Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each creator has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments here.
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Spaceflight is awesome.
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And Tim Dodd? He’s one of its biggest fans.
Dodd, a photographer by trade, is the enthusiast behind YouTube channel Everyday Astronaut, where he gives viewers the rundown on rocket science.
To be clear, though, Dodd is not a rocket scientist. He’s a self-described college dropout with no technical background, and he had to teach himself the science of spaceflight from ground zero on up. But that, he thinks, is what makes him a good host for the channel: “If I can learn this stuff,” he says, “anyone can.”
Dodd’s still learning. His content creation cycle is a constant loop of becoming passionate about a particular subject, spending weeks or months researching it, and then condensing his newfound knowledge into a long-form educational video. There’s always more to learn–especially because Dodd keeps a close eye on the developments of billionaire pet projects SpaceX and Blue Origin. Some of his most popular content features SpaceX founder Elon Musk (who also, Dodd says, regularly sports Everyday Astronaut merch) giving viewers a tour of SpaceX facilities or discussing the organization’s latest innovations.
For Dodd, YouTube is Everyday Astronaut’s foundation, but not its endgame. Over the past couple of years, he’s expanded his content to Twitch and TikTok, hoping to show as many people as possible just how amazing space travel can be.
Check out our chat with him below.
Tubefilter: How does it feel to hit one million subscribers? What do you have to say to your fans?
Tim Dodd: It’s a milestone that you see coming for a long time, so by the time it arrived, I was ready for the next big milestone. All I can say to my fans is “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” and there’s a lot more coming. 🙂 I’m happy to say we raised $17K for The Challenger Center, a science outreach organization, during a 12-hour livestream marathon. It was super fun, and I’m so grateful for the generosity of my fans!
Tubefilter: So, as you put it, “Rocket science is awesome!” How did you fall in love with rockets? When and why did you decide to bring this love to YouTube?
TD: I used to take photos of myself in a Russian space suit for a photo series called Everyday Astronaut. I learned so much shooting those images that I just fell in love with spaceflight. I was trying to do some educational things on Instagram, but realized it just wasn’t the right platform to try and teach. So, I started shooting videos on YouTube in 2017 and making long-form educational content.
Tubefilter: Tell us about the evolution of your channel from photography and a Russian flight suit to opening your new studio! How has your channel and content evolved?
TD: The channel started off with relatively short videos, under 10 minutes, and kind of goofy with me wearing the space suit. After listening to feedback, I kept getting deeper and deeper into topics to help answer questions, and also decided to stop wearing the space suit in 2018 and just focus on the content first and foremost.
I came to the realization that no one has ever clicked on a video with someone NOT wearing a space suit and said, “I’m not going to listen to this guy, he’s not wearing a spacesuit,” but the opposite is certainly true. I got many comments about “Why is this guy wearing a spacesuit in his bedroom, I’m not listening to anything this guy says.” So the channel has evolved based on feedback. Even the harshest comments have a nugget of truth, so it’s been a process to hone in on what I do best and what my audience wants the most.
Tubefilter: Why are you so passionate about sharing these very technical topics with YouTube viewers? Why is it important for people to have access to information about rockets, space, etc?
TD: Rocket science is literally used as an example of something extremely difficult and it comes with it a huge layer of intimidation for a casual observer. There’s so many great questions asked when someone starts watching rockets launching; they’ll ask great “why do they do this” questions. I find that people get the most excited when they’re educated about a subject. And, in general, if you start at page one with any given topic of rocket science, people will stay engaged and follow the storyline long enough to get excited about the topic, even if they didn’t know they would be in the first place. It’s about finding those new people’s love of spaceflight and seeing that lightbulb go off that gets them hooked on learning and excited for the future.
Tubefilter: When did YouTube turn into a full-time business/career for you? How did you know you’d hit that point?
TD: I actually took a leap of faith. I stopped booking out photography gigs a full year in advance, as that’s about how far out I’d book things, in order to pursue Everyday Astronaut full-time. At the time, I didn’t even know what it’d be. I just thought it might be public speaking, or a book, or Twitch streams. It took about three months to realize that YouTube had a lot of promise and potential, and I just started diving in once I saw the growth on the platform. By the end of the year, I knew I’d made the right call.
Tubefilter: How often do you film? How long does the average video take to come together? What does the average day look like for you?
