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.
This installment of YouTube Millionaires is brought to you by creator fintech company Karat Financial.
Max Miller, like many people, loves watching The Great British Bake Off. But a couple years ago, he was less than thrilled with one aspect of the show: the fact that it had stopped including little segments about the histories of the dishes competitors were making.
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At the time, Miller–a professionally trained singer who spent ten years doing musical theater in New York before moving to Los Angeles, getting into voice acting, and finally joining Walt Disney Studios‘ marketing team–was looking for a creative hobby, something he could do outside of his day job. After Bake Off axed his beloved historical segments, he decided, fine. He would just make them himself.
He bought a camera, set up a YouTube channel called Tasting History with Max Miller, and filmed a debut episode about making medieval cheese.
A week after he posted the video, COVID hit, and he was furloughed from Disney.
Miller began spending all his newfound time on the channel, and within a few months had built a small audience of a couple thousand people. Then, in the summer, he posted a video about garum, a fish sauce from ancient Rome. The episode didn’t perform unusually at first, but a few days later, Miller woke up and it had more than 50,000 views. Over the next week, his subscriber count climbed, and by the time he was ready to post his next episode, he’d hit 100,000.
These days Miller is up to 150 episodes of Tasting History, and his audience has, as you may have guessed, grown to more than one million subscribers.
Check out our chat with him below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tubefilter: Let’s start simple! Who are you, where are you from, and what kind of content do you make?
Max Miller: My name is Max Miller, I live in southern California, in Los Angeles, and I make historic recipes and talk about the history of the foods and the people who ate them.
Tubefilter: So what’s your background? Did you grow up wanting to be a chef? Did you go to school for it? How did you fall into this?
MM: Not at all. So I went to college for vocal performance, singing, and was in New York for the better part of 10 years doing musical theater. And then I moved out to Los Angeles and worked in voiceover for animation, and ended up working in marketing at Walt Disney Studios on the movies. And—
Tubefilter: Sorry, sorry, but that is such a wild history.
MM: Yeah. I bounced all over. That was my last career, working at the studio. And when I was there, I had always been very creative and had wanted to write. I had tried my hand writing short stories and a novel. And I’ve always loved performing and using my voice and being on stage. I wanted to do some of that, but I was still working full-time at Disney.
So, well, my other passion is history, and always has been—just always studying, always reading about history, watching documentaries. And I had fallen in love with The Great British Bake Off. Watching that show taught me how to bake, because I had never cooked a thing in my life before watching that show.
I decided I wanted to bake everything that they were baking. So I taught myself how to cook—or bake, rather. And on the show, they used to have these little segments where they would talk about the history of the food that they were baking. Well, that was right up my alley. And so they had taken that away from the show, that aspect, and since I was at Disney, but I was looking for something to do creatively, I thought, well, maybe I could just make that version of the show, make those segments, but in my own kitchen.
I released my first episode, and a week later I was furloughed from Disney because of COVID.
Tubefilter: Oh, that timing.
MM: Yeah. It gave me time to really focus on the channel the way that it needed to be focused on.
Tubefilter: Why did you pick YouTube? Was that just like the obvious answer for where to put your videos?
MM: I think it was mostly because I had been watching it. I’ve always watched YouTube, and I was watching a YouTuber named Graham Stephan, who’s a finance YouTuber.
And one of his things is, you know, how to make extra side money. And one of his suggestions was starting YouTube channel. Like, “You probably won’t make any money, but maybe you’ll make a few bucks every month.” I bought his YouTuber Creator Academy and I was like, “Okay, I can do this. I can make videos. I know how to write interesting stories and I know how to be on camera.”
I never worked in editing, but I had worked with editors at Disney, and I worked on the music side of the marketing. So I got to watch these editors do their magic. And so I was like, “Okay, I think I can do a rudimentary version of what you’re doing.” So that’s why I chose YouTube. It’s also, there’s no startup cost, really. I mean, I did buy a camera, but other than that, anyone can do it. It’s completely accessible. It’s super easy, the marketing is kind of already done for you. You don’t have to introduce anyone to YouTube. The hard part is already done so I can focus on the meat of it, my show.
Tubefilter: When did your channel start to take off? Was there a specific video?
MM: There was a specific video. So I started the last week of February 2020. And I had a video that came out in mid-June. So I’d been doing it for about four months.
That video was on garum, which is an ancient Roman fermented fish sauce, kind of the last thing you would think people would be interested in. But, you know, my videos had been getting a few thousand views up until then, which was fantastic. It was doing better than I had imagined it would.
