How one musician is making a living from YouTube: an interview with TryHardNinja

TryHardNinja: earning tens of thousands in YouTube revenue

With millions of views and over half a million subscribers, TryHardNinja (whose real name is Igor) isn’t just connecting with fans on YouTube. He’s using the video platform to drive his entire music career.

“I exist because of YouTube,” Igor says. “It is my primary means of music promotion, and about 40% of my music revenue comes from YouTube.”

And that’s just the money he’s earning from ads on his videos. Since YouTube is also his go-to promo tool, much of TryHardNinja’s download and streaming revenue is no doubt a direct result of activity on his YouTube channel, too.

Igor is at the forefront of Gaming Music, a relatively new genre that combines elements of pop, rock, EDM, and hip-hop with lyrics inspired by video games. This kind of musical fan-fiction might sound like a small niche, but with an always-growing selection of game categories (fantasy, sports, action, etc.) over the last four decades (from Ms Pac-Man to Call of Duty), and stylistic approaches ranging from parody to homage, Gaming Music really does offer something for almost everybody.

TryHardNinja isn’t just catching casual listeners with a few novelty songs, though: He’s tapped into a world of gaming devotees who are hungry for tunes and videos that speak to them. It’s the kind of connection all artists, from somber folksters to humorous YouTube stars, hope to have with their fans.

“YouTube provides a direct connection with your audience,” says Igor. “It’s the best face-to-face way to build long lasting relationships.”

Igor has used that connection — coupled with a few new videos each month and CD Baby’s YouTube Monetization Program — to power his whole music career.

“CD Baby has helped me distribute my music worldwide to the top digital stores and streaming services, and they’ve helped me collect ad revenue from people re-posting my music on YouTube,” says Igor.

With CD Baby, you can be earning money from YouTube too — and not JUST for the videos you upload to your own channel, but for ANY video on YouTube that uses your music. This service is included with all CD Baby Standard and Pro submissions, so sign up now and start making money from your music on the biggest video platform in the world!

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Success on YouTube doesn’t happen overnight, of course. It requires a lot of planning, creativity, and work. So I thought I’d ask TryHardNinja about his music career, his video productions, and how he built his YouTube following.

No matter what style of music you perform, many of the tips below should interest you.

An interview with TryHardNinja about making money from his music on YouTube

First, what and who is TryHardNinja, and what kind of music do you create?

My real name is Igor but I make video game music under the artist name TryHardNinja. I like to create a variety of music including hip hop, rock, electronic, and pop. Regardless of genre, all of my music is inspired by video games.

How’d you get started with music, and what led you to creating the music that you make as TryHardNinja?

I started as a gaming channel where I played and did commentary over video games. Music has always been part of my life since I was 16. In high school I sang in the choir, starred in school musicals, and was also in a heavy metal band all throughout my teenage bands. I entered a YouTube contest to make a video game song. I won it and after that the song got so popular I knew that there was an audience for video game music so I continue to make it to this day.

Do you ever have any issues with copyright or trademark stuff, since many of your tunes and videos are inspired by existing games?

I actually do not have issues with copyright. I haven’t come across any. Companies actually encourage it and I work with various PR departments from publishing companies that provide me with games and other materials I need to produce my music.

What would you tell an artist who claims that there’s no money to be made from YouTube?

I would tell them that they’re insane. In my experience YouTube provides a direct connection with your audience and is the best face-to-face way I can think of to building long lasting relationships and developing a core audience. YouTube is a social media network. If you see the benefit of using Twitter or Facebook for promoting content it doesn’t make sense to neglect YouTube. More and more people are expecting not only audio but visual content to accompany music, and YouTube is the #1 video consumption platform in the world.

If you have a YouTube “strategy” for your music career, how would you sum it up in a few sentences?

As a YouTube based musician I try to provide not only the best music I can make but also the best videos I can make to my subscribers. The goal is to grow my subscriber base with new, consistent and exciting content.

Do you create most of your own video content, or do you hire illustrators, videographers, editors, etc?

Some videos are created by me and others are collaborations I’ve done with various animators and artists.

What kind of budget are you working with per video?

The budget varies. Sometimes they are produced for free and sometimes they are collaborations. Other times there are agreed upon terms such as a split or percentage of the revenue.  There are also times when there are upfront fees that could reach up to $13,000 for a live production music video.

Do you have a particular balance you like to strike between different kinds of videos (highly produced music videos, album art videos, previews, etc.)?

For my latest album I’ve posted all the audio-only videos. I am starting to release the lyric videos now. The music video for each lyric video will shortly be released afterwards.