TD: I only film a video about once a month. I can script, shoot, and edit a video in as few as three days or so if it’s an easy topic with little animations. But most of my videos are 45 minutes or longer, and dive really deep into a certain topic that takes a lot of scripting and research for me. I don’t want to teach a topic unless I understand a few layers deeper than what I’m teaching. So I’ll spend weeks just reading papers, books, listening to audiobooks, calling experts, and trying to learn the subject matter myself while I’m scripting.
So many times in the middle of a script I’ll hit some void where I go, “Hmmm, is it actually five times hotter or 10 times hotter?” and then I’ll end up down an entirely different rabbit hole about thermodynamics that I didn’t know I’d wind up on. A few days later, I’ll emerge from a research coma and finish that one sentence. This happens often, especially on topics I’m fairly new to. So I would say the average day is spent reading and learning, a day or two each month is shooting a video, then usually a week or two each month is editing and animating along with my co-editor. We also have live streams a few times a month, usually, which can take up a day each time, too.
Tubefilter: Do you have any strategies for growing your audience? Have you noticed any particular kind of content getting more traction than others? Do you adjust what you film depending on how your viewers react?
TD: I’ve kind of started to ignore growth, to be honest. I just want to make the videos I want to make. I want to focus on content that makes me happy and that answers the most burning topics for people. I don’t chase news cycles or speculate on rumors, I want evergreen content that helps people learn.
I’ve noticed a pretty direct correlation between the harder I work on a video and the deeper I get into it, the more people like it and want more of it. So I’ve learned to just trust my gut, but I still do ask for feedback or do polls to see what topic people want me to cover next. And despite me making a plan and having a video list, often in the middle of making one video all of a sudden I get really excited about a totally different video and end up shooting and editing that one first before the other one is even done. This happens more often than I’d like to admit.
Tubefilter: How do you make your videos stand out amidst all the noise on YouTube?
TD: Quality. First and foremost, quality. And that’s both for the information I present and how it looks. I want people to be able to watch my content in as high quality as possible, like it could be on Netflix, and I want this to be a lasting thing, a legacy, so I need to ensure they are high-quality videos. I think there’s a misconception that YouTubers just throw their content together, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth for me. I’ve done a lot of research to identify gear, like Blackmagic Design cameras, switchers, etc., that’s affordable, but also provides a professional look for my content.
There’s an incredible community on YouTube making more frequent content and I’m a big fan of them. I watch their content to stay on top of the news and to get quick bites of information. But I know my value comes from diving in really deep, providing excellent visualizations and taking the extra time to really explain something from page one. So as long as I stay true to making videos that I want to make on topics I’m excited about, people seem to find it. Either by the YouTube algorithm or by direct referral on social media platforms.
Tubefilter: What’s your favorite part of making content on YouTube?
TD: Knowing there’s people out there that had a lightbulb go off and they get so excited about aerospace that they actually pursue it as a career. I can’t tell you how many people tell me they got into aerospace engineering because they stumbled upon a video I made that helped them understand it and got them excited about the subject. I also know for a fact that some aerospace companies will recommend my videos to new hires to help them get up to speed. That’s the ultimate compliment to me, and knowing there’s actually a direct impact on people’s enthusiasm and life is incredible.
Tubefilter: Have you expanded your brand off YouTube at all? Launched any merch, a related business, a presence on another social platform, etc? Do you want to?
TD: Definitely. I don’t want to rely on YouTube to be the sole source of income in case something were to drastically change. I post on most major platforms and have had a lot of growth on Twitter and some new growth on TikTok as well. I like posting different types of content on each platform to help reach a new audience no matter where they are and what their preferences are.
We have a merch store that is an actual mass-produced product in a warehouse in California where we can make very custom and unique merchandise that’s aerospace-focused. It’s been a lot of fun to see Elon Musk wearing our shirts often, and his girlfriend Grimes saying on Twitter that their baby seems to only wear our merchandise too, which is awesome.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel? Any plans looking to the future?
TD: I’m currently working on a nearly two-hour-long documentary about the entire history and family tree of Soviet rocket engines. I’ve been working on it for almost two years now, and I’m really excited about it. It’s a topic that’s extremely confusing and poorly documented, so I’m trying to make a one-stop shop of a video to help people appreciate these incredible engines.
Beyond that, I’ve got a long list of videos I want to make, and we’ll also be extremely excited to continue covering SpaceX’s Starship program from our Texas studio, just five miles from their test site. We’ve got it loaded with some of the best livestreaming equipment available from Blackmagic Design and others, and our goal is to help our audience feel like they’re right there with us on launch day. SpaceX is preparing to launch the biggest and most powerful rocket ever made, so the stream will certainly be exciting.
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