A Shaftesbury couple have launched a weekly YouTube series to help singers who want to make a living from their voices. Andy Tebbutt-Russell and Samantha say that a former Shaftesbury Town Councillor inspired them to launch this video venture.
Samantha is well-known around Shaftesbury from her sell-out Arts Centre and Fringe shows, where she flawlessly reproduces the unique sound of icons like Vera Lynn, Dusty and Judith Durham of The Seekers. She’s used to performing for cameras but offering video advice and encouragement for viewers who want to make money from their talent is a new departure for her.
Samantha’s Manager, Andy, got the idea when he bumped into Lester Taylor, who was Shaftesbury’s Deputy Mayor until last May’s elections. Lester has gained almost 49,000 YouTube followers of his political opinion video channel, for which he uses the screen name of Jeff Taylor. “We just met in the supermarket and he mentioned what he was up to and our brains started thinking – we have all this information to get to people and here’s a way that we can,” said Andy.
Sharing tips on a vocal performing vocation seems far removed from views on Brexit or Brussels but Andy soon saw the potential of video. “He did say that if he doesn’t get around 17,000 views within the first few minutes of putting a video out then he is disappointed. He has established himself on YouTube,” said Andy, who has chosen a no-nonsense series title so viewers know what to expect.
“The channel is called ‘How To Be A Singer – And Make Money’ which we hope is the shortest way to say, ‘If you want to be a singer and have a career but not be discovered, because it’s not all about being a pop singer’,” Andy laughed.
Samantha says Andy makes a serious point. Many people assume the only mark of singing success is to win a TV talent show. “The chances of being picked to perform on any of these programmes, let alone win, are so minute. There are a lot of people out there who don’t realise they can make a living as a singer without having to be discovered,” said Samantha.
Often people considering a professional singing career assume they will gain more glamorous studio-based jobs, recording backing vocals for pop stars or session singing for advertising jingles. Samantha says that there is regular singing work in and around Shaftesbury that doesn’t require travel to major cities. “A lot of those opportunities are plentiful,” said Samantha. “There are many pubs that are taking music and care homes that want people. You can do it regularly, so it becomes a sensible and organised way of working.”
Andy accepts that it would be difficult forging a full-time living from Shaftesbury area pubs alone. “I would say that most professional singers don’t just do one type of work. They mix it. A lot of them teach. Samantha teaches,” said Andy. “It can be a core part of the income. You could get £100 or even £200 per session in a pub. You would probably get a maximum of two gigs a week if you were working hard at getting gigs. It’s not enough to live on. If you add up to two or three care home gigs during the week and some teaching or session work, then it can become a living.”
Andy and Samantha’s series isn’t a ‘how-to guide’ for technical singing skills and it won’t tackle topics like staying in tune or vocal exercises. The videos are all about managing a career and finding employment opportunities. “We will cover how to set up pub gigs. Management is really important, and you have to learn it. There is the PA kit and gear and the singing itself. We’re covering all of those things,” Andy said.
Whilst singing style can influence how much work a freelance performer will be offered, Andy says the videos will explain that professional singers aren’t always perfect singers. “We also talk about the vocal standard needed for the different types of work. People might say, ‘I’m not a brilliant singer, how would I make a living?’ As long as you are a reasonable singer that’s okay. Samantha is a classical singer, but she can ‘get by’ singing rock in the pub with a backing band. People will think it’s a perfectly decent gig to listen to.”
Andy is also keen to emphasise the importance of projecting a confident stage presence. “There are two completely different sides to singing and performing – one is technical and one is the performance. If people enjoy the performance, then they will be happy. If you’re technically good, that’s even better. If you’re technically good but not a great performer then it doesn’t leave people feeling good at the end of the gig,” said Andy.
“You just have to get the balance right,” confirmed Samantha.
People might assume that YouTube, being similar to television, requires undivided attention. Samantha says people often engage with YouTube differently. “Unless it is specifically image-based, people will put it on in the background as if it is the radio and might glance at it if something happens that they want to look at. Generally, they want to listen while they do something else – multitasking,” she said.
With that in mind, Andy has devised a way of getting people to look at their device if there’s something they need to see, by using a ‘ping’ notification noise. “It will alert people to know there is a text on the screen.”
The couple is committed to posting regularly. “They are going to be once a week, every Thursday at about 3 o’clock,” Samantha explained. Each episode will be around eight minutes in duration as Andy understands that people are less likely to watch a YouTube video if it is longer than ten minutes. He’s plotted out plenty of programmes.
“We’ve got about 65 planned so that will keep us going, once a week, for more than a year. An aspect of this type of video is also that you generally get a lot of involvement from your audience so we are expecting and hoping that people will give us comments requesting that we make videos on certain aspects and that will allow it to go on much longer,” said Andy.
Samantha isn’t concerned that she could potentially be creating competition for her own gigs. “I think it’s excellent. The more people who are performing, the better. It will just drive the standard up which, in some places, is not particularly high.”
Andy and Samantha have spent much time on each episode so far. They have to set up the camera, microphones and lighting equipment in a makeshift studio in the Assembly Room ballroom at the Grosvenor Arms Hotel. Then there’s the scripting of the videos, the performance and the editing of the footage afterwards. They are doing this to give something back, although they hope there could be a future cash reward.
“We spent five years learning all of this stuff ourselves and it was blooming hard work. There was nowhere to go to find out this information. We don’t want other people to have to go through that learning curve. The other side is that if you get a big enough audience on YouTube then the advertising revenue is shared between yourself and YouTube. You have to hit a certain size of audience to achieve that and then when you have, you can make some income from it. We are hoping that the four hours it takes to produce each video will eventually bring us some income,” said Andy.
You can find Andy and Samantha’s YouTube channel here.