15 Killer Tips to Help Build YouTube Subscribers

Neal February 1, 2012 11

Do you ever wonder why your YouTube videos only receive a pathetic dribble of views? It’s not because you suck at guitar, it’s because you suck at making interesting videos! As a guitarist it has never been easier to get your work out there for potentially billions of people to see and hear. After all, how hard is it to hit record on your webcam and then upload the results right?

For many this is as complicated as it gets, but for those of you who really want to make the most of YouTube and generate the highest levels of exposure you will probably need to take a few extra steps!  Modern videos are becoming increasingly more impressive both in terms of image/sound quality and editing prowess, and if you want to have the best chance of standing out, you will need to follow suit!

To build a large base of loyal subscribers your videos need to have a unique selling point, they need to stand out in terms of quality and/or creativity.  You could be a mediocre guitarist but as long as your videos are interesting you will gain a following. Look at MysteryGuitarMan for example; his big break was a stop-motion acoustic cover of a mozart composition– easy to play, long-winded to edit!  To make it big, you must innovate!

Of course you don’t have to go all out with production values to build some influence, let’s take a look at a few simple tips which should help boost your following!

Image Quality is Key

Nothing looks worse than a low resolution, grainy video shot on your buddy’s phone.  You are far more likely to be taken seriously if you have spent the time and effort required to make a quality video.  This doesn’t necessarily mean forking out for an expensive camera as many modern webcams will easily shoot high quality HD videos.

A good piece of video editing software will also aid in producing the best quality visuals.  While free software such as Windows Movie Maker or iMovie will get the job done there are other inexpensive options available which are much more feature packed, for example Sony Vegas is very popular and affordable.  On the higher end there is Final Cut for the Mac and Adobe Premiere Pro for Windows.  You can also dabble in special effects with software such as Adobe After Effects if you should be that way inclined.

Audio Quality Matters

While just chatting to your viewers you may get away with using your camera’s in-built microphone, however when recording a guitar video, this just isn’t going to cut it.  If I load up a video and the audio is too muffled, too quiet or is clipping I will generally move to the next video immediately.  For best results you should either connect a quality microphone to your camera (if possible), or record the sound separately and then sync the audio and video in your software afterwards.  A good all-in-one alternative would be something like a Zoom Q3HD which combines a video camera with high quality studio microphones.

Get the Lighting Right

It’s amazing how many people overlook this simple but utterly necessary job.  Most guitar videos on YouTube are shot indoors, usually in a dimly lit bedroom – it doesn’t matter how good your camera is, if you don’t properly light yourself the image quality will drop dramatically!

Youtube lighting tips advice guide

Don’t rely on your camera to compensate in low lighting situations – shoot during the day (shoot outside!), or use indoor lighting such as a directional lamp to make sure you are as well lit as possible.  If you want to be really flash, a reasonable quality lighting kit can be had for as little as $50 on eBay. Personally I shoot beside a large window and combine the daylight with a couple of 400watt worklights from my local hardware store – total cost of around $25.

Also keep in mind that you will be able to use your video editing software to alter brightness to a degree. YouTube now has a built in video editor which let’s you change a few settings such as brightness and contrast.  If the video comes out too dark or even too light sort it out!

Background Imagery

Having an eye-catching background in your videos will help to add a little more interest for the viewer.  There’s nothing duller than having a plain wall in the back of your videos – make your videos stand out by putting up interesting posters, having funny videos playing on your TV or perhaps try playing in front of a window if you have a great view – get creative!  If you are technologically minded you could even try a green screen to get really innovative! The example below is an extreme one, but you get the idea! Green screen can be a lot of fun, but having tried it myself it just isn’t worth the extra hassle without spending some serious extra money on adequate lighting.

Appearance is Everything

Many YouTubers will film with the camera zoomed right in on the guitar which results in them appearing headless.  If you don’t want to be forgotten you need to give people something to remember you by – put your face in the video!  If you don’t, you will just end up becoming lost in the sea of other headless videos.

Don't go topless on youtube, its a bad thing!This is another area where you can get really creative with props.  If you’re doing a video in the style of ZZ Top try and find a cowboy hat and beard for the shoot.  It may feel silly at first, but whip out your bright pink Hello Kitty guitar for real stand-out power!  I recently saw a video where one of the most well known YouTube guitarists did a video in a bright orange MorphSuit – it’s hard to get rid of that kind of mental image!

