YouTube Millionaires: How career magician Rick Smith Jr. threw his way to a million subscribers

By 12/01/2022
YouTube Millionaires: How career magician Rick Smith Jr. threw his way to a million subscribers

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.


Rick Smith Jr. can slice an apple with a playing card.

From a few dozen feet away.

Tubefilter

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If you’ve been anywhere near the sleight-of-hand or trick shot sides of YouTube, you’ve probably seen Smith’s handiwork. He’s guest-starred on Dude PerfectThat’s Amazing, and Match Up, to name a few.

Of course, if you’ve been anywhere near a TV, you’ve also probably seen him. Smith has been doing the rounds for nearly 20 years, and has appeared on Master of ChampionsWayne Brady‘s talk show, Shark Tank, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and many, many more.

Smith’s a full-time professional magician with a jam-packed live show schedule, and that’s why, up until around this time last year, he used his YouTube channel mostly as a repository for clips of his media appearances and “silly things” (his description, not ours!) like quick card trick tutorials. That changed, he said, when YouTube approached him about this new thing it was doing called YouTube Shorts.

Smith didn’t have a lot of time between shows to make long-form content. But 30- or 60-second Shorts filmed with his phone and shot off to an editor? He could knock those out no problem.

So that’s what he did. And, over the past 12 months, traffic from those Shorts has helped his subscriber count soar from 500,000 people to more than 1.5 million.

Check out our chat with him below.

Tubefilter: Could I get a little intro about you and your background, and how you got into card throwing?

Rick Smith Jr.: Yes. My name is Rick Smith Jr. I am a professional magician out of Cleveland, Ohio. I was an NCAA pitcher, baseball pitcher back in 2002 throwing close to 92 miles per hour, and I was also a magician. I found out when I combined my two talents of baseball and being able to handle cards as a magician, I was able to throw playing cards farther, harder, and more accurate than anyone in the world.

Tubefilter: That’s very cool. How did you fall in love with card throwing? Was there a specific moment?

Rick Smith Jr.: Yes, there was a specific moment. As a baseball pitcher in college, we used to roll up our sock before games, after practices, and sometimes we would throw a sock across the locker room. One day I got hit with a sock and I didn’t have a sock to throw back, but being a magician and all, I always had a deck of cards in my pocket. I took out a playing card, threw it, and I ended up giving the kid the worst paper cut of his life.

Tubefilter: [laughs] From that came a whole career?

Rick Smith Jr.: Yes, I ended up getting phone calls from The Tonight Show and Ripley’s Believe it or Not and Ellen and a whole bunch of others. It just went from there.

Tubefilter: When did YouTube come into it?

Rick Smith Jr.: I’ve been doing YouTube for almost 10 years, but not like as a creator or YouTube or anything like that. I would always just post TV clips for maybe some tutorials or some silly things on YouTube. But back in 2017, I had the opportunity to collaborate with YouTube group Dude Perfect, and my video went viral. It ended up being to the number one trending spot for over 32 hours, and I gained 100,000 subscribers in one day. I was one of the fastest-growing YouTube channels that week in 2017.

Ever since then, I just decided that I would post. Back in the day, in 2017, I would post every other week, like Dude Perfect. I ended up getting other collaborations with Mark Rober, Preston Plays, Brent Rivera, Legendary Shots, Juggling Josh, That’s Amazing, David Dobrik, and all of this just took off.

I started building my own channel and did all the trick shots, and up until about a year ago, I had 500,000 subscribers. Then I was approached by YouTube about a new program that they were going to be having called YouTube Shorts, and I started posting Shorts every single day. After I started doing that, I started growing rapidly on my own without the help of other people. I generated a million subscribers off my own Shorts within about a four- or five-month period of time.

Tubefilter: Shorts has been a real catalyst, then?

Rick Smith Jr.: Yes. YouTube Shorts was ridiculously a huge help. I had videos at one time that were almost doing 400,000 views an hour.

Tubefilter: That’s insane, wow.

Rick Smith Jr.: Oh, yes. Of all time, my biggest day was 18 million views in a day.

Tubefilter: In a day? Wild.

Rick Smith Jr.: That’s where it started.

Tubefilter: Do you enjoy making short-form content over longer videos, or do you not have a preference, or how do you feel?

Rick Smith Jr.: I’m a professional entertainer, so in the real world, I do close to 600 live performances in front of audiences every year. Shorts content right now enables me to basically create a Short in almost every one of my shows, and give people who would never have an opportunity to be on a YouTube show or have a YouTube platform the opportunity to be featured in my videos. Sometimes I have time to make a long-form video, but it’s hard with all the traveling and stuff that I’m doing right now. I’m on tour performing around the globe and other parts of the world, but also still creating content as best I possibly can.

Tubefilter: What is the average day–if there is an average day–look like for you in terms of balancing live shows and production for YouTube and everything else?

Rick Smith Jr.: I wish I had a really good answer for that. The way I’ve always had my career is in doing live shows. I would say on average per week, I do about 20, 25, 30 shows a week. It just depends on what I’m doing. Then if I have a day off, sometimes I’ll create different clips that will end up being a long-form video. I’ve been working on a video right now for four or five months, which is an extreme trick shot video, and hopefully, I’ll release it in November or December, but I’m not 100% sure yet if it’ll be done by then. I’ve been working on that and these these trick shots take hours to create and then shoot them. All for a six-minute video!

Tubefilter: That’s definitely something I’ve heard. I feel like I hear that from a lot of creators, even people who made longer-form videos, that short-form just allows them so much more potential and possibility to be able to upload things more regularly in amongst their schedules.

