kf6gpe over on my discord server asked about my process, and while I am more than happy to have a discussion about it, I figured it might be worth writing down in a blog to capture for others in the future as a distinct artifact.
Before I get too deep into this, I wanted to let you, the reader know, that I’ll be intermingling thoughts of what I do with why I do it. This post will probably straddle the line between practical advice and philosophical discussion. If that’s not your cup of tea that’s okay. There are definitely plenty of resources out there, and I wish you well in finding what you are looking for!
Without further ado though, let’s get into this.
Plenty of people in the past have told me I have “the gift of gab”. I am fully capable of talking too much, and when I feel like it I don’t mind being theatrical. This theatrical bent usually leans towards comedy, and I’m the type of person who tends to try and find the humor, even if it is very dark humor, in just about every situation. Over the decades I have learned to listen more, and better appreciate the people, places, and things around me, which honestly, better helps me understand who I am and how I may fit within the world.
I’ve spent a lot of my life concerned about what people thought of me or what I had to say, and this has led me to getting a pretty good filter between my brain and my mouth. I also have figured that anything worth doing ought to be memorable, so if I’m going to be worried about making mistakes, at least do it spectacularly. As a result, throughout grade school and college, many of my classmates were in general, terrified of doing presentations after me. I would practice in my head and out loud what I wanted to say, until it felt natural, and I was confident that I could leave a lasting impression.
There is also a big part of me that enjoys learning things, literally just about anything, I have too many hobbies/interests and not enough free time… it is a problem. That said, the challenge of taking something complicated, obtuse, or otherwise difficult to understand, and teaching it to somebody makes my day. I’ve never really been looking for money, accolades, or anything else… just knowing that I can put something of value out into the universe is kind of enough by itself.
Before YouTube existed, I was actually doing a video art tutorial series that I called “Painting In Five” that I was teaching different techniques and processes for how to do sketches, paintings, and all that, that I was posting for free. It was actually pretty popular, but at the time I wasn’t in a really good space to make ends meet, didn’t have a lot of free time, and I didn’t have a way to monetize any of the work or turn it into a business. My dream at the time was to get into creative media, but that’s not the career that I had chosen, and when YouTube became a thing, I really thought about posting the videos “just to see” what might happen with them, but the video encoding became a problem, and I just kind of gave up.
A lot of things happened since then. I’ve been through a *lot* of different jobs and positions, I got married and had a child (well still have, but she’s a teenager now), I went back to school to get my MBA and passed with a 4.0 GPA, and since the pandemic I’ve slowly been getting free time back. Completing the MBA freed up a lot of time, which pretty quickly was consumed by reconnecting with my wife and daughter. My daughter, as a teenager, mostly just needs me to drive her around and isn’t quite as keen to hang out (though I do cherish the times that she actually wants to hang out, play a board game, work on a puzzle, watch tv, play video games, etc…). Lastly, I’ve moved out of super high stress jobs (for now), where I had been on call, managing lots of people, and all around having to be “plugged in”. As you can imagine, life has continued to change for me, and I’ve been looking for ways to fill some of this new free time.
So how did I get here… well it just felt like something I could do. Also, the advent of the synthfluencer has really irked me. There are folks out there who are working hard and providing excellent information, but (I know this is reductive) a lot of what I see tends to fall into one of two camps. The first camp is “hey check out this new gear” and just seems to be looking to score as the “first” for early searches and impressions. Sure, I get it, but I also feel like I can form my own opinions about gear. The second camp is “come buy my masterclass”, but they don’t really feel like they care that much about the gear either, and just kind of “go through the manual”. It leads to a lot of “what does this device do” (which, I can figure this out on my own) and not “why or how would you use this device” (which, actually takes work, time and discipline).
Which leads me to why did I do any of this in the first place. Well, I don’t particularly want to be an influencer of any kind. I mean, I know it happens naturally to some extent by putting yourself out there. I’ve got (some) brands asking me to showcase their products, and sure… why not, but it’s not the point of why I got into this. I’d rather be an educator and show people that they can actually use this gear. Purchasing it is the easy part, but it takes time and dedication to get good. Just like my old art videos though, I wanted to show that there are easy, foundational steps, and if you just do a little bit at a time you *will* get there. Nothing magical about it really, and it’s also why (to the chagrin of some of my viewers) I leave many of the mistakes in my videos, because it is *okay* to make mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process, and we all make them. A true artist knows that a part of their product is founded on the basis of their mistakes, and having the foresight to know when to accept the mistake, and when to remove it.
