Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where—in partnership with global creator company Jellysmack—we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth.
In the early 2000s, when Vlad Buryanov was a teenager, Tom Cruise looked him straight in the eye and told him bartending would be his thing.
OK, so it didn’t happen exactly like that. But that’s not far off from what Buryanov felt watching Cruise headline the 1988 film Cocktail. In the movie, Cruise’s character Brian Flanagan moonlights as a bartender while attending business school in New York City. Though he starts off as your basic behind-the-bar man, he ends up finding a mentor who teaches him a specialized, stylized method of serving: flair.
If you’ve never seen a flair bartender at work, you’re missing out. Flair bartending involves, yes, making customers’ drinks, but it also involves dazzling displays where everything from liquor bottles to shakers to glasses and ice are tossed and twirled in the air. It’s a high-octane blend of juggling and mixology, and is especially popular in similarly high-octane cities like Las Vegas.
The moment Buryanov saw Cruise flairing in Cocktail, he was sold. He began bartending in his hometown in Ukraine, picked up a couple flair moves from another tender, then turned to teaching himself with videotapes of past national and world flair competitions, dreaming that one day he’d be on those stages.
And one day, he was. By 2007, Buryanov himself was a world champion.
These days, he’s a three-time world champ, multi-award winner, and resident of Las Vegas, where he moved to bartend after getting a work visa thanks to his international reknown. But Buryanov isn’t manning a bar anymore–at least, not in an actual bar.
Instead, he’s behind the bar at home, having become a full-time creator thanks to a sudden surge in viewership.
Some of the creators we’ve featured for this column can point to specific YouTube videos that made their channels take off. For Buryanov, he points to the pandemic. He’d been uploading videos to his YouTube channel, Vlad SlickBartender, since 2015, with most of them aimed at helping novice bartenders learn tricks of the trade. Between 2015 and the start of 2020, he’d gathered a modest following of around 160,000 subscribers, and was getting a couple hundred thousand views a month.
Then lockdowns hit, and suddenly his channel went from a couple hundred thousand to a couple million views per month. Buryanov thinks that because people were stuck at home and no longer hitting up COVID hotbeds (er, bars and nightclubs), they were trying to DIY their own drinks, and found his videos while looking for guidance.
When his amped viewership pushed his channel to half a million subscribers and began translating into sponsorship offers, Buryanov wondered if he could actually pull off YouTubing as a career.
Turns out he can. Buryanov is a full-timer now, posting a video per day to his YouTube channel (967K subscribers currently) and his TikTok account, which he launched during the pandemic and which has nearly 10 million followers. His YouTube viewership has continued to grow, and recently leapt from a couple million views per month to 72 million in December and 77 million so far this month.
For Buryanov, the increased exposure is not only a way for him to build his own business as a content creator–it’s also a path for him make flair bartending education accessible to potentially millions of beginners.
And, he hopes, it might one day let him personally tell Cruise how Cocktail helped him find his passion.
Check out our chat with Buryanov below.
Vlad Buryanov: I’m originally from Ukraine, and got into bartending after I watched the movie Cocktail with Tom Cruise. I began training as a flair bartender because I loved the entertainment aspect of bartending. I also competed in flair bartending competitions around the world, and becoming a three-time world champion helped me get noticed and resulted in me obtaining a work visa so I could move to the United States and work at some of the top entertainment bars in the world.
VB: I was always excited by people being able to share their knowledge with each other on platforms like YouTube. I wanted to be a part of that community, so I began uploading poorly filmed videos filmed in my garage on an iPhone back in 2015. Originally, the videos were just how-to videos teaching my audience different bartending techniques. I wouldn’t say I was very consistent in doing this, but once the pandemic hit, I had to close up my bartending school in Miami, and I moved back home to Las Vegas.
At about the same time, the viewership on my channel increased significantly. With everyone being stuck at home, they were probably turning to YouTube to learn how to make cocktails at home, and with the increased viewership, I also started getting brand deals. That made me think that YouTube could possibly be a career.
Also during the pandemic, a few people kept insisting I should start uploading to TikTok, so I did, and my channel started growing quite fast. I was very impressed with the TikTok algorithm, and I love the challenge of figuring out what works on the different platforms.
VB: Besides creating a lot of content, I also watch a lot of content from other creators. I try to pay attention to the editing tricks they do to maintain audience retention.