Rick Smith Jr.: It’s hard for me. YouTube is not my full-time career. I like doing it and I’m recognized around the globe for doing it. Maybe once YouTube Shorts becomes monetizable in January, maybe we’ll see if things switch around a little bit, and then I can focus more attention on that.

Tubefilter: Gotcha. What has been your favorite part of being on YouTube in general?

Rick Smith Jr.: My favorite part right now is I guess being recognized all around the globe, anywhere I’m at. An airport, I’m at a mall, I’m at a theme park, kids come up to me all the time and tell me that they watch my videos. Even adults. I was at a corporate event for the United States Senate and one of the people from the Senate came up to me like, “I love your smarter than kindergartener questions. Can I be in one?”

Definitely, I’m getting quite a variety of people watching the video. Right now, I’m doing about 500,000 to a million views a day, which is pretty crazy to me still. Then to meet the actual people when I’m performing, people that actually watch my content, it’s pretty crazy.

Tubefilter: Does YouTube have a demonstrative effect when it comes to people attending your shows? Do you feel like being on YouTube has helped boost your career on that arm?

Rick Smith Jr.: 100%. I get shows every day because people are watching me on YouTube and they’re like, “We want him to come to our corporate event, we want him to speak at our event, we want him to perform some trick shots in between our conference,” or whatever. Yes, it’s great.

Tubefilter: You’re clearly paying pretty close attention to your analytics, do you have a set number of videos that you try to publish per day or per week?

Rick Smith Jr.: Oh, right now, I do every day, 9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.After two hours, I usually start to see an increase in the amount of views. For YouTube Shorts, it’s weird too. I’ll have videos that will just stay at 100,000 views and then all of a sudden, 6,000 views an hour for a few days straight, or 30 days, 40 days, 50 days straight.

Tubefilter: Have you seen a pattern in any specific types of videos that go viral or is it just random, what catches on?

Rick Smith Jr.: I think it’s things that are relatable to people. As of right now, some of the videos that have gone very viral on my channel recently have been stealing a police officer’s watch or being in front of a live audience and stealing a student’s watch off their wrist. Card throwing trick shots always seem to do well. Then about one year ago from today, like last November, I started a series called Are You Smarter Than a Kindergartener? where I would ask silly questions to students, to see if I can give them to give me an answer.

For example, I would say, “Say the word silk five times.” Say the word silk five times.

Tubefilter: Silk. Silk. Silk. Silk. Silk.

Rick Smith Jr.: What do cows drink?

Tubefilter: Milk. [laughs]

Rick Smith Jr.: Water. They produce milk. I would get these people to react, and it would be really funny. I started posting them on YouTube. Those also got anywhere from 100,000 to 18 million views doing silly questions like that. I always try to change the content just to keep it fresh and pivot from one thing to the next, just to give my audience a wide variety of who I am and what I’m trying to do.

Tubefilter: How much sway do viewer reactions have over your video decisions?

Rick Smith Jr.: None, right at the second. It’s just a team of me and an editor right now. If we feel like the video isn’t performing well, we try on other platforms, or we take it down and repost at a different time. Sometimes we take it down and repost it a different time and we’ve seen great results, whereas maybe the time of day does affect it on certain days.

Tubefilter: It’s interesting that you post specifically at 9 a.m., is there a reason or is it just routine?

Rick Smith Jr.: I was getting the most traction at that time, and I would post out later in the day and it wouldn’t do as well.

Tubefilter: Interesting.

Rick Smith Jr.: Is there a time that you think I should be posting?

Tubefilter: No, I was just curious. I’m always curious to hear why people have posted specific times. From our side, I don’t think there’s any super magic formula.

Rick Smith Jr.: I think there’s a magic formula, I’ve just got to find it.

Tubefilter: [laughs] That’s fair. I feel like different things work for different people, and clearly, it’s working for you.

Rick Smith Jr.: I mean, Dude Perfect used to post on Mondays at 4 p.m. and now they do Saturday morning. Saturday is a really good day. I would say every Saturday that I post, my views are double what they are on a Wednesday, which is the worst day to post for me.

Tubefilter: Oh, good to know.

Rick Smith Jr.: Friday, Saturday, Sunday are my three best days. Sometimes Monday, but Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday? Not so much.

Tubefilter: Do you schedule specific videos for those days then? Maybe videos that you feel more strongly about or is it just what falls on what day is is what day you go with?

Rick Smith Jr.: I like to create, so if I’m at an event or event in a weekend and today I create 10, I’ll send them over to my editor. We’ll edit them how we want them to be, and then we’ll just put them in a queue. Then as it’s going along, I’ll either schedule a couple in a row, or I’ll go in the day before, two days before, and find out what videos I want, typically saving my best videos for the weekend. Then just putting the other content throughout the week.

Tubefilter: Perfect. Do you have any upcoming plans, or upcoming goals for your channel that you can talk about?

Rick Smith Jr.: I’m right now working on a program with YouTube Shorts called 30 for 30. It’s basically 30 Shorts in 30 days.

Tubefilter: Oh, cool.

Rick Smith Jr.: We’re about halfway through that right now. Then I have another 30 for 30 with Bicycle Playing Cards coming up afterwards. We’ll all be doing playing card trick shots with Bicycle Playing Cards after this current Shorts 30.

Tubefilter: Perfect. Is there anything else that you wanted to touch on or anything else you feel readers should know about you?

Rick Smith Jr.: Yes. If you find me in the real world, come say hi. I’m approachable. I love doing magic for people, so if they want to be part of a video or want to see a trick, come up and ask. I’m always willing to do that.

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