And then overnight…I put out that video and the first few days it didn’t do any better than any other video. And then it was like Saturday night, it was fine, and Sunday morning we woke up to like 50,000 views on the video or something like that. And I had gone from 3,000 or 4,000 subscribers to 12,000 subscribers overnight. And over the next week, I think that by Thursday or Friday morning, we hit 100,000 subscribers.
Tubefilter: Really quickly, then.
MM: Yeah, and then it just kept going up from there. For two weeks it was just 10,000 or 15,000 subscribers daily, and it tapered off, but it never slowed down. I mean, it turned into 1,000 to 1,500 a day. But after that, we went strong. The videos kept doing really well. I’ve never had a video perform quite again like that one did in such a short amount of time, but I haven’t needed to, because every week other videos bring in new people.
My original concept was just to do medieval food, and I very quickly abandoned that and decided to cover all aspects of history. And originally I was just going to do English food; now I cover all cuisines and everything. I think that that’s really helped to pull in a bigger audience because everybody eats, and everybody has some sort of history they’re interested in, whether they want to admit it or not. Everybody’s interested in some sort of history. So that’s how it happened.
Tubefilter: I’ve talked to several other food-oriented creators recently who say their content took off at the beginning of the pandemic specifically because people were stuck at home and needed to learn how to cook. Do you feel like that’s accurate?
MM: Yeah. I mean, it was the right place at the right time. I think a lot of channels felt an uptick at that time. But, well, since I had just started, there was obviously an uptick that is zero to however much. [laughs] But yeah, no, everyone was at home and glued to their phone and their TV, and anything that had to do with cooking, especially, it was like, this is the time to learn it. So it was good timing. You know, sometimes people are like, “Oh, it’s all about preparation and everything,” but sometimes luck is involved. And it’s horrible to say that the pandemic was anything lucky, but it was good timing.
Tubefilter: I feel you. Did anything change for you after that video took off? Or did you kind of just keep going with what you’d been doing?
MM: A lot changed. I didn’t really change necessarily what I was doing with each video, but because I had a much larger audience, I started to…Well, before that I basically only had nice people in my comments. And nice people are wonderful and I love the nice comments. But after that was such a large audience, you start to get the mean comments. And those aren’t useful at all.
But what are useful are the creative criticism comments. You have to get to a large audience to get those who know a little bit more about comedic timing, storytelling, lighting, editing, you know, just all these little things.
I even had someone write to me, and they were very critical and yet so earnest about being helpful in their criticism. They were a comedian and they said, specifically, there were many times I would kind of mug to the camera. I would make a joke, and then I would comment that I had made a joke. And they said, “Don’t do that. Even if it’s a stupid dad joke, a stupid pun, say it and move past it. The people who get it will get it, the people who don’t won’t, and the people who don’t like it will stop watching your channel. So it doesn’t really matter.”
That was one of the most helpful things I could have gotten. And I’ve gotten a lot of those really just very helpful tools I’ve been able to integrate to make my videos better. What’s crazy is—I was just talking to somebody about this—at no point did I feel like I had improved. But when I go back and watch a video from a year and a half ago or a video from six months ago, I’m like, “Oh, it’s so much better.” But at no point did I consciously make the effort to be better, or to be like, “I want to try this.” That never really happened.
So sometimes you just have to do it a bunch. That’s the only advice I can give you. Just do it a bunch and you’ll get better.
Tubefilter: Your production schedule, you do one video a week. Is that right?
MM: Yeah. Sometimes I do two. I try to sneak in extra episodes here and there. It just kind of depends on how busy I am. Sometimes they’re really short. Drinking History usually is just a little cocktail or something like that. Short video. I’m trying to do more, but I need help at this point.
Tubefilter: That was my next question. Have you hired anybody or are you looking to hire anybody?
MM: I have not. It’s just me. I have tried working with a few people, mostly on editing, and it just hasn’t worked out. I think less to do with their skills and more to do with my inability to tell people what I want. It’s never been a skill I’ve had. I’ve never managed people or anything like that. So that is something to be learned. And frankly, I don’t have time to learn anything, but if I do hire, I need a full-time trade assistant, someone who wants to learn from the ground up everything it takes to make a YouTube channel and can help with a little bit of everything rather than someone who just edits or helps with research or something. Someone who helps with everything. Hopefully soon.
Tubefilter: I have to admit I’m surprised you don’t have anybody on board.
MM: Well, I’m married, and my husband, who’s been with me the whole time, is very, very supportive. He is a wonderful sounding board. He doesn’t help necessarily make the videos or anything, but he often reads the scripts and he does all the subtitles and everything. So he is wonderful at kind of keeping me in my lane of where I need to be going, and he helps me with big picture stuff and helps me post, because I never post on socials without his prompting. So he’s been really helpful, but he still works for Disney full-time. So he doesn’t have a lot of extra time to dedicate to that.
