Like many kids of my generation, I spent a good deal of my time as a young teenager religiously watching covers of pop songs by my favorite YouTube musicians. The bedroom acoustic cover appeared to be the key to the start of my music career. I idolized Christina Grimmie, a powerful young singer with a scene haircut and a spunky gamer girl persona. I prepared for my big debut, creating a YouTube username that properly displayed my edginess: xmaddieclaire22x. The x’s really spoke to my alt girl identity — I didn’t want people to think I was here to sing Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift covers, after all. I was here to play the real music: My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy.
I tried for months to summon up the courage to record and post my long-awaited YouTube debut, but something always stopped me. I finally realized what was missing. God, I’d been so stupid to think I could leave it out. The most elemental component to a YouTube bedroom cover’s cutesy, homemade appeal: the ukulele.
Mere hours after selecting the adorkable instrument of my dreams at Guitar Center, I cranked out the chords to what would become my first ever YouTube video. With my hair curled and a fashionable Forever 21 dress and pair of polka-dot tights selected specially for the occasion, I sat down on the living room futon and begged my dad to film me singing my favorite song at the moment: “Parachute” by Ingrid Michaelson.
“Baby, if I’ve got you, I don’t need a parachute / You’re gonna catch me, you’re gonna catch if I fall,” I sang nervously into my karaoke microphone. I stumbled occasionally over the ukulele strings, which were still new to my uncalloused fingers, barely able to recall the chords I’d just learned.
My cover wasn’t perfect, but the YouTube community met my first upload with incredible kindness and encouragement. The comments flooded in, complimenting me on my voice, my ukulele skills — as amateur as they were — and even my red hair, inciting comments such as user yodaddyxx’s slightly off-putting “you a good lookin lil red head.”
Users urged me to make more videos, and even requested a few covers. What little criticism I received was outweighed by the positive vibes.
As an avid “Doctor Who” fan at the time, I bounced up and down with excitement when someone commented saying that I was the spitting image of Amy Pond. These friendly strangers were my parachute, negating all my fears of Internet trolls and welcoming me to YouTube in the warmest way possible.
I took the encouraging reception I received and ran with it. I was determined to be the next quirky, ukulele-playing teenage girl to charm Internet users all across the globe with her sweet demeanor and sparkling vocal prowess. I uploaded more videos: a uke cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on a Maui beach, recordings of original songs and even some live performances. My video editing skills gradually improved, as did my musical ability.
I eventually gathered more than 400 subscribers — still a tiny fraction of the subscriber counts of big-name YouTubers, but a decent following for my stature. In any case, I couldn’t believe that 400 strangers had found my music compelling enough to want to hear more from me. It was only a matter of time until I’d be selling out my first world tour.
Sadly, my reign as a budding YouTube star was short-lived.
As the months and years passed by, the views I received slowly began to dwindle. While my first video was swarmed with cordial commenters, my newer uploads were met with near radio silence. Structural changes made by Google, including the integration of Google Plus into the website, obstructed the ease of communication within the community and the ability to discover new channels. The YouTubers I’d grown up idolizing started to disappear from the website, moving on to pursue music more professionally. And as more and more users crowded the website in search of viral fame, it became increasingly difficult to stand out.
Sure, already-popular YouTubers have no trouble accruing more and more views these days. But YouTubers with small followings, regardless of their level of talent in comparison to the big names, have trouble rising in the ranks of popularity.
YouTube as a platform for aspiring musicians to achieve notoriety might be dying out, but I’m hopeful that something else will appear soon to take its place. Take MySpace, for example: What used to be a thriving hub for budding musicians is not exactly alive and well today. But YouTube rose up to take its place. I might not have pounced on the YouTube phenomenon quickly or savvily enough, but I look forward to taking full advantage of the Next Big Thing. I know my parachute is still out there — it just needs the right platform to land on.
Madeline Wells writes the Thursday arts column on trying to make it in the music industry. Contact her at [email protected].