By JC LAM
SURE, they have collectively amassed millions of viewers and subscribers on their YouTube channels, making each and every one of them celebrities in their own right. But a YouTuber’s path to online stardom is not paved in glitter and gold – especially now.
International YouTube stars David Choi, Kina Grannis, Madilyn Bailey, Jason Chen and Jun Sung Ahn – plus Malaysia’s own Jin Lim of JinnyBoyTV – were all in Malaysia recently to help add some star power to the Reach Out 2014 volunteerism convention.
During an interview with R.AGE, they told us their individual YouTube “careers” all started with a simple passion for their craft; but things might not be so simple now with YouTube so “saturated”.
“I think (every) industry is over saturated, with everybody trying to be the next big thing,” said Bailey.
“Do I think it’s impossible for someone to enter YouTube and be successful? No, it’s not impossible,” Choi added. “But you do have to be a little more unique and creative in order to stand out these days because everything has been done.”
But don’t worry, hope is not all gone! Jun, for example, only recently entered the YouTube community to showcase his talent on the violin just two years ago, but has already built a steady online following (possibly due to his good looks too).
Although already a veteran YouTuber, Choi remembers starting his YouTube account strictly as a social experiment because he found the instant feedback to his latest videos from people the world over “interesting”.
But along with the fame came pressure to live up to a persona that he had somewhat unintentionally built for himself – to not smile in his videos.
“It was really tough, because there were times where I really wanted to laugh when I was making videos with friends,” he confessed. “And then when I hit the (77,777) subscriber count, I smiled and that was the end of that.”
Bailey, too, had a steep learning curve to go through at the start of her career. “When I first started doing interviews, I was always told I was a bit boring. But I accepted that as who I am; that’s what my personality is and I don’t want to be anything but (me).”
While handling fan reaction can be challenging, being standout YouTube musicians also means having to deal with the pressure and lure of big record labels with enticing contracts. Because though it may be a dream to sign for a label, sacrifices are inevitable.
“I think the biggest thing you lose (when signing to a label) is that creativity that you wanted, and being able to do what you wanna do,” said Jun.
And Grannis, who joined and left a label due to creative constraints on her songs, strongly believes YouTube artistes will be able to make it big even without the help of a record label.
“It doesn’t matter where the music is coming from – it’s still music and people will listen and connect to it and that’s an amazing thing,” she said. “It’s enabled so many people to get to share their music the way they wanna make it.”
Choi added: “They’ve realised that people on YouTube have audiences that support them whether they’re signed or not, and that’s power, you know? We don’t need corporations to tell us what to do, because we are the corporation.”
It really is quite clear, though, how tight-knitted the YouTube community is, whether in the United States, Malaysia or even around the world.
“Collaboration is a great thing, because when you collaborate, you open the eyes of people from all around the world,” said local YouTuber Jin Lim. “People from the States, they now know what things like nasi lemak, or lah, or Ah Beng and Ah Lian are!”
And having each other’s backs, as we’ve found out, isn’t all about appearing in each other’s videos and songs – it’s also about saving each other in times of danger. Yeah, ‘cos being a YouTube celebrity can be dangerous!
“We’ve had someone try to kill us, like murder us,” Choi joked.
“That’s why the Internet is so great and (yet) kind of scary – you’re fully yourself and people know you,” Grannis said.
“I’ve had people at meet and greets grab me and go: ‘We need to talk! Why are you ignoring me?’ They think we have a relationship when we don’t, so it can get really scary.”
Yet, even with the crazies, nothing will stop these talented YouTubers from carrying on and entertaining their fans with their videos. And if you’ve ever thought of joining the community, well, now’s your time.
“I feel like the direction that YouTube is going in is sort of like a TV direction,” Bailey said. “It’s gonna end up being that each YouTube channel is like a television station with different channels, different shows on it; which is pretty cool!”