By Patrick Sullivan

1. Don’t Be Boring

The first rule of YouTube: Don’t be boring. “Create content that you find fun, that activates you,” advises violist Drew Alexander Forde, known online as ThatViolaKid. “Look at what other people are doing,” says Forde, whose videos consistently rack up tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of views. “Use that research to set yourself apart. Nobody wants to watch a carbon copy.”

2. Don’t Spend Big on Equipment

“Anyone can make a YouTube video with their phone,” Forde says. “Phones generally have a good mic because they’re used for speech.”

But audio equipment—like cheap lavalier mics—can be worth the investment, especially if you’re using a digital camera. “It’s surprising to me how many musicians may have a good-looking video, but their audio is not mixed well or they use a low-quality recording,” says cellist and composer Dana Leong. Forde notes that people are much less likely to watch a video that sounds bad than one that looks bad. “They’re just more forgiving of bad visuals,” says the violist. 


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3. Watch the Clock

Short is the YouTube norm: The average video is a little over four minutes, and excessive length can turn people off. But YouTube’s algorithm gives improved visibility to longer videos that keep people on the platform longer (and watching more ads).

4. Edit, Then Edit Some More

Thoughtful editing is crucial. The good news is that editing programs are easier to use than ever, and you might already have one on your phone or iPad. Windows Movie Maker and iMovie are serviceable free programs. “They’re a great way to get started,” says Forde, who made most of his first 40 or 50 videos using iMovie. To go up a step, buy software like Final Cut Pro.

5. Embrace Imperfection

Forde says the biggest thing holding most string players back from making performance videos or other YouTube offerings is a fear of imperfection. And that’s a shame, he says. “But that’s where growth is,” Forde says. “When was the last time you learned something when you were feeling comfortable?”

Want more? For a longer, more detailed dive, read “Shutdown Skills Series: Learn to Make Awesome Youtube Videos.”

A version of this article originally ran in the January/February 2020 issue of Strings.