As of 2020, there is a grand and growing total of 37 million YouTube channels out there, a daunting number to say the least. Because of this, it’s unsurprising that the many of you reading this may feel like that number is just too large when put back to back with just one person—why should you bother launching your own YouTube channel, right? Well, just hold that thought. The thing is, the reason you start a YouTube channel may just be the reason allowing you to sustain it. In fact, your reason is everything, like any ambition, really. Comedian and YouTuber Max Fosh shared what it honestly means to have a channel on the platform—and fundamentally, his advice revealed the core of what it means to be a creator in any medium.
Fosh started his YouTube channel at university, and chatting to Screen Shot, he reflected on the, all too known among creatives, confusing stages of questioning what to do with one’s life: “I started at university doing economics and finance, and six months in I thought ‘Why am I doing this, what is the point in doing this?’” and so he transitioned over to English literature, having none of the qualifications needed to get onto the course, but a determination nonetheless to do just that.
“I walked into the English literature school and said ‘hiya I’d like to do your degree’ and they said, ‘great what was your English A level’ to which he replied ‘I don’t have one’ and they said ‘ah… well that’s a slight problem.’” But with the unwavering intention to get on that course specifically, he “managed to kind of negotiate my way into the school of English by saying ‘look, if I get a 2:1 in my first year of economics it shows I’m a good student, and it shows I’ll be an asset to your school.’ They eventually caved.”
And that’s what he did, sharing that “the choice of English Literature was purely ‘I want to do anything other than economics’,” and I can’t blame him, as interesting as economics sounds. What we tend to forget is to, first, question the reasons that drive our decisions. In many cases we choose to do things because of how it might look on our CV, to our friends or family, or in our bank accounts. These are all surfacely important things, but it’s far more fun succeeding in something that you enjoy, than in what you think you should be enjoying.
When asked whether he would start a YouTube channel today, if he hadn’t when he did, acknowledging the overwhelm of channels and algorithms that exist, Fosh told me that “I probably wouldn’t start a YouTube channel with the intention of it being my job, no. I think there’s a distinct difference that people need to understand when it comes to YouTube, because it is a platform in which you can experience anything you like at the drop of a hat. You can search and find a video about anything on this platform and so people come to assume that YouTube is a very instant platform that because you consume the material very quickly, it means that making that material and getting a name for yourself on the platform must also be just as fast, when really it’s just the absolute opposite.”
The hard truth is that when it comes to creative jobs, it takes an enormous and undervalued amount of patience and hard work, and this is true for any job. Fosh told me first hand that “YouTube takes a long, long time for it to become a job and so when I speak to people and they say, well, how do I grow on YouTube—I want to start a YouTube channel—I think if you’re starting with that intention you’re not going to last, because there are some bonkers statistics involved.
They’ve done research on the amount of videos uploaded per subscriber bracket, and the channels that have between one and 10,000 subscribers will have uploaded on average 130 videos. Those with 10,000 to 100,000 subscribers on average have uploaded 500 videos and so on and so on. So it takes a monumental amount of work to get noticed on the platform.”
Fosh continued by saying that “to start is still doable, it’s feasible, it’s an opportunity to have a career—I’m not diminishing that. But the amount of work involved is enormous. And so, I probably wouldn’t start from the beginning now and think I want to be a YouTuber, because it would be such an overwhelming sense of enormity. I think that’s where a lot of people go wrong, that’s why a lot of people stop YouTube.”
What we should all take from this reflection in particular is basically that, simply deciding to be something and expecting immediate success, and usually not getting it immediately, will deter anyone that doesn’t create the time and patience, as well as flexibility to put forward into making the goal a reality. However, with that being said, luck is involved, chances are something to be created, and grasped. Fosh got lucky, but he was clever enough to grasp the chance his luck created too.
He told Screen Shot that “I got lucky in two ways. One, I found my niche quite quickly, so—people on YouTube talk about having a niche and you need to have your ‘thing’ so, for a long time when I was at university I was the guy who interviewed drunk students. Now that wasn’t something that I spent hours agonising over which a lot of people do, they spend hours thinking ‘what’s my niche, what am I gonna do, how am I gonna be different’. I was lucky in the sense that I just started making videos, so I had made 30 or 40 videos which I knew I was kind of good at, which was talking to people and getting humour out of people on the streets.”
