I sit cross-legged on a dark-coloured couch in a well-lit living room in Burlington, Ontario. Burlington is your average suburban town, with classic suburban accoutrements: large plazas are filled with Boston Pizzas, First Choice Hair Cutters, Curves Gyms. That’s it, really. If someone were trying to divulge my momentary setting at first glance, they would assume I was in the living room of a pack of average nerds in their early-twenties: Star Wars and Google paraphernalia lines the walls; a group of six or so young people play Rock Band raucously in front of me; dirty plates with scraps of chicken nuggets and ketchup remnants sit, forgotten, upon the coffee table.
But then there are clues that point towards the atypical. Someone is filming the Rock Band action on an expensive-looking HD camera, and from my perch on the couch I can see a mounted flatscreen in the kitchen that flashes as Twitter interactions are constantly refreshed. I’m in a YouTube house, a house comprising of 17 or so talented, coming-and-going individuals who specialize in everything from graphic design to SEO to music, dedicated to the production of videos that they graciously share with their 200,000+ subscribers on their YouTube channel, ApprenticeA. They’re a production team who’ve let a bit of Big Brother-style voyeurism into their lives; ApprenticeA’s fans not only like the original videos they make (such as Zelda: The Musical), but their daily vlogs, an edited compilation of, well, things they did that day, offers a glimpse into the lives of a group of young and eager, but utterly normal, if slightly unusually charming, people.
ApprenticeA was spearheaded almost two years ago by Corey Vidal, a tall, boyishly handsome young Star Wars nerd with a vivacious personality and infectious enthusiasm. Vidal is the face of his company–if you Google his name, “corey vidal girlfriend” comes up as the first hit (but maybe that’s only on my crush-y computer). Vidal’s most popular video, the one that inspired his YouTube mindedness, he posted in late-October, 2008, and is a lip-synced four-part a cappella Star Wars medley song. It has well-over 16.5 million views. For those with no concept of YouTube popularity, M.I.A’s “Paper Planes” video (which was posted in June, 2009) has just over 25 million views, while Justin Bieber’s “U Smile” video has over 62 million.
So why all this hulaballoo about some guy and his friends who live in a house in Burlington and tape their lives to put out as daily vlogs? Vidal himself even said to me when I suggested that their lives were surprisingly insular-seeming, despite immense YouTube popularity that they were kind of like a “cult.” But it seems that by allowing the open-ended YouTube community a look into his and his friends lives, he is using a tactic that reaches an audience whose lives are comprised much more fully of time spent on the internet: the dreaded 13-18 year old demographic. The demographic that attempts to explain vlogging to their parents and are met with blank stares. The demographic who, armed with unlimited empirical resources, consume to find their individuality, and find community in virtual spaces.
Vidal and co.’s story is not uncommon. These invisible odysseys of success exist in abundance in the hour of video that is uploaded to YouTube every second. Toronto’s GregoryGORGEOUS is another good example of this. Offering his fans one of YouTube’s most popular video types, beauty and fashion advice, he, realizing the importance of voyeurism to the interests of young fans, also produced a YouTube-based reality show called The Avenue about his move from a Toronto suburb to Yorkville. When I spoke to him on the phone from New York, he was refreshingly modest, and well-mannered, a trans kid with a good head on his shoulders. But does he live off of his YouTube fame? “I do quite well,” he responded, meekly. His manager interjects when I ask him the question later: “Gregory makes more than his Dad.” I am baffled. So if I start regularly uploading videos of myself doing things that I’m naturally inclined towards, whether makeup or Star Wars, will I become famous?
The future only will tell. YouTube is a viable business endeavour, it seems, monetizing more than 3 billion video views per week, with 98 of AdAge’s Top 100 advertisers having connected with the service for advertising opportunities. Having been purchased by Google in 2006 (for $1.65 billion, no less), they’re clearly in good hands, with no real threats from other services (like Vimeo), and vosiferous support from one of the biggest tech companies ever created. There are 800 million unique visitors per month on the site, and with the more popular channels, YouTube offers partnership opportunities. The top 500 on YouTube earn over $100,000 per year.
In the end, it seems that if you’re young and willing to be a smart investor and open your world up a bit with a camera, good things can happen.
…Jessica Carroll writes about art. Follow her on Twitter at @jssckr.