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.
There might not be a direct pipeline for going from a coffee enthusiast and mechanical engineer to a coffee enthusiast and true crime host, but for Adrian Stewart, it was still a natural transition.
Pre-2020, Stewart was all-in on engineering projects, but like many of us, his life was thrown off course by COVID. And, like many of our past Creators on the Rise featurees, his YouTube story started during those earliest lockdowns.
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Well, sort of.
Stewart has his own small mystery: Out there somewhere is a gaming channel he made as a teen, and nobody’s found it yet. It wasn’t a pro attempt at becoming a YouTuber, but it did plant the seed for what would eventually become Coffeehouse Crime. When he was looking for something to do in 2020, he had that little experience with making videos, and that long-term desire to get back to it if he could. Still, he says, he made around 10 of them before he felt like his skills were sharp enough to start uploading. He took everything he’d learned making those 10, re-edited the first one, and put it on his new channel.
That explains why YouTube, but why true crime?
Stewart was initially drawn, as a viewer, to missing persons cases. The more he got into watching other creators’ true crime content, the more he wanted to try his hand at covering cases those creators hadn’t picked up. He also wanted to try covering cases in a way that structured them around the victim rather than the perpetrator, and present things with a more “cinematic approach,” he says.
A “cinematic approach” involves spending between 30 and 40 hours researching and gathering footage for each case. Stewart uses a mix of news reports and “factual footage” like surveillance and police body cameras, plus stock footage to smooth the gap.
“I think all of us know that dark and morbidly curious feeling when you’re watching grainy surveillance footage of a dark figure walking across the street. You want to know what that footage is about, what they’re doing out there, and what the story is before and after that point,” he says. “If things have surveillance footage or if they have factual footage of the events at the time, that draws me in.”
These days, Stewart tends to focus less on missing persons and more on murder and unsolved cases, because that’s what his audience is interested in. He checks in with them using YouTube’s Community posts and polls, and says that while he’s still passionate about missing persons cases, they’re routinely among the lowest selected on his audience’s polls.
And that audience is a sizable one: Since uploading his first video almost exactly two years ago, Stewart has grown his channel to more than 1.5 million subscribers, and now routinely nets around 10 million views per month.
This year, he’s hoping to take the channel up above 2 million. To do that, he’s now focused on YouTube full-time, with a goal of posting at least two videos per week. He’s also exploring the idea of building a business around Coffeehouse Crime, with a potential podcast and merch in the works.
Check out our chat with him below.
Tubefilter: Can you give me a little bit of background on you and how you ended up on YouTube?
Adrian Stewart: Yes, sure. I started a year and a half ago. I was in several engineering roles before this. I loved what I was working on, but I wanted to be more digitally creative too, so over lockdown, while we all had extra time, I got into looking for side projects, and that’s where I thought about YouTube. Now I create true crime documentaries with Coffeehouse Crime. That’s, I guess, the short of it.
Coffeehouse Crime’s all about true crime cases that are happening internationally, all across the world. I try and deliver in a way that’s respectful to the victims and the families and try and add lessons learned and a better understanding of the psychological aspects behind what makes killers kill people, essentially.
I guess a short synopsis of me otherwise is…I just hit 30. I hit 30, so the golden years, the best decade of your life, so we’ll see how that goes. Maybe that’s just me trying to hold onto my youth, but otherwise, I live in London, and I can’t really say I do much more than YouTube at the moment, to be honest. I love traveling whenever I get time to do that. Otherwise, I’m just a sociable person. I like hanging out with my friends.
Tubefilter: I have to assume that you had some experience with at least watching YouTube before you joined, because it seems like you came right onto YouTube and you knew exactly what you wanted to do. Your early videos are very polished. What drew you to YouTube and what your experience with it was before?