That’s effectively how Fosh ‘started’ on YouTube, just by starting somewhere. To say again, it was not without patience. In fact, he only gained 200 subscribers over the course of a year, which in the language of social media, is not much at all. Because he enjoyed what he was doing so much, he kept doing it, and those 30 or 40 videos, already on his YouTube channel, allowed for what happened next.
“I went to London and I was walking on the street and I walked past a guy who I watched YouTube videos of, I was a fan of this guy, and I said to him, ‘hi mate, sorry to stop you in the street but my name’s Max and I make YouTube videos—I can do everything under the sun, these are some of my videos, what do you think?’ and he was like, ‘ah they’re quite good actually, do you want to come and be my cameraman?’ and I said yeah sure!
So, I then started working for this guy for three months, completely for free just being a helping hand in London. I worked in a pub but if he said to me ‘can you be here in 20 minutes’, I was there. I would pretend I was ill at work and whatever, and so on one occasion he messaged me at 8.30 in the morning saying ‘can you get to the O2 Arena in 45 minutes?’. It was one of those ‘look over to the clock on the wall look over to my watch’ movie montage moments and I sprinted to the O2 and I got there on time. All this was just an opportunity to work with someone that I was a big fan of.”
Three months down the line, Fosh managed to work on a video in which he gatecrashed London Fashion Week dressed up “in stupid clothing.” That precise video went viral overnight and Fosh woke up with a whole new audience. “Now, if that had happened and I had nothing for people to watch on the channel, it would have been a flash in the pan and I would have forever have been that guy who only did that silly stunt. But because I had spent a year previously just making videos and putting them onto YouTube, just as a place to home them, they suddenly had something to watch.”
As a result, Fosh’s new audience started interacting with his content and “from that point it’s just been a very slow growth. That was in April 2019, so nearly two years later, I’ve been lucky to grow the channel to 330,000 subscribers purely because I had that initial audience, that initial funneling of a huge audience, but they had something to watch.”
Going back to finding your niche, like in Fosh’s case, he was ‘the guy who interviewed drunk students’ when starting out. Having a niche is fundamentally important. By creating clear ideas of who you are and the content you produce, and to who, alongside setting goals to reach them, your ‘thing’ will only be made easier to achieve.
Initially, Fosh started out by asking himself: “what am I going to do that’s totally different?”. Which is what a lot of people do, “they sit in what I call the metaphorical classroom, and they think ‘how am I going to become the next big thing on YouTube?’, expecting that if they make one video they spent so much time thinking about, it will then come to fruition. That doesn’t happen. It only happens once you create, and therefore you become more creative.”
The YouTuber told us that he “took a video series idea, interviewing drunk students at university,” and started from there. Continuing that “Now, that is not a new idea. Ever since man has had a camera they have been sticking it in the face of drunk people, and asking them to say silly things. My own university had a TV station that did exactly that, and one of the reasons why I started ‘Street Smart’ was because they didn’t give me a job at the university radio station. So I just thought, well fuck you I’m going to start my own.” The series, which is now well known on his channel, was a launch platform as well as a niche. By realising that, he gained control of it.
Over the course of his career so far, he explained that “My niche has changed, my narrative has changed over time. Because of lockdown especially… and so I’ve had to reinvent myself. So, it’s something that constantly changes, because otherwise if you think, ‘right, this is my thing and I’m going to stick to it’, you get old, your audience will know what you are for a year or two years and that’s it—that’s the other big problem on YouTube—you might burn out or become yesterday’s man.”
This is where flexibility comes in, which is important in any career path, as much as deciding what one’s niche will be. Launching your niche is almost just a short term goal—being known for it becomes the next, and so on, and effectively a career becomes a series of transitions. In Fosh’s case, “I’m trying to learn as many different skills as I can, to make myself as future proof as possible.”
Planning ahead also, or preparing to be lucky, plays a huge part in someone’s success on the video-sharing platform. Fosh has an entire show ready to go by the time the world socially opens again, but he isn’t simply waiting around for that to happen. He sees “an opportunity here for online personalities and YouTube creators to break into the mainstream, we’re seeing it slowly.”
Fosh’s career is on the cusp of another transformation, but what allows him to fluidly succeed in whatever he does next is down to his foundation. Metaphorically speaking, you can’t have a tree that survives the seasons if its roots aren’t firmly planted. When asked if he’d move completely off of YouTube if his career led him in a different direction he said no, “because I feel that would be slightly biting the hand that feeds you, and I’ve got an audience on YouTube so I will still be plugging away.” Ultimately, that’s where people found him. “There’s this weird paradox where the more successful you are on YouTube, the less you do the thing that made you successful in the first place.”
