Ep. 32: Christopher Bill on Going Viral and Creating Your Own Market

Episode Description:

My guest today, trombonist and arranger Christopher Bill, is the most subscribed brass musician on YouTube.  His all-trombone content has amassed more than 85 million views and over 500,000 followers.  He is an active educator on the trombone festival circuit and publishes sheet music of his arrangements on his website classical trombone.com.  I really admire the approach he’s taken with his career and he had a lot of things to say that I think will be extremely helpful to anyone trying to build an audience online.  We also talk about what it really means to go viral, how to take advantage of vertical video, and at the end of the episode we’ll listen to two of his arrangements.

Featured On This Episode:
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Christopher Bill

Christopher is best known as the most subscribed brass musician on YouTube. He’s a trombonist, arranger, and marketing consultant based outside of NYC.  Christopher’s YouTube Channel of all-trombone arrangements have amassed over 85 million views and a following of over half a million followers across YouTube and TikTok. Christopher enjoys a busy schedule of performances, clinics, and masterclasses. In addition to producing a new video every Saturday for his YouTube Channel, he often performs at festivals such as the American Trombone Workshop, Midwest Clinic, Texas Bandmasters Association, Con Brio Festivals, Western International Band Clinic, TMEA, the NAMM Show, and the International Trombone Festival.

Episode Transcript:

*Episode transcripts are automatically generated and have NOT been proofread.*

Christopher Bill, welcome to the podcast.

How are you doing today?

Doing well.

Thanks for having me.

So I’m so excited for this conversation, not only because I’m a trombone player myself, but because I think you really are the poster child for so many things we talk about on this podcast.

So I have a million questions, but let’s start at the beginning.

What was it like getting started on YouTube, and how did you come to decide that pop arrangements on the trombone was going to be your thing?

Yeah.

So at the beginning, I was writing these arrangements in middle school even.

I remember the first one was Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne for a brass ensemble, and I was in, I don’t know, seventh grade, something like that.

And so if you think about a band director having a seventh grader come up and be like, I wrote this.

Of course, you’re going to try to play it in a concert.

And the arrangement was absolutely terrible.

It exists somewhere, which frightens me to this day that my name is on that arrangement somewhere, in like a middle school band room.

But that encouragement really got me going.

And then having more and more encouragement from more teachers and then doing it in college was basically because I liked it.

I liked listening to these songs.

It came from the Beatles album by Canadian Brass, which are these like incredibly difficult arrangements, but they’re still Beatles songs.

Anybody can enjoy that music, no matter who you are.

If you’re a brass player, if you’re a student, if you’re just a regular music fan, you’re going to listen to those songs and be really excited to hear them.

And then if you are a brass player, you’re like, oh my gosh, these are crazy hard.

And if you’re playing them, you’re like, this is like some of the most difficult music I’ve ever played.

So you’re not like, oh, I’m just playing a Beatles song today.

So that really inspired me.

And I started writing those tunes.

But my career wasn’t there through any of that because at the beginning, when I was writing those tunes in middle school, YouTube didn’t exist yet, which is crazy to think about now.

And in college, when I was even putting the arrangements on YouTube, YouTube hadn’t signed a deal with all the major record labels yet.

So I would have had to obtain all the rights myself to even make money doing it.

And it was actually not really clear.

You could even do it then on YouTube.

They hadn’t figured out what a stream on YouTube was worth to a record company.

It was that weird time where it was like, well, you’re not going to pay like you’re putting this on the radio, but what are you going to pay?

And so they just said you can’t make money unless you own all the rights to everything you put on your channel.

So even when I was starting the YouTube channel, that is my full-time career now, I couldn’t make money doing it.

So it was completely a hobby to do while I was at the conservatory.

I guess, where did you go to school?

We can also make a plug for that.

Yeah.

So I went to the Purchase Conservatory of Music outside of New York City for classical trombone performance.

And while I was there, I was kind of, I guess, losing my faith, if you could put it that way.

I don’t really want to play in an orchestra.

I was, now I’ve come around to the music and it’s some of my favorite music to listen to and play.

But at the time, it was like that’s not enough for me.

It doesn’t speak to me the way that other students it clearly speaks to.

So what is my lane?

What is my path?

And I was thinking maybe jazz, maybe commercial music, and then I was thinking more like pop stuff because that’s what I was really into.

So when you think about my YouTube channel and what I do, it’s easy to put it in this big pool of everybody’s music, of what they’re into and being like, oh, he’s doing the pop thing because it’s popular.

I was really doing it because I liked it.

And I’m very grateful that I like the music that is very popular because it makes my career much easier.

That definitely helps.

Yeah, it really helps.

But no, that’s truly the music that spoke to me for whatever reason.

So if I didn’t love it, I certainly wouldn’t be doing it.

Well, and I really appreciate the fact that you haven’t taken down your older videos on YouTube.

Like you can go back 12 years and seek the first couple of things.

