Ariella here, and I scored an AMAZING interview for y'all today.
Working my way up in the world :)
So before I explode the blog post with exclamation points, here's David Wong, of youtube superstardom, and here he answers a few questions about youtube, getting started with an online music career, making your dreams into reality, and creating your own musical destiny.
So, David, Tell us, how did you get started playing the violin?
I began playing violin at age 4. My mom asked me if I wanted to play violin or piano and I picked violin. Somehow it stuck. I started out in the Suzuki method, so playing by ear came at an early age and helped me out a lot later on.
You play a lot with popular genres, and seem to have so many great ideas for creating. How did you get started with your channel, and what were you hoping you would accomplish when you first got started?
When I first started my youtube channel, I wasn't really sure what I was doing. Basically, I saw a lot of violinists playing along with backing tracks in a sort of "violin karaoke" and I thought it was something I could do as well, but a little differently. I had the idea of doing looping, but also wanted to experiment in many other ways, whether playing with a full band, vocalists, chamber musicians, or even my own rendition of "violin karaoke." In terms of what I wanted to accomplish, just an outlet for my ideas, and everything else was a bonus.
Can you walk us through a typical day in your life?
Unfortunately, as a freelance musician, I have no typical days. Days where I record involve a lot of listening to the song over and over again, playing along with the song, playing along with the karaoke track, and finally getting a take I can be satisfied with (this sometimes takes an hour or two and sometimes, well, way too long... :P).
Man, I know the feeling. I've got about a million videos that I recorded and never posted because of small mistakes. Who have been your main influences in your music-making?
In music making, I was first influenced by violinists like Maxim Vengerov, Heifetz, Oistrakh, and many other traditional players, but as I got older, my style became more like an electric guitarist and I got some ideas from Matt Bellamy of Muse, Jimi Hendrix, Slash, Mark Knopfler and loads of other guitarists.
What is your favorite violin memory?
There are so many, but I think I'd have to say classically, playing at Carnegie Hall both as a little Suzuki Book 1 young'un and with New York Youth Symphony when I was older and non-classically, performing with the bands Air Traffic Controller and Postmodern Jukebox for Life is Good Festival and Highline Ballroom respectively.
I'm making the assumption that you studied violin classically, so when did you start experimenting with different genres and techniques, and where did you learn them?
I started messing around in high school, but learned a lot at Christian Howes Creative Strings Workshop and from watching people online, especially Casey Driessen.
Sounds awesome! Can you tell us a little about the Christian Howes program and what they focus on/ how long it is /what ages its for / where it is?
It's a camp in Columbus, Ohio for adults (they have a kid camp too). It lasts a week plus and they focus on all sorts of non-classical technique such as improvisation, jazz and advanced jazz, chopping, looping, really anything you want to do. You also get to perform in a bunch of local venues.
What are some ideas you can suggest that could help classical violinists to incorporate looping into their playing?
Start off very basically. Grab a one pedal looper like the rc-3 and start laying down one note at a time, basic chord progressions. I IV V etc. Practice playing basic melodies over the top of those and slowly get more adventurous.
What was the smallest investment you made to get yourself started recording? What pedals do you use regularly? Any pedal buying regrets? (I got an octave pedal which sounds terrible. So that was the big stupid purchase for me..)
I use a rc300 looper and a line 6 m13 with a realist rv5 electroacoustic violin for live shows. at home i use a nt1a condensor mic. you need some sort of daw like logic, pro tools, or at least garage band to start recording. a good condensor mic is a good investment though. i have some early pedal buying regrets like a harmonist but it happens.
How do you structure your practice time to get the most out of it?
I wish I knew. Sometimes I am more productive than other times. I try to practice sections and concepts more than the play throughs that I used to do when I was younger. Whether it is a new chop riff, or a new lick on a song I'm playing, I try to get a good feel for what I need to perform next.
How do you compare your "creative" vs. your "practicing" time?
I think I'd like for them to be more separate, but they often overlap too much. I enjoy creating so much that it invades my practice time constantly. Discipline is key, and I'm still learning that :)
Has your youtube gotten you a lot of work outside of the internet?