Adrian Stewart: Yes, sure. I actually used to do YouTube I think 15 years ago. I used to have a small YouTube channel where I did gaming and stuff, so I knew how to put together a video anyway. Nobody’s actually found that channel yet. It’s still on YouTube and it’s still live. It’s still out there somewhere, but nobody has mentioned it yet, so I think it’s still my own secret for now. When I hit 18 years old, I decided to focus on university, so I went to uni and I stopped doing that all together, but I’ve always wanted to get back into YouTube, really. It’s always something that I wanted to pursue later on again in life when I had time. COVID or lockdown was the best time to do that. I know how to piece together a video and just even before, but especially over lockdown, I got pretty interested in mysteries, true crime cases. In particular missing persons cases.
I just found it really interesting to theorize and investigate and analyze and come to my own conclusions on what may have happened to that missing person. I started watching more true crime from there. I think it was after I realized there were lots of true crime and makeup channels out there and that the content was interesting, but personally, I have no interest in makeup or watching people put it on. I just thought, “Well, what if I try and create true crime content in the way that they’re sharing their stories, but deliver a more cinematic approach to it?” Given there weren’t many channels doing that. There still aren’t.
I got to work, picked a few cases that really interested me that I’d looked up before in the past, and just went from there. I think because I thought about it upfront, I must have created 10 videos before I even uploaded my first one. Then those 10 videos, so I was getting better and better at editing effects and all sorts of editing techniques, so by the time I got to my 10th video, I was able to actually go back to my first one and put all the lessons I learned back into the first video and then release it. I think that gave me probably a very quick boost at the beginning, because I gave myself that time to grow and develop before actually hit the publish button for the first time.
Tubefilter: That’s very smart.
Adrian Stewart: Thank you.
Tubefilter: I’m assuming it’s probably changed over the past two, almost three years now, but what is your production process like for a video?
Adrian Stewart: Hectic. [laughs]
Usually, I’ll start with research. Even before research, trying to find a case that I find interesting that I find hasn’t really been told too much. I don’t like to cover cases that have been covered time and time again by other true crime content creators, so I tend to go for ones that are less well-known. Once I’ve decided a case that I find particularly interesting that I think people would want to hear more about, I’ll then start the research for that case, and that can take anywhere from two to four days. It depends on how invested I am with my time, because sometimes I’m researching and writing my case from nine in the morning until midnight. If it’s a really interesting case, I’ll go all day just because I’m very fascinated, obsessed with that content.
That can include news reports, police affidavits. Basically, anything that I can find online, I’ll use in my scripts, and I’ll cross-check those different sources to make sure they’re as accurate as possible.
Tubefilter: How long does that process take on average?
Adrian Stewart: I’d say like three days. Probably two to three days.
Tubefilter: That’s pretty quick. No wonder you said it’s hectic.
Adrian Stewart: I’d say I put all my free time into this. It’s probably not healthy in the long run, but I enjoy it so much that I don’t really complain much about it. I just put my time in and maybe on a short day, I’ll work eight hours. On long day, I’ll work well into 13 hours, 14 hours. I’d say maybe 30 hours to 40 hours of researching each video.
Tubefilter: Is this your full-time thing now?
Adrian Stewart: It is now, yes. Actually, about three months ago I left my engineering job, so I was also working that as well, full-time, and it was really killing me, so yes, I eventually left that.
Tubefilter: Can you talk a little about that, because it’s a daunting decision to quit your job for this.
Adrian Stewart: Yes, sure. I mean, I’ll always be an engineer! I loved what I did, but I’m currently in a position where I can experiment with my roles and income for a while. YouTube is a great option for me right now. I love the creativity and freedom compared to a standard corporate job. I did stubbornly hold on to it for a long time. I was never too sure how long this YouTube thing would last. Now I feel confident enough that I’m here for good. As with most things, when you settle into a new role, even if that role is YouTube, you wonder if it’s for you in the long term, so I was holding on to that to make sure I was making the right and sensible decision.
Tubefilter: Was there a particular point where you were like, “Okay, this is stable enough now,” like a particular number of subscribers or views, or was it just that gut feeling?
