YouTube for Fun and Profit: How to Monetize Your YouTube Channel

By Erin Faith Humann

The year 2005 marked several important world events. The Vatican lost a beloved Pope (John Paul II), Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire was released on film, and three former PayPal workers launched their interactive video-sharing website called YouTube.  

Since its immediate boom in popularity and revenue, YouTube has started to share the monetary love.  In 2012, YouTube announced that anyone could start making money on their uploads, given that the users haven’t violated any of the guidelines for monetization. Prior to 2012, only a select few were allowed to monetize their videos on an invitation and application basis. Still, even with those select few, word spread quickly that with the right amount of talent and fan base, one could give up their day job for a career on YouTube.  

YouTube celebrity Michael Buckley of the “What The Buck” show began his career in 2006 early on in the YouTube history line.  Buckley operates a celebrity gossip, news and entertainment YouTube channel that reportedly brings in over $100,000 a year.

Jenna Mourey (aka Jenna Marbles) operates a self-named channel that went viral after the release of her video “How To Trick People into Thinking You’re Good Looking.”  While hilarious, she is a little carefree with her vocabulary—you were warned. Jenna is doing something right though, as her 49.3 million hits on this video alone was just the start for her online career.  

Several reports have been published on how to make money on YouTube, making note of dollar amounts per view.  Since YouTube has partnered with Google AdSense, to actually get paid for your monetized videos your channel has to reach an initial threshold. That being said, you may not see immediate payouts large enough to run across town and hand in your notice. The loose estimation is $2 per 1000 views.  That may not seem like a lot, but when you decide to make a career out of the internet, it takes time and patience.  Remember “too good to be true” offers are usually just that. 

In all the commentary from YouTube celebrity interviews there is a common theme: patience, subscriptions and views.  Michael Buckley is known to say that no matter how frustrated you may get with “fans,” remember that “they’re strangers. They are Strangers.”  It makes it less personal when you realize there are a LOT of bitter YouTubers out there who just love to spread negativity on your website.  Remember that for all those “haters,” there’s a wealth of positive viewers who may benefit from what you have to offer. 

To really earn money on YouTube, you as a user need to develop a weekly routine. Channels that see the most income often only do one upload a week, BUT it’s consistent. After you’ve built up a fan base, the subscribers actually look forward to upload day.  Jenna Marbles, for example, holds over 7 million subscribers and her channel has over 989 million views. Without taking the complexity of AdSense into account, one could estimate by using the $2/1000 views formula Jenna has earned nearly $2 Million since 2010. 

So how does that apply to the entertainer or musician? Unless you’re filming your favorite feline or teaching the world how to make a cake-pop, views can be a little difficult to come by for the average band. Justin Beiber got his start on YouTube covering popular radio hits, yet for all his millions and millions of subscribers Bieber didn’t see any profit off those videos due to YouTube’s strict copyright guidelines. This is helpful to the musician who actually writes his or her own songs, but if you’re looking to be the next Beiber—video tape your cat instead.  In 2010 YouTube released the following list of upload guidelines.

Examples of videos that could be eligible include:

  • You filmed your cat and there is no background music.
  • Your video contains royalty-free music, and you can prove commercial rights using direct links to the song and applicable license.
  • Your friend's band wrote and recorded a song for your video and states in writing that you can use and make money from it.

Your video is not eligible if it contains content that you didn't create or get permission from its creator to use. You need to be able to show written permission for the following video elements:

  • Audio: recorded music, live performances, cover songs, background music, etc.
  • Visuals: images, logos, software, video game footage, etc.
  • Any other content you don't own worldwide commercial usage rights to.

Examples of videos that are NOT eligible:

  • Your video contains a song you purchased for personal use (e.g., bought on iTunes or in a store), but you didn't obtain a commercial license.
  • You found a video on the Internet and you cannot prove that it's in public domain.
  • You are only singing words of your favorite copyrighted song.
  • You have used content from someone else with permission, but you haven't yet received a copyright notice on your video.
  • You edit together or "mash-up" other works.
  • You only use 30 seconds of a song or video clip.
  • Your video does not provide proper attribution or credits as required by a license.

If you think you still have a product that can make money on YouTube, congratulations! Creativity is a waning art and you should be heard. Here are some tips gathered from celebrity interviews and YouTube partners:

  • Marketing your channel: Don’t slow down because you never have enough subscribers. Always make the same effort. 
  • Form close relationships with other YouTube personalities and users. Engage with other members of the online community. It’s a “small world” and networking will go far in the YouTube community.
  • Don’t try to please the masses; make videos that you enjoy. 
  • If you have YouTube contacts, try to use them as mentors in some way.  Try to team up with high end Rewards Program partners and collaborate.

It’s entirely possible to make a living on YouTube, but one shouldn’t confuse the possible for the practical. If you have a product, a band or a creative insight, experiment with a camera and practice saying what you think YouTube should hear. Remember your first video will probably be terrible, so watch it again, edit, watch it again, edit, etc.  Remember to respect the YouTube community guidelines as well as their copyright guidelines.  Avoid rudeness to other users and always remember the old adage that “Practice makes perfect.” It’s just like learning an instrument. Your uploads will get better every time and hopefully you will see some financial perks as well. 

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