Upon sitting down for our interview, I’m already answering Aj’s first question in my mind..”How has social media changed your life”. If it wasn’t for social media, Aj and I probably wouldn’t be sitting here together, sipping on coffee, and talking about his online and real life success as a singer and songwriter. Being one of the first content creators to ever partner with the company in 2009, Aj has “paved the path” so to speak for hundreds upon thousands of other singers and songwriters looking to build an audience online.
In this interview he shares his experience and advice for anyone looking to start a YouTube channel of their own and how to take that success online into the real world.
Would you say social media has changed your life?
Yes, but it’s also been a huge part of my life since I was 14. I got started with Friendster and Xanga back in 2004, they were the first big blogging sites and I noticed there was a community of people who connected online, and I wanted to be a part of that. The term “social media” didn’t even exist at this point, but that’s when I started writing music. Then Myspace came out and I realized I could be posting my music on my profile. We’re talking beginning stages of MySpace though, there wasn’t even a music tool at this point, I had to upload all my music to a Real Player module, there was a lot of learning involved.
In 2006 I found this free website called YouTube that allowed me to upload full videos and all I wanted to do was cross promote my MySpace. It wasn’t until 2008-2009 that I started realizing the community that was growing on YouTube. I started paying more attention to the people watching my videos, it was the first time I realized I could communicate with my fans. YouTube taught me to engage, I realized people were hungry for content on there so I jumped at the opportunity to provide them that content.
At what point did you realize you could have a career on YouTube?
It wasn’t until I was in school at Berkeley College of Music (2008-2009) and YouTube introduced the partner program. There were only a couple 1000 people who were accepted at the time, me being one of them. There was an application process, I had to write an essay basically explaining how and why I should be making money off of my videos. It was really then that I thought “this could be an actual career” because Youtube was willing to share their ad revenue with their content creating community. Because of Youtube I was booking shows, my first out of state show was in Florida, and then I started booking shows out of the country, the Philippines, Australia, etc.. and it was all literally because of YouTube and the exposure I was receiving.
How has social media played a role in your music success?
I would say it gives independent artists the ability to be on the same playing field as mainstream artists. Creating song covers online help because we don’t have millions of dollars to put our music on the radio. But we can use the internet to put these songs, our version of them, on the Internet. Social media has given us the ability to create some noise, some buzz, to get our names out there. It gives us, independent artists, the ability to create consistent content online, and subsequently help us make a living so we can continue creating music of our own.
What advice would you give someone trying to break into the online music realm?
Right now with the over saturation of content creators, you really have to be yourself. No one in the world can be you, and it’s so easy to copy other people’s moves and success. To truly stand out, you have to be yourself and not get caught up in the views, the likes, etc. Because at first, you’re not going to get that much. Be consistent with your vision and the quality you want to maintain with your videos and your art. The more you can stay true to that, the more you can stay in your own path, and nobody can own that except for you. Another piece of advice I would give to anyone looking to breakout online is to ENGAGE with the people who support you and the people who will stay until the end of the video, this is vital. Consistency with your content is also a big deal. The best way to pay back your audience for their support is through your work. Whether it be a fully produced music video or something you create quickly and on your own, your audience is there for one reason only, and that’s to see you and support you.
“Be consistent with your vision and the quality you want to maintain with your videos and your art.”
What is your process for putting out content?
I would say Instagram has been a great tool to put out previews of videos I’m creating. Anywhere really, anywhere that you can put out your content (Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, etc..) The more you can get people to click on that link from outside platforms, the better the jumpstart will be. The first day traffic really determines how well your video is going to do, from my experience anyways. Especially if you aren’t posting everyday. Lately I’ve been using IG Stories for their “swipe up” feature, it’s a great way to instantly get people to my video.
How does your relationship with your audience play a role in your content creation? Do you ever feel pressure?
I definitely feel pressure from time to time. You always feel like there’s some type of deadline for the content you’re creating. Building a genuine audience is SO important because these people will stick with you until the end, regardless of how often you’re posting. And the only way to build a genuine audience, is to be authentically yourself at all times. If somebody can’t tell what you do in your last 10 posts, whether it’s on Twitter or Instagram, then you need to remind them, and yourself, why you’re even creating content to begin with. Keeping that relationship up with your fans and yourself, is so important. People have such short attention spans these days, they need to know who you are and what you do as quickly as possible.
If somebody can’t tell what you do in your last 10 posts, whether it’s on Twitter or Instagram, then you need to remind them, and yourself, why you’re even creating content to begin with.”
Do you like the title Content Creator?
I read this quote the other day that said “Why do people call us creators? We’re not God, we’re not creating anything” and it made me laugh. I think if you put “content” in front of it, it makes a lot more sense. I’m not ashamed to be called a YouTuber or an Online Musician, that’s what I do, it’s how I pay my bills. Own whatever title people give you, and also, make sure you have your own title. When people introduce me at shows as “Aj Rafael, YouTube Star” I also make sure to include that I’m also a singer and songwriter. Because at the end of the day, creating music is what I’m passionate about, YouTube is just an added bonus.