Adrian Stewart: Yes, it was just that gut feeling. I think most people know when to make the move over to YouTube. I’d say I definitely took longer than most. Lots of YouTubers would have left their old job before me, but I just felt like it was the right time. I will return to engineering roles in the future, but when that time comes, I will make sure that I follow my passion, not a means to survive. Maybe I can even put my newly learned skills to good use, too!
Tubefilter: Got it. Back to production, do you have a set posting schedule?
Adrian Stewart: Yes, I try and do two videos a week. It doesn’t always work out that way. I try to do two videos a week, but realistically, because the production process is so long, because I spent so long researching, writing, editing, creating, and so on, I can’t always get two a week out.
Tubefilter: What is the process, because you said you take a more cinematic approach, and you feature a lot of really cool shots and a lot of really cool footage. How do you source stock footage, source news footage?
Adrian Stewart: Sure. Yes, so to begin with, I focus on the actual factual footage. I’ll try and find everything I can on the case, whether it’s related to the people who are in the case, or it’s related to, let’s say, interrogation footage, surveillance footage, body camera footage. Once I’ve worked out the core factual footage, I’ll then add peripheral factual footage. If I’m talking about places, maybe a specific college or street they used to live on, I’ll create the footage around that, like aerial maps on Google and so on.
Then I’ll go over the stock footage, which is just generic footage that you fill in the gaps with. You can get licenses for stock footage. There’s plenty out there, and for any YouTubers who are just starting up and haven’t really got the capital behind them or the money behind them, Pexels is a very good option because that’s free stock footage for anyone, basically.
Tubefilter: Perfect. Yeah, I feel like that’s something a lot of people struggle with, understanding how to get nice stock footage.
Adrian Stewart: Absolutely. Yes, understanding how to get stock footage is one thing, and I think a lot of people are also unsure or nervous on using factual footage or footage from Google Maps or Google Images. Obviously, we all have to think about copyright and fair use. There was a period of time where I didn’t really understand what fair use was. After learning more about that, I felt more comfortable to use images from Google and news reports under the right circumstances.
Tubefilter: Have you ever had videos get copyright struck?
Adrian Stewart: No.
Tubefilter: Oh, congratulations! That was not the answer I was expecting.
Adrian Stewart: No, luckily. Well, I guess it’s calculated, but I haven’t had any copyright issues. Actually no, I did get one. There was a case where I covered the arrest of Chris Benoit. I used some footage of him wrestling in the ring and WWE had an issue with that, so I had to clip that section of footage out of the video. It probably was still within rights of fair use anyway, but sometimes it’s just easier to take the L and allow it to be taken off.
Tubefilter: WWE has a massive presence on YouTube, so that might explain why they’re aggressive about protecting their IP.
Adrian Stewart: Very protective. Yes, that’s right. It was strange. I think what they got rid of essentially was an interview with Chris Benoit. It was just after he lost his best friend, and it was a one-minute section where he was essentially crying about losing his best friend. They copyright striked that part, which I thought was quite, quite interesting because it was a very emotional thing. It may have been an exclusive interview, but it was essentially just Chris Benoit showing his raw emotion. Yes, a little frustrating to see that get taken down because it was a core element to the video.
Tubefilter: Do you have anybody working with you, or is it just you on the channel?
Adrian Stewart: Mostly just me. I do have a couple of people that help me with editing and scriptwriting from time to time, but most of the work I try to keep in-house. I think especially when it comes to work, I’m quite a control freak. I don’t know. I really struggle with allowing other people to do some of the work. It doesn’t feel as genuine anymore. In a genre where I’m talking about very serious cases and very serious content, I want to keep it as genuine and close to my heart as possible. I think that’s very important.
Tubefilter: You talked about how, when you’re looking for cases, (a) they have to interest you, and (b) you don’t want a case that’s been covered by a bunch of other creators. Are there any other criteria that draw you to a case?