I mean, you could just see how cameras have improved and how your editing has improved and everything else.

I mean, I got to say the plane is still on point.

But don’t worry, it has improved.

I sure hope.

And we can watch your hair grow in real time.

But it’s really interesting, though, to look back and just kind of, I was just scrolling through things this morning, getting ready for this interview and just noticing some videos took off early.

Some videos still haven’t taken off.

There’s clearly a lot of trial and error involved in all of this.

So how do you know when something’s working?

How do you know when to give up on your idea versus, well, it just needs more time.

Sometimes things need to build up and get some momentum, and then sometimes it’s just not going to happen.

How do you tell in the moment?

Yeah, I’m pretty lucky because when I started, I was in school.

So I had three years of doing it that they weren’t ever actually supposed to go viral.

It wasn’t for that purpose.

It was really, I was writing these arrangements and recording the parts, and then it was a place to put it, to be like, it’s done.

I think in a previous time, somebody might have tried to make an album out of that.

And so they’re like building them up and then putting it out.

But it was my way of putting it out.

And that was like, this one is done.

I can’t open up the session.

I can’t edit it.

It’s done.

And that was it.

That was the like success for me was was that I completed something, especially in the music school, where that’s never a thing ever of like, oh, good, you learned that skill.

You’re done.

Like, no, and there’s no test.

It was like super frustrating me.

I didn’t realize at the time.

Now, looking back, I know where you could raise your hand and say something completely wrong in a class.

And they would go, well, you could say that.

It’s like, like, is nothing objective here.

And the answer is no theory for basically all of theory for.

Yeah, all of that.

And so like my favorite class was my physics class, because he was like, here are the things you have to memorize, use them on the test, and you’ll get a good grade.

I went, that’s it?

He went, that’s it.

I’m like, this is great.

So having that sense of finality to a musical pursuit was really, really addicting.

Like that was the sense of accomplishment that I needed.

And so when I was trying new stuff, it was very much for the creative side and not for the audience that would be there.

I was trying a lot, a lot of things, as you see, but it was mostly for what I wanted to do.

And then when the audience started to come there, it was an added thing.

It wasn’t from the beginning.

And so I try to stay true to that even now when there is a huge audience that might not love something new that I do.

And I try new stuff all the time, and some of it doesn’t work.

I think YouTubers have a pretty high percentage of like only having episode one of a series, because we’re just like, okay, like this is something I’m really passionate about, and this is kind of cool.

Let’s see if the audience is going to come along for it.

And if they don’t, it’s pretty easy to pull the plug versus like a TV show or a movie where they spent millions of dollars on this thing.

It’s like, well, okay, we tried that.

It was fun for me.

Let’s try something else.

I have many ideas.

So balancing that is hopefully I’m usually going more towards what I want to do.

And if the audience is there, that’s cool.

How do you deal with that?

Like just on an emotional level, you know, you spend all this time, countless hours arranging and recording, you’re putting on costumes, you’re doing all this stuff.

And then like nobody watches it.

Like how do you internalize that and not let it just, I don’t know, destroy you?

There’s a few ways to do it.

One way is to picture all of the people who actually did watch it in a room.

And when I feel like nobody watched a video and it’s like 10,000 people, I’m like, okay, let’s put this in perspective right now.

Like, yes, I have videos with tens of millions of views and that’s not what happened here, but it’s still a lot of people.

Now at the beginning when it was truly nobody, I think it just has to be not for them because they’re not there yet.

Or even if they are, like the second you make it for the audience and not for yourself, you fall into that trap.

But when you make it for the accomplishment of finishing the thing, then it doesn’t matter if anybody ever sees it.

So it is a balancing act, especially once you have some of that early success.

But I mean, it happened right off the bat for me because I did a few early videos.

They didn’t even have like a video to it.

It was just a picture of me.

Like if you go back all the way to the beginning, it was truly about the arrangement.

And then the first one I did for YouTube filmed, it was Fireflies by Ole City and a six part arrangement.

Spent a lot of time on it and tons of people saw it.

I mean, at the time for me, it was a lot, maybe a couple thousand people, my friends, my family, everybody was like coming up to me, speaking like, this is really great.

And so I was like, this is awesome.

Everything’s gonna be like this.

This is just the beginning.

And so the next one I did was, I think it was a Queen song, and it was like a nine something part arrangement.

And I put it out, and nobody really saw it.

And nobody was coming up to me talking about it.

And I’m like, well, what the heck?

It’s supposed to grow.

It’s not supposed to dip down after.

And now, of course, I know that’s exactly what happens after you have a big video.

The next 50 will never reach that one.

So especially when you have success, you have to make it about the art.

Because nobody has a viral video, and then a more viral video, and then a more viral.

It just doesn’t happen.

So yeah, it has to be about what you want it to be.

And so I learned that lesson basically instantly, having that first one do well for my world, and then the next one dropped down.

