Earlier this week we reported on a major announcement by talented musician and longtime friend of NMR AJ Rafael. AJ revealed that despite his millions of views and 500,000+ subscribers, he was struggling to fill venues for live performances and as a result he would be putting his live performing career on indefinite hiatus. Why is it that some YouTubers are able to transform their online fame into lucrative performing careers, while others despite equally high subscriber counts, find their audience bound to digital platforms?
It is widely known that major stars like Justin Bieber, and Soulja Boy were discovered on YouTube. Yesterday, NMR offered up a list of six other major celebs who have had prolific, if low key, YouTube careers. Trendy “Problem” chanteuse Ariana Grande, was even a recurring guest in videos by her ex-boyfriend, Jai Brooks of YouTube prankster collective Janoskians. These artists have all managed to maintain massive mainstream careers in which the word “YouTuber” is seldom if ever mentioned.
The entertainment industry in general seems ambivalent about YouTubers. During a presentation at the Cannes Lions festival, former Disney Chairman and current DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg told the crowd that, “YouTube has established a foundation that will in five years be the biggest most valuable media platform by far and there will not be anything remotely close to it.”
It would seem to follow that in the world Katzenberg describes YouTubers, who are already natives to the digital video ecosystem, would assume a more important role in the media universe. Those inside the YouTube universe have a different perspective. When NMR asked leading YouTube creator Toby Turner which YouTuber he thought most likely to win an Oscar Toby didn’t hesitate to share his belief that no matter how talented or worthy, the very fact of being a YouTuber would damage anyone’s chances of being nominated. Was Toby just joking? Skip to 2:38 in the video below and judge for yourself.
Some YouTubers have had more luck than others converting their digital audiences into real life ticket sales. YouTube’s so-called Holy Trinity of comedy Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart, and Hannah Hart, have managed to sell out multiple dates with their “#NoFilter” live tour. Successful as those shows are, their sales pale in comparison to those of events like DigiTour, which bring a combination of social media celebs and teen television and music personalities to domestic and international venues, often for multi-day engagements.
Digitour bucks the trend of many YouTube artists by fully embracing its digital image. The tour’s revolving cast of vloggers and Viners like Tyler Oakley, Joey Graceffa, and Nash Grier take top billing over supporting acts with arguably wider mainstream appeal such as “X-Factor” runners-up Fifth Harmony and teen Disney star Bella Thorne. The tour has now filled hundreds of thousands of seats and is on near-continuous rotation through locations in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.
It seems that the key to developing an audience that you can count on to turn up in the flesh might have more to do with cultivating a cult of personality than a fanbase which appreciates your art. The acts that are succeeding in drawing a teen audience aren’t relying on their artistic output. Whatever other creative endeavors they may be engaged in, today’s digital headliners underline their careers with daily vlogging, tweeting, and Instagramming making their teen audiences feel permanently involved in their daily lives.