This whole generation of new media artists has a vibrant, can-do, wear as many hats as possible while knocking the socks off of viewers at home attitude. Taryn Southern is every bit of that and more! Writer, producer, actor, singer, red carpet host, comedian, video blogger… the list keeps expanding. Wowza. After a delicious sit down at Lemonade, we stormed the Venice Boardwalk while chilling with aliens. Given the extroverted energy she exudes from her videos, Venice Beach and its community of energetic characters seemed to be a fitting location. After all, the woman does write songs about boobies and poo. Join us as we pick the self-proclaimed “life hacking ninja’s” brain on how she intertwines online media and traditional Hollywood entertainment together.
- What takes up most of your time right now? Work does; if I’m not working, then playing with my cat. That cat takes up way too much of my time. If I’m ever late to a meeting, and I actually sit and think about why I was late, it’s usually because I was playing with my cat. Anyway, cat – it’s a time sucker. Check my Instagram. I have a ridiculous number of photos of my cat. I’m now a crazy cat lady.
- What is your guilty pleasure? Getting a pedicure and reading trashy gossip magazines. It’s a two part guilty pleasure, because I like people touching my feet but since that’s a rather disgusting thing to ask your friends to do, paying someone is a better option. As for the trashy gossip mags, for some reason it feels okay to read them while people are touching my feet. All that filthiness just makes me feel guilty afterwards though.
- What are your pet peeves? Laziness and people who choose to take a passive approach to their work or their life. In other words, people who don’t take accountability. Also, people who don’t like my cat, I take that very personally, obviously. If you don’t like my cat, we can’t be friends. Oh! And people with B.O. on airplanes. If you’re going to sit on an airplane and in a middle seat, please wear deodorant.
- Weakness? I have many. Sugar? Yes, sugar. I love cupcakes. Definitely Google – I spend way too much time Googling weird shit. And of course, my cat. Let’s see how many ways I can creepily mention my cat in this interview.
- How many pet hamsters have you had? I’ve have, in the past, five or six. They’ve all died. They don’t live that long. That’s why I had to graduate to getting my cat because I was so emotionally invested in all of these little hamster creatures, but within two years they’d die and I’d be crushed, so I figured I’d get something that would last a little longer. Tiggie, you can’t die on me!
- Most outlandish public stunt you’ve done for a video? I once laid out on Hollywood Boulevard and suntanned in a bikini. ‘Cuz that’s what people do in LA. No. It was, of course, for a video – a pitch reel for a travel show I produced on Direct TV.
- Favorite videogame? Kinect Adventures, I love it. I look like such a weirdo when I’m playing – you can surf, white water raft, and pop bubbles in space. It’s totally 3-dimensional. If you told me when I was 10 years old that I could play videogames without a controller I’d be like, “you’re out of your mind!” I still get off on it. It’s so novel. You just use your body in the game.
- Fun fact? I’m a bit of a food snob, I guess. I really like going to obscure foodie places. But that’s not really a fun fact. That’s a lame fact. I also love sugary pop music. The type of stuff that I was listening to when I was 12, like the Spice Girls, I still love that. I have no shame too. I think it’s awesome.
- Funner fact? I sleep in my Spongebob Squarepants boxers almost every single night. And I only have one pair. Put together those facts. If you’re a bit slow, that means the boxers don’t get washed that often.
You’re a writer, producer, actress, TV host, self-proclaimed web geek. What the heck does an average day look for you?
Taryn Southern: Every day is different. It’s a combination of pitch meetings, auditions, being by myself and writing – with my cat of course, shooting on a set, editing, etcetera. If I wanted to, I could just go get drunk and do something weird like play tennis. I imagine that would be difficult under the influence. But I never do those things – they just remain pipe dreams of possibility. But yeah, every day is a smorgasbord of stuff. I love it.
How did an anthropology and journalism double major get in front of the camera?
Well, I grew up doing theater in high school and always thought about pursuing a career in Broadway. When I was 17 I tried out for American Idol and went to the Hollywood rounds and realized, rather inconveniently, that I had a crippling fear of performing in front of a live audience. It’s not a good thing to learn while you’re on national television. So, I went to college and got my anthropology and journalism degree – I thought maybe broadcast journalism would be something I would enjoy. When I graduated, I scored an internship with NBC in Miami and someone at work told me about a show on Discovery Channel that was looking for a female host with an anthropology degree. So I sent a tape in from Miami and was called in to test for the show. I didn’t book the job but it gave me enough confidence to go back to LA and pursue hosting. When I was working as a host, I still had a lot of free time on my hands, so I slowly started getting into my web endeavors. It was a way to demonstrate my writing and acting abilities, so I thought why not? That’s the long answer – but the short answer is just that who knows where I’ll end up in five years but I just really like telling stories. In a weird way, Journalism and Anthropology are strongly related to acting and hosting, because at the end of the day you have to research and understand the human condition in order to tell the story you want to tell.
