be you, have an authentic voice and get paid.”
The meteoric rise of stars like Pewdiepie and H3H3, love them or hate them, isn’t due to their production values or the kind of content they're producing as much as it is their authenticity – or at the very least their perceived authenticity. If you can establish a link between yourself and your audience, then people begin to invest in you.
When you start to gain this sort of traction, then more traditional media comes calling.
“Since YouTube’s kicked up in Australia and traditional media’s paying more attention – we’ve been approached by different studios that offer their production value… at the end of the day, they actually want the attention that my audience has.”
Understanding your audience is one tip Josiah believes is helpful in making traditional media and big brands invest in you.
“I know my audience in a way that’s hard to even describe, when you’ve been connecting directly with people for six years – you know we do meet ups and emails hundreds of people every week – I have a daily vlog channel purely with the intention to interact with my audience.”
If you give up your authenticity and integrity to take on sponsorships or advertisements for brands and that doesn’t fit in with your usual content, you’re going to see the backlash. If you can actively seek out brands that you already enjoy and want to advocate for, then it pays to reach out to them.
YouTube Is Fickle And (May Be) Fleeting
YouTube is merely a platform, it provides content creators with a tool, and if you boil that down even further, it provides them with a single tool – the ability to upload video content to the internet. But there’s no manual for how to get your videos seen by the huge audience YouTube commands and there’s not a lot of help from YouTube in how to use the platform to your benefit.
“There’s not a huge amount of communication from the top-down, as far as how to take advantage of the algorithm and the things that determine what content succeeds”
The algorithm that Josiah refers to is the way in which YouTube feeds content to users of the site. If you search for ‘Draw With Jazza’ you’ll certainly find Josiah’s channel, but searching for ‘drawing tutorial’ sends you to a few different creators. Figuring out how to optimise your channel and your content for searches is a constant battle that all content creators face.
As Josiah explains, “creators are sort of in the trenches, figuring out how things are working and amongst ourselves, were sort of saying amongst ourselves ‘this is what’s driving traffic’ or ‘this is to a detriment’. It’s very much figuring out the platform as we go, because we’re not actually told how it works.”
But the great take away is that YouTube could be gone tomorrow. You can evolve with the platform and constantly improve the content you’re creating, but there’s no guarantee that YouTube doesn’t change the algorithm and send your videos crashing to the bottom of its search results. There’s also no guarantee that the way you monetise your videos will be there the next day.
You have to look further ahead than just that next video.
“I also think how can I plan for the future, how can I extend into other platforms and have a plan B and build an authentic relationship with my audience so if this platform isn’t there, we can go somewhere else anyway.”
It’s Not Easy
From the start of our phone call until its end, it's apparent how passionate Josiah is about what he does and it’s the one thing that stays with me long after I’ve hung up. You often find tips for succeeding on YouTube come back to the idea that you just have to do it. That is, you just have to start recording and create content.
But it’s not really that simple.
Josiah’s success comes off the back of a considered approach, his proactive business mindset, an understanding of what his audience wants and a dogged approach to building a real, authentic relationship with them. Importantly, it’s not static. Josiah has constantly evolved not only in terms of the content he’s produced, but in the way he interacts with his audience, the way that he approaches partnerships and sponsorships and his own personal goals and ideals.
Josiah admits that, in the beginning, you need a thick skin and have to be willing to put in a whole lot of elbow grease and if that somehow leads you to success? Stay humble.
“It takes a head on your shoulders to not take things for granted and not let it get to your head when you have an audience that respects you.”
It’s clear Josiah is taking nothing for granted.
“I love what I do, it’s a lot of hard work, but I’m also really lucky to be able to do it, I’m grateful every day to have the job that I have.”