Adrian Stewart: If it’s got lot of footage, normally that draws me to it. I find it really interesting. I think all of us know that dark and morbidly curious feeling when you’re watching grainy surveillance footage of a dark figure walking across the street. You want to know what that footage is about, what they’re doing out there, and what the story is before and after that point. If things have surveillance footage or if they have factual footage of the events at the time, that draws me in.
Tubefilter: What made you decide to focus on missing person cases?
Adrian Stewart: Actually, most of the true crime content that I do is unsolved cases. I really find missing persons cases interesting. There’s the curiosity that pulls me into that case. But YouTube’s almost a game of understanding your audience and knowing what your audience wants. Of course, it’s very important if your audience are loyal to you, then you have to be loyal to them. I do polls every three or four months on my Community posts to see what kind of content people want from me. Missing persons cases or unsolved cases tend to be one of the least-selected options. Although I find missing persons cases quite interesting, I tend to stick to what my audience wants to see.
Tubefilter: That surprises me! I’ve also always found missing persons cases really fascinating.
Adrian Stewart: Yes, it’s the curiosity. If it’s an unsolved case then, first of all. it’s good to get extra pairs of eyes on that case because the more notoriety and the more visibility that a missing persons case has, the more likely it is to eventually be solved. For me, it’s the deep diving that I find really interesting, because you can theorize and create your own theories off that. Sometimes those theories help actual missing persons cases get solved.
Tubefilter: Part of the Coffeehouse Crime brand is you mentioning how you do all this with respect toward victims. I feel like true crime as a genre has gotten a bit of a bad rap thanks to people who don’t have respect for victims and their families. Can you talk about why respect is important to you?
Adrian Stewart: Yes, of course. I think at the end of the day, although the content that I cover is consumed by people for entertainment, at the end of the day, we’re talking about real people. This isn’t a cartoon or a piece of fiction where these characters don’t exist. They’re real people who have died. Although we can learn lessons from that, we can’t forget there’s a lot of pain and raw emotion that goes behind their absences as well. When someone dies, they leave behind a family. Not just a family, but an entire range of friends as well, all who missed them for years, if not decades, and never stop thinking about them.
To me, it’s really important that if we’re going to be talking about these dark subjects, if we’re going to be drawing conclusions and learning from these types of stories, then we have to at least pay homage to the victims as well. I try and focus on that by spinning the story in the victim’s perspective to begin with, so usually, I’ll try and talk about who they were as a person rather than focusing on the killer.
Tubefilter: Got it. How have things changed for you since you started your channel?
Adrian Stewart: To be honest, it doesn’t feel like much has changed. Two days ago was the channel’s two-year anniversary, so we were just into our third year now. I don’t really feel like much has changed. I work a lot, basically. I think that’s the main difference. In that sense, the work doesn’t stop.
Tubefilter: Do you have any goals or plans for this next year or so?
Adrian Stewart: To be honest, I’m running on the ground so often I don’t really think about what’s next. I think the main thing for me is I’m trying to pull the channel to 2 million subscribers next, so if I can hit that this year, I’ll be happy. It’s also just to try and lock down two videos a week. I feel like I can probably get a little quicker at what I’m doing. Then once I’ve gotten into that routine of two a week, I can think about giving myself some free time and putting the brakes on a little bit just so I can sustain this for a few more years to come.
There are discussions potentially of a podcast in the future. I’m also thinking about things like merch and potentially even a coffee subscription service if I get around to it. Again, because I’m working all the time, I don’t really have much time to think about these extra things. They’re things that I’d love to do for the channel, just offer for people that watch my videos.
Tubefilter: Is there anything else you feel like readers should know?
Adrian Stewart: Nothing I can think of. Of course, if you’re reading this and you haven’t checked my channel out, check me out. I’m always available through social media, so check out my Twitter or Instagram if you want to get in touch. I try to respond to all private messages.
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