You’ve done a lot of stuff with Warner Brothers, Comedy Central, Fox, CNN and ABC. What attracted you to online media?
I think that there were a number of things that attracted me to online media. One, I’ve been a web geek since the day I was born. I can’t think of a time that I wasn’t on the computer which, back in my day, I had the old DOS computer. I taught myself HTML when I was 12 and was building websites on Geocities with those sparkly little GIFS that rotate — yep, I was one of those gals. I even received a cease and desist letter from a fairly large company saying that I needed to take their proprietary images down from my Geocities site. But yeah, I was always really fascinated by the interplay of conversation and interaction online. To me, this was always just as entertaining as watching television. Naturally, just being out here in LA and seeing that there’s an opportunity to work in this new medium was really exciting. I just find it far more creatively fulfilling to be creating something from start to finish and put it out for the world to see in a relatively short period of time. You can’t do that with traditional media. Not to mention everything takes a lot longer and you have very little creative control. There are just so many cooks in the kitchen that you have to please – everyone wants to have a say but not necessarily do the work or creatively collaborate. There’s exceptions, of course, but that’s how I feel. I also think that people in certain areas of traditional media tend to play it safe because they are afraid to lose money. Just look at all the horrible film remakes out there! In digital media, we’re are all just experimenting, trying new things. There’s less money on the line, so there’s more room to mess up. I feel like people in the digital space aren’t perfectionists because you CAN’T be. You have to just be consistently putting stuff out there as much as you can. Inevitably, you learn from your mistakes a lot faster and become better at your craft and figure out your creative voice much quicker because you’re just making more stuff all the time.
It never makes sense to me when I hear someone in the traditional media space talking about how there’s no way to monetize new media. Beyond the fact that there is, and it’s a constant work in process, at least we can actually track viewership online. With traditional TV, Nielson boxes are the long-used method networks employ to track viewers, it’s the one rating system, that’s what everyone’s using. Advertisers are paying big bucks based on hypothetical views based on a minute percentage of the population. On YouTube, you can calculate exact views, and then see where the views are coming from, the age demographics, when they stop watching the video, etc. How do you get more statistically accurate for advertisers?? You don’t. The monetization is working itself out – but the systems for reaching targeted audiences, in my opinion, are far more accurate and engaging than television.
Working in the entertainment industry is hard, obviously. What are some things that you’ve done to hone your craft?
I feel like I’ve done a little bit of everything. When I was in high school, I interned at MGM in their marketing department. In college, I took classes in editing, Photoshop, and Adobe Premiere design, which I think those have served me equally well as far as making and marketing videos. As a performer, I’ve been in and out of classes for the last six years – scene study classes, audition classes, improv classes, musical improv classes, stand up, you name it. I think that’s it’s really important to be familiar with different techniques and skillsets. Keep them in your back pocket – you never know when you’ll be able to use something. As far as production goes, just having as much as experience under your belt is going to make you better.
That being said, I’m definitely not the best actor. Or writer. Or singer. But that’s the cool thing about being an independent content creator – it’s created opportunity for people who may not be the best at ONE thing, but they have skills in all aspects of production and/or storytelling. They do it all. Lighting, shooting, editing, writing, acting, developing apps/marketing strategies, special effects, etcetera – the possibilities are endless. Ten years ago, this was a lot cheaper to do because equipment was so expensive. Now anyone can learn the tools of the trade and be a multi-hyphenate. It’s practically par for the course among web media creators.
What does the creative process look like for you when producing content?
The music videos are a different process from everything else. I’ll have an idea for a song, for example, Coffee Makes Me Poo, and then just piecemeal write lyrics until it’s done. Then I try to figure out what the ‘story’ for the video is and make sure that it’s reflected in the words. As far as the rest of my content, I can usually finish a web video or sketch script in a few hours. It’s only 3 to 5 pages of material, so as long as the kernel of the idea is focused, I’m quick. Either way, the process is much quicker than writing a film or TV script. That takes forever – it’s crazy. I don’t know how people get through feature script after feature script. I’ve tried. Many times.
Have you had any technical mishaps?
I’ve been really lucky. I don’t think I’ve had any hard drive crashes. On a recent shoot, halfway through the day, we realized that the sound card was corrupted, so we had to start shooting back at the beginning. I’ve heard about people losing entire drives of a shoot – that’s horrible.
How do you feel about new media and mainstream meshing together?
