6 Lessons I’ve Learned From a Failed YouTube Channel

I made these mistakes, so you don’t have to.

Shane-O
Shane-O
Apr 14 · 8 min read
A YouTuber setting up her camera.

Ask any Gen Z’er, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Roughly one-third would say they want to be YouTubers. Who can blame them? The meteoric rise of YouTube has given creators a platform to share their ideas, garner an enormous celebrity-like following, and make a shit-ton of money while doing it.

In essence, you don’t need a formal education to be the next YouTube star like a PewdiePie, MrBeast, or Casey Neistat. The low barrier of entry and lure of being YouTube-famous was why I started my channel in 2015.

My main YouTuber inspiration was Casey Neistat. If you’ve been living under a rock, back in 2015, Casey started daily vlogging. Seeing his channel grow at an insane clip, I thought, “If Casey can do it, why can’t I?” Well, as you can deduce by the title of this article, my channel was a miserable failure.

I uploaded vlogs five times a week for a few months. My channel was a complete dud because, firstly, nobody watched as I barely scraped the 100 subscriber mark. And secondly, I quit.

I made so many mistakes looking back on it. If you’re seeking advice from a “successful” YouTuber, you aren’t going to find it here. I’m no Casey Neistat or [plug in your favorite YouTuber]. I’m just a dude who has first-hand knowledge of doing everything you’re not supposed to do on YouTube.

To prove I’m not completely full of shit and practice what I preach (somewhat), I’ve recently started a brand new channel. It has gained much more traction than my first one, which in retrospect isn’t saying much. I’ll link it below if you want to check it out.

I hope you’ll learn from my following blunders and get your YouTube journey started on the right foot.

Being a Copycat

When I started my YouTube channel, I had no idea how to film and edit videos. My only reference was Casey’s vlogs. Therefore, I structured my videos almost identically to his — from the title sequences, to how I spoke to the camera, to his unique editing style.

Casey talking about copycats and rip-off artists in one of his earlier vlogs.

I remember getting a comment on one of my videos, “You’re like a bad version of Casey Neistat.” Ouch.

That commenter/troll was right, though. Why would anybody take an interest in the watered-down version when they can subscribe to the real thing?

I’m not saying you can’t use techniques or styles from other various creators in your videos. What I’m saying is you shouldn’t blatantly try to be a duplicate version.

You more than likely won’t be reinventing the wheel as you see what and what doesn’t work from other successful YouTubers. All I ask is you use whatever you’re inspired by in a manner that’s specific to you, whether that’s through your expertise on a particular subject, weird sense-of-humor, or editing style.

My lack of growth was attributed to me being an unmistakable carbon copy of Casey Neistat. I know it isn’t easy to find your unique voice and style on YouTube, but one surefire way not to get there is by being someone you’re not.

Key Takeaway: Be yourself.

Not Focusing on Titles and Thumbnails

I’d spend hours filming and editing, putting together (or so I thought) a banger of a video. As I’m about to click upload, I throw up some shitty screenshot as a thumbnail and title it something vague like, “Look What I Did.”

Guess how that video performed?

*Crickets*

It doesn’t matter how amazing your video may be; if people don’t click on it, you’re not going to get any views. It’s not fucking rocket science, as MrBeast explains it himself.

MrBeast discussing the importance of titles and thumbnails.

YouTube is the second largest search engine on the internet. Thus it’s pivotal to create searchable titles. You can’t get away with shitty generic titles, especially when you don’t have loyal fans who automatically click on your videos. Research popular videos on your specific topic, and as long as it’s relevant and not clickbaity, use those titles as a guide for yours.

The same technique goes for thumbnails. Invest in Adobe Photoshop and educate yourself on how to create an eye-catching thumbnail. There are hundreds of helpful thumbnail tutorials currently on YouTube. This tutorial by Pewdie Pie is a good jumping-off point.

Key takeaway: Invest as much care and effort into coming up with your titles and thumbnails as you do in putting together your videos.

Not Having a Niche

I hate to say it, but you’re not going to grow on YouTube if you post about random shit.

On my failed channel, I posted vlogs of my mundane life. The vlogs were about me going to the grocery store, going on hikes, going to movies, etc.

Guess what? People didn’t give a shit.

I don’t live a super exciting life a la Casey Neistat. Also, I don’t have a magnetic enough personality to keep people tuned in and ultimately want to hit that “subscribe” button.

It’s important for a person who happens to stumble on one of your videos to know what to expect next from you. If people visit your channel page and see your last three videos were randomly about cats, what it’s like to be vegan, and the hilarious prank you pulled on your Mom, why the hell would they stick around?

I suggest focusing on a topic you’re knowledgeable and passionate about. Preferably one that you won’t foresee yourself getting sick of discussing. No matter how big or small your niche, I guarantee there’s a YouTube audience out there chomping at the bit to consume your content.

Key takeaway: To grow faster, find one niche you’re knowledgeable and passionate about.

