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.
There’s nothing Alex Clark loves more than telling great stories. Okay, that’s a lie. There’s nothing he loves more than telling great, funny stories. So much so that he used to be a stand-up street corner comedy busker, offering witty anecdotes to passersby. Nowadays, though, Clark doesn’t have to stand on street corners to find an audience. Instead, the audience comes to him.
We’re talking both on YouTube, where 4 million subscribers tune in each week (amassing between 10 and 20 million views each month) for a new animated comedy short, and in real life, where Clark’s fresh off a 23-stop comedy tour that sold thousands of tickets. His distinctive humor is what links his YouTube videos and his stand-up; in both, he tells humorous — and often cringey — tales of his growing-up days. For example, the video that first netted him a truly dedicated YouTube following was the story of his “forbidden love” — his childhood babysitter.
It wasn’t until last year, though, that Clark truly took his YouTube career to the next level. Up till then, to keep to his schedule of releasing one full-fledged animated short each week by himself, he was clocking frankly insane hours. (We’re talking 12 hours for every 30 seconds of animation, for videos between three and four minutes long.) Those grueling hours sparked what he calls an “epiphany”: the realization that he didn’t have to be a one-man team.
That’s what led to the launch of Alex Clark Studios. And though the studio started as a business that would bring together a team to support Clark and his videos, it’s since expanded into a full animation team-for-hire that offers its services to other YouTubers.
Alex Clark Studios has been up and running for less than a year, but it’s already brought Clark a team of five talented staffers, all of whom work behind the scenes on his videos. As for his stand-up, it’s still a one-man show — and that’s just the way Clark likes it. His recent tour was so successful, he’s decided to extend it with more shows this summer.
Until then, though, fans can count on, as always, one new Alex Clark video per week.
Check out our chat with him below about going from street corner to stand-up star to launching Alex Clark Studios as a self-sustaining business.
Tubefilter: So first, you just got off tour. Tell us how you hit the point where you thought a tour would be successful. And tell us a bit about the tour itself! How did things go?
Alex Clark: I first thought the stand-up tour would be successful after I got off stage at the first show. Up until that point, I was 100% confident someone like MrBeast was pulling a prank on me, had bought all the tickets, and I was going to show up and perform for zero people. It turns out, though, that there were thousands of people ready to laugh. We’ve performed 23 shows this year, and last I checked, we only had 50 unsold tickets across the entire tour.
Because of the success of the first leg, we’re adding about 10 more stops this summer. Stops include: Milwaukee, Wis., Omaha, Neb., St. Louis, Minneapolis, Raleigh, N.C., San Diego, and Fargo, N.D. More cities and info coming soon. A larger tour for 2020 with international dates will be added next year.
Tubefilter: What makes the show unique?
AC: The show takes the audience on the journey from subscriber No. 1 all the way to living the dream with 4 million subscribers and creator burnout lurking around every corner. I started out as a street performer that traveled across the globe performing on street corners, and here I am with a giant staff making animated content for the internet. It definitely gives me a unique perspective as a storyteller. The show itself is a celebration of that…an underdog story with a happy ending.
Tubefilter: What made you choose YouTube as the place to share your content way back in 2009? Did you think it could become a full-time career when you joined?
AC: Yes… I 100% believed in myself, and knew that my unique voice was something worth sharing. I had no idea it would take so long, but I’m proud of how far it’s gotten me. I hope it shows you should never give up on your dreams.
I first joined YouTube as a way to promote my performing career. Up until that point, I was performing stand-up on street corners and at street fairs as a street performer. I felt that YouTube was a great opportunity to let people know they could meet me somewhere and watch me indoors. Almost 10 years later, we finally pulled it off.
Tubefilter: When did you start drawing? How did you get into animation?
AC: I started drawing in middle school, before I got the performing bug. I set art aside as I performed more, but in 2009, I thought cartoons would be a great way to promote that I was funny. So I tried making one cartoon, and I went from receiving 50 views per video to 50,000 overnight. From that point on, I learned as much as I could about animation.
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue, and how much was it for? What about your first check outside of AdSense $?
AC: My first check was probably around 2010, and was for about $50. I was so happy. For the first few years, I received lots of $50 to $100 checks and would always save them up to invest in my videos. I bought all sorts of drawing hardware for my computer as well as subscriptions to the best animation software I could find.
My first check outside of AdSense was for creating a cartoon for slugbooks.com — they actually found my channel because I left a comment on a Domics video. From that comment, they watched a dozen of my videos and decided to offer me paying work. From that day forward, I started leaving comments on as many videos as I possibly could. You can never leave enough comments. I urge anyone reading this to leave a comment on this very article.
Tubefilter: You produce a polished animated short every single week. Can you talk about the process of creating a short? How long does it take, from conception to finished product?
AC: I’ve been very lucky to have assembled a small team of animators and writers who help me churn out the videos on a regular basis. It has been a huge undertaking to be on this stand-up tour — in three different states each week — and also releasing an animated video once per week. I owe a huge thank-you to my team for helping to make that happen.
