In 2019, I challenged myself to write a new piano cover every week for the whole year. This is a reflection on how it went, what I changed, and some tips for people looking to pursue their creative interests on YouTube for the new year!
For context, I’m a third-year university student studying engineering who enjoys playing piano in their free time. My interest in the instrument was fueled by watching YouTube pianists such as Kyle Landry and marasy8, obsessively searching for any sheet music I could find to learn their different arrangements and styles. I’ve accumulated binders of printed sheet music dating back to 2010 from old-school websites like Ichigo’s Sheet Music and NinSheetMusic. Much of what I know about piano is thanks to these transcribers, so I wanted to pay it forward to the piano community by writing piano arrangements on my own channel.
To date, I’ve published 122 videos to the platform for an audience of roughly 5000 subscribers. My first transcription was uploaded on January 5, 2018.
If there’s one word I would use to distinguish my upload patterns between 2019 from 2018, it would be consistency. Even though I had uploaded 46 videos during 2018, the vast majority were done during winter break (7 videos) or summer break (29 videos). For most of the academic year, I wasn’t putting much effort if any into the channel. Moreover, I had only made two new videos during my fall semester at university in 2018.
When January 2019 rolled around, I wanted to get back into making videos and made it a point to try uploading at least one video a week for the entire year. Although I ended up going a little overboard with 74 videos uploaded in 2019, I had genuinely stuck by this goal and averaged 1-2 videos per week.
Here’s a comparison between views per day in 2018 and 2019.
2018 Views Per Day (click to enlarge)
2019 Views Per Day (click to enlarge)
Despite 2018 reaching a peak of nearly 20,000 views in a day, it fell to roughly 1,000 views per day as I stopped uploading in the second half of the year. 2019 admittedly saw lesser magnitudes in peaks but a slow upwards trend that led to a constant 3,000-3,500 views per day by the end of the year.
Final year by year stats comparison is 874k views and 21.6k hours watched in 2018 vs. 939k views and 27.5k hours watched in 2019.
This next section isn’t necessarily about analytics, but rather a look into how my music taste evolved from 2018 to 2019. Since transcribing a song requires me to listen to it over and over again for hours, I naturally want to choose songs that I enjoy listening to on repeat to arrange (transcribing itself could be an article of its own, but I’ll save it for now). The numbers beside each genre name represent how many songs of that genre I arranged that year.
Genres Covered in 2018
Genres Covered in 2019
Among the demographic analytics that YouTube provides on their Creator dashboard, I’ve always found the geography section to be interesting. Although the majority of my audience seems to be from the United States, it’s surprisingly not as big of a majority as I thought. I enjoy seeing comments in other languages or viewers saying they’re watching from a certain country, which seems to be a testament to how universal of a language music is. Here’s a look at the top ten countries with the highest viewership on this channel from 2018 and 2019.
Geography Demographics in 2018
Geography Demographics in 2019
A common question I get is how much money can you actually make creating content on YouTube. Although I believe this is the wrong reason to get into YouTube (which I’ll talk about more in the last section of this article), I wanted to give a more transparent breakdown on earnings for a channel of this size especially for those looking to start music channels.
In January 2018, YouTube changed their eligibility requirements for the YouTube Partner Program to 4,000 watch hours in the past 12 months and 1,000 subscribers. It took seven months for me to reach this threshold and another two months before YouTube approved my channel for monetization. As a result, I made $119.10 from YouTube advertisements and YouTube premium watch time in 2018. In contrast, I made $968.38 from YouTube in 2019 being monetized the entire year.
June 12, 2018 - Hitting 1000 Subscribers
In late 2018, I joined dozens of other YouTube musicians on MusicNotes as a signature artist to help publish, license, and sell my sheet music. I also started a Patreon which didn’t gain any traction until early 2019. I don’t have exact figures for MusicNotes, but on any given month I earn $100 to $150 from sheet music sales and $200 to $300 from Patreon donations (as shown below). I’ve seen other creators supplement their YouTube revenue with affliate links, Buy me a Coffee pages, sponsorships, music streaming, merch sales, and channel memberships. Diversifying your revenue streams is definitely something worth looking into, given that you’ll never know when YouTube’s algorithm might pull the plug.
Patreon Donations per Month in 2019
Now that I was making pockets of revenue from the channel, I wanted to reinvest some of it to both improve the quality of my videos and reduce unnecessary time costs.
Long story short, I lived in university dorms during my freshman year and would typically have to take a bus halfway across campus to find an empty conference or practice room with a piano inside it. At the end of freshman year after final exams, I noticed a graduating senior was selling a Yamaha P-255 weighted digital piano for $500 (original price $1200). I took hold of the opportunity, and the P-255 has been the piano I use to write the majority of my arrangements over the past two years. I also ended up purchasing an Akai LPK25 - a small, one pound MIDI keyboard for travel.
