This week we’re getting to know Julian Smith—storyteller, performer, artist, among other titles—whose YouTube videos have acquired an impressive following. After his first video went viral, “25 Things I Hate About Facebook,” he was invited to be a YouTube Partner and has continued to provide numerous hit sketches and songs like “I’m Reading A Book” and “Hot Kool Aid.”
Julian will be participating in Playlist Live, a 2-day event the weekend of March 26th in Orlando that features interactive talks with and performances by well-known YouTube personalities. Also headed to the event is TuneCore CEO Jeff Price, who will be speaking on a panel called “Monetizing & New Media.” Read on for more about the man behind the videos.
Describe the origins of Julian Smith the performer?
When I was in Kindergarten, my teacher thought I had mental problems because I didn’t draw pictures the same way my friends did. My parents saw the drawings as my way of expressing myself creatively, and soon after, decided to begin homeschooling us kids. I was always encouraged to pursue whatever inspired me and that eventually lead me to filmmaking and music. Because of my flexible schedule, I was able to explore these things actively and began working on set at a very young age. I started freelancing at 15, and began getting hired by local production companies to shoot and edit before I could even drive myself to and from jobs. After turning 20, I found that telling other people’s stories didn’t fulfill me creatively – I wanted to write my own. So I saved up a chunk of money, quit freelancing, and started a blog where I could release content on a regular basis. Within 4 months my first video went viral, I was invited to become a YouTube partner and began generating ad revenue. Today, I went to the grocery store and did some laundry (not sure how specific I’m supposed to be here).
Was there a plan or did it just come to be that you were recording video and releasing songs? Has your popularity forced you to develop a plan?
I’ve always had a plan but it’s definitely evolved since my stuff started getting traction. I try not to make plans so concrete that I can’t dig them up to remember what they’re made of. Too many people let their plans walk all over them when it’s supposed to be the other way around.
Without using the words “alternative,” “pop,” or “rock,” or “hip-hop,” describe your sound.
Like your neighbors screaming at you to turn it off.
How did you get involved in the event?
Kevin Khandjian at District Lines handles my merch sales. They’re putting the event together so he invited me.
What are your expectations for it?
One thing I’m especially looking forward to (and I’ll go ahead and speak for online content creators everywhere) is the audible response from the crowd during the performances. Creating content online allows you to receive feedback instantly, but you can’t see or hear the reactions. Which is not only really insightful, but a lot of fun.
Who are you looking forward to seeing?
My friends from my hometown who are coming out to work with me during the event. It’s always great catching up with YouTube friends too, but I see them frequently since most of them are in LA.
Do you perform live often?
I used to, a handful of years ago. But not too much anymore. That will be changing soon though.
Can you explain how to best use YouTube to both promote yourself and generate revenue?
Create content regularly and engage your audience. Tell them what they’re watching as if they’re watching NBC. I look at each of my sketches as a commercial for my brand. When you get it right, your content will grow legs, walk around, and do the promotion legwork for you. It doesn’t take a street-team, it takes you wrestling your idea until you win. PS: Be gentle — it has to walk around promoting you afterwards. PPS: You won’t win every time.
How did you hear about TuneCore?
From people I’ve worked with. TuneCore has been great for me — so glad I found it.
How do you approach recording a song?
Usually, I start with the chorus. I try to make the main melody simple enough that even someone who can’t hold a tune can instantly remember and hum it back. Not that everything should be elementary, but when you’re building a house you don’t start with the crown molding either. Music is one of the only art forms that sparks an imitative reaction. People don’t quote movies all the way through, or paint while browsing art galleries, but they sing while listening to music. And they’re a hundred times more likely to get your song stuck in their head if they can actually sing it.
What kind of equipment do you use to record? Do you record at home or in a studio?
I record both at home and in studio. I try to do it primarily from home though. I have a small Pro-Tools setup in my workspace and can track/mix/master most songs from there.
Do you have a marketing budget?
In a way…but in this space, it often gets all lumped in together. Like I said earlier, your videos, no matter their intended purpose, are little advertisements for your brand. I spend whatever necessary to make sure each one of my videos not only looks and feel how I want it to, but that it’s also communicating what I want people to think about my brand. In the past, that’s cost me as little as five bucks, and as much as a grand.
Do you give away music for free?
I give away free ringtones – but the songs themselves, no. Sometimes I put months of work into my songs. Gotta keep my lights on if I’m gonna make more.