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Life as a vlogger

Uncategorized Sep 29, 2017

 Matt looks back on a first season of doing a vlog and tells us about his highlights and learning points that he's taking into the next season.

We've looked back over doing 18 episodes. We've asked ourselves some questions, "What are some of the key lessons that we've learned here?" If you're thinking about doing a vlog, hopefully, this will help you. Now, to give you some context to put it back to where it all began, it all started at the start of this year where I'm sat around the table in our office. If you've seen the vlog, you know we've got this white table in my office that we regularly have conversations around. I'm sat there talking to Beth and Josh. Beth heads up our marketing for all of my companies and Josh does a lot of the graphics and he does some video work and all kinds of stuff like that. They're both very cool people.

We were having a conversation about should we or should we not set up a vlog, because it had been suggested that I do. We were talking about the pros and cons of doing this and decided we'd go for it really, but why? What was it we were trying to achieve? We didn't, really, if I'm honest, have a very clear answer to that other than, we just wanted to build an audience. We wanted to build a tribe with a new medium that we'd never really had a go with before. We've done a little bit of video work. We've done some Facebook Live. I've done some videos from my YouTube channel. I think we've had 800,000 views or something like that. It's been pretty good, we'd dabbled in various forms of medium, but we've never really done the vlog aspect of it. I really liked it because what it enabled people to do would be just to see life, real life, rather than just a quick snapshot around a specific topic.

If we did a video around eCommerce, for example, all you got to see, which is me playing around on a website but that's all very well and good but how does it work in real life? What does real life actually look like when you're an entrepreneur? What does it look like when you're a dad? There's all of these things. What does life actually look like, which I thought, actually, could be quite interesting and intrigued us about the possibilities. Could we create a narrative? Could we create a story around my life that would be interesting, that would be engaging, that would help build an audience and a tribe and connect me with people all around the world? That was the challenge. That was the reason for doing it.

10 lessons learnt from doing a vlog

The consequences of doing the vlog, I think, have been quite interesting. Now, looking back on it over 18 episodes, what are some of the consequences of it that we'd not really thought about? We obviously thought about growing the audience and connecting with people. It's done that. That's been great. We've had lots of positive comments. We've had lots of fun and so on and so forth, but what are some of the consequences of doing the vlog? The biggest consequence for me, which I think is absolutely fantastic is that I've got document life a little bit. My kids have watched it. They actually get to see and understand a little bit more about their dad and about what dad does and what happens during the day when he disappears to this thing called 'work'.

It's been great. Josh, my eldest came to me and he just said, "You know what, it's really nice to actually understand what it is you do. I'm starting to feel like I'm understanding your life a little bit more." That's great. That's a brilliant consequence of doing the vlog. I think that is fantastic. If you're thinking about doing a blog, definitely do it. Especially if you've got kids or family and you want to document life a little bit. I mentioned in the vlog that it's not just about my kids. When I bring that out, I don't know what mediums are going to be around in 20 years time, but I'm assuming that, actually, my grandkids will also be able to watch this video and see what granddad got up to when he was in his mid 40s and quite fit and agile. It's a permanent record of life.

You know what, it's also great for me, every now and again, when I just look at some of the old episodes just to see if we've wrapped up some of the story lines just to remember. "Oh, yeah. We did that. That's great." That's worked well. You created a life memory book and it's just brilliant.

Lesson One

Lesson number one is all about the technical aspects of doing a vlog. What's the best camera for a vlog? How do we do it so it works?

When we started out doing the vlog, I had a little GoPro Hero5 that we used. I thought I'd try it out because it's a small camera. I can throw it in my bag. The thing is almost indestructible. I thought, "This would be a great vlogging camera you can carry anywhere. It's discrete and so on and so forth."

The first few episodes were shot with the Hero5, but what you'll notice is, in the first few episodes is, actually, the audio isn't brilliant. It's quite distracting. This was a lesson we learned quite quickly. That, actually, audio is, in some respects, more important than the video quality. People will happily settle with poor video quality as long as the audio is great. If your audio is a bit rubbish, people don't engage with the video.

We went out and bought a Rode microphone that I could connect into the side of the Hero5. I got a little rig. I got a tripod. I go the Hero5 on the tripod and then I just connected the microphone to the tripod and also, to the Hero5. It's no longer discrete. You're walking around with this rig but that's okay. The problem I discovered with that was the actual microphone itself would disconnect from the Hero5. I couldn't figure out a way to test or easily see whether or not the microphone was connected to the Hero5 and whether audio was coming from the microphone rather than the microphones in the camera.