It’s like, oh, okay, so what do I want to do?

And as long as it’s about that, I think people will come along, enough people will come along to keep it sustainable.

So wait, are you telling me that going viral is not the magic bullet that everyone makes it out to be?

You know, it’s funny, because it kind of used to be.

When the subscriber was like, you know, when somebody subscribed to my YouTube channel early on, they would get an email every time I came out with a video.

They would get a notification on their phone when that came.

So it was like, you kind of controlled that audience.

And when they went to youtube.com, if you uploaded a video that day, it would be the first thing they saw.

And over the years, that has been demoted so much.

And you know this intuitively, we all do.

Like if you subscribe to somebody’s channel, it’s possible you’ll never see one of their videos again.

Like that’s crazy compared to what I was used to.

But on the other hand, it’s much easier to go viral now than it was then.

So I could start a youtube channel and my very first video could go viral.

That was basically impossible to happen before.

So you have this reach and discovery that you didn’t have before, but the videos in between that don’t pop off and don’t go viral will get so demoted that not many people see it other than your core followers.

And what I’ve realized over the past, honestly, just a couple of weeks, I went out to Los Angeles for a Patreon event that they put on and we were talking with the co-founders of Patreon about this kind of stuff and these problems that we’re now creators are facing.

And what we kind of came to terms with is having those viral videos are actually detrimental now when they used to be like so, so valuable because the people who are seeing, like millions of people see my videos once in a while now, and they will never come to my Patreon, they’ll never come to my Spotify, they’ll never go to my website, they’ll never leave the app.

So yeah, I’m getting millions of people seeing this video and they scroll by, they don’t even like follow.

You know they don’t follow because they don’t have millions of followers, right?

So it’s like, clearly it’s not working.

And it’s reaching such a broad audience that doesn’t care about what we’re doing, that it’s actually detrimental.

And I would rather it reach the thousand people who really, really do care and are gonna come to Spotify and are gonna like build this community.

And if it gets 8 million views, but they don’t do anything, who cares?

You know, it doesn’t mean anything and the platforms aren’t paying very much for that other than maybe like a YouTube long form.

So yeah, it’s kind of an unsustainable model, as you’re saying, it’s not the magic bullet, but it kind of used to be, like it was a really good catalyst to injecting your channel with like a lot more people and views and community, and it’s just not anymore.

So it’s really interesting to still be holding on to that.

And of course, it’s like your ego is boosted and it feels great.

And it’s like, that’s the goal, right?

But for a niche, especially like this, I’m coming to terms with the fact that it’s not, like I don’t want my stuff to reach the people who don’t care about it.

And that’s what happens when a video goes viral.

So it’s really interesting to think about.

Well, and that’s the thing that we have spent a lot of time talking about on the podcast is just like, how do you market to a really specific slice of people?

If you’re writing music for the trombone, it only helps you if you reach people who play the trombone, or maybe people who know somebody that plays the trombone.

So a lot of the things you read about online, just marketing principles and that sort of thing, advertising and all this stuff, it doesn’t really work for sheet music because you’re not trying to sell it to anyone.

It’s not like t-shirts where anybody could theoretically buy it, or even an album.

You don’t have to play trombone to listen to trombone music, and we can talk about that later.

But outside of YouTube, what have you found that’s worked for growing your audience?

Yeah, I mean, being as specific as possible, like talking to one kind of person.

So if it’s a middle school trombone player who’s second chair, not the one who’s going to do it anyway, like finding that very, very specific, if you want to call it a demographic, but like person that I know I can speak to helps.

Because if you think about like true marketing, you can put that kind of person on a poster, and that person now sees that poster and knows like, oh, this is for me.

I saw it for the Met.

There’s a Ludo-Slavski concert.

And I’m like, who is this for?

And there’s like a child on the poster.

I’m like, oh, they’re doing it right.

Because if you just put like an old white guy on the poster, we already know it’s for us.

That’s it.

We were going to show up anyway.

And orchestras are notoriously bad at marketing like that because they’re just trying to like get their patrons happy.

So when I think about, especially early on, when I’m like trying to just make it like authentic feeling that I’m talking to a camera, even though I’m in a room by myself, I was very much thinking about like, who is the person I’m talking to?

And the moment you make it too broad, it just feels inauthentic.

It feels like you’re not really sure who you’re talking to.

And it is a little difficult for what I do because my audience is like middle school, high school, it’s not only musicians and like retired band directors.

So it’s like, you can’t talk to both at the same time, really, but it’s, yeah, it’s knowing that like who you’re talking to helps in making it as specific as possible.

So, I mean, you could literally say like, are you a middle school trombone player or do you know one?

And if you’re that specific, if you are that person and you’re like scrolling, all of a sudden you’re like, whoa, okay, this is clearly for me.

Like this was made for me and you’re going to listen.

And the question then, which I have never known the answer to, is how like low is that ceiling, you know?