Evidently, Fosh’s priorities are realistic, and admirable to consider for anyone out there wanting to work with an audience. He acknowledges that you have to “keep that audience on YouTube satiated and topped up, because once the TV show stops filming, you’re going back to that audience.” He continued that “as long as my mental health is still okay with it, because being on YouTube is, I think, so incredibly draining.”
Sustaining a YouTube channel obviously isn’t simple, there are many facets to be aware of and hone in on. For example, editing the videos. If anyone has ever used Final Cut Pro without help, you’ll know the sweat. Fosh does, and struggled—to begin with. “I just sat at the kitchen table and watched YouTube videos and learnt the basics that way. So that first day sucked, I just found out what the blade tool was and how the programme basically looked” but he persisted, “the first one always sucks, I’ve cried over video edits before thinking, ‘I don’t know how I can make a breakthrough with this or how I can make this interesting’.” He questions himself, and detaches objectively from his work: “I’m always thinking ‘okay, when is the audience getting bored?’.”
With thanks to his flatmate, who Fosh asks to watch the videos and raise his hand when he gets bored, it means that we, his audience, don’t—and therefore watch more of his videos. “The most important thing as a creator is to know when you are losing your audience. Because as creatives we can get so engrossed with how amazing and important this piece of content is because we’ve spent so long making it, so we have a personal deep connection to this edit or this piece of writing or whatever, but Joe Bloggs on the street has just got five minutes of his time, he doesn’t give a shit if you’ve spent three days making it, he just wants to be entertained in the five minutes that he’s giving you. So, I need to make sure that every single edit that I make is enjoyable for him to watch in those five minutes.”
When it comes to scripting video, everything is in context. Fosh told us that he scripts “rarely, because most of the time the best stuff that happens comes off the cuff, live. Sometimes I don’t get a good enough video, and if I don’t, I don’t, that’s tough shit.” Trial and error is important, and YouTube has an analytics feature that allows you to work out when people are dropping off, meaning, at what point people might be finding it boring. However, when he isn’t working on a Street Smart video, but for example, his ‘First YouTuber to own a roundabout’ video, “you still need to think of the way you are going to keep your audience involved, so you a need build up, pay off, crisis point about three times in the video to make the audience stick around. For these kinds of videos, I will work methodically…You learn this by watching very methodically what other people are doing on the platform.”
Another mistake that people make when starting out on something that is yet to prove as lucrative, is spend a lot of money on something that frankly isn’t necessary, “I do not believe in any shape or form that you need to have the best gear; phones are good enough now that the camera and with the audio quality on a phone you can make a viral video, and it’s been done so many times.”
It’s safe to say that, well, Fosh has a lot to say, but more importantly, a lot for you to listen to. His advice can and should be applied to any potential or current entertainers reading this, but through chatting to him there were a few things that overshadowed much of his technical advice, because let’s be honest, you can teach yourself that—just like he did. What really can’t be learnt through Google is experience, genuinity and reason. “I think the biggest question that you need to be constantly asking yourself is, ‘am I bringing value with this piece of content?’. Just take a step back from the ego side of it all and look at it, watch it back, and even get someone who’s a friend, an honest friend and say is this good?”
“The most important thing is value—people’s time—although people might not think it. People’s time is very precious, why should someone bother to spend five minutes of their time or even 30 seconds of their time, however long it is, looking at something that you’ve made, why? Why, constantly ask why. And if you think that you can provide a bit of entertainment or a bit of education, a bit of something positive to that person’s life in that 30 second time frame, then that’s the most important thing. If you honestly think you can do that and you think you are doing that with content then you shouldn’t worry about growth or metrics or numbers because ultimately, that will be the thing that will help you grow.”
Being a YouTuber is a sought after job, and it’s understandable as to why that is: “it looks fucking amazing.” A lot of the time for example, “there are YouTubers who sit and play video games, they talk to a camera and they get paid millions of pounds.” But fundamentally, Fosh said that no matter what content you are producing, the real thing that matters is that “If you do it for the right reasons and you do it because you love making stuff and you love creating then you will have the patience, the time and the perseverance to stick it out.”
With anything, not just YouTube but the entertainment industry—“If you’re a comedian, you have to go and do the tour of pubs at two in the morning, I think you have to do the YouTube equivalent as well to make it on the platform.” For anyone that doesn’t understand what this means, he’s telling you to put in the work, because you just don’t want to be doing anything else.