As a result, we had hours and hours of wasted footage where I thought I had recorded something and that it had gone well but the microphone just wasn't connected properly. That was never going to work.

Now, we use the GoPros to create other types of shots in the vlog where audio is not as essential. They're great cameras. I've usually got a GoPro with me, but I only record footage on it where audio is not actually critical. Yeah, that's the Hero5. We then move on to the Canon EOS M6.

If you watch the vloggers, you'll see people like Casey Neistat. They've got these huge cameras on tripods with microphones and stuff like that. I tried that for 30 seconds and thought, "There is no way I want to carry a big old DSLR around with me." We went and got this mirrorless EOS M6, the Canon version, which is a DSLR but it's much smaller and compact and the lenses were much smaller. That is a brilliant camera. The video quality and the speed at which it focuses is unbelievable. I've never ever had issue with the microphone being disconnected.

I just use the same Rode mic that I got for the Hero5 and I plugged that into the side of the M6. Quite a lot of the footage on the 18 episodes was then shot with the M6. Especially office footage, you can put it on a tripod and it's beautiful. I've got a wide lens. I've got a standard lens. You can get some different shots with that. I've really enjoyed that camera. I will definitely recommend it.

The only downside to the M6 is, even though it's smaller than the DSLR, it is still quite significant. I tried different ways of carrying this around at which it sometimes worked and sometimes didn't work. The more I did the vlog, the more I started to use my iPhone, actually. The two main cameras, I think, I use are going to be the M6 and the iPhone 7. A lot of the footage was shot between those two cameras.

Because my iPhone, I've always got with me and the cameras on those things are not as dynamic as the M6 but they are fantastic. The lenses on the iPhone are pretty good. To get even better audio, I bought a little short, lightning microphone which just connects into the bottom of my phone. The only downside to doing that is, you have to take the case off because the microphone doesn't fit into the lightning port with the case on. That's the only downside.

We've also done some footage on the Mavic Pro, the drone. I do have the DJI Spark. I've not really played around too much with it. I have to be honest, I really like the Mavic but its size is obviously significant. I remember watching a video with Casey Neistat about how to do a vlog. He had this great piece of advice when it comes to camera choice, "Use the best one that is available to you at that point in time." If I'm out and about and all I've got is my iPhone 7, then that's the best camera I've got available to me at that point in time. If I've got my EOS M6 and I can use that, I'm going to use that over my iPhone because I think it gives a better shot. Use the best camera you have available but if you're starting a vlog, you definitely don't need to go out and spend thousands on equipment. The iPhone or any smartphone, Samsung, all those sorts of things, are pretty good these days. Probably one lesson learned is that we didn't need to go out and necessarily buy the M6, but I'm glad that we did. We have the budget available. That's my lesson number one, all on the technical aspects in terms of cameras.

Lesson Two

Lesson number two is there is a lot of work involved in making a vlog. I did not anticipate how much work was going to be involved in doing this, but it is a lot. Let me tell you. Do not underestimate the work involved, especially the thinking.

There's a lot of thinking that you're going to have to do about what to shoot, how to shoot it, where to shoot it from, how you create the story line, which I'll talk more about in a second. All these types of things. There's a lot of thinking from your point of view. There's a lot of recording, there's a lot of editing. A 10-minute vlog, you're talking hours of work. Just bear that in mind if you're going to get going. It's going to suck the life out of you a little bit.

Lesson Three

Lesson number three, and this is a big lesson. Vlogs that are engaging work for me, they need to have a great story in them. I've had to learn to tell life in the context of a story. Now, I've been studying story, I guess, for about seven or eight years because I find that it's a fascinating tool in sales.

How do you tell a story because people are engaged by story, they remember story really well. We've done it for thousands of years as human beings. It's the stories that we remember, the parables, these are the things that we remember.

Story has actually fascinated me for a number of years, but how does that translate to a vlog? How does that work in the context of a vlog? That's one of the big thing, I don't think I've cracked it totally yet, but I've definitely learned a lot.

If you take the story with its simple three extractor; you've got the beginning, the middle and the end. You've got act one, act two, and act three. Act one is all about the setup. You take Luke Skywalker. The setup is, he's in the desert, Obi-Wan is trying to get him to become a Jedi. In act two, we've got the conflict. It's like his uncle and his aunt get killed and so, now, he needs to go and do training and all this sort of stuff. Act three is the resolution. It's like, now, he blows up the Death Star. That is the beginning and a middle and an end. Act two, the bit in the middle, the conflict, is always the longest part.