If I’m only talking to middle school trombone players, well, there’s a new middle school trombone player every year, right?

So that’s pretty cool.

It’s like, it’s a growing resource, but you know, is that 10,000 people?

I thought maybe, like, I don’t know.

Is it 100,000 people?

Maybe, well, it’s still growing.

So I don’t know what that cap is, but in a niche market, like, there is a cap.

And so when, like you’re saying, people are talking about, like, oh, scalability and growth and marketing.

Well, in our niche, there is a cap.

You can’t have a company with, you know, a thousand employees in this niche.

It doesn’t work, like, not for a trombone YouTube channel, but for some of these, like, big YouTube channels where they’re making, like, mass stuff.

I mean, some of my friends are doing it.

They can do that.

They can grow because it’s basically competing with the movie studios and the TV studios.

We are not.

So yeah, it’s interesting to think about where that cap is, but I would say that the advice is be very specific about who you’re talking to.

And the more specific, the easier it is to reach them.

Was there a specific moment that made you realize, like, that it was possible to make YouTube trombone for middle schoolers your career?

Because as you said, it’s such a specific thing.

It’s so small.

I mean, we’ve talked a lot on the podcast about, when you’re getting started, you can’t just write for whatever.

You have to pick something and really drill down on that.

And I think a lot of people talk themselves out of it.

They assume, like, well, there’s not going to be interest in the trombone.

So I’m going to write for piano or whatever, whatever it might be.

We convince ourselves that it’s not possible, but you’ve proven that it is.

But I guess, what was the…

Talk about that transition from this is a hobby, this is fun, and like, oh, this is a real thing now.

Yeah, I mean, there were a couple of pivotal moments.

And the reason I was doing it for trombone and not something more lucrative, like even just a brass quintet, was because it’s what I was going to be playing.

I was not writing the arrangements to sell the arrangements because at the beginning, I didn’t understand how to do that or get the print licenses.

So, and even now, it’s not particularly lucrative to write an arrangement of a pop tune.

You know, you’re making 10% and it’s, you know, it’s not great.

So that was never the intent, especially at the beginning.

So the pivotal moments were, honestly, the biggest one was when YouTube signed the deal with all the record companies, and I could start making, you know, sharing revenue on those YouTube videos.

That was overnight.

All of a sudden, I had, I don’t know, at the time, maybe 50, 60 videos, and all of a sudden, all of them were able to make money.

So from the day before, $0 on my channel, and the next day, or, you know, basically if I had an original song or something, I could make money on that.

And then overnight, all of the videos were able to make money.

And so yeah, that was like, oh, okay, this might actually be a career.

And then I got into CalArts for grad school for like their commercial jazz program.

And that was the other pivotal moment, because that was internal, because I decided not to go.

And instead moved to like a farmhouse and make YouTube videos full time.

And the idea was like, I had saved up a few months rent.

And if I can make enough rent for the next month in those few months, I was gonna keep doing it.

And if not, I was gonna go to school.

Like that year is 2014 to 2015, like that fall to winter and summer was like, let’s see if this works.

But it was not guaranteed.

It was like, let’s see.

I had three gigs that year total outside of YouTube and doing that.

And then Con Selmer came in and sponsored the channel.

So that’s what kept it running for those first couple of years.

So those were the big pivotal moments, I think, where it was like, this is a hobby.

Maybe it can make money.

And then like, okay, it is making money.

Maybe it can be sustainable on its own.

And then it was.

So yeah, it was not a guarantee.

I did not know that there was enough people who liked it to support it, let alone without even buying the sheet music, right?

Like that wasn’t even a part of the original model.

Now it is, but at the beginning it wasn’t.

So it was sustainable truly on its own.

Well, this is a podcast with sheet music in the name.

So why don’t we talk about that?

At what point did the sheet music become part of the equation and what was that transition like?

Yeah, well, I’ll spill the real deets about this, which is I wasn’t really concerned with that monetarily because I reached out to maybe a Hal Leonard to try to self-publish.

They used to have that tool that was not like a third-party thing.

It was just within their website where you could just get a quote of like, it was pretty clunky, like, I want to sell a hundred of these in a year and you pay up front and do it kind of like a mechanical license now.

And so I did that and I looked at how much money it was going to be because I’m doing a new video every Saturday and people like maybe there’s two or three people who want to buy each one, but I was going to have to front the money for every week for every arrangement.

And also it took a couple of weeks to iron out the details.

And by the time I would get access to the sheet music, the video would have already like kind of reached its peak and gone back down.

And now the people aren’t seeing it.

So it was like, I’m going to lose so much money on this deal.

But I want people to have access to it.

And so I think it was at 10,000 subscribers, there was this milestone.

I was like, at 10,000, all my sheet music is going to be available for free.

Now, as you may know, that is pretty not legal.

But, you know, but think about it as like a student, literally, like I was still in college as a student writing these arrangements.

