YouTube Done Right: Vaughn George
January 17, 2020
How to make a successful YouTube channel depends less on posting uber-cool videos than one might think. According to popular YouTuber Vaughn George, achieving thousands of active subscribers comes from creating a happy community where people feel at home. He began as DIY musician Vaughty and still drops official releases on the regular. His music does well — so well that it’s been called life-changing — but things really changed for Vaughn when he considered YouTube.
Today, Vaughn George’s YouTube videos get up to 2000 views in a day while others go viral. But regardless of the numbers, there’s no doubt he’s made something important to music lovers and music makers from virtually nothing, so we talked with him about how it’s done. This is what he had to say.
[EDIT: Our friends over at Rotor also made this great (unofficial) Vaughty video to show off the quality of an Octiive x Rotor music vid. Check it out, and learn here how you can affordably make your own (official!) music video in half an hour and have lot of fun doing it!)]
How to Make a Successful YouTube Channel: Make It a Network!
What’s your channel, and how’d you pick the name?
The channel is called Vaughn George. The reason I called it Vaughn George is because it started off as “Piano and Keyboard Artist,” but I realized quite soon in the game that it was best to actually name the channel after my name so that my name becomes the brand. The reason for that is because it’s really easy to market a name and a face. “Piano/keyboard artistry” is a generic term. You can’t market that. So I’ve got the Vaughn George Channel.
But you said something about it being a network…
One of my subscribers said to me recently, Vaughn your channel is more like a TV network than a YouTube channel [laughs]. It’s sort of a central hub where everything I do comes into the YouTube channel. It started off as just tutorials, but it’s now about artistry related to pianos, keyboards, and synthesizers. We do interviews, we still do tutorials, Geek Talk — the Geek Talk series is where we focus on the more geeky elements and aspects of pianos and synthesizers and music production. There’s a new Fletch Files feature which is parody … and it’s all there to see. It sort of brings everything into a central point.
And now I have a new series called the Rising Star series. Rising Star is where I will be interviewing up-and-coming artists related to pianos, keyboards, and synthesizers, artists who haven’t been discovered. So I’m hoping to do my little part for the music industry helping artists I feel deserve recognition, and, you know, to interview them and get them exposure. Oh, and I’ve also got another section coming into the fold called Cover Me. That’s just a group of short videos on which I perform covers, singing and playing piano of popular songs.
Every program on the Vaughn George channel has its own theme tune and its own graphic. So it is a bit like the Fox Network or AMC like that.
How has your viewership grown since you started? What has been driving that growth?
The channel has grown very, very quickly. I don’t want to get into what constitutes a big YouTube channel or a successful YouTube channel, but the growth puts it in one of the better tiers. I don’t want to brag, but the growth has been very, very good.
You know when I started talking about Alan Wilder and Depeche Mode and things like that, just really talking about things that I love, I think this is where my enthusiasm showed for the subjects I was talking about. And I think that enthusiasm resonates with people. That’s really where it really started to grow. When I hit a thousand subscribers, within a week after that I had 4,000. Then it grew very gradually. Now it’s at 8,350 [plus thirty gained overnight] and it’s still growing, but it’s kind of plateaued. It’s not growing quite as fast now as I would want it to, but it’s still growing. As I incorporate more subjects and material, I believe in the Snowball Effect.
But, you know, I’m not playing to the gallery here. I just want to focus on my group and what I’m passionate about.
I think also the fact that I’m very hands-on helped, and that I started the Vaughn George Facebook group. In the beginning I answered every single question. That helped, too, but of course I can’t do that, anymore.
How to Make a Successful YouTube Channel: Create a Community
What about your channel makes you the most happy?
What really makes me happy is that I get so many people reaching out to me through email and stuff — and I know this sounds dramatic — but I’ve had people say to me, “Vaughn, you’ve saved my life.” I’ve had a couple people literally say to me they’ve considered killing themselves, which is quite dramatic, but this channel has given them a reason to live. Someone told me that about my Vaughty music, the first album, which wasn’t a great album — I’m not trying to make light of it — but when you give someone a reason to live it’s very flattering. I sometimes look at this and I can’t believe it’s me, can’t believe people are saying these things to me. I sometimes feel I don’t deserve it really.
What are you most proud of right now?
I’m really proud of the community. What I’m so proud of in this community is that I really tell I’m giving people value. I’m really proud that I can honestly say, based on the feedback, and even if you go into forums like Reddit and stuff, the Vaughn George community is a community unlike any other on the Internet. It’s a place where you can come and talk about the genres and topics we talk about in an open and honest way without feeling you’re going to be shut down. I don’t want to get into politics, but the world is very polarized right now … In this channel I really try to make a place where you can be yourself. If we disagree with each other’s opinions, that’s fine. We don’t dislike someone just because they have a different opinion, and so far so good.
This is been a phenomenally grown-up and mature environment. And when I say ‘mature,’ I don’t mean age-wise because we have some teenagers. I have people in my Facebook group as young as 14 years old. I’m pretty proud of that.
Get More Subscribers on YouTube: Be Yourself
What advice do you have for people wanting to start a YouTube channel now?
There are always people saying the market’s getting saturated. That’s a very negative way of putting it. What I’m doing is not completely unique; however, I believe the way I approach it is unique.
We’ve got the Vaughn George Channel with all these different programs, a sort of network. That’s unique. When I do album reviews, there are many people who do that, but I also play the music and sing it and give you a 360-degree review of the album. I’ll talk to you and critique it as a fan, but also as a singer, producer, pianist and keyboard player.
