LWIF X EP9: Can I Make A Living Producing Videos Again?

In the last videos, I talked about why I started the LWIF channel and what it was like to go viral and be “famous” (it’s in quotes for a good reason). This one is probably the most nerve-racking video I’ve ever released. I’m letting people see my inner dialogue for the past half year, and asking them to weigh in on my future.

At this point in the series, providing you watched the other bits, you know that the creation of the Life Where I’m from Channel was never about making money. I was hoping that people would watch and that maybe after a year, we would be able to get a couple thousand subscribers and a similar number of views per video. I thought those were realistic goals and would have been quite happy to get that. In fact, I was so confident about the channel not getting attention and not making money, that Adsense wasn’t even turned on for the first half million views it received. I only turned on Adsense after realizing that most channels also had it turned on, and if I didn’t, it felt like I was throwing away money.

You might be wondering though, how much is half a million views worth? I’m not allowed to share concrete numbers, but a general rule of thumb is that you’ll make $1 per thousand views. So maybe $500 dollars was what I didn’t make because I didn’t have Adsense turned on from the get go. The amount of money you make per view widely varies based on the content, time of year, whether the views are natively played on Youtube vs. embedded on other sites, and I’m sure a lot of other voodoo. When you’re video goes viral and gets embedded on a lot of sites, the amount of money you make per view is a lot less than the money you would make if people had watched it directly on YouTube.

When the bathroom video went viral and I saw some of the initial Adsense money, I was like, “Yeah! Perhaps this money can help pay off the couple thousands of dollars I just spent on a new camera.”

Whatever money has been made on this channel has all gone into equipment. I still have more to go in order to pay off all my purchases, but I’m almost there.

The fact that some money is coming in via AdSense is still impressive to me, as I thought the possibility of making any significant amount of money from the videos would be fanciful thinking.

So, the thing is, you don’t make much money off of YouTube views. You can do the math on what 10 million or so views would net when the payout is about a dollar per thousand views. Like I said though, we’ve had many non-native Youtube views, so our numbers are below that. So it’s really awesome money for a part-time hobby, and it’s money that can finance all the equipment involved, but it’s nothing fantastic for someone who makes videos as a living. I know in some parts of the world 10 thousand a year would be fantastic, but to support a family in Japan, well, even the lowest paid full-time workers make more than that.

Tangent Time

Now I’m going to go off on a bit of a tangent and talk about making videos, and in being an entrepreneur, solopreneur, freelancer, or whatever else you want to call working for yourself.

When I used to run my video production business, a problem was that it was mainly myself working on the videos, and there is only so much you can do on your own. You can’t be working on billable projects all hours of the day. At least half my time was spent on general running the business work, whether it be making quotes for clients, driving to and from places, maintaining equipment, doing bookkeeping, and on and on. You can also get really busy at times and make a lot of money in a month, and then go on relatively dry spells and have to dip into your savings. It’s a very unpredictable life, and the only thing you have to go on is your confidence that you’ll continue to get work… or in other words, your hustle.

Over the years, here’s a few things that I’ve learned about working on my own.
One, is that if I produced quality or unique work, usually someone would eventually notice. Although, it didn’t necessarily mean I’d make money from that work.

Something else I found, was that whenever I started out on a new idea, it was usually some variation of it that ended up working out. For example, I originally started my video business making graduation videos for high schools, but how I was actually able to make a living was by producing wedding videos, and then later on, corporate videos.
So, even if you have good content, what often matters is the demand. You can make great stuff, but sometimes there simply isn’t demand for the specific thing you’re doing. But, if you do produce quality content and try enough ideas, eventually something always seems to work out, at least in my experience. Nothing I have ever done has really been successful right off the bat, and most ideas would take a year or two in some alternate form before they started to work out…

… Except with Life Where I’m From.

Except that’s not completely true. While Life Where I’m From was WAY more successful than I could have imagined, I had been thinking / planning for almost a year before I actually put anything online. Definitely 6 months before anything went live on YouTube, I was actively working on the idea.

Also, I do happen to be a video producer, so it’s not like I just started making videos one day, posted my first ever video online, and it turned out to be successful. I’ve made hundreds of videos and posted over a hundred on YouTube, and this is the first time my videos have ever received any significant attention.

In other words, don’t get discouraged if something is not working out for you, as it may take years. And honestly, sometimes ideas don’t work and you have to move on to other things. Just take it for what it is, which is a learning experience. Try your best, grow yourself as a person, and improve your skill set. And really, you only need to do it as long as you enjoy doing it. For some reason, I have this desire to make videos, and would make them regardless of whether or not I get paid. I may not have to make videos every day, and sometimes I can go a year without making one, but somehow, throughout my adult life, it’s something I go back to time and time again, because it’s something I feel the need to do.

Getting Back on Topic

Alright, let’s get back on track here. I was talking about making a living producing videos. At this point in time, I don’t do any corporate video work in Japan, but because of the number of people that watch the Life Where I’m From videos, a bit of money is made from AdSense. The money is awesome to get for something you like to do, but nothing that would support a family.

Actually, getting any money at all makes the work feel a bit unauthentic. Is my family now making videos just to make money, or are we doing it because we enjoy it? Can it be both? One thing I know is that I don’t want to produce the videos just for the money. I don’t want my kids to have to be in videos just so we can pay the bills.

The thought of making a living creating videos has been a huge weight on my mind for the past half year or so. I have a business background, so I kind of feel like an idiot for not doing more to monetize the videos on the channel. But like I said, I don’t want to monetize the kids, but I’m also already doing that! So I have this internal struggle, where I feel like I have this opportunity of a lifetime with this big audience that actually cares about what I’m creating. But, I don’t want to treat the audience as just a way to make money, and the same can be said for my kids.

But, I have some ideas for projects I want to work on, projects that I think people want to see, projects that wouldn’t need to involve my kids. However, I’d need to get funding so that I’d have the time and resources necessary to do what I have in mind. And my kids wouldn’t necessarily be in the videos, so do I even have an audience anymore? I can totally understand that many people may be watching the Life Where I’m From videos because, let’s face it, kids doing things is much cuter than adults doing things. I’m pretty much a ball of contradictions at this point.

Because my professional work is based on contracts, my income is constantly fluctuating from month-to-month. Any time I don’t spend working on contracts (or trying to get them), is time where I’m not making money. That’s the simple fact of life for a freelancer. I don’t like working the typical 9-5 job where you clock in and clock out, but it would be nice to have a dependable income that I could rely on.

For now I’ve only made simple, easy-to-make videos, but I’ve started to think about the what ifs. What if I could create videos that dived deeper into the subjects that I’m currently only able to touch on? If I want to produce them though, I’d need to make money doing it, because the videos would take up so much of my time that I wouldn’t have enough leftover with which to support my family. Are people willing to fund these videos that I want to make?

Since I started producing videos, one of my dreams was to produce a feature-length documentary. However, I think for the most part, documentaries, at least in the 90 to 120 minute format, don’t work so well on Youtube. Of course there are exceptions, but I think most viewers would rather watch eight 15 minute videos in a series vs. a single 2 hour documentary. Besides the length, the other thing about the documentary format, is that the connection you have to the creator isn’t as strong. Most of the documentaries I’ve watched have their creator’s hidden – Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock excepted. Part of the reason I really enjoy creating on YouTube, is all the interaction that I’m able to have with the viewers. And since the viewers, you, are actually commenting and discussing ideas with me and amongst yourselves, I don’t even think the term viewer is the right word. Participants? Community? You’re definitely more than just a viewer.

Documentaries also tend to be drawn out production affairs, which take at least a year to make, but more realistically, 2, 3, or more. Documentaries are big, ongoing commitments to ideas that may or may not work. So documentaries scare me.