I don’t know what the value of that is, but they’re not professional arrangements.

It’s just like a kid doing a thing and be like, here it is.

So I didn’t think this was going to be a career at that point.

It was just for fun.

And I wanted people to have access to them because they clearly wanted them.

And I didn’t have enough money to buy the rights.

So I was like, here, they’re free.

I’m not making money on this.

Who’s going to have a problem with that?

Eventually, I got a cease and desist from Hal Leonard.

And they did have a problem with that.

But they will never know how many people I know, they will never know how many people downloaded those things before.

But yeah, so all through those years, the sheet music aspect was basically like a perk.

I mean, if I had to do it again, oh my gosh, I would have done it with sign up for my mailing list and you’ll get access to the sheet music.

They were just available on my website, like just click it and you can download it.

So that was the sheet music aspect at the beginning, which was basically a community building perk of like, come back week to week, you’ll get access to the new music.

Once I got the cease and desist, it was they were behind a paywall and I started kind of giving them to some of the Patreon donors.

When I could get the rights to them, they’d get them for free, that kind of stuff.

Educational stuff, I would always send them out, but it wasn’t until I got some publishers who were able to get the rights legally that I could finally put them out.

But I sell them for the minimum that I possibly can.

So for I think a looping demo, I think it’s like $5 for a four-part arrangement movie, it’s 10 and for anything over four, I think the lowest I could do is 15 bucks, something like that.

So I’m literally making like a dollar on every one I sell.

But the original music is where I actually make some money because I sell them for about the same and make all that.

But yeah, the sheet music aspect is like a nice little bonus, I guess.

I work with Art of Sound Music, which splits 50-50 on the digital stuff, so that’s great.

But yeah, that industry feels pretty behind to me because of this split where it’s like, well, the publishing company is doing all the marketing for you, they’re printing the sheet music, they’re doing all this stuff, so of course, they’re going to take a big part of the profit.

I’m like, well, you’re selling a PDF, I’m doing all the marketing for you.

Like, how is this still the like 90-10 split is just kind of insane.

So I haven’t put too much time and effort into that side of it’s up.

I want people to have access to the sheet music more than anything.

So I put it up as often as I can and obtain the rights to everything, now that I don’t have to pay upfront for it, but through like a note flight or my publisher, Art of Sound.

But yeah, it’s definitely not like, as far as my portfolio of income streams, it’s like a very, very, very tiny piece of the puzzle in the pie chart.

So I definitely don’t put too much time and effort into it other than wanting the sheet music to be out in students’ hands.

Do you find that the number of downloads for a sheet music arrangement, do you find that that corresponds to how popular the video it is?

Yeah, I would say generally speaking, there are a few who like that were really, really popular even if it didn’t get a ton of views, just because they were super brassy.

I did an arrangement, so it’s like added horn parts to Dua Lipa’s Levitating.

And that one, just every day somebody buys that, and it’s just the horn parts.

It’s not the actual tune, so I can actually sell it and make the money because it’s not anything from the original.

And wedding bands have started to buy it.

And so they want these added horn parts for these songs that they play in all the weddings.

And so I did a few more, like some Ed Sheeran and different things that wedding bands really want to play, and they don’t have horn parts.

And of course, my horn parts are super fun.

So those get way more downloads and buys than I would expect, for sure.

But that’s that thing where I’m like, I’m making trombone quartet sheet music, and now all of a sudden I made something for a wedding band that is way more.

There’s way more money in that.

And so people are willing to buy that.

But generally speaking, yeah.

Well, and to be fair, I don’t think a lot of middle schoolers could play your arrangements.

Yeah.

When I say middle schoolers as my main demographic, I mean for the videos, for actually buying the sheet music, it’s definitely like maybe a conservatory student level.

And I do rearrange them a bit from the video to the sheet music that I publish for a few reasons.

One being that the way I would, a good video is having the melody in one part the whole time, a good arrangement is not.

So I definitely have the studio recording version where you think about it and like, of course, the singer is singing the melody the whole time.

So it’s easy to mix it, it sounds good.

And it’s basically a solo with an ensemble.

For the arrangements, I pass around the melody.

I’ll change it to maybe a nicer key.

Just a couple little tweaks when I actually publish this stuff, just to make it playable because I don’t do that stuff.

I’m not as kind to myself for that stuff.

So this is going to be sort of an awkward question to answer, but I’m going to ask it anyway.

How much of your success do you think is because of you and your personality and you being amazing versus just the process?

Do you think that somebody else could start like a flute player?

Could they basically copy you and do everything you’re doing, but with a different instrument and still be successful?

If they did it when I did it, I think the answer is timing more than either of those things.

Yeah, I came in, like I said, before YouTube could make money, and I was doing it pretty consistently, pretty early.

I think if you followed those steps, because like you said, you go back, like the arrangements aren’t great.

I would say the playing isn’t great, the video editing isn’t great.

