Tell us about yourself and your channel.
My name is Curtis Judd and I love sound and lighting for video. I learned photography with a 35mm film camera and spent afternoons at the university library, scouring the photography section when I should have been studying biology and mathematics. And what I learned over time is that lighting makes a bigger difference to making great photographs or videos than whether you have the latest or most expensive camera. And another thing which I learned once I started making video is that sound is a critical part of what makes a video great. So on my channel, we focus on learning how to make better lighting designs and better audio for video and films.
How did you get started on YouTube?
My very first video in 2009 was really just a couple of photographs and audio samples from two different microphones – a comparison. I’m not even sure why I posted that to YouTube. But then in 2012 and 2013, I set out to also cover lighting for photography and video. My first video to really take off was titled, “Really Cheap Video Lighting.” This was back in the day when YouTube was growing quickly and lots of people wanted to know how to make better looking videos. I showed people how to use shop/spring lamps from the hardware store to light their videos and make them look better. The next big episode was a demonstration of a $20 lavalier microphone. We decided to focus on those two things to this day.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to a newbie creator? And what is one piece of advice they should ignore?
You have to experiment and make videos on topics that you love. But you also need to see what people respond to, what they find valuable. I’ve made a lot of bad videos and learned something about myself, my audience, or my production values. And my videos get a little bit better as time goes on. One thing I would NOT recommend is that you try to imitate another channel or creator, even if it is someone whose work you really admire. Be you and focus on what you can do to provide people with value in the form of education, entertainment, or whatever it is you do.
What is your favorite video you have ever made?
I’m not sure I can point to a single video, but I really enjoyed making a meta-review of all of the audio recorders I have used over the years. I think the value this provides to my audience is that they get a chance to see how different devices at different price points compare – their strengths and weaknesses. And what is interesting is that while it was sort of a product review, even people who were not in the market to buy a recorder came away with useful information. For example, you might ask why a pro level recorder costs $7000 and a consumer level recorder is priced at $200. Is the difference in audio quality really that big? The answer surprises a lot of people.
What are some tools that allow you to be more effective at your craft?
Like most YouTube creators, I started with a rather modest, affordable camera, microphone, and lights (shop lamps with household bulbs). Of course, the videos started to produce some income along the way and the demand of producing two new videos every week meant I needed to find ways to become more efficient at producing new content. For me, one of the biggest things is to have a quality microphone I can rely on and that doesn’t require a bunch of clean-up and post processing to make it sound good. I need reliability, great sound quality, the ability to reject sound I don’t want picked up and most importantly, a microphone that sounded good with my voice. That took quite a while to find a microphone with that combination. For my livestreams, that microphone is the Earthworks SR314 and for my produced/edited videos, that’s usually the DPA 4017b. Editing my audio is so much quicker with those microphones.
I also have been through a bunch of cameras. Once I saved enough money, I bought a big cinema camera but quickly learned that such a camera was not helping me to produce new videos faster and, in fact, made some things harder and slower. So I sold that and settled on a Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera 6K. It is much more affordable and easier to manage than the big cinema cameras. It also records to ProRes which is high quality and easy to edit, even on a laptop.
How do you continue to educate yourself in your craft? What are some of your favorite resources for learning?
As a creator who focuses on education, I spend a lot of time learning by hands-on experimentation, reading other audio engineers’ work, and where possible, attending in-person or virtual conferences (National Association of Broadcasters, Audio Engineering Society). Because there aren’t nearly as many resources focused on sound for video and film, I learn a lot from studio and mix engineers who focus on music. In fact, my brother is a musician who engineers and mixes most of his own songs. I’ve spent a good bit of time learning from him in his studio and working as his roadie for some of his concert tours.
What has been your biggest tool for subscriber growth?
I don’t really focus so much on using tools to grow my subscriber/audience size. I try to stay focused on providing value to my audience and when I do, the subscribership seems to grow organically. My goal is not to get as many subscribers as possible, but to make sure that those who do subscribe are genuinely interested in the education and value my videos provide.
Do you put much time into making your videos SEO friendly?
I don’t usually think of it in terms of SEO so much as providing a worthwhile description and set of keywords for each video I upload. I try to stay away from clickbait titles. I don’t want to trick people into watching my videos, but make them easy to find for people looking for solid, useful information and I hope they enjoy watching the video as much as they learn from it.
Is there a trend that you are seeing emerge in 2021? What excites you about it?
I see more and more online tools which empower creators to efficiently generate revenue from a variety of sources.
There are more people uploading videos to YouTube than ever before. A lot of people assume that means that it is too late to start creating videos but I disagree. I see creators doing new, creative things and making a living while doing it. That creativity definitely also applies to HOW creators are making a living. For me, for example, advertising revenue from YouTube is the smallest portion of how I make a living. Affiliate links are a big part of how I get paid and am able to pay my bills and with services like Geniuslink, I can optimize how I earn with affiliate sales. Before I used Geniuslink, the process of creating links in each of my videos was really quite painful and time consuming. And this was especially true when an affiliate changed their product pages. I don’t have time to comb back through 600 videos and update the links.
For me, selling my online courses is huge and having a platform to do that is critical so that I don’t use up all my time maintaining a website/course platform. Essentially, my YouTube channel is how people learn that I have online courses. And the fact that they can watch my videos for free on YouTube is almost like a free trial – if they like how I educate, then they can come to my online school and purchase one of my courses to dive much deeper into sound production and lighting.
When did your channel start to ‘pay off?’ In other words, when did your channel start to make you money?
The ad revenue from YouTube was a topic I used to joke about with my friends and family. When my channel first started and I reached YouTube Partner status, I’d see a solid $0.29 per day roll in. I obviously wasn’t making videos for that much (lack of) money. What really opened my eyes to realizing that making videos could pay substantially more came a few months after I posted my first microphone review. The first several comments on the video asked where they could buy the microphone. My sister had convinced me a few years before that to open an Amazon Affiliate account and use those links on my blog. So I posted an affiliate link for the microphone in the video’s description and just sort of forgot about it. But then when I was on vacation a few months later, I got an email from Amazon informing me that I had a new gift certificate for $36. I had no idea where this came from and it took me several days after I returned home to figure out that it was my affiliate payout. I had never received a payout before that. So I started including affiliate links in all of my videos from there. I learned over time how important it is to make sure the audience knows these are affiliate links from which I earn money. Not only is it a legal requirement, but I find that making that disclosure clear earns honesty and integrity points with the audience.
Have you created sponsored content? If you have, how did you get in contact with your sponsors?
I toyed with it but I don’t think it quite fits the goals of my business. I really see myself as an educator and purchaser’s advocate. In that light, I don’t create videos for which I am paid money to “review” a company’s product. It wouldn’t work well for a consumer advocacy channel.
The arrangement I have with the companies who provide me with gear to review is that I will commit to make a review video, but they do not get to tell me what to say, they do not get to review the video prior to uploading, and I clearly tell the audience that the gear was provided in exchange for the review video but that the opinions shared are my own. That seems to work pretty well.
Once my audience started to grow, the companies just started emailing me. I didn’t have to go looking for them at all. In fact, I have to turn down lots of offers pretty much every day.
Anything else you’d like to share?
If you are looking to start or grow a channel in 2021, I’d say experiment and find your voice. YouTube is a great place to do this because you get nearly instantaneous, open feedback in the comments. Some of those comments hurt, but most of them will give you insights into what will provide value to the world. And you can refine your topic or niche or how you deliver your message with all that great feedback. So get out there and make content about something you love and do it regularly. You’ll learn a lot and have a lot of fun doing it!