Tubefilter: Are you full-time on this now? Are you still furloughed?
MM: They called me back from work last April, so like a little over a year ago. I had to make a decision then. Do I go back and give up Tasting History? Because it had gone from five- and six-minute videos to, my videos are now usually between 14 and 20 minutes, and I get hundreds of emails and correspondence. This is a full-time job. I work much more than I ever worked at Disney. It’s a 70-hour a week work week. Plus I’m always on my phone doing other ancillary things.
So I couldn’t dedicate enough time to Disney to do the show. I had to pick. And I did go with Tasting History because, first of all, I love becoming my own boss. I don’t know that I could go back to having a boss. Of course I could, but it would be hard. And I had Jose still working full-time as a wonderful safety net. So yeah, I’ve been doing this only for a little over a year, and will continue to do so. And yes, it is a full-time gig.
Tubefilter: So what does the average day look like for you?
MM: The average day is wake up at seven, go to the gym, putz around until nine, and then usually around 9 or 9:30 a.m., I am either researching, writing, or editing. Whatever one of those jobs I’m doing, it’s pretty straightforward until 7:30 or 8 at night, though I take breaks to do whatever. That’s the thing. There is freedom in that I can go do stuff with nobody else’s permission, like grocery shopping, whatever.
And then once a week, usually, I film. Okay. And that day, I wake up and I start cooking, and sometimes kind of at the same time, I’m writing, I’m doing a final edit on the script for that video. And then sometime in the afternoon, I am filming. It always depends on what I’m cooking. Sometimes it’s done on separate days when I’m actually filming my talking versus cooking, depending on what the dish is and how long it takes. Then usually once I’m done filming, I edit a first pass. I take an hour and a half of footage and crunch it down to the 16 or 17 minutes of the video. Then the next day will be a full, usually 10- to 12-hour day of editing to add images and music and all of that.
So those long days are five days a week, sometimes six. Then usually one, if not two days on the weekend, I only work between four and eight hours.
MM: Yeah, depending on if I’m filming that day. Simply because that’s when we hang out with friends or go to dinner or things like that. So those are a little less labor-intensive. But it is a seven-day-a-week job. I never am not doing something on the channel, even if it’s just emails. I’m going out of town next week, even then I’m gonna be on emails and catching up on Instagram messages and stuff, because I do try to answer everyone eventually, even if it takes six months to get back to them. I try to get back to them.
Tubefilter: How did it feel for you to hit a million subscribers?
MM: Oh, surreal. I mean, especially in such a short amount of time. I think my original goal was 1,000 within the first year. So to hit a million in a year and a half was really amazing.
What was interesting and unnexpected was before I hit a million, I mean, I swear I was on that YouTube Studio app every five minutes, checking my subscriber count, and I would notice it had gone up one person. Then once I hit a million, it was kind of like, now I can step off this treadmill and just focus on the videos. I no longer need to worry about how many subscribers I have, how fast the channel’s growing, all of that, because I’m not going to hit that 10 million subscriber mark.
Tubefilter: I mean, never say never.
MM: Never say never, but I don’t see that happening. So I feel like, all right, I’ve hit this milestone and now I don’t even need to worry about it, and it’s kind of freeing. That was the biggest unexpected result of hitting a million, was a freeing feeling and being able to just focus on next week’s video.
Tubefilter: Aside from hopefully hiring somebody, do you have any other plans for the next year or so?
MM: Nothing specific. I have a lot of “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if…” I do have a cookbook coming out that’ll actually be up for presale in the next six months or so. It comes out next spring. I’ve been working on that for a year, and it’s been a lot of work.
Other than that, I would really like to find something I can do that’s a little less labor-intensive than full episodes, whether that’s a podcast where I have guests on and it’s more just the history of things that I don’t get to talk about. Because there’s so much that I want to talk about in history that doesn’t really fit into a video. I mean, granted, I talk a lot about things that aren’t food-related and I force them into a video, but there are some things even I can’t force into a food video and they’re just as interesting.
So I would love a podcast where it’s a little bit more relaxed. Or maybe I can do shorter videos that are just recipes without the history aspect, just historic recipes without talking about the history. They would be short five- or six-minute videos, just different foods, because I have literally tens of thousands of recipes and I will not get through them in my lifetime. So why not try to do more in that aspect?
Karat Financial is building better financial products for creators. Karat’s first launch is a business black card that provides better limits & rewards based on social stats- used by creators like Alexandra Botez, 3LAU, and Graham Stephan. Karat is backed by cofounders of Twitter, Twitch, and YouTube. DM @trykarat on Instagram and mention YouTube Millionaires for priority access.