AJ Rafael has been making YouTube videos for over 11 years and has since amassed a following of over 832,000 followers on the site, along with an additional 785,000 followers between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We sat down with him to understand how he started from humble beginning and what tips and tricks he learned along the way to gain popularity as a YouTube musician.
What were you doing with music before posting to YouTube?
Before YouTube, I was posting music on MySpace. I really used YouTube as a tool to promote my MySpace page at first. What a trip, it’s been so long since those days. I remember thinking how awesome it was that MySpace AND YouTube could upload videos for FREE.
Were you recording or simply playing? If recording, what were you using to record?
I was recording songs for my MySpace page on this 24 track Roland recorder, not sure what the model was. But it recorded on it’s hard drive then I was able to burn it onto a CD. It was crazy. I learned how to do it by myself, there weren’t any YouTube tutorials at that time. I plugged in my Yamaha keyboard and didn’t even know how to quantize back then. But my songs got a lot of plays at the time, and that’s when I started playing backyard shows around my high school. This was in 2005/2006.
What made you decide to put your music on YouTube?
Like I mentioned, I saw that it would help my presence on MySpace. After every video, I would put a caption that said “friend me on MySpace here”. When I noticed there was such thing as subscribers… that’s when I started taking the platform more seriously.
Was there a video or series of videos that helped you get noticed on the platform?
One video in particular that helped me gain traction was “Lucky” by Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat. I did it with my friend Cathy Nguyen. We recorded it on an old school camcorder outside at first, and then figured the acoustics were better in the bathroom so we shot it in there. Ended up getting a million within a month. It was crazy for us.
What gear did you use at first when making YouTube videos compared to the gear you’re currently using to record your audio and videos?
I used an old school camcorder, and then “graduated” to my laptop webcam, and then there were those Flip video cams. Those were amazing. Those changed the game. But now I’m using a Canon DSLR and a ZOOM H5N for audio for the videos I film by myself. As far as music gear, I use a Yamaha MX88 keyboard, a Taylor GS mini guitar, and a Rode NT1-A microphone for vocals. If I’m having someone help me record, we just combine our stuff.
What did/do you do to get more people to see your videos?
I always say engagement is important to keep the community active. And just to show the people who are helping your career advance some love. That’s always important. And of course to do what’s relevant, but at the same time doing what you genuinely want to do. That’s a hard balance, even to this day. It’s hard to master, but being happy and content with what you’re doing is very important.
Do you have recommendations for “dos” and “don’ts” when posting videos to YouTube?
Get to the “meat” of the video within the first 5 seconds if you can! People’s attention spans these days are short, that’s not necessarily a bad thing– but just try to get someone to stay. That’s a really important thing to these platforms these days. They want you to stay on their website, so doing quality videos that do get people to stay is KEY.
You can find AJ Rafael at the following links: