Like, share, subscribe: my life as a YouTuber

I opened my YouTube channel in May of 2007 after I got a new Samsung Z560 mobile phone capable of recording videos in a very questionable resolution compared to what we have today. It was less than a year after Google bought YouTube in October of 2006 and nobody was sure what to do with it yet. Cat videos were probably already a thing, but we were light years away from the current production quality level. Technology wasn’t ready, people were not ready, we still had a lot to learn about that media.

My channel: Bella Ambiens

Fast forward to May of 2021: I feel like doing something else than what I usually do, which is coding, eating pizza and flossing my teeth with an ever increasing thoroughness. So far YouTube has been something I watch for training and entertainment: the media is rich with excellent tutorials, unboxings, longplays, reviews and even short movies.

Something I like above all are relaxation videos: rain sounds, thunder, all sorts of ambiances that, depending on the context, help me sleep or focus on my work. That’s why I chose to dust off my channel, rename it to Bella Ambiens and start giving it a new distinct visual identity.

I hired someone to do all this: thanks to Fiverr and a payment of AU$ 81, a kind stranger from Pakistan created a logo, a banner, 5 meditation videos and made sure SEO was done right. Could have I done it myself ? Absolutely, so why pay ?

Simple: I wanted to test Fiverr, see how it works from start to finish, see what it had to offer and if it could be trusted. Verdict ? It’s all good.

The next step was to produce videos by myself and I was in for a surprise.

Producing a video: how…much ?

The first video

I had to find the right template for me, a formula that would match my skills and budget. Being a Blade Runner fan, I decided to produce a relaxation video based on that universe. I needed music and some kind of 3D animation of a dystopian futuristic city, with a lot of rain, grime and fog.

Los Angeles, 2019. A dark, depressing dystopian city.

Browsing Fiverr for this made it clear that 3D is not cheap, but I found a nice 3D artist from Pakistan ready to give it a try against AU$ 163. It went like this: I contacted him for a quote, he made a custom offer that I accepted, Fiverr checked my bank account, a delivery date was determined, then production started.

I also needed music, something that sounded like the awesome work done by Vangelis on his analog Yamaha CS80 synthesizer back in 1982. Would Fiverr be up to such a task ? Maybe I was lucky, but I struck gold on the 1st attempt: for AU$ 60, a awesome French-speaking Canadian musician composed a 2:44 minutes track that makes you feel like you’re ready to kick some Replicants out of planet Earth back into some distant off-world colony where they belong.

How one video turned into 2 videos

After a couple of days, I had all my ingredients: a good soundtrack and a nice 3D animation. There was a problem though: they didn’t match in style. The animation was too colorful for a Blade Runner thingy. I had to improvise.

That’s why I contacted my musician again, sent him the animation and asked him to compose something that would match its mood. His price ? AU$ 71. Was I sour about it ? Not at all, because whatever is being produced is legally my intellectual property, I 100% own everything and can do anything I want with it.

After some time, I had one 3D animation and two tracks, which means I needed to find a way to illustrate my Blade Runner video. Again, I improvised: I went to Instagram, found a couple of pictures I liked, contacted the artists asking them under what conditions I could use their work and reached an agreement with Tran Trung Bao from Vietnam.

But I wasn’t done yet: I needed to edit the video, mash visuals and sound together. Being a GNU/Linux user, I chose Shotcut for that matter. It’s free, simple and full of fantastic features. It can even export directly to the best format for YouTube. Lovely.

Squares, rectangles and GIMP

Oh no, I was not done yet. See, pictures on Instagram are squares, while YouTube videos are rectangles. And vertical videos are a sin, so, no, I wouldn’t simply center my 4:3-ish picture in the 16:9-ish video, nope, not happening.

Once more, I had to improvise and use GIMP, a Photoshop-like tool, but Open Source, free and beautiful. I went back to Instagram, found pictures that looked right and went from this:

Original Instagram photo by Tran Trung Bao

To this:

I had to apply brightness and color correction in order to integrate the new buildings seamlessly

Finally…or not

After 3 hours of video rendering using all 4 cores of my 10th gen i7 CPU, I got my precious videos ready to be uploaded to YouTube:

Is she a Replicant ?

Total cost: AU$ 60 (shared with another video titled « Zen Temple »)

Some Vangelis-style Yamaha CS80 goodness for your ears

Neon City

Total cost: AU$ 234

Different in style, between Cyberpunk 2077 and Blade Runner 2049

Thumbnails & keywords: YouTube is also a search engine

Uploading the video to YouTube doesn’t mean you’re done. You must provide a quite extensive set of information to the platform: which playlists it belongs to, its target audience, indicate the presence of advertisement (Hello Nord VPN, Hi RAID Shadow Legends), tags/keywords, subtitles, license, categories…

YouTube needs all of this in order to properly promote your content, it needs to understand what it’s about and who it’s for.

Also, it’s strongly advised to upload a custom thumbnail.

Planning videos

The lifecycle of a video on Bella Ambiens goes like this:

  • Explore ideas: environment, mood, use cases (meditation, motivation, musical background…)
  • Recruit contractors on Fiverr
  • Look for illustration material for the video and its thumbnail on Unsplash or Instagram
  • Inspect delivered work; validate or ask for a revision
  • Assemble the video
  • Render the video
  • Upload to YouTube and provide metadata

It may vary depending on the video: as I’m still learning what works and what doesn’t, I experiment with different formulas. Videos illustrated using Creative Commons pictures or with custom-made drawings, yoga videos with an illustration taken from the video itself, videos using the YouTube music library…

As a consequence, the cost is not always the same. Here is a per-video breakdown of production costs:

Rain on the ForestAU$ 33
Elven WoodsAU$ 33
Dwarven CavesAU$ 33
Haunted ForestAU$ 33
Zen TempleAU$ 30 (shared cost with « Is she a Replicant ? »)
Is she a Replicant ?AU$ 30 (shared cost with « Zen Temple »)
Neon CityAU$ 234
TotalAU$ 611
– AU$ 426 for music + video
– AU$ 185 for custom logo and channel creation

Lessons learned

Quality artwork is either free or pretty expensive

You can find good pictures to use freely online, but they require varying levels of customization in order to match your needs. Depending on your Photoshop skills, it can be hit or miss. I am fortunate enough to know my way around that kind of software, but it can be a big roadblock to some people.

You can indeed hire people on Fiverr or even from Reddit, but the cost is likely to increase steeply. There is also a special kind of stress linked to getting custom art produced; it can take a few iterations to get what you want and you have to be able to say no, try again.

Buttons are not clicking themselves

While it might seem simple enough to create a video, after all, we all do that using our smartphones at a press of a button, there is a substantial difference between filming dog farts and getting a dutifully edited video out. The amount of work video editing can require is often unsuspected by whoever never spent hours in front of Adobe Premiere or anything similar.

Building an audience seems complicated

I still don’t have a formula for that, I learn as I go by reading blog posts, watching YouTube tutorials and using my own judgment.