It was at a specific time where people were really hungry for that kind of thing, and it was pretty unique, and there weren’t many people doing it.

And if they were doing it, maybe they do like one project and that was it.

I was one of the only people who was consistently doing it.

Now, that consistency is not rewarded as well.

So yeah, if you copied me, I think you would have success if you just uploaded consistently and made arrangements every week.

Like I think you’d get better just by doing it just like I did.

So yeah, do it long enough and your arrangements will get so good that people will have to notice.

And your playing will get better, your editing will get better.

So just by the act, if you’re saying like copy my thing, what you’re really saying is like do it every week for 10 years.

Sure.

Yeah.

So yeah, I think you’ll be fine if you do it every week for 10 years.

But yeah, I think you’d have to adapt just to the landscape of what is how people are consuming media these days.

So at the beginning, it was long form, now it’s short form vertical videos under 60 seconds, more like 30 seconds.

In many ways, it’s easier now because you don’t have to do a four-minute arrangement.

You could do literally like a 20-second arrangement and have as much of that back and forth as I had at the beginning.

And so you could in many ways do more, but it’s harder to build the community.

So copying me by doing the exact thing that I did, I don’t think works today.

Unfortunately, I was in the right place at the right time, and I’ve had to adapt myself.

But the idea of making instrumental arrangements for the Internet, I think will always work.

Well, and I think what’s happening is, at least in the sheet music industry, is very comparable to what happened 10 years ago with the recording industry.

Because of all the things that have happened with licensing, it’s now possible through arrangement and some of these other things, to be an independent arranger and an independent composer, and to not need a publisher to get things out there.

Because you can put your music on your website, you can do socials, all these different things.

So it’s possible in a way to do the sheet music thing now that wasn’t even when you were starting.

Yeah, and it’s really interesting because I feel like things are kind of at a crossroads now.

Because for the last maybe five or so years, YouTube has really been sort of the dominant place for independent publishers.

Because the traditional publishers rely on it too, frankly.

I mean, if you look at like Hal Leonard and a lot of the big educational publishers, they have all of their demos of the music on their channels.

So a lot of educators have just gotten used to, I’m going to go to YouTube, I’m going to find my next piece for my band or for my quintet or whatever it is.

But now everything’s shifting to that vertical video in that short form and nobody knows what to do.

I mean, you look at TikTok, there’s nothing.

I mean, I literally, I think you’re the only person that’s managed to do successful sheet music, vertical videos, which is one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you, because if that’s where everything’s going, how is it that we adapt?

I mean, a lot of the publishers aren’t even on TikTok.

They don’t even have an account.

And if that’s where everything’s going, or do you think that’s a different format for a different trend?

Yeah, I mean, they’re going to find out what creators are finding out in real time, which is that thing about discovery.

Like, nobody’s searching for anything anymore.

You just open up the app and it’s serving you something.

And so you have to play the game like everybody else.

You can no longer put up your arrangement and have the metadata be like, you know, a Seven Nation Army marching band arrangement, and somebody’s going to search those exact words and see your arrangement.

No, you have to make a compelling video and then hope that the algorithm serves it to the people who want that, who are then engaged enough to go to your profile and click the link and go to your website and buy the sheet music.

The barriers to get to that have gone up so, so high.

And you don’t have that somebody searching in a search bar for the exact thing that you’re doing.

So they’re gonna find out the hard way that they have to probably use influencers, just like everybody else, all the other industries to actually reach the people that they want and be way more creative with their marketing.

Our industry is like a good 10 years behind always.

So I’ve talked to folks at Finale in different places where I’m like, I’d love to, like, I literally put Finale on my videos.

Like you said, that scrolling sheet music, that’s straight out of Finale that I edit in there.

And they saw it and they’re like, this is really cool.

I’m like, do you want to work together?

We’re like, we don’t do that.

So it’s like, okay, like this is like, call me when you do, because you’re going to have to eventually.

But yeah, they’re going to they’re going to find out.

I don’t.

So the issue with short form is it’s like in that example I gave.

It’s really hard to get people off of a video and to do the thing that you want them to do, because let’s say it works.

Let’s say I make a really compelling video and people go to my profile and they click that link and they leave TikTok or whatever the short form thing is, the app will sense that you’ve left the app because of my video, right?

So even if it works, the second it starts working, the app will demote that video because they’re like, when people watch this video, they’re leaving the app.

So even when it works, it doesn’t work.

And that’s the like really arresting kind of hard place that creators are finding themselves in, because the only way it’s sustainable is people go to your Patreon or go do your other things, buy your sheet music.

So we’re going to have to get more and more creative, but also create a more kind of community that likes what we do enough.

So for a publisher, they’re probably just going to have to spend a bunch of money on ads on these sites, because that’s the only way people actually see the stuff.

And honestly, that’s the only way that those companies make money.

Like they are ad companies.

They’re not paying us to make videos because they like us.

