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.
Caleb Marshall has 2.17 million subscribers on YouTube. His channel, where he uploads at least one dance workout routine each week, brings more than 12 million views per month. His Cardio Concerts sell out major venues. He recently owned the stage at the 2019 Streamy Awards, where he was one of a handful of YouTubers to perform live.
All this, and the AdSense revenue he earns from YouTube each month isn’t even enough to cover his internet bill.
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Marshall (aka The Fitness Marshall) launched his channel as a full-time endeavor in late 2014, and in the five years since, he’s made less than $20,000 total in AdSense. As evidenced above, that’s not because his choreographed, body-positive workouts fail to bring in views. That’s because they’re set to the hit songs of the moment, from artists like Lizzo, Shawn Mendes, Ariana Grande, and Halsey. It doesn’t matter that Marshall’s video content is all original–as soon as his videos hit YouTube, they’re vulnerable to being copyright claimed by record labels. And boy do record labels claim them. Marshall has broken down his exact earnings before, and revealed that just 7% of his videos earn ad revenue for him. The rest earn for record labels.
Marshall and his manager/boyfriend Cameron Moody realized early on that AdSense wasn’t a viable road to the necessary combo of full-time YouTubing and financial stability. So they pushed their business in new, yet adjancent, directions. Marshall was already working a side gig as a dance fitness instructor at his college, and Moody had the idea to hook him up with a freelance teaching spot at a local studio. Before they knew it, Marshall’s classes were booked up, and they needed a bigger space. Then a bigger space. Now, Marshall brings his Cardio Concerts to venues like the House of Blues Las Vegas and the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.
Tours, for which Marshall and team (that is, Moody and “Backup Booty” dancers Haley Jordan and Allison Florea) choose cities with the goal of seeing as many YouTube fans as possible, have become the bulk of income for The Fitness Marshall brand. They’ve also built out Channel Memberships, letting viewers officially join the “Booty Army” for $4.99, $14.99, or $19.99 per month. But though they don’t count on YouTube videos for income, it was still a blow when, in October of last year, a record label decided it wasn’t content with monetizing 50 of Marshall’s videos. It forced him to pull them–altogether around 25% of his total library–off YouTube entirely.
Marshall sums the situation up succinctly: “It sucks.”
But things might be changing. He’s in early meetings with record labels to form partnerships that would allow him to not only keep his videos on YouTube, but truly monetize them for the first time in his content creation career. He’s also met with several YouTube execs, including CEO Susan Wojcicki, to discuss how the platform can better advocate for creators like him.
Whether those talks shake out or not, Marshall is determined to keep making videos for fans, new and old, who tune in to get jiggy (and in shape) with him. “The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that we are helping change people’s lives,” he says. “That makes it worth it.”
Check out our chat with him below.
Tubefilter: Congrats on rocking the house at the 2019 Streamys! How did the possibility of performing come up?
Caleb Marshall: Thank you!! Well, first I found out I was nominated on Twitter. I thought it was a joke. I was very confused seeing my name next to all those people. I never thought of myself as being in the “in” crowd of YouTube, so it took a while to sink in. Then they called me and asked me to perform at the show not once, but TWICE. At this point, I had accepted that I had fallen into a parallel universe and I was just gonna go with it, lol. I mean, I was in the opening number with some of the greatest creators in the game: Patrick Starrr, Hannah Stocking, Rosanna Pansino, Kalen Allen, Brandon Rogers, and Brittany Broski. Imposter syndrome was hitting me hard, but I had the time of my life and was so honored to be nominated and to be able to perform with my Backup Booties.
Tubefilter: For those who aren’t in the Booty Army, who is the Fitness Marshall? Where are you from, and what did you do in the days before YouTube?
CM: I like to describe myself as a combination of Richard Simmons and Britney Spears. My friends and I are self-proclaimed Fitness Pop Stars who make fun, easy-to-follow dances for everyone to follow along with. I grew up a performer and dreamed of being an actor or a pop star. By the time I got to college, I’d given up on my dreams and went to school to get practical job. I started teaching dance fitness classes in school to help fill the void I felt from not being onstage. I instantly fell in love with it, and it was sort of an “ah-ha” moment, where I realized these classes not only filled that void but allowed me to work out without actually thinking I was working out. I hated exercise, so I felt like I just got a cheat code to life.
Tubefilter: What made you decide to launch a YouTube channel? What do you think YouTube offers you, as a content creator, to help you grow your platform and build your career?
CM: No other platform has the search and discovery ability that YouTube has. It gave me the ability to be seen, and to build an audience with consistent content. It’s funny because I went viral on Facebook with my video to Meghan Trainor’s “Me Too,” which was my “big break.” But going viral on a platform other than YouTube is basically like 15 minutes of fame. You’re in a sea of content, and no one knows how to come back to your video or find it again. I wasn’t interested in making viral videos; I wanted long-term, sustainable success. I think YouTube is better suited to people who really know who they are and what they want to do, and are prepared for the long haul.
Tubefilter: Something you’ve been really open about is how tough it is to make money on YouTube with your videos. You are creating your own original content, but because your workout routines are set to popular songs, it’s impossible to monetize the majority of them.