Now, when you're setting up your story, context is important. You have to think about it, not just in terms of narration but in terms of angles and video and so on and so forth. Bringing that context really helps your story. Things like shooting B-roll. This is where I've had to get up to speed pretty quick. It's not just about me talking to a camera.

For example, in episode 18, there are what we call context shots. B-roll footage where you'll see a wide angle shot of me sitting in 'Joe & the Juice', for example, reading a book. That video is on a faster pace. Then, rather than me saying, "I'm leaving," for example, you see it as a shot of me throwing the cup in the bin and saying, "Bye guys, thanks for everything." It gives it this context. The viewer knows that I finished that part of the story and I'm now transitioning to another part. That transition was all done with B-roll footage. It wasn't just me on camera saying, "I'm now in 'Joe & the Juice' and 'I'm now leaving 'Joe & the Juice." There's this old adage, "Show, don't tell."

Actually, when it comes to story, even on a vlog, there has to be that element of that. You have to think, B-roll, what other footage can I get. If I'm shooting a video of me on the bike, I need to get off the bike, put the camera down, cycle pass the camera. It looks like someone else is recording that shot. That's B-roll. It gives context. It's, obviously, me on a journey from point A to point B. If I'm telling a story from the home and then I'm off to work, then actually using like a two or three second clip of me cycling on the bike past the camera and then the next shot, I'm in the office, makes a lot of sense. It gives it that context. It gives it that transition. That, I'm still learning about.

I have to be honest with you. I'm getting it. I'm understanding it more. I'm understanding why you need wide angle shots, why you need close-up shots, why you need handheld shots, drone shots. They're all designed to make the story go from where it is to where it needs to be. Lesson number three is one that I'm still definitely going through. You know what, I think I'm getting better at it.

Lesson Four

Lesson number four, is that it can be quite lonely.

Now, I've seen some vlogs where they almost feel like someone is following them around with a camera. It's like two or three guys have got together and they said, "Let's do a vlog." One has always got the camera and is always shooting. I don't have that. I suppose I could go out and employ a camera man and say, "Right, you just need to document and film my life." I certainly haven't got to that stage yet, but you have to think of everything yourself.

You have to shoot everything. You have to, at the start of the day, think, "Right, what's happening today that I think I could shoot," and then you're out and about, so then you've got to shoot it and you've got to shoot the B-roll and you've got to think, "Do I want a wide shot or a close up shot?" It can be quite lonely in the sense that it's just you. You've got to figure all this stuff out.

Don't get me wrong. You don't have to figure all this out right at the beginning. Go out and shoot a few vlogs and you'll quickly get to grips with all of this, but when you're walking down the street, talking to the camera and you've got to put up with the fact that people are walking past you and looking at you like you're a little bit nuts but just keep doing it. That will be something to bear in mind if you're going to do your own vlog. It can get a little bit lonely. You do have to do a lot of this stuff yourself.

Lesson Five

Lesson number five, I think editing is just as important as everything else. I don't do the editing on my vlog. Josh does it. He's super cool. He's much better at it than I am. In fact, if I had to do the editing, the vlog probably wouldn't exist because I don't enjoy that side of things.

I think Josh is great at it, but I think how Josh edits the vlog and puts it together is just as important as all the other stuff that I do. Actually, what's been really interesting is watching Josh interpret how I've shot the video. I think I've told a story a certain way, but he'll put it together in another way in the video just because that's how he's understood it or he thinks is more interesting. That has been critical. When you're editing, there's a lot of cuts, a lot of transition, a lot of cutting things out just to keep the video moving. A really good video editor is always very helpful.

Lesson Six

Lesson number six, music. I think music just adds a little bit extra to your videos. It's one of those things that just subtly acts in the background to emphasise everything that's going on in the video. Choosing your music is really quite important. I have to be honest, I left that up to Josh. Josh, who does the editing is also a musician. He loves music and all that sort of stuff. I think he did a really great job. Finding good royalty-free music that you can use in your YouTube videos.