I mean, it already is. I cancelled my cable a year ago and I don’t even miss it. I watch TV and online content through my Hulu Plus, Netflix and Apple TV accounts. As our devices continue to evolve to reflect consumer needs, though, I think the ‘television experience’ will just start to feel a lot more like an ‘online experience.’ Viewers will interact and have the ability to keep multiple windows open and jump seamlessly from one form of content to another. The technology is there, it’s just not fully integrated yet. The other big change is that I think television will become more democratized. People or independent channels with large fan bases online will be seen no differently than any other niche cable channel with the same size audience. Viewers will customize their experience based on what they want to see – which could pose some big problems for major networks. It just depends. But for me, I’m already watching my TV shows, web series, and YouTube videos all on one device. That’s a big step – two years ago I still had one of those giant tube TV’s that had no HDMI internet capabilities.
Do you think there’s a special formula on how to succeed in new media in terms of producing content?
If there was a successful formula then everyone would have successful channels and videos. I don’t take my own advice, mainly because I’m still working a lot in tv/film so I haven’t been able to focus solely on my online content, but the most important formula is the three C’S – CONTENT, CONSISTENCY and COMMUNICATION. You have to have GOOD and AUTHENTIC content – it doesn’t need to be amazing, but it needs to offer people a reason to come back, or share with their friend. Consistency is letting people know where they can find you and when – we like dependability and routine. I’m the worst at this though – sometimes I put out three videos a month and sometimes it’s just one every two months. And finally, the communication with the fans, whether it’s through various social media platforms, shout outs to fans in videos, or creating secondary iPhone/vlog channels, is very important. They want to know you value their feedback. I don’t do enough of any of these three things though, but if I were focusing solely on a YouTube career, I would literally hang a banner on my living room with the three C’s.
How are your fans?
They come from all over the place which is interesting and cool but also incredibly confusing. I do a lot of different things – acting, hosting, musical comedy, vlogs, etcetera – so I feel like I’m sometimes trying to appease or speak to three different audiences. Everything I do is authentic, but that doesn’t always make sense to people and it’s often hard to know which audience I’m really speaking to. The musical comedy fans are definitely the loudest.
Can you tell us any upcoming projects we could look forward to?
I’m releasing my musical comedy album in May, as well as doing a live show in Los Angeles in April to promote it, and possibly a summer tour. I’m also working on a nonfiction book, basically about everything we’re talking about. I won’t reveal the title yet, but it’s about how to use the Internet to beat the Hollywood game. The ecosystem in Hollywood is changing dramatically and I wanted to write a book that will help people develop their own strategies for success. And finally, I’m pitching a multi-platform talk show right now. It’s my big passion project that pretty much encompasses everything I love and have been working on for the past 6 years.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring content creators.
Read my book! Buy it on Amazon.com! 10 percent off on pre-orders! (laughs) No, seriously, you really should buy my book. (laughs again).
The greatest thing I can tell someone is to be proactive. Ask questions, figure out how to do stuff yourself. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. People are always like, “I can’t do that. I can get so and so do to my video. I can’t find a DP. I don’t know any editors. I don’t know how to write. I don’t have any money.” Those are all just excuses. If you’re really stuck on something, GOOGLE IT! Drives me nuts when people give up on a project and they could’ve just solved their problem by Googling it. I’ve learned editing, lighting, shooting, and so many different skills just by being self taught. If you don’t want to do the work yourself, and you don’t have money to pay other people, or the balls to find a team of people who will work for free on your project, then don’t bitch about it. Just go do something else. Harsh? Eh, yes. But, a lot of people need to hear it.
So yeah, my biggest piece of advice is to go after what you want and don’t worry about failing – because you will. Look at this whole process as a learning experience. Be excited about being part of the community. Be excited about being part of a revolution in media! When you’re on your last dollar and you’re trying to finish your passion project, give yourself a pat on the back for being one of the few people out there taking a risk. Heck, I’ll give you a pat on the back. And a marshmallow too. Just ask.
How do you stalk you?
Yay! Is this the part where I get to plug all of my social media sites? You can find me on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Mobly, Vidy, Formspring, Dailybooth, Instagram – all under the name “Taryn Southern.” I also have an iPhone app called TarynToGo, thanks to Mobile Roadie, and my iPhone vlog channel on YouTube, which is also TarynToGo. And most importantly, stay updated (if you want) by subscribing to my blog on TarynSouthern.com. Just enter your email and boom! I won’t send you spam. I might send you the occasional photo of my cats, but not spam.
Special thanks to:
Collective Digital Studio (CDS) is the online content division of leading entertainment management company The Collective. An industry leader in the production and distribution of digital content, CDS offers artists a full range of creative solutions to help them identify, develop and maximize opportunities across multiple platforms, and boasts some of the top content channels on the Internet, including The Annoying Orange,FreddieW, Fred, iJustine and Megan and Liz.