For the first five or six years, I did all of the videos myself. At that time, it took me about 12 hours to get 30 seconds of animation complete. With our current setup, and a very thought-out pipeline, we have reduced that time down to about eight hours for 30 seconds of animation. Thankfully, the internet is very forgiving when it comes to posting craptastic videos. We try our best to make it as high-quality as possible — but understand that most people are watching these on the toilet and don’t care about quality as much as they care about it being fun.
Tubefilter: You mentioned seeing your views shoot up with your first cartoon… What about your subscriber count? Was there a particular video that netted a big subscriber boost, or did your audience grow gradually, over time?
AC: In 2016, I had about one million subscribers. I posted a video about dating my babysitter, and it truly did blow up overnight — we received an additional one million subscribers in about two weeks. I love that video, because youtube is a hard place to tell an on-going, episodic, story … and with that video we proved it was possible. I love telling a great story.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realized you were a professional YouTuber?
AC: I’m so proud of the team I have assembled. They keep me sane and remind me that this is a job. I think the first time I took them all out to lunch (about six people) was the first time I felt like I was doing something right. This must have been sometime in mid-2018. I just remember seeing them all ordering there food and thinking, Holy hell, I get to pay for this and everything will be okay.
Tubefilter: When did you start Alex Clark Studios? Was it intimidating to launch your own business?
AC: Alex Clark Studios started in mid-2018. Starting it was an incredible leap of faith. It can seem like an overwhelming task when you start thinking about how much income you need to generate to keep a staff happy. When I was launching Alex Clark Studios, I figured out a little trick that made it an easier pill to swallow: instead of looking at the combined yearly salary of the team, I picked a number I was comfortable spending as a test. I told myself, I’ll spend this much in two months, and if I don’t like it, I can stop. If I love it, I’ll keep going and figure out how to make it work.
I loved it.
Tubefilter: How many employees does the studio have nowadays? Are they full-time or part-time?
AC: We have a staff of about five that work on a regular basis. Our awesome crew consists of: two full-time animators, a few part-time animators, some freelance writers, and an assistant. We work a lot with Studio71, which provides great support in the YouTube space. I also have to give a huge thank-you to Huion, which has an ongoing sponsorship with us. (If you’ve never heard of Huion, they make high-quality and affordable drawing tablets for artists. This is naturally a great fit for an animation channel, and we’re very lucky to work with them.)
Tubefilter: What’s the day-to-day like at Alex Clark Studios?
AC: The day-to-day working with a team was a skill learned over time. I started with one part-time person in 2016. He and I worked out of my living room and jokingly made each other listen to the ’90s band Chumbawamba for inspiration. After about a year, I had a talk with HR (my dog), and we decided it was time to expand. We hired additional animators to help with the art side of things and a behind-the-scenes assistant to keep things moving on the merch store and on Patreon.
For animators, we have them do a little test to see if they can match animation style (I had no idea you could ask people to do this), and it’s proved super helpful. The test includes a few animation skills, but I’d say the most important part is if they can draw while listening to Chumbawamba.
Tubefilter: What’s it like to have gone from a one-man team to someone who manages a full-fledged animation studio?
I use to be afraid to tell people what to do, because it didn’t feel like my place. As the company grows, I have better learned that “telling people what to do” is what’s expected of a boss, and it’s something every company needs. I also learned to hire people I like as a friend. Interviewing a load of talented people it made it hard to pick at first — eventually I realized to just hire who you want to hang out with the most, because at the end of the day, you are assembling a little work family.
If anyone reading is thinking of assembling a team of their own, I would suggest setting aside a chunk of money you feel comfortable with losing (worst-case scenario). Spend it on a few key people, learn from your mistakes (just like you did as you started to upload videos), and continue to grow it into something amazing.
Tubefilter: Earlier, you mentioned creator burnout. What are your experiences with it? Do you have any burnout avoidance advice for fellow creators?
AC: I think the secret to not experiencing burnout is to have a great team. I don’t know that I’ve experienced burnout as bad as some other YouTubers may have, simply because I’m surrounded by people who inspire me every day. That said, one of the first things I said to my first animator was, “I am completely out of ideas…I have no idea what we’re going to do next week.” That was over two years ago, and since then I’ve produced about 100 videos. So, maybe I have been burnt out this entire time and just not realized it.
Tubefilter: What do you think is the most vital skill you possess as a creator?
AC: I don’t let mean comments get to me. Instead, I imagine the person leaving the comment — which I usually picture as someone much bigger and stronger than me, like an ogre, with hate in his heart — and I take him to the 11th floor of my incredibly huge (imaginary) mansion, show him the penthouse suite, and serve him the most delightful cone of ice cream he has ever had.
It’s a peace offering, and a great last meal as I shove him out the window.
Besides that, I think my ability to work fast and adapt to change is part of the reason I have come so far.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel? What are you building toward?
AC: The stand-up tour is off to a strong first year. With thousands of ticket sales, we’re excited to do something even bigger soon. It’s a very strong show, and we’re definitely looking to distribute it via a more traditional outlet, like Netflix or Comedy Central.
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