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.
Dave Farina knew he didn’t want to be a chemist.
But when he went to college, he signed himself up to study chemistry.
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Simple: It fascinates him.
So, despite intending to become a career musician, Farina got a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. While doing it, he supported himself financially by tutoring fellow students in his favorite subject. Those lectures turned out to be very handy, because later, when Farina (like many of us in the arts) was looking for side gigs to bulk up his income, he figured he’d spent the time on them, and they’d helped his students, so why not record them and put them on YouTube for other people who wanted to learn?
He did just that—and now, eight years later, teaching people through his channel Professor Dave Explains is more than a side gig. It’s Farina’s full-time job.
We’ll let him tell you all about it below.
Tubefilter: Tell us a bit about your background!
Dave Farina: Ooh, where to start. I studied chemistry. I did a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and then started some graduate studies in chemistry. Didn’t finish those. But then I was teaching and tutoring chemistry for a long time to support myself as I pursued a career in music.
At a certain point I was looking for a way to get some passive income going. I had been teaching organic chemistry at this trade university for some time, so I had developed these organic chemistry lectures I felt were very effective. I thought: This is my idea for passive income. I’m gonna record my lectures on camera, and I’m going to put them on YouTube. I’ll make a little channel, a little name, “Professor Dave Explains,” and a little theme song and other branding.
That was January 2015, and those tutorials were received very well, so I started to do other topics. I did general chemistry and then biochemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, and just started really growing from there.
It quickly became apparent that my goal would be to try to become the best resource online for self-learning. Topics that predominantly students in high school and undergrad can use to pass their classes, but also maybe some curious laypeople want to learn what students are learning rather than through like an entertainment resource where you just kind of learn a couple snippets about a random topic. If people are interested in learning what geology students or biology students or math students or whatever are learning, kind of an early undergrad, that that would be a good resource for them.
So that’s what I’ve been doing for about seven years, is just trying to amass a very, very large database of academic tutorials.
Tubefilter: What made you want to pursue chemistry in the first place? And what makes you so passionate about teaching chem to other people?
DF: I just pursued chemistry simply due to fascination. I was just fascinated by the subject. Honestly, while I was in undergrad, I knew I wanted to be a musician. I knew I did not want to be a chemist. But I found the topic so interesting that I majored in it anyway.
Then I found the best way to make a living after that was to teach and tutor and explain what I knew to other people who were learning it for the first time. I did find quite a bit of satisfaction in the intellectual challenge of figuring out how to break down a complex subject such as organic chemistry down into its most digestible parts. You know, how can I explain this in a way that is as clear and succinct as possible? I found that to be a very fun intellectual challenge.
And then I found it to be a thing I could do that was of societal value. That was only reinforced when I started the channel. I started getting comments and messages from students thanking me, from around the world, just saying, you know, “My teacher’s not so great, I don’t like reading the textbook, I don’t understand it. You are helping me understand this topic.”
So I try to recreate that for other subjects as well. I just see it as kind of the thing that I can do to contribute the most to the human race.
Tubefilter: I feel like that’s a valuable resource for people who maybe don’t learn in the way things are traditionally taught.
DF: Yeah, it’s kind of guided learning. I cut out all the fluff, just give you exactly what you need, and I speak it to you. I write keywords and highlight them, and I give diagrams and I draw your attention, draw you eyes, where they need to go at the right time. It’s a facilitated learning process.
Tubefilter: Are you full-time on this currently?
Tubefilter: When did you go full-time? Was there a specific point, like a certain number of subscribers, or a certain income threshold that made you go, “Okay, this is my job now”?
DF: So the tricky thing is that I was doing it full-time, even when it was not bringing in full-time income. Which means I was doing other work in addition to this. So I was basically just working two jobs. I was working about 70 hours a week on this. I started in January 2015, and that first year I didn’t take it too seriously.
But then around the middle of 2016, I did start to take it seriously. I started working relentlessly on it, even though I was making very, very little money from it. But the thing is that I was already getting some attention through the channel, and it was getting me contracting work. So websites would contact me and say, “We like your content. Would you make some for us privately for money?” The exposure and the visibility of the channel brought me other work that was paid.
And so I just would work 40 hours on this, 40 hours on that, and run myself a little bit ragged, but would be able to get by while I was growing the channel, which I knew would be a time investment.