Quantity Over Quality

My five-day-a-week upload schedule broke me. I have no idea how Casey uploaded quality videos every day for one-and-a-half years. I couldn’t even last a few months.

You can’t succeed on YouTube if you’re uploading once a month. If you want to succeed here, you have to show up for work every single day. -Casey Neistat

Sorry, Casey, let me play devil’s advocate here.

Now, I’m not naive. Every “How to grow on YouTube” video says a key factor with growing your channel is to pump out content consistently. The YouTube algorithm gods show favor to those who keep feeding the beast. People subscribe to dependable creators who show up day in and day out.

However, the more and more videos you make doesn’t mean your channel is automatically on a rocket ship to the moon. I’ve been on the hamster wheel, trying to adhere to an impossible upload schedule. It sucks. Churning out one mediocre video after another does nothing for your mental health or channel’s growth.

It’s best to find your happy medium between:

  • Putting out videos as often as possible, but they’re absolute dogshit.
  • Putting out the perfect video, but it takes you forever to create.

I struggle with this balance between quantity and quality. This makes me sound lazy, but I don’t have the time, mental fortitude, and stamina to pump out entertaining content daily or even weekly. Before you get all judgy, I don’t do YouTube full-time — it’s currently something I do for fun.

To be successful, unlike me, come up with a sustainable and realistic upload schedule. One that doesn’t inhibit you from producing videos you’re proud of. From there, it’s all about consistency, baby.

Key takeaway: Strike your perfect balance between quantity and quality of content.

Too in Love With Gear

Me in 2015: “If I buy the same camera gear as Casey Neistat, I could gain just as many subscribers as him, right?

No, dumbass, that’s not how it works.

A vlog in which Casey Neistat, himself, explains that gear doesn’t matter.

I admit: I’m a recovering gearaholic.

I had the entire Casey Neistat set up. I bought a nice point-and-shoot, couple of GoPros, even the DJI Phantom 4 drone. Did going into massive debt buying expensive equipment amount to my channel blowing up? Not one fucking bit.

I learned the hard way nobody gives a shit about what camera you used to make the video. All the audience cares about is the quality of the video’s content. You can have the latest and greatest gadgets at your disposal. It’s not going to matter if your movie is incoherent and boring (sorry, Michael Bay).

I do have one caveat. If you’re going to invest in anything, invest in good audio. There’s nothing people will click out of faster if it sounds like you’re talking out of a hollowed-out potato.

Besides the audio, I’d suggest working with gear that you can comfortably afford and spend the bulk of your resources being a better cinematographer, editor, and storyteller.

Key takeaway: Nobody gives a shit about your expensive camera gear.

Making YouTube Videos for the Wrong Reasons

The Casey Neistat lifestyle enamored me. I wanted to ride around in a boosted board, have cool shit sent to me by fans, be dangled from a helicopter, all while gaining millions upon millions of subscribers.

The reality of making YouTube videos was very different from my expectations, however. As I uploaded more and more videos, I didn’t see the subscriber growth I expected. I then became discouraged and frustrated, eventually giving up altogether. I was too results-oriented.

Why do you want to do YouTube?

Ask yourself this question seriously. If the answer is to be famous, make a boatload of money, and someday own a fucking yacht, you’re in for a rude awakening.

If you, instead, want to share your thoughts and enjoy the process of making/uploading videos, you’re at a much better starting point than I was initially.

Approach YouTube with zero expectations. This way, it won’t matter how many views you’re getting, what the YouTube analytics are saying, or questioning why the algorithm gods are working against you.

You’re going to persevere through all of that bullshit. You’re going to keep making videos because you fucking love making videos.

Listen to PewDiePie. He’s smart.

Key takeaway: Make YouTube videos not because you want to be rich and famous but because you love making YouTube videos.

To Summarize

Whether you’re about to embark or are currently on your YouTube journey, I hope you can learn from the mistakes of my failed channel…

  • Being a copycat
  • Not focusing on titles and thumbnails
  • Not having a specific niche
  • Quantity over the quality of videos
  • Infatuated with camera gear
  • Focusing too much on the results rather than the process

I’m no YouTube expert, nor am I proclaiming I have the platform figured out. Quite the opposite, actually. I learn new stuff about what works and what doesn’t work on YouTube every day. Through my own journey, I know more about what not to do. The way I see it, I took these lumps the hard way, so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

Shane’s Brain

My thoughts on tech, money, travel, and everything in between.

Shane-O

Written by

Master of none. I like to write about tech, money, travel, and my home here in Hawaii. I also have a YouTube channel: shorturl.at/gpOU1

Shane’s Brain

Shane’s Brain publication is about tech, money, travel, and anything else that piques my interest.

Shane-O

Written by

Shane-O

Master of none. I like to write about tech, money, travel, and my home here in Hawaii. I also have a YouTube channel: shorturl.at/gpOU1

Shane’s Brain

Shane’s Brain publication is about tech, money, travel, and anything else that piques my interest.

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