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YouTube Stardom 2.0: Tune Into YouTube’s Rising Stars
The popular video site is now a proven path to mainstream success. Shooting videos is a career, and the next generation of YouTube superstars means business.

When Anthony Padilla of Smosh posted his first online video in 2003 -- 2 years before the birth of YouTube -- he didn’t know that before long he’d be one of the biggest stars of the medium. He didn’t know that he’d never hold a regular job. When Michelle Phan started blogging makeup tutorials in 2005, she didn’t know that she’d become a household name and one day sign a deal (with Endemol Beyond) to create a media empire that offers far more than beauty tips.

For Padilla, Phan, and many others, YouTube was an adventure, a hobby, or just a fun outlet, but it wasn’t a career. The first generation of YouTube superstars could only imagine what online video would become. They needed to navigate fan appreciation, multi-channel network (MCN) contracts, and traditional media deals with no role models to guide them.

That’s not a problem for the second generation of YouTube stars. In 2014, we know that creating videos can be a great living for those who can attract an audience. Dedicated video creators who pull in a niche audience -- no matter what that demographic is -- find themselves rewarded with higher CPM rates and brand support.

For this article, we interviewed four up-and-coming YouTube stars. Our group shows an enormous range, proof that YouTube is about far more than cat videos (popular as they are). Age is no barrier: Matthew Clark was inspired by his young daughter Coco to create "Convos With My 2-Year-Old", and she regularly appears in his creations. On the other end of the spectrum, 80-year-old living legend Joan Rivers jumped on YouTube to create "In Bed With Joan," an interview show that lets the famously sharp-tongued comedian enjoy herself without network overseers.

While an engaging onscreen manner is crucial for a YouTube star, actually being on camera is not. Ann Reardon of "How to Cook That" usually only shows her hands, while Daniel of "VintageBeef" doesn’t show himself at all. They prove that anything can work on YouTube if it’s done well. "How to Cook That" teaches how to cook imaginative desserts, while "VintageBeef" offers let’s-play walkthroughs of Minecraft and other video games. "Convos" and "VintageBeef" originate in Canada, "How to Cook That" is from Australia, and "In Bed With Joan" is, of course, shot in Los Angeles. YouTube knows no geographic boundaries.

While these four creators don’t have much in common, they all understand the business of YouTube. All of them know the new reality of MCNs and brand support. All are savvy about running their shows like a business. And all of them know that creating videos and streaming them directly to viewers -- with no programming department approving the series or giving notes -- is a great job to have.

This is the next generation of YouTube stars, and they mean business.

"Convos With My 2-Year-Old"

One of the biggest YouTube successes of 2013 came from actor, director, and musician Matthew Clarke’s desire to “fail fast.” It looks like he failed, though, because "Convos With My 2-Year-Old" became a hit.

“I had a bit of a revelation,” Clarke says. “My tendency is always to work on these larger projects -- making a full album or writing a film -- and I got into a bit of a rut of not actually finishing any of these projects, which is kind of a bad place to be creatively. So I made a decision: I wanted to just do a lot of things quickly and kind of fail fast, fail often. I put out a little EP, and I started writing a few of these short web series ideas. In that batch of ideas was this idea for 'Convos With My 2-Year-Old'.”

In "Convos," Clarke acts out actual conversations between him and his now three-year-old daughter, Coco. The twist is that Coco is usually played by an adult man, actor David Milchard. The idea is instantly appealing and the show’s tone perfectly balances the sweet and surreal nature of the conversations.

Clarke is now in the third season of the show, with more than 685,000 subscribers. When the show became a hit, he had to quickly get up to speed about the business of YouTube.

“I had no idea what the money on YouTube was, so it was like, ‘Are we hundred-aires or millionaires, or what?’” Clarke says. “It took a while to gain our footing.”

Part of YouTube success is mechanics, such as releasing new episodes on a consistent schedule and making the episodes easy to find with thumbnails and playlists.

“The title of the series, 'Convos With My 2-Year-Old,' seemed to catch on and be very recognizable right away, and I think that was a huge help to us,” Clarke says. “The thumbnails, which is something we hadn’t even thought about, became a new way to brand the series. Figuring out the easiest way for people to find you, that’s definitely a big thing on YouTube, because there was so much content.”

Clarke was lucky in that he had friends who had experienced YouTube success, so he was able to tap them for tips. YouTube also reached out to him with guidance. After four months of "Convos" success, he signed on with Maker Studios. They were passionate about his show and it felt like a good fit.

YouTube success doesn’t necessarily mean getting big money right away. Clarke says he doesn’t have a yacht, but the show makes enough to keep going. So far, he’s completed one brand sponsorship deal: His family traveled to Disneyland to shoot a special episode.

“I figured if nothing else comes of this for my daughter, she gets an awesome time at Disneyland. So that’s pretty good,” Clarke says.

With Coco growing everyday, Clarke knows that his time with "Convos" is limited. That’s fine, as he’s eager to tackle new projects. For him, the exposure he’s getting from YouTube is the big payoff.

“If we can have this much fun doing it and be successful, but at the same time take this momentum and success and turn it into other projects, both on YouTube and off YouTube, that’s my idea of success,” Clarke says.

"VintageBeef"

Watching people play video games is huge online. How huge? YouTube recently acquired video game-streamer Twitch TV for $1 billion. And the most popular channel on YouTube features a young man who goes by the name PewDiePie playing games. He has almost 27 million subscribers.

A rising star in this world is Daniel, who runs the channel "VintageBeef." Surprisingly for a YouTube celeb, Daniel doesn’t crave the spotlight -- he wouldn’t give his last name for this article, for example. Daniel used to work as a traveling photographer for used car dealerships. Now, he’s traded that to create videos of himself playing Minecraft and other games. He enjoyed watching other people’s “let’s play” videos, and one day decided to create his own.

“I thought ‘Well, I want to give this a shot and see if I can have as much fun as them,’ Daniel says. “It started as a hobby -- I was doing maybe a video a week -- and then it progressed to about a video a day. Now, it’s my full-time job.”

Daniel credits luck to much of his success. He was able to get into a popular Minecraft server, for example, which helped him build a following.

“I got lucky enough to get accepted into a server early on, which turned out to be quite the server for Minecraft. It’s called MindCrack Server, and I got accepted into it early on when I still had probably a few hundred subscribers, maybe 700 at the most, and the top guy on there only had maybe 4,000 subscribers,” Daniel says. “Together we all grew as a team, and we kept adding people, and the more people you add, the more audience you’re exposing your channel to, so it kind of snowballed.” He now has nearly a million subscribers.

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