Since the concept of doing a feature-length documentary doesn’t seem like the right move at the moment, I’ve been wondering if I could create a documentary in parts, sort of like how the Serial podcast tells a single story over the course of many episodes.
Then I started thinking, what if I didn’t commit to doing a feature-length doc on a single topic? What happens if I could pick multiple issues to cover in-depth, kind of like how John Oliver or V-Sauce take on a new topic each episode. They spend around 10-20 minutes to cover a topic in relative depth. The coverage is better than fly-by news reports, but not as deep as documentaries.

Ok, so these mini-docs are starting to sound like a more achievable format, but how would I fundraise a series of them. If I’m creating a series of videos that has no defined end, I’d probably have to get funding that’s ongoing? Would the funding be on a per episode basis, ensuring that people only pay for deliverables, or on a monthly basis, ensuring that I’m not simply creating videos to get the cash. What happens to the project if I need more time, get sick, or something else?

Another question about funding, is how is the content different than what I’m already producing? The answer I’ve come up with, is that I would not get funding for the types of videos that I’m already doing. Instead, I would get funding for a special series of videos, videos that are more in-depth, that I would spend more time researching and creating, and that would have me out and about getting footage. So, I’d continue to make my regular LWIF videos and LWIF X videos, but, perhaps once a month or so, I’d create a special in-depth video.

Like I said previously, I’ve thought about this for about half a year now, and I think I’m kind of coming up with a plan to try out. But I really need your input. Do you think it’s worthwhile to do the more in-depth videos? Do you think funding on a per episode or monthly basis would work, and if so, which one? Would you fund a project like this, even if it’s just $1 per month or $1 per episode, when it’s something I’ll just put on YouTube and distribute for free anyways? I don’t want to create anything that’s behind a paywall. Perhaps, if over time, there was enough content created on a specific topic, like schools maybe, a feature length documentary could be pursued, but at this point, my current thinking is that I would put all the content on YouTube, and have that version of it exist there, and be free, forever, for everyone.

I’m thinking that Patreon is the ideal platform to test out fundraising. If you’re familiar with it, people can fund a project on a monthly, or per episode basis, and in return, they can get some perks. Like access to special behind-the-scenes stuff, private group chats, input into the content, etc… If I were to do a Patreon campaign, what kind of perks do you think would work?

I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m very nervous asking about this. I kind of feel like a prick. Hey, give me money so I can create my videos. I have a roof over my head, fancy equipment, and am making money from ads on YouTube. But hey, give me your money.

I mean, I know people who write books get paid, people who make movies get paid, and other people on YouTube get paid (I even support some of them), and I’ve produced videos for corporations and individuals and have gotten paid; but this is different. I’m asking people to pay me directly to fund a project I want to work on, that I want to do.

I wrote a whole list of pros and cons, and have had so many mixed feelings. But what I seem to have come down to in the end, was that if I really want to work on this project, I need external help to buy myself time and resources. I’ll need to travel outside of my home to gather footage and meet people. I need to spend time researching the topics.

And even though I have some great equipment, you always find yourself needing more. For example, my iMac is three years old and doesn’t handle 4k very well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic computer, but it’s just not designed to edit large amounts of 4k footage.

So that’s why I’m seeing if anyone has interest in this. If there’s no interest, no harm, no foul?

Also, the way that I’m thinking the Patreon campaign would work, is that all the content would be available to anyone, whether they supported it or not. So, if you have the means and desire to fund, you could go for it, but if you can’t or don’t want to fund it, then you wouldn’t have to. But if you were able to support it, you’d enable others, perhaps in countries who are not as well off, or people who are in schools studying, or people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck to make ends meet, to view the content.

The big topics I have in mind are the Japanese school system, homelessness, standard of living, cost of living, work/life balance, transportation, attitudes about other cultures, and well, I actually have a list of about 20 other topics. Is there some topic you’d like to see covered? Ideally, I’d like to introduce a topic on the X channel, get some idea of what questions I should be asking, and then after produce a special in-depth video a few months down the road.

Ok, I think you get the point, so I’ll just end it right here. I would really love to hear from you on this, whether it be about the special project I’m thinking about, being a solopreneur, or being a creator? Just let me know and I’ll try hard to answer all the questions.

As always, thank you so much for watching, and I’ll catch you, on the flipside.