Over the weekend I caught this cover version of a Justin Timberlake track from Kurt Hugo Schneider, and I immediately thought of Esmée Denters, who was perhaps the first musician to really find commercial success through YouTube.
That reminded me of an obscure radio cover she did that I absolutely HAD to find, and then this led me to find out that Esmée had auditioned for The Voice UK in the related videos. I assumed that she won, because Esmée is amazing, but I just had to check. She in fact did not win, which was frankly implausible, but it did led me to compare Esmée to one of her contemporaries that I happen to also adore, Kina Grannis. I wondered where Esmée had gone left while Kina went right and what lessons she could possibly learn from Kina’s path to YouTube solvency that may help those reading this site as well.
Esme vs Kina: Battle of the YouTube Cover Song
Specifically, I started to compare covers of the same song they both did within a month of each other. Let it first be said, I’m a fan of both of these artists. That aside, I actually thought Esmée’s cover sounded better. But there is a whole lot more to video than just the audio, even for musical artists.
Kina Grannis scored an impressive 365k views, 10k thumbs up, and 337 comments with her cover of ‘FourFiveSeconds’, a hit for Rihanna, Kayne West, and Paul McCartney earlier in 2015. Grannis’s YouTube channel has 1 million plus subscribers, and has attracted over 172 million views.
By contrast, Esmée Denters cover of the same song generate just 8.5K views, 440 thumbs up, and 120 comments. Denter’s YouTube channel has 242K subscribers, and 140 million views.
Music on YouTube: 6 Takeaways for Musicians
When it comes to optimization, music videos need as much love and care as content from other genres if the artist wants to rank as high as possible. This is particularly important for musicians who cover other artists, as they will not only have to compete with the original musician, but with other cover artists too. So, how can creators ensure their videos get found on YouTube? We give you 6 top tips:
#1: Use the Song Title in YOUR Title
The first thing I noticed was Esmée’s titling on her videos. She begins every single one of her covers with “me singing”. She may rank high in “me singing ” but I noticed that artists like Kina and Kurt start every single one of their newer covers with the title of the song.
Generally speaking videos rank highest for the terms at the beginning of the title and description box. So by making the title “me singing” instead of the title of the song, Esmée is crippling her chances from the start and forcing her to rely more on her audience and their ability to share the video, rather than search. As a matter of fact Esmée isn’t even ranking highly for “me singing”, she isn’t on the first page at all.
#2 Tags are Important Too
Title and tags really go hand in hand, but I thought it was important to address these separately. On Esmée’s video, the tags are mostly the suggested tags. Whether or not the suggested tags consistently underperform custom tags is a whole other discussion, but in this case, there is also a significant difference in not only the type of tags but the sheer volume of tags. Esmée used tags like “Rihanna (Musical Artist)” and “Esmée Denters (Musicial Artist)”. She stopped with 6 tags on her video.
On the other hand, Kina’s video had 21 tags, ranging from different variations and spellings of the title, the artists involved in original as well as the artists involved in the cover. By drilling down to some unique searches, this enabled Kina to cast a bigger net and potentially show up for more results. Notice I said artists. Kina’s video was a collaboration.
#3 Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate
Not everyone can collaborate on every video or type of video, but any time a project would allow it you should benefit greatly. In this case, Kina is doing a collaboration with multiple artists, while Esmée is doing her video solo. Working with other creators allows avenues not just to expose yourself to different audiences, but also the ability to leverage them in your promotion of the video.
A great example for Esmée would be her biggest video to date, with over 24 million views. It was a collaboration with Justin Timberlake, whose vocals pop up throughout the cover as he makes a guest appearance towards the end of the video. I actually remember the first time I saw that video, I watched until the end specifically because I thought I heard his vocals and could see him in the mirror and I wanted to get to the reveal to see if it was really him.
#4 Don’t Lose Sight of Your Audience
Perhaps one of the larger factors that I’ve overlooked to this point is actually the strength of each musician’s audience. It’s a bigger picture comparison but there is a great lesson to learn here.
When Esmée began working with a label on YouTube, she began posting on other channels. She had to manage not only her original channel, but made a second YouTube channel and posted content to a VEVO channel as well. This made her a difficult artist to follow and track and left her audience spread out among multiple channels. Kina has remained fairly consistent with per postings over the years, helping her to maintain contact with and the loyalty of her audience. Both have worked with labels, but in Kina’s case, she kept nearly all of her content on her own channel, not leveraging a VEVO channel like many musicians. This has kept her audience centralized.
Even if you expand into something beyond your home base, maintain your core audience by keeping up with regular postings.
#5 Connect and Engage With Your Audience
I know I just got done saying to keep your audience centralized, but particularly for artists it’s important to use outlets like Patreon to not only supplement your income, but provide extra incentives and rewards for your most loyal fans. It could be the difference between needing a second job and being able to focus solely on the art that is your passion. Don’t use crowdfunding just for a single project, use it to continually fund you, your dreams and give back to those who support you the most.
Along those lines, Kina now ends her videos with special shout outs to her Patreons. Even before she was using Patreon she gave shout outs to random viewers and really found ways to not only entertain, but connect. The point is that she has been reaching out and connecting to her fans since the beginning. If Esmée can improve on that aspect of connecting it could help grow her subscriber base, which is much smaller than Kina’s, despite their view counts being in the same ballpark.
#6 Spice up the Music Video Editing
I don’t want to say a single angle can’t work with online video, but viewers likely have their phone on, multiple tabs open and a whole host of other distractions keeping them from your video. Every 5-10 seconds make some sort of change to the scenery to give them a reason to keep watching outside of the content itself. Kina not only collaborated with multiple artists but had a dedicated cameraman/editor. This allowed for a much more dynamic set of angles. Even if you are the talent and doing the shooting and editing yourself, you can still make some simple zoom and pan edits to give the appearance of another camera angle when you put together your final edits.
There is a lot more to it than just these 6 factors, but all of the little things add up on the path to reaching the goals you set with video. Once you have the talent, like Esmée and Kina do, video can become more about the details and less about the content itself. You must delight in the details to maximize your potential with online video.