In around 2019, 2020, the income from the channel became much more significant. I began to do far fewer contracts. Now, at this point, I really don’t do any contracts. There could be a number that could get me to do it, but I just really don’t need it or seek them out.
Tubefilter: I was going to ask next, have you seen an uptick in traffic during the pandemic, with a lot of students having to switch to long-distance learning?
DF: A little bit. I would say maybe 10% to 20%. There was a nice bump due to at-home learning people just kind of being bored and finding my other content, which is more of debunking content, which people find very entertaining. So yes, I definitely got, not an enormous boost, but a noticeable boost from COVID.
Tubefilter: What’s your current production schedule? What’s the average day like?
DF: It’s pretty scattershot. What I used to do when I would be shooting at YouTube Spaces is I would batch everything. So I would write for about three weeks and get scripts ready, and then I would go to a YouTube Space and rent out one of the studios for maybe one or two 12-hour shoot days where I would film everything in front of the green screen. And then I would take all that home, and I would animate that for maybe two months.
But now YouTube Space doesn’t exist anymore, so I don’t do that. I do everything at home. I don’t even appear in the videos anymore. It’s just audio and animation, so I kind of do whatever I want.
So now, on a particular day, I might be writing, which means I just have my laptop, writing in a Word document. Or I might be recording the audio, which would just be, again, at my laptop with a microphone, just running through the scripts. More often I’m editing or animating because the postproduction takes so long. So I’m at my desktop computer using Adobe Premiere and After Effects and getting the visuals squared away.
Tubefilter: Can you expand on YouTube Space a little, for people not familiar?
DF: I became aware of it because I live in Los Angeles, and they had one in Los Angeles. I just found out that it existed and realized that once I reached 10,000 subscribers, I would have access to it. It took me a little over a year, I think, maybe 15 months or so, to get 10,000 subscribers.
I was able to book one particular studio, which luckily was the green screen studio. That was all I needed, because I just stand for my camera in front of a green screen and read off the teleprompter.
Then, once you hit 100,000 subs, you get a little more flexibility. You get to book sooner, and you get more days per month. Three days instead of one. At the time, I was flying—I could really film a lot in those three days per month, and I was working really hard.
But then, yeah. That shut down at the beginning of pandemic. Then they just disbanded the whole concept. There were about a dozen or 15 or so all over the world, and they’re just gone now.
Tubefilter: Yeah, it’s a shame.
DF: I think it probably just became a money pit for them. It’s so much money and so many resources, it just probably ended up not being worth it for them.
Tubefilter: Yeah. Unfortunate. Back to your growth, though, when you hit a million subscribers, did it change anything for you? Or was it more of a “Let’s keep going”?
DF: It was October 2020, and it didn’t change anything other than…Well, I mean, it felt really good. I’d been working toward that for six and a half years. But the next day it was just more of the same. You don’t really look at the subscriber count as much because you’re building, building, building to one million, then it’s just one million and some, and it just doesn’t really feel as important. Maybe when I hit 10 million, I’ll get that feeling again.
Tubefilter: You’re actually now at 2 million subscribers, so you’re saying it took you six and a half years to hit one mil, and then, what? How long to get to 2 million?
DF: Yeah, six years and 10 months to get a million. And then it only took me another year and seven months, I think, to get another million. So it’s been exponential.
Tubefilter: Has anything else changed for you over the past couple of years? Not just with COVID, but in general.
DF: It’s about the same. I think maybe I’ve started to pay more attention to the debunking content, as people seem to really like that. I’ve started to find bigger targets to go after, frauds and charlatans to expose and debunk. That’s a little bit more socially involved content.
The other thing would be that I now have definitely exhausted almost all of my own personal knowledge and therefore I really don’t write almost any of the content anymore. I hire out other people to write the scripts, and I even have one animator who is handling some proportion of my postproduction—about 20%, probably, so they’re doing a little bit of it for me.
I’m starting to kind of build a little bit of a team, a little bit of infrastructure, so that I can eventually, long-term, just steer the ship and not row the oars.
Tubefilter: You mentioned debunking. One of the things you talk about pretty frequently is Flat Earth. Those are some of the top videos on your channel. Do you have thoughts about that and what’s driving people to be interested in debunking content?