They’re doing it because there are ads in between.

And so those companies are probably just going to have to pay for those ads and find the people that they’re trying to reach.

But isn’t that going to just fuel the same thing?

Because building a following through ad clicks is not creating, you know, an authentic community of followers that want to see what you’re putting out.

I mean, isn’t that sort of self-defeating?

So I’m talking specifically about the publishers.

Yeah, for us, like, it is what it is.

I don’t usually pay for ads unless I have like a course or something that I’m selling.

And even then, it basically breaks even.

You know, you pay, I don’t know, $10,000 for ads and you make $10,000.

I don’t really feel like, like, okay, cool.

I guess people got…

But I’d rather give it to 10,000 worth of people for free and not go through all that, you know, and not basically give all of their money to the platform, which is really what’s happening, right?

So yeah, it’s a tough one to think about where we are in that world, but there’s this thing called 1,000 true fans, which is like, if you have 1,000 people who will buy every album you do and like support everything you ever do, you don’t need more than that.

Like that is a sustainable career.

It doesn’t grow like I was talking about indefinitely, but that is more and more for us.

The goal is to find that core group of people who really love what you do, who will talk about you to everybody they know and like go to every concert you ever do, all of that.

Like that’s where it starts to be sustainable, especially in our niche.

And trying to hit that viral virality or be like one of these huge composers that everybody knows.

Like it doesn’t really matter anymore.

The only reason people needed that was because it wasn’t a global scale.

And now you have the option to have a thousand people, but all of them are in different cities.

Like you can do that now.

So it’s a different landscape where I think it’s actually easier to do that.

Well, I think that’s why self-publishing has taken off the way that it has, because there are only so many composers that a traditional publisher can sponsor, before it becomes financially, I guess irresponsible, right?

But if you’re an independent composer and you don’t have any overhead or any other cost to split, like a thousand people buying your music every time is not bad at all.

So I think that’s a really important concept.

I mean, I think that squares with what I’m seeing in just like on the independent side of things.

Do you think with everything shifting to short form and vertical, like you said, what’s going to happen to YouTube, do you think?

Is that community still going to be what it is?

Are they going to separate into different audiences?

Is that what you think is happening?

Like there’s the YouTube people over here and then the TikTok people over here, or are those thousand fans, are they like spread over all the platforms?

Yeah, what I’ve found is I’ve been very, like an early adopter, I guess it’s called, but like somebody who, if a new social media app comes out, I jump on it right away.

I get my handle, so it’s across all platforms, just in case it picks up, I start posting on it.

It’s easier to get a following early on in a platform because there’s not many people making stuff.

And so, I mean, that’s how I have a couple hundred thousand people on TikTok.

I don’t get many followers now, but at the beginning, I was the only creator who was making high quality stuff.

I’m like, oh, I’ve been making stuff for eight years.

I can make stuff for this, it works.

I had an advantage, let’s say.

So, my following definitely is split up between all the platforms, but that’s not true.

For honestly, most of my friends who are creators, I think they get success in one and they go, okay, I’m gonna put all my eggs in that basket because it’s working.

And I try to get them not to because it basically takes the same amount of time to post on everything than it does to post on one.

It’s not exactly true.

It does take a little bit more time, but you start building that and diversifying that audience and you’re gonna find, yeah, those thousand people throughout all of those platforms.

At the beginning, it was not the beginning.

Few years ago, it was very clear that TikTok was your Gen Z, right?

Instagram was your millennials and Facebook was older.

And YouTube was a little bit of mix between millennial and older.

It’s a little bit different now, but similar, you know?

So I would say the split between the audience is really kind of that demographic shift.

So like I help with the International Tramone Festival Youth Workshop, and they’re marketing sometimes on like Facebook, and I’m like, this isn’t, like just go to TikTok, right?

Like the platforms have actually done some of the legwork for you, where if you know that you’re trying to reach, let’s say a middle school audience, just go to TikTok.

Maybe Instagram Reels, maybe, maybe YouTube Shorts, maybe, but like they’ve done the legwork for you just because their demographic is so segmented, and we know that.

So that I think is more of the split than like, where would a trombone player be like?

Well, what age?

That’s really the difference that I see.

And it’s changing.

Of course, all of the platforms are trying to get more of that audience every single day and changing their platforms to try to make it more enticing.

YouTube inventing shorts, literally because they were scared of TikTok.

Instagram inventing Reels because they were scared of TikTok.

So Snapchat has one now.

So everybody is trying to do what everybody else is doing.

And so we’ll see.

It will change.

Somebody will kind of come out.

But when you’re talking about that community aspect on YouTube, it has already changed.

It’s not as close as it once was, not even close.

And I think they’re gonna have to come back to it eventually because it is kind of unsustainable.

And Patreon, as an example, as I was just talking to those guys, are trying to build tools to create that sense of community elsewhere because they’re not getting it.

And I think people want it.

