Welcome to Creators Going Pro, where in partnership with Semaphore — a creator-focused family of companies providing business and financial services to social media professionals — we profile professional YouTube stars who have hit it big by doing what they love. Each week, we’ll chat with a creator about the business side of their channel, including identifying their Semaphore Moment — the moment they truly went pro.
Now, 10 years later, she’s an indie music pro with 3.2 million subscribers who regularly releases stunningly high-quality music videos for her covers and her own original songs. And 2019 is set to be her biggest year on the platform yet: on top of continuing to release covers and lifestyle videos (a genre she expanded into over the past couple of years), Alvord plans to release one new original song per month — music video and all.
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For Alvord (who’s a Fullscreen client), much of her YouTube career has been DIY. She learned how to edit, how to create attractive thumbnails, how to make cover art for iTunes and then Spotify, and how to forge relationships with other pros in her space (like regular collaborator and fellow YouTuber Kurt Hugo Schneider).
Don’t get us wrong, though — as much as she’s DIY’d, she’s also worked with some big production partners, including Maker Studios, AT&T, and Fullscreen. The latter two were behind the digital series Guilty Party, a high school murder mystery where Alvord (also an actress) had a featured role. And last year, Alvord got a shout-out from Kelly Clarkson, who included her cover of Clarkson’s song “Medicine” in a mashup promoting Clarkson’s role as a coach on competition show The Voice.
While music is Alvord’s primary focus, it isn’t the only thing on her mind going into this year — but we’ll let her be the one to reveal what else she’s getting up to in our chat with her below.
Tubefilter: Tell us a bit about your background. Where are you from? When did you know you wanted to be a singer-songwriter?
Tiffany Alvord: I was born and raised in California, and fell in love with songwriting when I was 10!! I taught myself guitar at age 13, and found YouTube when I was 15. I decided to post originals and covers for fun, and after about a year or two, realized I wanted to do this full time. What I love became what I did, effortlessly!
Tubefilter: You’ve been on YouTube since 2008, and your content has changed a lot in terms of production quality over the past 10 years. How did you make the decision to start investing more time and money in your channel, and go from girl-with-a-mic to the incredible productions you upload now?
TA: Everything with YouTube has been so natural. With every step I took, and as my fanbase grew, different opportunities allowed me to grow with my audience. For example, I started playing and singing in my bedroom with a Kodak camera that happened to have a video function. That camera made it sound like I had a lisp, but got the job done.
After two or three years of just posting covers in my room (and upgrading my camera where I could), I was contacted by Kurt Hugo Schneider, who reached out to see if I wanted to produce an original with him. That led to more opportunities where I started doing professional recordings and videos. As YouTube grew, I was then able to invest more into my music! So it’s all been very progressional and steady!
Tubefilter: Do you have a per-video production budget? How do you budge for your channel overall?
TA: The music industry has changed a lot. Over the years, through watching my income from iTunes, ad revenue, and now Spotify, I’ve determined how much money I can put into my YouTube content. I always want to be a smart businessperson and to grow and profit (or at least break even, haha).
When iTunes was popping, I would go to an amazing producer who was hourly, but I was always beyond happy with production. He would be anywhere from $800 to $1,200 per finished audio track. My video rate for simple covers would be anywhere from $250 to $800. Total, producing a song and video can be anywhere from $1,500 to $1,800.
However, music has changed a lot, and since now people don’t really buy music and it’s all streaming, I’ve had to make adjustments. Now, I’ll try to do full video and song for $750 to $800. Some musicians can record and produce their own tracks, and I’ve always been envious, because it’s a big expense for weekly videos.
Original songs are a lot more costly, and go anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000, and any pro directors say that’s a low budget! I think people underestimate how much goes into making original art and how important each person involved in the process is.
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for?
TA: I would have to double-check this, but I believe it was in 2012 when I was finally able to monetize covers.
Tubefilter: Have you had any sponsorships or brand partnerships for videos? How did those come about?
TA: Yes! Especially in 2015, when I was partnered with Maker Studios. Part of the deal was that they would bring me X amount of brand deals through our two-year term. I was so fortunate to work with amazing brands like Disney, Ralph Lauren, Playtex, Target, Mattel/Barbie, and more! This has continued through the years, but most brand partnerships are through Instagram now.
Tubefilter: How has being on YouTube affected your music career? What has the platform specifically done to help you turn into a pro?
TA: Well, for starters, I wouldn’t have had a career in music if it weren’t for YouTube. I’m from a suburb, with a large family, and the internet made it possible for me to put in the time and dedication to consistently growing a fanbase. I couldn’t drive, and didn’t have funds to break into music the traditional way. YouTube allowed me to slowly grow and learn and adjust so I could make it a full-time job. If someone just stuck me into full-blown music videos or straight to the studio, I don’t think I would have had the same drive or just experience to do what I do now. The process is what was so fun, and it’s been a rollercoaster of a journey!