So, I already wrote an essay just on background and how I got here, but it should help to now give some explanation of where I am going. What follows is just a list of mental checkmarks for me, in no particular order or priority, that I’ll break down further.
Create a consistent and sustainable process to create content
I believe that anything worth doing is worth doing often. To that end, I figured that doing a video series would teach me a lot about how to do it. From what specific gear I needed to what software and tools would help, as well as just coming up with a process to actually do all of these things.
Even though it wasn’t where I wanted to start, I kicked off the series using my iPhone to capture video and the Zoom H6 for the audio. It mostly worked, though it had some flaws. In particular I wasn’t happy with just how I had to set everything up, it was an awkward mess of cables, the order everything had to be turned on was critical to getting the right audio track. It was a good start, but felt kind of fiddly. I think I ran with this setup for 3 months, and kept notes of what I wanted to say, as well as what order to start/stop everything to avoid problems. Honestly the biggest problem here was probably the Zoom H6 because at about -6db on the meters it would start clipping audio, which… is… frustrating, and led to a lot of quiet videos.
I forget the order of things, but around this time I moved over to the Shure SM7B with some rack effects (tube/gate/compressor/exciter) and to the GoPro 10. I used this setup for about a year… so pretty good longevity… though not great.
The Zoom H6 microphone/clipping was definitely driving me nuts, and I wanted to get a better output. I know I tried using the Zoom H6 with the Shure SM7B, but continued to have clipping problems. Similarly, I was thinking I wanted to upgrade to 4k recording I would get the GoPro 10 and the media kit. The nice thing about the GoPro 10 with the media kit is that you can plug a line in from a mixer, and it will sync the audio to the recorded video. It works well enough most of the time, but sometimes the GoPro just decides to pick up from its’ own microphone, which leads to bunged up videos that you can only hear me talking and no audio from the SP404 mk2 (or whatever other device I’m using).
Lately, I’ve been trying out OBS and webcams. I may try and setup the GoPro 10 as a webcam source, but I ended up picking up a Logitech Brio and an Elgato Stream Deck so that I can have a setup across the room, and then just push a button to start/stop recording on the Stream Deck. This actually saves me time from having to copy files off of the GoPro to the computer, and then upload… instead when I’m done recording session files in OBS I just upload them straight to YouTube. I’m hoping to get another year or two out of this setup/process at least… though I suspect what is likely to change the most (such as camera positions/shots) will be additive to this setup instead of a full on change of everything.
As you can see from above, I’ve changed the setup several times over the course of the SP404 mk2 In Five video series. I suspected from the start that I would likely end up with an OBS setup, as it gives a lot of power and flexibility, but early on, while I was trying to just get started, OBS felt like a hurdle I wasn’t ready to cross. It was going to be a lot of investment of time to learn how to setup and position cameras, route audio properly, and then setup all kinds of scenes in OBS. Honestly, if I had started with OBS I’d give myself a 50/50 chance of having made it to where I am today because either it would have worked, or I just would have gotten frustrated and moved on.
Starting simple with what I had on hand allowed me to leverage what I knew, and gave me a clear path of how to grow in unforeseen ways. When I started the video series, I figured I’d do 90 or so and be done, but since a bit of an audience has grown with me, I’ve also been able to get some guidance and suggestions from people out there in things to try and directions to go.
Invest no more than five minutes of my time per recording minute
After I had finished up my Painting In Five series, and YouTube had been out for a while, I had heard it said that the average minute of finished video took at least sixty minutes to work on before it was posted. My Painting In Five series had been pretty successful, and it was mostly me just recording live, no video processing, maybe doing a few retakes, and then just loading the videos up to a server. It’d say on average I was investing three minutes per “finished video minute”.
