Music Education on Youtube (feat. Luke McIntosh)

Being a sideman musician means you get to work and meet a lot of artists on the road and at various events. Not so long ago I worked with Luke and discovered his passion for educating and most notably, his educational Youtube channel. Naturally, I wanted to know more about his work outside our conversations between sets. So this interview is an extension of those conversations with my best attempts at asking relevant questions for any musician looking at investing more time into Youtube.

Outside of being a great educator, Luke is an honest communicator on and off the bandstand, with mature musical insight and a healthy sense of curiosity. Even if you’re not interested in using Youtube in any fashion, I encourage you to consider reading Luke’s concepts below, as his attention to detail is worth referencing when you next invest in any creative project.

Can you please clearly outline all your current musical projects and professions which make up your life as a professional musician?

At the moment, I’m freelancing around the Brisbane/SE QLD music scene. Roughly half of my work at the moment is on electric bass playing lots of corporate/wedding type stuff, but also a bit of original music as well. The other half, I’m playing upright – playing mostly jazz, and a pretty good mix of standards gigs and original material.

I’ve also just finished up the last semester of the year at a university where I teach some academic classes, take ensembles and also teach one-on-one online video lessons through Google Hangouts. It’s a new thing the university started this year. I teach privately out of my apartment as well.

I’m also involved with a project called Legend & The Locals. The premise of the project is to bring a bigger name artist and take them around to a bunch of smaller places that they wouldn’t ordinarily get the chance to go. I write choral arrangements of the artist’s songs and then every town we go, I work with that town’s community choir, rehearse them with the artist and they get to sing the artist’s song on stage with them at the gig that night. It’s a really cool idea. The last tour was with country artist Sara Storer and it was tons of fun. The artist for the next one has been booked, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say who it is just yet.

Can you share approximately when you started educating on youtube?

I actually started doing all the instructional videos when I was living in Kentucky around 2013. I had a student named Doug who came to me for lessons on upright bass and he made great improvements in his playing in a pretty short space of time.

It was actually him who suggested I put some of the stuff we were talking about online. I dismissed it at first, but he kept reminding me about it, and eventually, I did it. We were working on his intonation, so I kind of put all the different elements of what we did into a 12-part series called Effortless Intonation. I put the first video of the series on YouTube for free and you had to sign up on the website to get the other 11 lessons.

I did a few more upright videos, but then experimented with electric bass lessons and ended up totally pivoting to writing 100% electric stuff. It all started with Doug from Kentucky though.

Do you have a schedule for when you release content?

Absolutely. I publish every Saturday morning at 5AM Brisbane time. I use an analytics tool called VidIQ that analyses when your subscribers are most active and tells you when the best time to release a new video is. For my subscribers, it’s 5AM on Saturdays.

Have you seen any progress from following a schedule?

Absolutely. It was only when I started following a schedule and publishing something every week did I see real exponential growth. You can even see it in the analytics. Everything is sort of plugging along and then everything goes almost straight up; views, watchtime, subscribers. At the very start, I put out videos really rarely, and they actually did OK over the long run, but I started putting a new video out every week in February of this year. The 7th video really took off and lifted the whole channel in a huge way.

Then I stopped doing weekly videos in May and saw everything drop off a little. It was still better than it had ever been, but things slowed down. In July, when I went back to putting something out every week, things picked up again and after a few months of doing that, I had another huge explosion in everything. Consistently posting is a big priority for me now.

Part of it is just making a lot of content and not really knowing in advance which ones are going to resonate. I’ve had some that I thought were sure-fire hits that totally bombed – literally the worst performer of the year. And others I thought were kind of throwaways have gone on to hit really well.

The other big benefit to me of putting something out every week is that it forces me to constantly be making new stuff and thinking about new things to talk about. It means I have to be talking to my audience and helping them solve problems all the time.

Can you please share how you construct an episode (how long it takes etc)?

Sure. I actually have this whole process mapped out for myself now and I roughly know how long it all takes. Here is the step-by-step with rough time estimates:

Outline -​​ 0-10 minutes. This is the skeleton that I’ll write through. Makes the writing process way easier.

Research – ​​Depends on the video. If I need to search for examples of a concept in some songs or something, it might take an hour, or some videos don’t need it at all.

Script Writing – ​​Again, depends on the video. If it’s an easy one, I can knock it out in about half an hour. If it’s tougher, it might take up to 2.5 hours. Maybe even more. Usually, if I’m taking too long though, either the outline needs work or the actual idea isn’t solid yet.

Blog Post – ​​This is just the little piece of writing that goes with every video that I post on the site. It usually takes 15 or so minutes.

Email – ​​Same here – roughly 15 minutes. I send an email to my email subscribers for every video.

