Rex Pearson is one of the new generation of musicians finding their audience on YouTube first and foremost. He has more than 50,000 subscribers to his channel and 1.9m lifetime views, but how did this happen, and what are his tips for other musicians?
Pearson talked about his experiences at the by:Larm conference in Oslo today, sharing some of the key lessons from his last 7-8 months, when the bulk of his subscriber growth has happened.
Pearson’s channel was originally about guitar tutorials, rather than focusing on playing original songs. “I want to show what you can do when you become a musician. I’m trying to work with other YouTube artists, and do collaborations,” he said. “I’ll do a video for them, they’ll do a video for me, and we’ll both publicise each other’s videos.”
He showed an example: a cover of Wrecking Ball with BallZee Beatbox and Laura White:
Pearson is keen for his channel to help other artists like BallZee and Laura find their own audiences on YouTube. “It’s a separate world to the music industry at the moment, but there are things coming together,” he said.
Pearson was asked about production quality, both in terms of video shooting and audio. He admitted there isn’t really a budget to get outside producers in: “I had to learn how to use cameras, although I had a friend who’s a camera operator who helped. The editing, the colour-grading, are things I’ve learned over the last few months. And a lot of that has come from YouTube,” he said.
“They offer training sessions to anyone who’s on YouTube with a certain number of followers. I had no idea how to use a camera eight months ago, but once I knew how to film, I had all these ideas for music videos.” Pearson also uses the YouTube Space – a dedicated studio complex created by YouTube for its stars – to film videos.
Pearson described his channel as “a passion project: you’ve got to do it for the love of it rather than for fame or fortune” and warned that being genuine is one of the most important attributes, rather than chasing the money by making videos that you think people are going to watch in droves.
He added that there’s been a shift in emphasis within YouTube recently: “YouTube’s idea at the moment is if we can make the stars even bigger and more successful, they’ll inspire more people to want to be like them,” he said. “It’s a bit of a shame. I think it’s going to provide inspiration for people, but my view is they should be focusing on grassroots and building it that way.”
The conversation turned to MCNs, with Pearson saying he’s been approached by 60-70% of the major MCNs. “All the contracts they offered me, when I had a relatively small subscriber counts, they were two-year contracts. My worry was that I was tied into a two-year, and that I think is too long, particularly on a YouTube platform. I understand why they do it,” he said.
How much money does Rex make from YouTube? He admitted he’s been advised never to answer this fully. “I worked full-time when this first started, and then in the last 7-8 months I’ve been able to drop to two, three days part-time work,” he said – his job is teaching music and music technology.
“This last year I was able to earn more from YouTube than from my job. But most of that income wasn’t from YouTube. The majority of the income you get is indirectly through opportunities. For example, one video: Ubisoft, the maker of the game Rocksmith, paid me to do a video that was a review of their game.”
For about a year and a half, Pearson released a new video every week, but it’s since dropped to one full video a month. “But I still release content. Here today I’ll release something about reaching the 50k subscribers and about being here [at by:Larm],” he said. “It’s good to have a schedule – a day when you’re going to upload and people know they can check your channel – but also to have some surprises.”
Pearson was asked for his views on cover versions and copyright. “Doing covers is probably the most established way of getting people to hear what you’re able to offer. And it is a risk at the moment, because it’s such a grey area. There’s a risk that your video and all your hard work could be pulled down,” he said.
Is he hoping to get signed by a label? “Not any more. I used to be. I would obviously not turn it down, but it would not stop me from continuing to do what I’m doing now,” he said. Pearson does have some original songs on his channel, but he said he’d like to work more with established artists, and do arrangements of their songs in a unique way.
What kind of interaction does Rex have with his audience? One way: he makes a show called Rex Meets, an interview show with the YouTubers that he collaborates with, fielding questions from their fans. “The audience can participate and ask us questions, and get to know us better,” he said.