Could I polish up my videos more? Certainly… there’s all kinds of room for improvement. I’ve got lighting issues, I’m adjusting the SP404 mk2 output by ear, trying to remember to speak loud enough and consistently enough. While I do retakes from time to time, I’d say it’s about one or two videos out of ten that require a retake, and frequently it will be one part of a video that I struggle with that takes two or three retakes to get it “correct”. Correct for me doesn’t mean perfect, just that I’m not leading the viewer down really incorrect processes and workflows, or making blatantly incorrect statements (though this does happen from time to time). All this stuff, though it adds polish to the videos, also isn’t really what I feel like I’m about. If somebody reached out and said “Hey, do you want to work together on making some high quality videos” I’d certainly consider it, but I just don’t know that it fits the direction I’m going. Plus I would also be concerned that with investing that kind of time there would be heightened pressure to get views, make money, and probably take the fun out of it.
At any rate, this has lead me down the path I am at, where I am really focussed on trying to do about five to ten minute videos daily, or around thirty to sixty minutes of content a week. I’d say on average I’m investing about two to four hours of time a week to this project, so it is pretty easy to slip in recordings once or twice a week around breakfast or lunch time.
Keep focus on the content, and answer not only the what’s, but also they why’s
Where I feel a lot of educational content falters is that it gets the “what” down, and that is easy enough to edit for and make sure it is correct. Yet I think most people value the “why” and the flow of it. When learning something new, it’s easy to get lost in all of the “what” information that may or may not be useful to you at that point in time, but for me at least I always feel like I understand things more when I can understand the “why”.
It is super easy to get lost in the what am I doing, and not why am I doing it. I try to remind myself in my videos to make sure I am calling out what buttons I am pressing or knobs I am turning, and explain why I am doing it. Saying I am going to chop mode is fine, but explaining why I am in chop mode and why am I going for specific settings I am hoping explains to the viewer why they may want to do the same thing.
This might also explain to some extent why I am trying to break the videos down into five or so minute chunks, in a larger context of a session. There is the core “action” of what I am trying to accomplish in any particular video such as chop up a loop to make a new sound, create a pattern to build up towards a song, or make a song so that I have something to share with friends. Any individual part of the session should mostly stand on its own to teach somebody a component, and if they understand why I am breaking things down to sessions they can then view how that single component may manifest itself into a broader set of actions or processes that they may also want to take.
I’d say finally, but it’s probably where I’ll just end this part of the topic for now, is that I also think it is easy for people to see what somebody else did over the course of an hour or two hour long video, and just get lost and figure they don’t have the skills to do something. Most things really aren’t that hard to learn, but it requires taking an approach to break them down. With the five minute videos I’m trying to show anybody who wants to listen that they can, with a little bit of guidance, start from nothing, to having something that they can work into a song in thirty minutes or so. My gut tells me that anybody who wants to follow along, and just take a few minutes a day, even if it takes them a week, can still get to an outcome that I can.
Do the most good by providing the content to people for free
For me, I just feel strongly that as much information that can be provided for free should be made free. I know I am giving people some access to my life, and time, and not charging for it, but not everything in life needs a dollar sign in front of it. I’m mostly along for the ride here, and it’s been nice to see people appreciate the work that I am doing.
If people want to donate for the work I have already done, I’m happy for it. I also put right in the guide for people to pay it forward and write me about what they did. Nobody has done this yet, over the year and a half that the guide has been out there, I just have to hope that I have influenced somebody to pay it forward, but who knows. Beyond that, the guide has maybe made $40 or so in donations, and with YouTube ad revenue I haven’t seen any income yet. I’m not listing any of this here to shake anybody down or ask for money, just to let folks know that as they read this… you better be getting something out of it than an expectation for a financial gain. For me, I’ve gotten a lot of experience, I’ve made some new acquaintances and friends, I’ve learned more about the SP404 mk2 than I ever thought I would, and hey… I’ve mostly had fun doing it too.
I could get bummed about all of this, look at the investment of time to income, and just throw in the towel, but I can see that what I’m putting out there is having some kind of impact. I get the occasional “thank you for this” comment/email, people reach out in various ways to ask for help, I’ve had fun conversations in Discord, and I have just been taking it all in.