Now, I'm going to emphasise this point. You have to make sure that if you're using somebody else's music in your video, you have the rights to do that. We've used music and videos before, even music that I thought was royalty-free. We've put it on YouTube and YouTube starts alerting us, saying, "No, there is some copyright on this music." Then there's problems if you want to generate money from ads and stuff like that on there. To the point where I thought, "You know what, I'm just going to write my own music going forward." My keyboard connects it to a computer and wrote some of the music. Actually, the music in the vlog is music that Josh has found that we can use in the vlog and Google is happy with that. I didn't write that, but there are all sources out there where you can get music for YouTube. Just make sure and just double check you're fine to use it on YouTube.

Lesson Seven

Lesson number seven: be real. What do I mean by this? A vlog is a story of how you are responding to life. For me, that's how it is. It's like, here's a business event, here's the consequence of that, and here's the impact that it's had on my life and how I've outworked this. We talk a lot about that in the vlog. That requires being authentic. It requires you being real. You've got a mixture of being positive in the vlog, but also, when things go pear-shaped, you want to show that as well.

Now, you don't want to focus on just being positive all the time because it comes across as fake, but if you're negative all the time and it's always problem, problem, problem, well, you're life then becomes a soap opera and I don't think that's engaging! It's a personal thing. You've got to find a good balance which suits your personality. On the whole, I'm genuinely quite a positive guy and quite upbeat. The vlogs tend to be generally, quite upbeat. They're quite positive, but I do want them to be real and bringing that realness, that authenticity to the story is super important.

Lesson Eight

Lesson number eight, learn from other vloggers, but don't copy. When we started the vlog, I noticed I wasn't watching as many TV shows as I did before, but I have watched more and more things on YouTube. YouTube is replacing those standard channels in my life because I'm really interested to see how other vloggers are doing it. Whether that's world famous vloggers like Casey Neistat or whether it's guys who have just got 20, 30 followers that have connected with me through the vlog and we've subscribed to each other's vlog, it's great to see what they're doing. I want to see how different people are telling their stories, the shots they're getting, and what does and doesn't work. I definitely want to learn from them but, I don't want to copy them.

I don't want to be just another Casey Neistat because I'm not Casey. Casey is not me and I'm not him. I really enjoy what he does, but I can't produce those videos. I don't live in New York and so on and so forth, but I can take some of the ideas and I can iterate on them as long as I don't copy them. Be authentic, be original, learn from other vloggers but do not copy. Make sure you're subscribed to a lot of vloggers and watch what they do and ask yourself questions, "Why are they doing it? What do I like? What do I not like?" Try and find your own groove.

Lesson Nine

Now, I said at the start that this is the end of season one, but seasons two is going to start soon. This is lesson number nine that we've learned recently. Originally, the plan was just to do the vlog and keep going. We're trying to do a vlog a week. We've almost got there. Not quite but we've almost got there, but because of the amount of work that's involved and because I want to avoid repetition, we've decided to do it in seasons, although there's 18 episodes in seasons one. I

think in season two, we'll probably do 10 or 12. I think they're quite healthy numbers. You have a little break and then you do 10 or 12. I'm going to keep on recording content during these two months. It's not like I'm stopping recording. I'm going to keep on recording, but I'm hoping it gives us context for stories to better be able to tell them is what I think is going to happen. It's going to give us more B-roll. It's going to give us more back story and all those types of things.

Try and make the vlogs that we do a lot more engaging and high quality. It is an experiment. I have to be honest. Time will tell whether I'm proven right, but I like the fact that we do it in seasons. Number nine for me, lesson number nine, is seasons are a good way forward, for us.

Lesson Ten

Finally, lesson number 10, always keep the camera recording. Record everything, you're going to get shed-loads of footage and you're going to have to learn whether something is important or not.

I cannot tell you the amount of times I've looked at some recorded footage and thought, "Holy cow, why have I not got the camera recording?! This would have been brilliant content for the vlog." Sometimes I just don't think to have the camera recording and it's a lesson which I'm still learning and it's still painful. Always keep the camera recording. Record everything. There you go. My top 10 lessons from doing the vlog.

The other thing I mentioned on the vlog was, actually, I have no regrets at all in doing this. It's been hard work. There's been a lot of stuff on the way that I wish we'd probably not done, but actually, I have zero regrets. I think it's so good to document life and remember these memories. Hence, the reason, I'm really looking forward to get going with season two. So if you're thinking of starting a vlog, jump in, go for it. I hope you can learn from some of the things that I've learned over the last 18 weeks. Continue to subscribe and watch the vlog as we go forward with it.

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