That’s unique, too. my presentation style is like two friends sitting in a room. My videos are longer than they need to be, but I don’t play to the gallery. I’m not one of those guys, one of those YouTubers who attacks the camera, “Hey guys hit that subscribe button!” and they try to talk so quickly …
Get More Subscribers on YouTube with Hospitality
Why do you think the Vaughn George channel is so successful?
I think my channel is successful because I remember my viewers are people.
When you watch my YouTube channel, I want you to feel like you are a guest in my house. And if you’re a guest in my house, you’re not going to be a guest for five minutes, you’re going to sit there for as long as we need to sit there. And of course I get criticized for that by people who go to the channel for the first time, but my community are strong. I do run it like an old network with an intro, an outro — it’s a little old-school and I imagine it doesn’t get me as much traffic as I could get, but this is the way I do it and I focus on my community and my community are everything.
My advice to you is if you want to start it just get started. Pick a subject that’s interesting to you and find your niche. Don’t wait for the stars to line up, just get started. Because as you’re going things will inevitably change. I started as a tutorial Channel and look where we are now. I’m doing interviews, eventually music videos and such, so just get started. Pick your niche, get started, and be yourself. You cannot get away with this YouTube Thing by not being yourself because you’re doing it so often, and people see you all the time. If you’re not yourself, your mask is soon going to wane and people are going to see through you. That is the best advice I can give you.
How to Make a Successful YouTube Channel: Do It Yourself and Keep at It
Have you had any help with it? Do you have some people behind the scenes?
I’ve done everything myself. I do all the editing, I do all the filming, I do all the music for the series. I’ve done some of the intro graphics. I’ve had to learn everything myself [laughs]!
Necessity being the mother of invention, I don’t have the resources and the funds to do things. It’s nice when — I mean I’m not ranting — but it’s nice if you have a rich mom or a rich dad and you can just throw money around. I haven’t had that opportunity, so I’ve really had to just do everything myself. That’s also why I signed up with [independent music distributor] Octiive. I’m a little bit anti-corporate. Well, not anti-, but I don’t like the corporate thing, and Octiive is a more rock-and-roll, more independent thing. I look to fly the flag for, maybe not the underdog, but the more sincere cottage industry.
I’m glad about all that because the skills I’ve learned doing these things are skills I will have for the rest of my life. And I don’t want to boast, but I’m pretty proud of myself for having done all of it and being able to achieve what I have so far.
What would you say has been the most unexpected challenge in hosting your channel?
Just keeping on top of it. You start it off as a hobby … the most unexpected challenge really was how quickly this group just sort of blew up and went bang. It’s like, when a baby is born you can’t just put the baby in the crib and leave it. You need to look after the baby — and this channel really is my baby — it needs constant attention. It’s still an infant and it still needs constant nurturing and love and care. That was really the unexpected challenge was just really how much work it is.
But I really love this. If I play my cards right, I’ve got no doubt that this could be my full-time gig. Thing. For the rest of my life. So fingers crossed.
Get More Subscribers on YouTube and Reap the Benefits
How has having a successful YouTube channel on music benefited you?
Someone told me the other day that they canceled their Netflix subscription and they’re going to subscribe to my Patreon instead [laughs]. Things like that. There is a certain kick you get out of it when someone says to you, “Vaughn I’m 50 years old. I was lost, but because of you and your Geek Talk, I bought myself a keyboard and a synthesizer and said ‘screw this, I’m going to get started.'”
I feel that it’s inspiring people I get a kick out of. We’re human beings, and I think we’re here to serve each other and to look after each other. When people say that this channel has changed their life, I’m like, if something happened to me tomorrow, I could live with that. Is that dramatic [laughs]?
And now you’re rubbing elbows with legends …
Quite a lot has happened. I’m getting a lot of messages now, people reaching out to me wanting to work with me, people wanting me to mix for them or produce for them or to collaborate, other YouTubers wanting me to partner with them … It’s just been really, really positive. I feel there’s been such a whirlwind, there’s been such growth. And the channel has really only been around about a year! I can only imagine what it’s going to be like in five years’ time.
I can’t be complacent — I need to keep upping the ante and pushing things. We had Brian Griffin on [award-winning photographer, Depeche Mode cover art]. He happens to be my neighbor, ha ha, so that was convenient. We just interviewed [pioneer synthpop DJ] Rusty Egan. It is kind of like a Snowball Effect because once you’ve interviewed someone who’s famous and successful, you find others who are famous and successful want to speak with you as well. It does help.
What are you most excited about with your channel right now?
I’m really excited we’re going to be interviewing Dave Bascombe [producer: Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, Echo and the Bunnymen, Erasure, the Verve…]. He produced Depeche Mode’s “Music for the Masses” album. I’m excited about that, just as I’m excited about Brian Griffin being a regular guest on this channel and the Rusty Egan thing because, as famous as these people are, I was amazed to see that no one has ever interviewed Brian Griffin regarding the Depeche Mode album cover. Which is amazing! And the same with Rusty Egan.
If you watch my series online, you will see he influenced the sound of the ’80s in a phenomenal way, and no one has really ever interviewed him in-depth. So for some reason, by default I’ve stumbled on a situation where I’m seeing gaps in the market. I’ve found a need to fill a hunger for this type of content a lot of people want, and so far so good! It’s working. So yeah, I’m really excited about that and many other things. Also maybe being able to quit my day job [laughs].
And Vaughty. You’ve still got Vaughty.
As you know, I’ve got the Vaughty project, which is how we first met when I first uploaded it to Octiive, and you’ve always been so supportive in your reviews. Vaughty is in full swing. We’ve got a new album coming out soon with the first single called “Sleeping Dogs” and the album is going to be called “The Yearning” and that is in full-scale production at the moment. We’re actually just laying down the vocals. And at the same time we are running the YouTube channel, which is probably the best thing — probably one of the best ideas I’ve ever had.