Fully own your own content and do not hedge on the future
To start, and this fits in with keeping the content free… I know if I start charging for content, or do it in the wrong way, that I will become beholden to something outside of what I am trying to create. It might sound weird, but the freedom for me is that I can just end this project at any time, or pivot to go do something else, and I will feel okay with it. I’m not providing some kind of service for people to get access to my time, instead I am (for the most part) giving access to my time for free. An argument could be made about monetizing the YouTube videos to include ads… but I’m just trying things out, and I’m hoping they aren’t too intrusive.
This one I have to check myself from time to time, but I’ve also considered experimenting with content a bit… and have taken some feedback from people who are following my content. To start, I don’t have any problem with people making money or charging for their time. I have a job, and I’m certainly not giving my work time away for free. On the flip side though, I do have the luxury that I have a job I can lean on, and enough financial freedom to do something like this for free, and buy new hardware as and when I need to without needing to ask viewers or readers to donate. As a result, I’m not paywalling anything, and honestly I think that just goes with my brand as it were, while I develop it. I just want to make it clear, I have no problem with anybody making money off of their content, but I do feel like the expectation of quality from the consumer needs to be met as much as possible.
And guess what that means for me, by not charging for content, I get to have the luxury to take my time to put content out there. I have thought about charging for videos, sample sets, books, or other things, but then I also need to consider that (for me) I would then be beholden to those people who pay for those things, and be on a consistent timeline to deliver content. I suppose it comes down to, do I want this to be a job, or do I want this to be a hobby. I have the luxury to just keep it as a hobby, where I sometimes put deadlines in place for myself, while others who do this kind of work for a living do not have that luxury.
Don’t waste time asking for likes, subscribes, money or donations
Perhaps my thinking is flawed, or because of how I am approaching this it leads me to not caring, but I am *so* sick of every video or post I see having a “don’t forget to hit like and subscribe because it helps”. Partly from other people doing that I guess it should be ingrained in the culture now, but I also don’t feel like I need to peddle for likes and subscribes, or whatever. If people want something from me, they know how to get ahold of me. Every video has a donation link and the like and subscribe buttons are already there.
The videos are intended to be five minutes long on average, which doesn’t leave much time for the intro and outro already… Could I grow a larger audience by asking? I guess, but I also don’t depend on an audience to pay the bills, so another luxury for me. Beyond that, I feel like I have roughly the amount of audience engagement that I can support for doing this for free. I get about 3-10 YouTube/emails/discord messages a day, and most people are quite patient to get a response. Much more than that, and I’d probably need to consider asking for volunteers to help, or staffing to get people involved, which… I make no meaningful income from any of this work. At the very least, it’s a problem I can push off for future me to worry about 😀
Video Recording Process
Well if you’ve made it this far, you should get a golden star. I’m just going to go over what I am doing today, instead of trying to go over everything I used to do.
My current setup is a Mac Mini M2 Pro, that is running OBS. I’ve got a single USB 3.0 cable and an ethernet cable running to the other side of my room that actually has all of my recording gear. This allows me to create scenes for doing things like the handful of “Office Hour” streams I’ve done where I have shared a screen, have my camera pointed at myself, and sometime switch to a “SP404 mk2” view.
The main thing that makes a lot of this work is that I’ve got a powered USB 3.0 hub that I can plug all of the USB based gear into over on my music desk.
On the music desk side, I have my microphones connected up through the Behringer Tube/Gate/Expander/… This goes into a mixer, along with any other audio gear such as the MPC or SP404 mk2 that I want to be connected into the mixer. This mixer then connects to my Teenage Engineering TX-6 which goes into the USB 3.0 cable line to provide audio back to the Mac Mini.
Further, I’ve also got a Logitech Brio setup on my music desk, that is connected to a stand to hold it in position, and again, this is plugged into the USB 3.0 hub to get back to the PC.
Lastly, the Elgato Stream Deck is what I have hooked up to the USB 3.0 hub that allows me to control my PC through a simple interface. I can use it to quickly mute a mic, start and stop recording, and a bunch of other handy stuff. I’ll probably get one for my computer desk as well, but for now one is enough just to experiment with and learn what it can and cannot do.