And for the love of God, don’t be that guy who records in his vest or even topless, we don’t want to see your man-boobs hanging over the guitar.  Although this tactic can also work in your favour as many people will feel compelled to scream at your to put a shirt on, thereby giving you extra comments and potential extra views from their friends.  If you’re not a guy – YouTube commenters are 90% horny teenage boys, so dressing provocatively will absolutely gain you a crap-ton of subscribers.  It’s pathetic, but if you’re a good looking girl who is at least semi-decent at guitar you already have it made.

Camera Angles

Try to use an interesting camera angle every now and again!

The classic front-on camera angle is tried and tested but let’s face it – everyone does it.  Every now and again try some different angles for some unusual results.  For example you could attach the camera to your headstock for a quirky neck view or you could put the camera on the floor pointing up to make yourself appear huge!  Try using two cameras and flick between the two angles during the video.

Long Introductions

Unless you have a reason to talk don’t do it, and if you really have to, do it at the end so that people don’t have to suffer through your waffling if they don’t wish to.  Most people just want to watch you play, they’re not interested in the back-story behind why you chose to play the song.

Tell People Who You Are and Make Yourself Easy to Find!

YouTube includes a variety of different ways of promoting your work and making it easy to find, so make use of these tools!  Give the video a good description and include a link to your website if you have one.  Make sure your name is in the video title and ensure you use plenty of descriptive tags to allow people to search for your videos.

Add a small annotation to the start of the video linking to your website or giving extra information.  Try and add a caption half-way through to try and convince people to subscribe, favorite,comment and ‘thumbs up’ your video – the more interaction a video gets the more likely it is to appear on featured pages on YouTube.

The new YouTube layout allows you to add custom links on your profile page – use this feature! It also allows you to sync up Twitter and Facebook pages to automatically post updates when you upload a new video.

Consider adding your upload as a Video Response to another similar video.  This means that every time someone watches the other video they will see a link to your video below it.

Be Selective With What You Upload

Don’t upload every single 20 second lick you learn, be picky and only upload videos that you think other people will appreciate.  If you want to upload something for your own records make these videos private so that only you can view them.

Participate in the YouTube Community

Look for other YouTubers who are doing a similar thing to you and invite them to be friends – they may ‘friend’ you back and perhaps even subscribe.  Leave notes on profile pages and people will often feel obliged to visit your page and reply, perhaps resulting in another sub!  But just don’t spam people…  Comment on other similar videos along with a subtle plug of your own material.  If you join in with the conversations you will get a steady trickle of friends and subscribers.

When someone comments on your video – reply! If people think they will get a reply from you they are much more likely to leave a comment.  This might get harder if your videos start getting a lot of views, but you can still reply to a few to show that you read them.

Enter Competitions

Many companies and popular YouTube players will often host competitions which involve posting a video response as your entry.  Getting involved in these contests will boost your views as you have a built-in audience of the competition host, the judges, the other entrants and all the fans that come along with these people.  These competitions are a great way to gain exposure, with the added bonus of the chance of winning some kick-ass prizes to boot!

Capitalise on Popular Music

Take a look at the music section on YouTube – besides the mainstream artists which videos get the most hits? It isn’t the guitarists playing Flight of the Bumblebee at 700bpm that’s for sure!  The most popular videos by far are from the kids who cover popular mainstream music.  And why? Because FAR more people are searching for this stuff.  Cover a Justin Bieber song and you instantly have a potential subscriber base of millions of teenage girls.

Take a look at this band below who took a Lady GaGa track and made it into something really interesting. This video has racked up nearly 1 million views (at the time of writing).

If popular music ain’t your bag I’m not saying that you should sell out in exchange for exposure, but it couldn’t hurt to throw something in every now and again.  Bieber may be mocked by anyone over the age of 12, but perhaps an instrumental fusion cover of one of his tracks could be interesting.  Hell, it could even go viral!