In general, it can be challenging to keep people watching, so I have to keep the content moving. I use a lot of words on the screen, memes, and B-roll to keep the content from feeling boring.
Now that I have multiple channels on YouTube and on other platforms, I am training some others to help me with the editing so I can continue to produce a lot of content, but for the first six years, I did all the editing on my own. I taught myself how to edit on Premier Pro just by watching so many of the wonderful creators on YouTube that share their knowledge for free.
VB: I noticed my channel starting growing faster when I stopped focusing on how-to videos and began creating videos that were more appealing to a general audience. I added more storytelling to my videos and created new segments like comparison videos and reviews. It always seems to be a gradual process. Some videos do better than others, but it seems each new video brings new viewers who watch older videos, so all of my videos continue to grow over time.
VB: I get inspiration from a lot of different places when I’m coming up with ideas for content. A lot of the cocktail hacks I share on my channel come from something I saw at high-end cocktail bars. I like to make these techniques more accessible for people and show them that most of these techniques they see when they go to nice places can be easily done at home on their own.
I watch cooking, educational storytelling, and entertainment channels to see what is trending, and I try to hop on trends because that seems to work for my channel.
VB: I think Shorts is one of the best things that happened with YouTube. I absolutely fell in love with creating short-form content. I find it much more fun figuring out how to tell a story in less than a minute. It helps me keep the energy rolling in a video, and it’s much easier to keep the audience’s attention. It also allows me to reach a larger audience than my long-form videos do, so they have had a huge impact on the growth of my channel the past few months.
VB: Yes, definitely! I began the TikTok channel just for fun during the pandemic, and it was sort of an accident how I found I could create art out of ice. I made it a goal to try and create everything that my followers were asking me to create, and that channel just started blowing up. It has over 9 million followers, and I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing brands, such FC Barcelona, FC Juventus, and I was even featured on PewDiePie and MrBeast’s channels. It’s definitely a lot different than what I do on YouTube.
VB: I usually stay up late working, so I am not an early riser. My routine is consistent every day. I wake up and get the emails and uploads out of the way. I spend some time engaging with people who comment, and then I get up and work out for 30-45 minutes. After that, I spend about eight to 12 hours per day creating content and editing. I take a break in the evening to spend time with the family.
Fortunately, I live in a large house that has enough space for me to work in and have my studio as well, so I don’t have to worry about any commuting time and I can get a lot done every day. I do live in Las Vegas, so there are a lot of exciting events that are always happening, so I take time off whenever there is something that excites me enough to go check out.
VB: The recent spike has given me a lot more confidence that I will be able to continue creating content as a career. Even though this has been my main source of income for the past couple of years, I think as content creators, we always have in the back of our minds that something could change tomorrow. You constantly have to be learning and evolving so your channel not only continues to grow, but so it doesn’t just stop one day. Now that my main channel has grown so much and I’m about to hit one million subscribers, I have more desire to work harder on my other channels as well, and I would also like to do what I can to give back and inspire other creators to keep pushing forward.
It’s amazing that platforms like YouTube and TikTok are giving people the opportunity to do something they are passionate about, and as long as you stay consistent and work hard and smart, eventually you can turn creating content into a career. It’s a challenging journey, but so rewarding when you finally start seeing success.
VB: I love the fact that I can work from home, and it’s a good challenge that keeps my brain working. It’s fun to try and figure out new ways to entertain and educate those watching me so they will continue to support the channel.
Another thing I love is the reach. I used to teach people offline, and I could reach hundreds of people each year. Now I can teach people things and entertain them, and the reach is in the millions. There is nothing more rewarding than getting feedback from people who are grateful to have learned something from me.
VB: I would like to get ridiculously good at vlogging so I have an excuse to finally leave my studio. Hopefully I will grow so much in the next five years that I will have the chance to meet Tom Cruise and thank him in person for the inspiration.
Currently home to over 150 influential Creators including PewDiePie, MrBeast, Brad Mondo, and Bailey Sarian, Jellysmack optimizes, operates, and distributes creator-made video content to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube. Jellysmack-managed content boasts 10 billion global monthly video views and a cross-platform reach of 125 million unique U.S. users, making it the largest U.S. digital-first company in monthly social media viewers.
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