Virtual Studio Technology (VST) instruments are audio plugins that interface with digital audio workstations, often used by music producers for making music. The vast majority of YouTube pianists and arrangers that I’ve met tend to use a VST over their base piano sound or computer soundfont, usually since they emulate a better sound. Audio quality has always been a high priority for me, as I want ensure sure the songs I write are pleasing to listen to. The difference between the default piano sound that comes with Synthesia and any decent VST is night and day.
I’ve tried many free and demo versions of VSTs over the years, but the one I currently use for videos is the CFX Concert Grand ($199.95) by Garritan, recorded in Abbey Road Studio One. I would highly recommend trying the CFX Lite version first for two reasons. Firstly, it’s nearly the exact same as the full version for more than $100 cheaper and is already good enough for most hobbyists simply looking for a VST to use with their MIDI keyboard. Secondly, Garritan actually gives you a discount for the full version of the CFX Concert Grand if you buy the lite version first. Buying the lite version then the full version upgrade is cheaper than buying the full version itself.
I personally found the lack of ambient mics in the lite version to be degrading, which is why I chose to upgrade to the full version. However, I would definitely recommend trying the lite version first.
Garritan CFX Concert Grand
Other popular VSTs I’ve seen other YouTube pianists use are the Ivory II ($349.00) by Synthogy and the Ravenscroft 275 ($199.00) by VI Labs. In the past I’ve used Alicia’s Keys ($99.00) by Native Instruments, which I can also vouch for as a realistic piano sound.
I’ve also worked on improving video quality throughout the year. My primary goal with the visual aspect of these videos is to make them pleasing to watch without sacrificing ease of learning from them. Although I agree that animations, particles, and other visual effects are cool I’d rather not use them for the sake of using them if it detracts from the ease of seeing the notes. Note that this is still an ongoing process and something I’d like to continue experimenting with in the future.
Video posted in 2018
Video posted in 2019
YouTube isn’t really something they teach in school, so I wanted to offer some advice for those thinking about starting a YouTube channel to pursue their creative interests.
A good place to start is considering why you would want to do YouTube. It doesn’t have to be anything serious or heroic but I would strongly advise against it being about money. I’ve seen people start and quit YouTube channels simply because they weren’t getting the metrics, popularity, or revenue they dreamed of. Money in itself is a poor motivator and unfortunately doesn’t get you far if that’s your sole purpose in this platform.
Perhaps you want to entertain people with your sense of humor? Educate and teach people certain skills? Showcase your talents in art, beauty, gaming, music, etc? Become a better videographer and vlog your life? I’ve found YouTube to a great platform to share any of these passions and it’s easy to tell who believes in these ambitions because they’re the ones who continue to create no matter how large their audience is.
If you believe what you’re doing is good and it makes you happy, then keep going with it. It may take years before anyone notices, but you’re doing yourself a favor by following through with these goals. Be genuine, be yourself, and the rest will follow.
The first 1000 subscribers are the hardest. My channel after half a year of uploading.
Now that you have an idea of what you want to do, it’s time to put in the work. Treat every video as an opportunity to improve and refine your craft. Learn who the other content creators in your niche are and analyze their strengths and weaknesses. Reach out to them, watch and comment on their videos, and see if you can build relationships with them for potential collaborative projects.
If you reach a point where you’re earning revenue, consider reinvesting it back into your channel to improve the quality of your videos. Better equipment, cameras, and software can go a long way in creating better videos. You want people to expect a certain level of quality when they see your videos on their feed.
Think of your YouTube channel as a community of people who share the same interest as you. I generally believe that if someone wants to take the time to leave a comment, it’s worth reading and engaging with them. Talk to your audience, listen to their feedback, and be relatable. Acknowledge their requests and video ideas. I’ve been introduced to numerous great songs and artists over the past year thanks to subscribers who left song requests.
It might sound paltry, but reading some of the comments that people leave are enough to make my day. The fact that something I made helped someone across the world is highly rewarding, and is a big reason for why I continue to make these piano arrangements 🙂
For most people, success doesn’t happen overnight. Many of the large piano channels I follow have been posting videos for years, and this doesn’t include the time it takes to actually learn how to play the instrument. Although seeing the views explode after an upload can be a thrilling feeling, I believe that building out content for long-term success is the best path forward. There’s admittedly many other types of content I could post to gimmick/clickbait a quick view, but I’d rather my content be my own and be something I enjoy, which is making piano arrangements. I also want the audience I’m establishing to be composed of those looking to learn the piano/enjoy listening to piano covers.
If there’s one thing you should take away from this article, it’s that making it “big” on YouTube takes a certain combination of luck and perseverance and it’s easy to lose sight of your long-term goals if you focus too much on metrics and not on creating better content you can be proud of.
Good luck, and just remember to have fun with it. Happy new year! 🎉
Find Pianobin on YouTube.