YT Description – ​​I just modify the blog post and use it as the description. Takes around 5 minutes.

Video Title – ​​Sometimes this is already thought out at the start. Other times it takes ages to come up with a good, compelling title that actually reflects what the video is about.

Script Editing – ​​Sometimes writing the blog post or coming up with a title, I’ll get ideas to include in the video to make it a little more compelling, so I’ll add these here and just do a last little tidy up. Takes maybe 15-20 minutes.

Shooting – ​​Roughly 30 minutes per video, but I do them in batches of 4 or 5

Video Editing – ​​Around 1 hour for 15 minutes worth of video. If there’s lots of tracks and graphics, a little more. If there’s not, then it’s quicker.

Uploading Video, Blog Post and Email – ​​Since I do all the work in advance, I just plug all the things in. It still takes a bit of time. Maybe half an hour of actually doing stuff.

In total, anywhere from 3 hours and 15 minutes for a really quick, easy video to maybe double that if I need to do lots of research and it’s a long video, with a lot of different camera angles, graphics and tracks and things like that.

When starting your youtube channel, did you have any experience with video editing, filming, lighting etc?

Absolutely not – and my first videos were seriously terrible. So bad, that I took them off the site and redid them. My process at the start was just me having 3 or so bullet points on a piece of paper and I just talked and played. It was long, drawn out, I’d go on tangents, there was no editing… I also didn’t really know anything about lighting so those early ones look pretty bad. I was filming in a literal basement with one of those workplace lights and it got so freaking hot! But gradually, as I learned more and invested in better gear, my videos started looking better and better – thank god…

I originally started filming using an old digital video camera I had, then when I bought a smartphone, I used that, and eventually I upgraded to a DSLR, so everything looks a lot better now. If I’d started with the DSLR though, my videos would still have looked pretty bad I think.

Where would you encourage artists go (online lessons etc) to develop their content creating skills?

That’s a good question, but I honestly wouldn’t know. Pretty much all the stuff I learned was through experimenting, trial and error and then Googling for solutions to problems that came up. There are probably tons of great resources that could walk you through the whole thing, but usually, I would come up against a problem and I would just search for the answer. For example, I had the biggest headache in the early days because I recorded my bass at an incompatible sample rate with my camera’s frame rate. I’d line them up in my editing software and they’d get out of sync really quickly. I didn’t know what was happening, so I just searched for the answer and eventually figured it out. Same with things like ‘Why does everything look so blue when I film?’ (I learned a lot about white balance) ‘How can I add graphics in the background?’ All these little obstacles – I just figured them out as they came up, and since I’ve

been doing this for a while now, I have less obstacles, so it’s a lot easier. I basically learned by doing.

What were your biggest challenges when you first started your channel?

The hardest thing at the very start was wondering what to talk about – just generating ideas of things that you think will be useful. I’d kind of hate all my ideas because they weren’t really interesting to me. It took me a long time to realise that it doesn’t have to be interesting to me. It has to be useful for the people I’m trying to help.

So while I might think the idea of playing the roots of the chords with the bass drum is obvious and dull – to a beginning bass player, that can be a revelation. Now, they have a framework they can use if they ever need to create a bass line. This was one of the videos that I thought was kind of a throwaway, but it ended up doing really well.

The other big challenge was the feeling of ‘Why would anyone listen to me?’ Especially when there are tons of people that already do a similar thing with seriously massive audiences and an established presence. It took me quite a while to really internalise the idea that people do actually value the things I talk about. It’s not an issue for me any more at all.

At the start, I also had trouble dealing with the negativity that can crop up in the YouTube comment sections. I could get 100 positive comments, but if I got one negative one, that’s all I could think about. This led to me kind of abandoning even looking at my comments for ages – I just didn’t do it. Then, a friend of mine found out I did the YouTube lessons thing while we were out with a group of other friends. He immediately pulls his phone out to go and have a look and he read through tons of the comments and starts laughing. He starts reading them out loud for everyone to hear – this scared the crap out of me. I hadn’t read these myself, so I didn’t know what to expect.

But as he read them out, pretty much everyone started laughing at them, and when I heard them being read out loud, I started laughing too. Some of them were genuinely hilarious – even if they were trying to be nasty. Going through that made something in my brain switch and now I actually kind of look forward to the negative comments. They’re good for a laugh, and every once in a while I’ll reply something funny or stupid back.

Do those challenges continue to come up after years working on this project?

For the idea generation – totally. I have to constantly put myself into a beginner’s shoes and figure out what will be useful and valuable to them. Of course, they tell me as well. I’m always getting emails from students asking questions and these are great! A ton of my videos have come out of subscribers asking questions.

