The world of YouTube
As the culture of YouTube continues to grow, the Dart investigates student fanatics and teens making it big.
September 23, 2017
She is five years old. The typical kind of five-year-old most people envision right off the bat. Her hair is sticking out in every direction, like it does every morning – even though her mom told her to brush it, like she says every morning. Her egg-sized hands are still sticky from when she spilt the bottle of maple syrup at breakfast, but that doesn’t stop her from carrying around her family’s clunky camcorder, following her older sister closely. She’s wide-eyed, eager and beaming with creativity.
Tatum Lierman, a sophomore at Park Hill South High School, who attended STA her freshman year, has been making videos since she was five years old. She is one of many who has taken her videos to YouTube, a video-sharing website founded in 2005, that has since taken on a culture of its own.
Before 2009, it would have been difficult to find mainstream media content on YouTube outside of channels like CNN or CNBC. Back then, it was more common to find videos that were similar to the first video ever posted: “Me at the Zoo”, which is a man standing in front of an elephant exhibit, talking about their trunks for 19 seconds.
Now, the main content most people watch consistently is produced by “YouTube famous” people, whether that be the young adults who started their careers on Vine, the families who vlog their day to day lives, the gamers who film their every virtual action or the beauty gurus who offer step-by-step makeup tutorials. For these YouTubers, it’s common to generate subscribers in the millions.
“[Today’s YouTube] is kind of like a latent function,” Lierman said. “It means it’s a product of something that wasn’t meant to happen, but happened anyway. And it can have positive or negative consequences.”
About three years ago, Lierman first got into watching YouTube videos. Her eyes would glaze over as she would watch makeup tutorials and DIYs and morning routines. Her first few videos were similar to these types, but she has since changed the direction of what her channel is about.
“I was like [these types of videos] really don’t fit what I want to make,” Lierman said. “So I kinda started to change my topics a little bit, I’m still in transition, I started doing more poetry videos and cool vlogs about my day.”
Although her newer, less mainstream content, is what she has enjoyed making and posting, it’s her earlier videos that have received the most views, and in one case, income of money. One year ago, she posted a tutorial on how to make a Musical.ly, a social media app for making short music videos. This video now has nearly one million views.
“I made that on a whim and it’s probably the worst video that I’ve ever created,” Lierman said. “But because of the time I posted it, the app was so popular and I was one of the only people at the time who had that video. Nobody had ever posted any tutorials on it or anything like that and it skyrocketed.”
According to Lierman, the big names who have made YouTube their career go through a process called monetization, where different companies will pay YouTube to put their ads on the most popular videos. The YouTuber will then receive a portion of the money generated from the ad being on their video.
“Over a period of time, I got so many views on this one ad [that I accumulated $300],” Lierman said. “And think about it, there are people who have over 6 million views on like every video they have. And it doesn’t matter if you make a video like 3 years ago, it’s still making money if people are watching it.”
Even though the money is a draw to people making their career out of it, both Lierman and senior Katie LeCluyse, who also has a YouTube account where she posts vlogs and video compilations from trips, agree that the main reason they make the videos they post on their accounts is because of “good practice” for their main goals of film making.
“It’s really nice to just sort of practice what I may be doing as a career one day,” LeCluyse said. “I want to be a director or like a writer for movies, more hands on practice.”
While some students watch YouTube to seek inspiration for their own videos, others find themselves becoming attached to YouTubers, seeing as they follow the same people through their day to day lives.
“I don’t think [people who think it’s a waste of time] understand how you can get so invested in someone’s life, especially with vlogs, because you watch the same person everyday,” junior Olivia Michka said.
As Michka scrolls through her long list of YouTubers she’s subscribed to, she guesses that she spends about two hours a day watching different videos.
“I get home. Don’t do my homework. Get a snack. Sit down. Pull up YouTube, and watch YouTube for, I don’t know, too long,” Michka said. “Like a lot of people watch Netflix. Don’t have time for that.”
There is a community within the most well-known YouTubers’ lives where most know each other from conventions or meet ups and even make videos with each other. A reason Michka knows a lot of the YouTubers she watches is through their connections with people she was already watching.
“I remember when I found David Dobrik,” Michka said. “And then you watch his vlogs, and he uses the same people in every single video, so then you click on their channels, ’cause they’ll say ‘Go check out this channel.’ You go check it out, and then you find their friends, and then it just keeps going.”
Lierman said that a main appeal about YouTube is the fact that it has so many connections and opportunities.
She is now 16 years old. She has access to YouTube’s Los Angeles and New York studios. She has made $300 off of one video. She has over 12 thousand subscribers. And she is doing exactly what she wants.
“This is honestly wild.”