CM: It sucks. When I started all of this, it was never about making money. I just genuinely loved what I did and wanted to share it with as many people as possible. Now that I’m five years into doing it full-time, I have to think about money. I have to pay my bills. We have 2 million subscribers, and I still, to this day, cannot pay my internet bill with my YouTube revenue. It makes me angry that I have to fight just to have my videos up on YouTube. We recently were forced to take down about 50 videos. The record label was monetizing them all 100%. We didn’t make a dime off them, but the label still decided we couldn’t even have them public on YouTube. It is truly the most soul-crushing thing to give your all to something for years, and still not make money from it. It’s even more soul-crushing when all of that work gets erased. It sometimes makes me wonder if there’s even a point anymore. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that we are helping change people’s lives. That makes it worth it.
Tubefilter: Have you ever negotiated with any record labels to get a portion of AdSense? Has YouTube done anything regarding monetization of your videos?
CM: I’m excited to answer this one. It’s complicated. YouTube is in a bad position, so I don’t want to hate on them. They have to keep the labels happy. The labels own the copyrights, and they have the power to completely remove all of their music from YouTube. I think the balance of power is starting to shift, and labels are starting to realize the power YouTube has to market their music through creators.
I am lucky enough to have been able to meet with lots of YouTube execs (including Susan), and I know for certain that they are trying to make it better for creators using music. I truly believe they are trying, but I do think they should advocate for creators more. The tea is that, from my understanding, YouTube is splitting all of my ad revenue with the labels. The labels certainly get the biggest piece of the pie, but it doesn’t sit well with me that YouTube is making more money from my videos than I am. We are constantly talking with our Partner Manager about how this can change, and we are starting these important conversations with YouTube.
Tubefilter: How do you monetize your content outside of AdSense?
CM: We leverage our following to do live events and tours. We also work with some brands, but honestly, YouTube brand deals for us are rare. We tried doing merch, but our audience has never really been into it. We haven’t been able to successfully generate passive income, so we have to just tour and perform constantly if we want to be able to pay our bills. Recently, we launched channel memberships on YouTube, where we offer members exclusive weekly sweat sessions that are full-length, hourlong workouts as opposed to the standard single-song videos we post for the public. That allows us to give something new and more useful to people who are paying for a membership while still offering our regular content for free. I never want to charge our fans for something they are used to getting for free.
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for?
CM: My first check was almost two years into The Fitness Marshall, in June of 2016, and it was for my first brand deal. We got paid $1,000 from a brand to include them in a dance video when I had around 350,000 subs. That video went on to get almost 75 million views across all platforms, so I think it was a much better deal for the brand in the end, lol.
Tubefilter: As you mentioned, tours are a huge part of your business model. It must have been a big leap to go from YouTube to organizing your first tour. How did you hit the point where you considered taking your routines to stage?
CM: When I had 100,000 subscribers but had to borrow money from my boyfriend for a haircut, I realized we had a problem. Well, I think my boyfriend, Cameron, realized we had a problem and took matters into his own hands. I was teaching classes for my college making $15 an hour–so that meant I was bringing home a whopping $50 a week. Cameron took it upon himself to find a local studio where I could host a class, made an Eventbrite for me, and told me to promote it. I was terrified that nobody would come, and I was very wrong. As time went on, the venues Cameron booked were bigger and bigger, until eventually we went from our local YMCA to playing full-blown concert venues. I truly owe my business to Cameron. He knew nothing about production, but he faked it till he made it and learned on the fly. I’m so grateful for him, because not only did he find a way to allow The Fitness Marshall to be a sustainable full-time gig, he gave me the opportunity to perform live again, which is so much more fun and rewarding than recording a video could ever be.
Tubefilter: On the back end, what goes into organizing a tour?
CM: First thing we do is analyze our audience demographics and see where we should go in order to see as many of our fans as possible. Once we get a list of possible cities, we work on securing venues. The caliber of shows we do is intense. We truly make it a concert-level experience, which means expensive venues. In order to lock down those venues, we have to find a sponsor for the tour so we are able to cover the cost of the production. Then we have to figure out the best ticketing platform to use, travel arrangements, the setlist, come up with a concept for the show, do a photoshoot, make promo videos for each city…Marketing the tour is a whole other beast, because Facebook and Instagram push down anything that looks like an ad unless we pay to promote it.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realized you were a professional creator?
CM: Truly, it was the Streamys. Everything before that felt amazing and so cool, but I never felt truly recognized as a creator until the 2019 Streamys. It really felt like an “I’ve arrived” moment, even if I felt like an imposter.
Tubefilter: How long does it take you, on average, to put together a video, from conception to upload?
CM: Between 10 to 15 hours of work per video, on average. I could turn a video around in a day or a week, it all depends.
Tubefilter: Who else works with you and Cameron behind the scenes?
CM: We have four people on the team, including myself. Me, Haley, and Allison are the onscreen talent, and Cameron is the manager. I handle the choreography, shooting, editing, and uploading. Cameron handles all the outreach, channel management, event planning, negotiating, and scheduling. We have yet to hire any help. When we do events, Cameron is at the door checking people in, selling merch, and taking our meet-and-greet photos all at the same time. We are definitely understaffed, but aren’t profitable enough to expand right now.
Tubefilter: What do you think is the most vital skill you possess as a creator?
CM: I can produce my own content. With us not being able to monetize our content, my ability to do everything myself without hiring help is essential. I’m also genuinely passionate about what I do. I am lucky enough to still love what I do and be inspired to create more without feeling like I HAVE to make another dance video.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel? What are you building toward?
CM: Our immediate goal is to deepen our relationship with the record labels we are working with and create content in partnership with artists instead of fighting them. We are putting all of our energy into our Booty Army memberships, and see that as a way to give our fans the best possible Fitness Marshall experience. I would also love to expand The Fitness Marshall beyond dance videos and create tangible things for our fans to have. More on that later. 😉
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