With what frequency do you post videos?

I try to post at least 2-3 a month.

Is it important to keep to a schedule for posting videos?

It’s extremely important to consistently post on a schedule. But I don’t post so much that it overwhelms people’s subscription box.

Once a new video goes live, what do you do to share it (both on YouTube and beyond)?

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube also sends out automatic notifications to all my subscribers. Sometimes I go on Twitch and have a live stream.

And once viewers have watched it, what do you do to drive subscribes, likes, comments, etc?

I usually add a small outro thanking people and telling them the song is available to like and share the video.

Any tips for artists who are struggling to keep their channels consistent in terms of content?

When all else fails you can make a vlog discussing the lyrics or your plans. You can cover another popular song.

Do you ever do collaborations with other YouTubers? If so, what effect has that had?

Yes I collaborated on songs with BrySi and Miracle of Sound on my first album. On my new album I have a song called “With You” featuring Lindee Link. The lyric video for “With You” is releasing this weekend and the official animated video is releasing next weekend. However out of all my collaborations I would say the ones that have gotten the most popular have been my songs with Captain Sparklez. Because I collaborated with him, my song “Take Back the Night” got on Billboard twice. It debuted at #2 on Billboard’s dance charts and remained on the chart for several weeks. “Take Back the Night” also ranked in the top 50, as #45, on Billboard’s 2014 Year End Hot Dance/Electronic songs list.

What, if anything, are you doing to encourage other folks to create YouTube videos that use your music? Or, if that is happening, is it happening organically?

It is happening organically but I do release instrumentals and acapellas so people can do covers and remixes.

What are your thoughts on how YouTube will shape the next 5 years in the music industry?

YouTube is already one of the biggest streaming music sites in the world and I believe it will keep growing. YouTube just launched their YouTube Music Key service to directly compete with Pandora and Spotify so it’ll definitely be interesting to see how it’ll go. I believe streaming will be the #1 way people consume music even in the next 3 years and YouTube will definitely be a big player in that market.

How does your YouTube revenue fit into the overall financial picture of your music career?

About 40% of my music revenue comes from YouTube.

Do you focus PRIMARILY on YouTube? Or is YouTube just another outlet that meets a demand for your music?

I exist because of YouTube so I would say that it is my primary means of music promotion. However my music is available at digital stores such as iTunes, Google Play and Amazon.

How do you use YouTube playlists?

It’s organized by album and there’s a playlist for just mine craft songs because that’s a popular game.

Do you have a sense for how your YouTube activity drives sales on iTunes, Amazon, or CD Baby?

Yes, every time I post a music video on YouTube there’s a spike in sales that lasts around 2-3 months.

It seems like lots of musicians who are successful on YouTube give similar advice: “you just have to start.” So what would be your advice for a musician that has never put much energy into YouTube? How do you start? What expectations should they have? What goals should they set for themselves?

You start by just doing it, there are no expectations or rules and that’s the beauty of YouTube. You can do anything you want. I think the most important thing is putting yourself out there so people know that you’re there. It’s good to set goals for yourself but also to keep your expectations realistic. I feel like the best content to post is stuff you would’ve been doing anyway whether or not you’re on YouTube. If you pick up a guitar and strum a tune on it on a lazy Sunday afternoon, that could’ve been a video to help promote you and your talent. It also shows off your personality. I would definitely recommend setting up a schedule. As a goal I recommend posting 1 video every 2 weeks.

What would you tell someone who is afraid their music will be pirated on YouTube?

If people are pirating your music it means you’re on your way to being a successful music artist. And if you’re on your way to being a successful artist, people are going to pirate your music regardless if it’s on YouTube or not. If you don’t put it on YouTube someone else is going to. At least if you put it on YouTube you can get paid for the monetized view.

[Editor’s note: with CD Baby’s YouTube Monetization Program, you’ll get paid ad revenue from ANY video on YouTube that uses your music, not just videos you’ve uploaded in your own channel.]

What has CD Baby enabled you to do in your music career?

They helped me distribute my music worldwide to the top digital stores and streaming services. CD Baby has also helped me collect ad revenue from people re-posting my music on YouTube.

Anything else we should know? Your State bird? Favorite kind of mustard? New projects?

I just released a new album, it’s called “Pick A Universe.” It’s available on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. This year I’m focusing on releasing a lot of content on my channel. I am releasing the lyric and music videos off my new album throughout 2015 on my YouTube channel, so please look for those!

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To hear more of TryHardNinja’s music, visit CD Baby or his YouTube channel.

Drawing of TryHardNinja by iggyt14, and originally posted on Deviant Art.

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