DF: Well, I mean, it’s just so funny these people exist, and I think people enjoy watching somebody eloquently dunk on them. I really don’t think it’s more than that. I’m very aware…Like, look, I can definitely admit I’ve played into it a little bit because I’ve made about eight of these Flat Earth debunks. I do genuinely want to demolish this horrible anti-science fad, and my goal behind these videos is to make it as concise and just undeniable as possible. Here’s a short, five-minute evisceration. If you watch this and still believe in Flat Earth, there’s no hope for you. That kind of thing.
I do want to do my part to steer us back into the right course here, but I also enjoy the views, that’s for sure. I am trying to pull away from Flat Earth and focus more on other things that are a little bit bigger fish. There’s not very many Flat Earthers in the world, whereas there are lots of creationists or anti-vaxers and climate change deniers and all these other things that are a bt more important. I’m trying to shift my focus to those.
Tubefilter: Yeah, I noticed you recently made a video about trans people.
DF: Yeah, that one…I honestly was completely shocked by the response because I’ve dealt with trolls, I’ve dealt with toxic people on the internet, but I’ve never seen anything like this blowback from the trans video.
Tubefilter: You had to turn comments off, right?
DF: Yeah. I had to turn comments off on two videos because it was just a complete cesspool of alt-right toxicity, and I just didn’t feel dealing with it for my own mental health. It was because I made the video and I just sort of in passing called out Matt Walsh.
Then he made a response video that got about a million views. And then I had to make a response video to his response video, because it was complete garbage. I had to correct everything he said, but his minions didn’t watch. They didn’t care. They continued to pretend that I had nothing to say, whereas I had said it all. They just spammed me in a way that I’ve never been spammed before. You know. “Groomer.” “Pedophile.” “You watch your wife with guys and clean up after them.” Just really toxic and relentless people that are making sock account after sock account to continue to harass me no matter how many times I’ve blocked them. Visiting every other video they can, and after I turn off the comments, harassing me in other places. Just the vulgarity, the insults, yeah.
It’s still continuing weeks later. I’m still dealing with it. It’s really unbelievable. They complain that cancel culture is on the left, whereas I gotta tell you, I said some things critical at the left and nobody really made a peep other than maybe a lightly critical tweet here and there. The right is the side that is trying to cancel me and is trying to cancel anybody that says things they don’t like. As far as my experience goes, that is exclusively on the right.
Tubefilter: I’m sorry you’re dealing with that. I used to be the one who’d argue relentlessly with people on Facebook when I was 18 or 19 but I just don’t have the energy now.
DF: What’s the point? They’re vermin and they never stop.
Tubefilter: Does that blowback dissuade you at all from making those kinds of videos?
DF: It does a little bit, yeah. If I really want to make a video, I’ll make the video. I don’t really care. But I do like to stay scientific, and to me, this was scientific. I was explaining the biology of transness. People were complaining that I was getting political, which, I’m sorry, other people politicize science. It’s not my fault or my problem. I explain science. If you think that’s political, it’s because you have politicized science for some agenda, or you’ve fallen for others who have politicized science for some agenda. It has nothing to do with what I’m saying.
I’m planning ecology and meteorology and environmental science content, so of course I will talk about climate. And I will outline the science behind climate change. And then again, people will say I’ve become political. No, I have not. This is science. Other people have politicized this topic due to an agenda. I’m setting the record straight. So don’t tell me I’m becoming political.
It does, I will admit, it does dissuade me from touching other things that are purely political that I may have an opinion on. I just won’t now because it’s just such a headache and it’s not worth it.
Tubefilter: “The politicization of science” is a very good way to put it.
DF: And it’s something that must be fought against. So I suppose that’s me. I do feel a sense of duty. I’m not sure why, but I feel that I’m very equipped for this job. So who am I to turn it down?
Tubefilter: You mentioned you’re building a small team. Do you have any other plans or goals for the next couple of years?
DF: I would quite like to get into television and other platforms. One of my ambitions is to get a little bit more in the spotlight and be something resembling a Jon Stewart type of figure, for science news. I’d like to have some kind of program that’s a bit like the Daily Show maybe crossed with Hasan Minhaj, he had a great program on Netflix that did exposes.
I would like to do something resembling my debunking content, but on a larger platform with a team that can research and help me produce pieces, have on guests, maybe even the people I’m debunking, so it can be hashed out in real time. Something just a little more accessible to people where I can have a greater impact on the public perception of scientific topics.