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realized you were a professional YouTuber/creator?
TA: When I had my first ever “big show” — it was the YouTube Stars Concert put on in Singapore in 2012. I’d never received so much love or had so many people singing along to my songs. It was so surreal and heartwarming. The next day, I held a meetup at a mall and ended up getting mobbed and had to have security whisk me away. It made me realize how insane YouTube was, because it enabled me to create a fanbase ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE WORLD!? It was the first time I saw that the view counts on my videos weren’t just numbers, but real, amazing, genuine people supporting me! I’ve never stopped being grateful.
Tubefilter: What’s your production schedule like? Do you have a set filming/uploading schedule?
TA: Because the music industry has been changing a lot, I’ve been trying to adjust and stretch outside of just music — aka by doing get-to-know-me videos/story times/fun lifestyle videos. I’m still in the process of including more on my channel, but within music, my goal is to upload one original song per month this year. With that, I’ll have supplemental lyric videos and behind-the-scenes videos. Right now I’m at a every other week upload schedule.
Tubefilter: Have you ever experienced creator burnout? What’s it like to balance keeping up a thriving YouTube channel (and Instagram account) with songwriting for yourself?
TA: Definitely, I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve worked so hard or crushed a lot of videos one after another that it becomes hard to try to keep up with every social media avenue. If I ever feel burned out, I usually take a week or two and re-center and remember the WHY of what I do. I always want to be proud of what I make, but I also want to enjoy it and enjoy sharing and connecting. When I remember the why, it takes off the pressure, and I remember to just be me and do what I love.
I do sometimes get caught up in all the “work” and what I have to do that my casual writing in my free time, or writing what I feel for fun, becomes more obscure. But whenever I get a little break or go through something hard, I always go to my roots and take quiet time and write, which brings my soul back to life. Finding balance is a constant thing, especially when everything I do is very spontaneous and things come up last minute.
Tubefilter: You mentioned working with song and music video producers before. Who else do you work with behind the scenes? Do you have a manager? A team? Any employees?
TA: For the majority of my career, it’s been me and my mom on my team. My mom has been my day-to-day manager keeping things up to date on my website and helping ship out CDs, T-shirts, posters, and other merchandise. She takes care of emails and helps me manage what’s coming in.
As an independent artist, building a team is very important, but it’s also tricky to find people that have my best interests at heart. I have go-to videographers and go-to producers but they change from time to time.
I have different hair/makeup artists that I’ve met through friends or on sets, so I have a few I trust and LOVE. For more professional videos, they always come through!
I also have a trusty attorney to make sure I’m not accidentally signing my life away to any brand(s), haha, and he’s been great!
I’m always wanting to continue growing my brand and team, so when I work with someone, I want it to feel right and like it’s a good fit for everyone involved. I feel I’m still searching for the right team to take things up a notch and help with other areas of entertainment I’m interested in, like acting!
Tubefilter: What do you think are the most vital skills you possess as a creator?
TA: I think some of the most important skills are reading the room, or the audience, and being smart with the content I’m creating. I always love to hear what fans want, because they are the reason I am where I am — but at the same time, I’m always being authentic to who I am and what I want to create.
I think just having experience as an independent artist over the last 10 years and learning and knowing different platforms, I forget that what I know isn’t just common knowledge. When people ask for advice, I realize there is an art and craft to posting videos, down to the title and tags and thumbnail.
I think editing my own videos has been priceless, because it’s how I edit and express who I am: through edits that make me feel seen.
Another skill is editing thumbnails for YouTube and cover art for what I release on iTunes/Spotify. A lot of what comes with YouTube is learning to do everything on my own to stay creative and also stay within budgets. But it helps me stay on my toes and also grow creatively with these different skills.
Lastly, I’ve learned to be a better business person. Working with brands, learning my worth, asking for what I need, having better communication… I’ve learned negotiation, and I also realized that for every person who interviews me for work opportunities, it’s just as much me interviewing them to see if they fit my goals and needs. I realized it’s a two-way street and I get to choose who’s on my team, and that’s so powerful!
Tubefilter: What’s next for you, your music, and your channel? What are you building toward?
TA: Right now, I’m in the process of releasing new songs, which will be bundled into a five-song EP. The first two songs, “I’ll Never Be Your Girlfriend” and “No One Can Love Me,” are out now. And I’m in the process of working on the others!
Something I’m working on for 2019 is creating something bigger than just my music. I want to create a movement where I can build s team and support system for people to connect and plug in to. I want it to be fully inclusive for what others need physically, mentally, and spiritually to be their best selves. I want to help people know they’re not alone, but also inspire them to find purpose and happiness.
My music has been so fun, and I’ll always continue that. But I also wanna dig deep into people’s hearts, because we’re all going through something, and I think realizing that we need each other and sticking together will actually help change lives — and if not, at least better them!
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