Do you use Reddit or any other media platforms to promote your channel?

Not at the moment. I’m focusing 100% on growing the YouTube channel and using that to drive people to my website.

Have you received any musical related work from the channel (Gigs, tutoring etc)?

No. I kind of kept the whole thing ‘secret’ until a month or two ago. I just didn’t really tell most people what I was doing, and I certainly didn’t put any of it on social media. That wasn’t ever really the purpose of it though. It was to help out other bass players rather than get me more gigs or anything like that.

It may have been a factor when I got the job at that university, but I don’t know for sure.

Do you receive any income from the educational channel?

I do monetise my videos on the channel. I didn’t for a long time, but decided to try it and see if that made a difference in how the videos performed. So I put it on for a month last year and saw an increase in views. It could have been because of other factors, but I kept them on. It kind of makes sense though that YouTube would want to show monetised videos rather than non-monetised videos though. They would probably generate much less revenue if they only recommended non-monetised videos.

I was also kind of worried that I’d get backlash for allowing ads on my videos, but not a single person has ever complained about it. When I thought about my own thought process when it comes to ads though was that I never get annoyed at the creator for the ads on their videos. It’s either directed at the terrible ads themselves or at YouTube.

Do you sell or promote any of your own products on your channel?

This is where it gets interesting. I do have my own products, but I never really sell anything on YouTube itself. People don’t really go to YouTube to buy things the way they got to eBay or Amazon. They go to be entertained and to learn cool stuff.

The primary goal of the YouTube videos is to actually send people to my website and sign up to my email list. That way, I own the relationship with my viewers, I can send them a bunch of cool other stuff that’s not available anywhere on YouTube (PDF guides, bonus videos, backing tracks etc.) and if they’re into that, then when I open up enrolment for one of my paid courses, I can send them emails letting them know, plus show them how cool the paid course is going to be.

The revenue generated from ads on YouTube is way lower than the revenue generated through the paid products on the site. I don’t promote those on the channel itself though. The channel’s only purpose, from a business point of view, is to get people excited and interested enough to go over to the site and sign up to the email list.

Has educating online changed the way you teach students face to face?

Definitely. It’s forced me to be ultra clear about how I communicate different things. Making videos is a one-way form of communicating. There’s no asking questions and getting immediate answers. That means I have to think about the problem from ​their p​ erspective and answer their questions in advance – before they even have the chance to think about them.

This means I need to think of every concept from as many different angles as possible and that directly translates to teaching face to face. When I first started out, I was a pretty bad teacher – I thought of things in one way, and taught them in one way. Now, I’ll always try to have multiple ways of explaining every single concept. It’s my job to figure out what’s going to work best for each individual student and do it.

Given YouTube’s exponential growth over the past few years, do you think there is room for any more music educators or would you say there are already too many on Youtube?

I think there is always room for more teachers because there are always more people who want to learn and they’ll resonate with different things. For example, some bass players just learn by watching other people – they don’t want to have anything explained. They just want you to show them and they’re happy. Others like things to be explained in excruciating detail. They want every little minute question answered. Some want to be entertained while they learn – telling jokes, going off on rants etc. Others want very little of that and see it as a distraction. Everyone’s approach will be different and they’ll talk about things in different ways, which means a student will be able to find someone that really connects with them.

Do you believe you need to be a computer wiz in order to succeed at Youtube?

Definitely not. Of course you need to know the basics, but the actual process isn’t that hard – especially on the YouTube side of things. If you want to create a separate website, then there’s an extra level of complexity there, but again, it’s all stuff that you can figure out. Again, learning by doing is what worked really well for me.

What advice would you give to people new to the Youtube community wishing to start their own Youtube channel?

Start early, post often, and aim for ‘good’ instead of ‘perfect’ when you’re starting out.

I thought about starting for ages before I actually dove in and made some videos. Even then, I wanted them to be ‘perfect’ before I released them – I wanted the idea for the videos to be perfect, I wanted the production to be perfect, I wanted the perfect title, thumbnails etc. In the end, that craving for perfectionism got in the way of creating stuff that was ‘good enough’; maybe even really good! If I had focused on just making the videos useful for the people I was trying to help, I would have got a lot more done a lot earlier than I did.

Have you got any other channels you’re currently working on?

Not at the moment. I’m focusing everything on Become A Bassist right now.

Any extra comments of insights you wish to share?

Starting a YouTube channel or a full online business isn’t something that you set up and immediately brings in revenue – it’s a long term thing. If your goal is to bring in revenue quickly, finding in-person students is infinitely easier and way quicker. Over the long term though, you can have a much greater impact if you go from teaching 1-to-1, to scaling and teaching 1-to-many.

If you want more information on Luke head to:

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