To make sure everything is working, I’ll turn the main power on for the music desk, then start switching on gear like the TX-6, instruments, and such. With that done, I’ll load up OBS and do a mic/mixer check to make sure that I can get my voice and instrument recording.
Then it is adjusting the camera to be in shot, and putting the microphone where I can speak into it without too much hassle, and trying to keep it out of the shot. Both my microphone and camera arms could really stand to be longer, but on the flip side I probably should consider doing some wood working to make some stands that put them more central to my setup… some day.
You might think that I go into this with notes and no exactly what I am doing. Sometimes I do have notes, for example when I ran through the 3.0 update I referenced the release notes, and had to dig into the manual a few times to understand what they were trying to communicate, but more often than not, I just start with an idea, such as a type of music to make, maybe do a little research, and then just dive in.
I’ll typically do a very short 30 second practice recording, and then play it on my computer, just to spot check that I can hear my voice, the instrument, and that there isn’t too much background noise getting picked up. From there, it’s off to the races and recording content.
It could be as simple as saying “I press record on the stream deck” and go… and often this is what happens and I just upload the video. Other times I’ll make a key mistake, or forget a button combination, and instead of spending a few minutes trying to figure it out and work my way through it, I’ll usually just stop the recording, delete it and start recording over again. As I said earlier, this doesn’t happen to regularly, and while practicing making the videos and having a script in the first place might help, it hasn’t been the style I’ve settled into.
With the Elgato Stream Deck, I can start recording when I am reading to start at the intro, and I can stop the recording when I am reading to stop at the outro. This works pretty well, because it leaves me without needing to do a lot of post processing and editing. Should I care to, or should I figure out how to streamline some of the other steps, perhaps I’ll decide to in the future, but as it stands, I get as output a single file with the video and a stereo audio track that are in time with each other in a single take. Obviously recording everything separately for video, mic track, and instrument track (and possibly more) would give me more flexibility to edit, but since I am trying to keep my process concise, this is kind of it for me.
There isn’t much here to think about, I’ll just select the files I recorded and upload them to YouTube. I’ve considered getting a paid Twitter account to upload the videos to as well, or look at other places to upload, but it would add more time, and expense to my setup.
The biggest part here, is just tagging everything and adding descriptions. I am certain that there is a science here, but I’ve tried a few ways to get at this, and if I wait too long to tag them I can easily forget what the heck I actually covered in a video. I used to write down in a notebook what each session video was, but I’ve kind of stopped doing that. Bad habit on my part, and I should probably get back to it so that I can add better description details to my videos.
So… YouTube editing seems to be sufficient, but not great for editing content. You can remove things, but there doesn’t seem to be a great way to overwrite. Usually when I’ve had a bad video (ie, no music audio), I’ll get a comment about it, and I’ll go back and remove the messed up video and try and re-record. Sometimes though I’ve recorded 2-4 weeks out in advance, and this becomes a hassle to try and rewatch the video, see what I was doing, and then go try and recreate the environment. In those cases I’ve often just deleted the entire session and started with the concept from scratch and gone back to it.
With the current OBS setup, I have been able to get into streaming. I’ve had fun a few times doing it, especially when people hopped on to say hi and ask questions and I could show them things, but honestly, I think most of them have been boring. I’d probably need a broader audience to make this work, and I’d actually need to take some time to figure out how best to engage with viewers.
It’s possible, but will certainly take more effort on my part to make it work. Also, this is probably where I’d need to figure out how I wanted to monetize it the most, because honestly it is giving people the most direct access to my time… overall I’m not sure how I feel about it. Wait and see?
Well, I am trying to figure out what I want to do to continue
- More SP404 mk2 videos, though I am looking at ways to mature them from “just the mk2” to get into other topics
- Other instruments… I’ve done some OP-1, MPC, Force, and other videos and they did okay… I’ll have to decide if I want to pick up another instrument for a long time like the mk2 or not
- Go back to artistic videos… I really did have fun doing the Painting In Five videos, and could see myself going back to that. I’m not so sure if the current channel could accept it or not though… I might just have to give it a try and see