I've definitely met people because of youtube. I met Scott Bradlee and worked with him in the very early stages of Postmodern Jukebox before they blew up and that also led to performances on Good Morning America and other shows. I also got to play background on America's Got Talent. So yes, it's definitely helped in meeting people, who in turn help get you different types of work.
You seem to have a pretty solid classical background, and incorporate chopping and other techniques into your playing to spice it up. What are your favorite techniques for making your music more interesting?
Chopping is the #1 technique I incorporate that has helped mold my sound. I also enjoy a lot of slides, distorted vibrato and crunchy bowed distortion. Also a lot of very fast left hand patterns that are more common amongst guitarists.
I've been following your channel for a while, and I've noticed you've had enormous growth in a pretty short amount of time. How have you attracted subscribers to your channel? What have you used to optimize your channel so that it shows up higher on the youtube list or has it all been totally natural growth?
Some is natural, but a lot is based on having a few videos that get semi-viral. Sites like reddit, earlier on, helped me double my subscribership and even got me a few 6 figure video views within a matter of days. It's as the saying goes, luck is when preparation meets opportunity, so you never really know which videos will end up being the big ones, but when they happen, you need the volume of videos on your channel to turn casual viewers into subscribers.
How does Reddit work and how did you get 'discovered' on there?
It's a link post/picture post site where you can post anything you want and people either upvote it or downvote it. I had a few videos get upvoted a lot and they hit the "front page" which exposes you to a lot of traffic.
What advice do you have for people who would like to build up a youtube channel?
First, think about what kind of music you want to play and how you want to play it. Next, get your first "fans" from your social media outlets, especially facebook. That's usually where your closest friends and family will see your stuff and they will usually be happy to subscribe. Also, keep abreast of pop culture and be ready to crank out a video for special events like holidays, shows, instant viral hit songs, and anything that might explode based on pop culture.
Now, the hot question! Do you make money from your youtube channel? What is your main source of income?
Not a ton, but some. My main source of income is still teaching, gigs, and other work. As a musician, you must remember to think about an array of ways to make your money, because YouTube really serves as a marketing tool for you to use to get yourself more work. Just like your other social media outlets, youtube is another one that just happens to work in ideal way for those of us who would like to be seen and heard.
Do you consistently play with any groups?
I do a lot of solo gigging with looping. I have a few friends that I do chamber covers with, but no consistent group at this point in time.
What are your goals and dreams with your violin playing (and teaching)? Do you feel like you are taking active steps to be where you want to be in ten years?
My goals are to continue to grow, make an album, and start having higher production. I would also love to do more touring, both as my own act and as a violinist for other bigger acts. I feel like I am moving steadily, but still need to hustle.
Do you mind thinking back to ten years ago and tell us a few of the things that helped you to get where you are today? And maybe some advice about things you would have done differently in your career if you could do over?
I often think that I may have done better starting my YouTube Channel earlier and investing in equipment right away, but I don't often think about changing what I've done, because doing that just gets you upset. Things happen and you can't change them, so you must learn to do the best you possibly can now with what you've already done before.
What is the most popular song people ask you to play?
Devil Went Down To Georgia, and I usually tell them "No" :P
On a similar note, what do you think will be different about violin playing in ten years? In twenty? What different tools do you think that musicians and teachers will have to gain in order to compete in today's competitive market?
overflowing violin dance classes? violinists with severe tendonitis everywhere in their body from the aforementioned ten year situation :P The biggest thing for the future is people getting better at marketing themselves. We live in a time when you are your booking agent, publicist, marketing, social media, and all around identity. You have to get better at all of the things that aren't just violin playing or get left behind.
How did you pick up those skills?
Yeah, right now I am. Trial and error. You have to think of yourself as a business and promote/advertise yourself as such.
Wow, thank you David! Your insights were so awesome for anyone hoping to start building up a youtube following! I wish you luck with everything you do. Keep on making music and working hard! You're awesome :)