Magnetic Titles

Give your video a title that will almost force someone to watch it. If you cover a Pink Floyd track call it “The BEST Pink Floyd Comfortably Numb Cover EVER” – people might not agree with you, but they’ll feel compelled to watch and see if you can live up to the claim. Give people a reason to be curious about your video by thinking up a provocative title. No one is going to watch a video called ‘My Acoustic Song 2″ (unless you have boobs in your thumbnail…)

Backing Tracks

If you really want to bump up your view count and you have the ability, making a few high quality backing tracks can generate a mountain of exposure.  Backing tracks have the advantage of repeat plays as people will keep coming back to their favorites over and over, possibly every day.  I’ve seen YouTubers who have maybe 200 views on most of their personal videos, but then their backing track videos have hundreds of thousands! Doing backing tracks of actual songs is probably not the best idea (copyright issues), but tracks ‘in-the-style-of’ are great as people will easily find these whilst searching.  Also, general backing tracks do very well, e.g. ‘Blues in A Minor’.

Buying Views

There are many websites dotted around the web which you can pay to help gain views, however these are generally not recommended.  YouTube are not stupid and eventually you are going to lose all of your money as policies are updated and new anti-cheating technology is employed. It also looks incredibly suspect when your video has tens of thousands of views and only 100 comments, all on the same day, and all in very poor English…

Cash in on Your Success

Once you have a decent base of regular subscribers companies will start to take notice and will often send you free products in exchange for mentioning or using them in your videos.  This may start out as a free set of strings, but who knows where it could lead.  Once you become popular you will also have the chance to become a YouTube Partner, which means that you receive a small sum of money for views of your videos, and a share of the profits made on adverts placed on your uploads.

What have you got to lose? ;) The bottom line is that YouTube has changed significantly since launching and it is no longer good enough to simply make the minimum effort. Right now YouTube commands over 4 billion video views per day – grab some of that action!

Leave your own tips in the comments section below!

11 Comments »

  1. Kieran March 9, 2011 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    Freddie Wong is an utter legend lol! Another great guide, lots for me to ponder over when I actually have the talent to make some videos worth watching! Maybe in the meantime I can start looking for a camera and learn to use it :p Any suggestions?

    • Neal March 12, 2011 at 10:26 am - Reply

      Realistically anything will do, but try get something that shoots in HD so that it will fill the entire YouTube window rather than just a portion. Most of the big players are using DSLR cameras these days, although the are mostly known for taking photos they also take AMAZING videos these days. Canon 550D seems to be the cheapest option for really nice movies. I have a Nikon D3100, it's pretty much the cheapest DSLR (I think) but still takes great static movies.

  2. @TomShred March 10, 2011 at 10:16 pm - Reply

    This is useful. I know i am guilty of doing headless videos but it makes sense not to!

    • Neal March 12, 2011 at 10:27 am - Reply

      Thanks Tom, glad you found some of my ramblings useful.

  3. Southpaw March 13, 2011 at 7:40 pm - Reply

    This is an excellent article. I think a lot of people don't realize that a small amount of pre-production time in thinking about how you want your video to look and sound makes a huuuge difference in the end. Expensive equipment isn't always necessary, but giving your video a little thought before pressing record is – and that might just make the difference between you and the other person getting viewed more.

    • Neal March 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm - Reply

      Exactly! Obviously not everyone with a YouTube account is there specifically to become noticed (i'm certainly not), but if you are someone who seeks a following you need to give people that little bit extra to remember you by. Talent alone isn't generally enough anymore… And as Southpaw says, you don't necessarily have to spend any money – just employ a little creativity ;)

  4. Akshay April 5, 2011 at 8:29 am - Reply

    Very good article Neal, I liked the part abt the shirtless covers ;) Der's a nude dude doin an "In the End" cover on YouTube… most comments are for telling him to put a shirt on.. lol
    But, the Bieber advice, hmmm, I'd personally die before covering a Bieber song :P It would be an insult to my guitar too. lol! :D

    • Neal April 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm - Reply

      Haha, well it was just an example :p Would a Miley Cyrus track suit you better buddy?

      As much as it disturbs me when I find some shirtless guy on YouTube – those videos do make for some funny as hell comments!

  5. @Tomshred June 9, 2011 at 1:48 am - Reply

    Since reading this page i've upgraded my camera to film in HD and i no longer make headless videos and i can definitely say it's had a positive effect and helped me gained more followers!

    • Neal June 9, 2011 at 10:34 am - Reply

      Nothing to do with your shit hot playing eh Tom? :p

  6. Sachin December 8, 2013 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    what do i play on guitar, in order to get more views?

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