I mean, people want ownership over the videos that they’re supporting.

And so I would imagine it will reach a point sometime in the next five, 10 years where it’s kind of a breaking point because people aren’t tied to the creators at all and don’t feel any sense of ownership or any community.

And so the platforms need that to thrive and they’ll have to kind of come back the other way a little bit, I think.

So I want to ask you about your handle.

You are called Classical Trombone and then everything you post is pop music.

Yeah, certainly is.

And so how much do you think the name of the brand matters to what you’re doing when it’s music?

Yeah, I mean, that was a high school decision.

Like I got the handle early and I got the website and I was like, all right, like great.

But I mean, I was scared of jazz at the time, you know, like it was at a time where you really had to choose.

And then I went to school for classical music.

I was like, this is great.

Like everything checks out.

And then yeah, two years in playing a lot of pop music and jazz, honestly.

So yeah, the handle is recognizable, but at this point, you know, you think about like your big, even like wind band composers, like Randall Stanridge or something like where the name is first of all, like unique enough where you could type it in and you could spell it.

And they are the only ones that come up.

Like that’s, I think if I had to do it again, I might just do my name.

I don’t know.

It’s hard to say because you want you to be the brand, but you also want it to be separated enough where you can have a personal life and feel like your audience doesn’t think they know you.

Like you want a good balance, obviously, but and like the influencer types cross that line all the time.

They’re like, come with me, you’re my friends.

And I try not to do that too much.

I try not to cross that line, but yeah.

So you wouldn’t consider yourself a musical influencer?

I try to, I wouldn’t say it to myself, but I try to have any kind of responsibility that comes with that because I do know like kids look up to me and I’m even with like my sponsorships and stuff.

Like I’ve walked that back so far from at the beginning when I was just trying to make a living doing it.

Now that it is sustainable, like I mean, I’m not even sponsored by like a Trombone company anymore because it felt gross to say like, this is the Trombone that you have to buy when like there’s 10 that are great, 10 different companies.

So I try to take that responsibility more than I’m sure most people would, but no, I would not consider myself an influencer.

I would consider myself, if I’m being kindest to myself, an artist who puts stuff on the internet.

Like I do concerts, but they happen to be online.

Do you think though, that if you’re starting today, that’s a more timely model or appropriate model to try and be more of an influencer?

Because like you said, just doing what you did and posting every week probably isn’t enough anymore.

I mean, it just depends like what’s authentic to you.

There are certainly people who love doing that.

It’s a specific kind of person.

So how much social skills you have.

Yeah, yeah, basically.

I mean, and like in those social skills, honestly, like a lot of my friends are these people.

So it’s a specific kind of person who doesn’t have a million friends in their normal life, but can have this relationship with folks through the internet.

So it’s like, it’s a two-way street.

Like we get a lot out of it too, because I could, I mean, I was literally sitting by myself in that house making YouTube videos for almost 10 years, and I didn’t feel lonely, you know?

Like that is a two-way street.

And so the people who have those kind of, the terms are thrown around, like parasocial relationships with their fans and stuff.

Like that’s farther than I would want to go, but I understand why it happens.

And it is more lucrative if people feel like they know you and you’re giving them that access.

And yeah, it just creeps me out a little bit, and I try not to do it.

But it is, yeah, I mean, if you’re just talking about what works, there’s a reason people do it, and they give their fans a cute nickname and everything.

There’s a reason that people are doing that, and it’s because it works.

Well, and there’s not one way to be successful, but certainly that is a way, I think.

I have said from the beginning, and I don’t know if this is totally 100% true, I’m trying to be more honest with myself about these things, but I never want to be more famous than the thing I make.

So that kind of foundationally, if that’s my core value, are people here for me, or are they here because they like the thing I made?

I would rather they like the thing I made.

I like that approach.

I should have asked you this at the beginning, but could you just walk us through behind the scenes, like all the steps that go into making one of your videos and doing the recording and doing the editing and making the sheet music and putting it all out there and timing it?

I mean, it’s just, my brain’s exploding.

Just think about all the different steps involved.

Yeah, I mean, so the way my workflow works, especially, I mean, I’ve been on the road for about a year now, but before that when I was doing it every week and it was fairly consistent, it was very much from the beginning to the end, pretending like they were different people doing the jobs and never going backwards.

It’s just me doing everything, for sure.

I had a video editor for like four or five videos and she’s amazing and also expensive, but she did stuff that I could never do for the last video game medley and stuff, inserting me into the games and having the animation style match the game.

It was insane and she’s incredible.

But for most of, I mean, literally everything else, it’s just me.

And so I guess it starts with market research, if you think about it, again, as different people in different jobs.

So market research being like, what would work for trombone and what is popular now?

So you look at the Billboard charts and stuff and deduce what people are listening to and mix it with what I would want to do and if I have an inspirational thought of like, oh, that would work as a funk tune or something.

That starts.

And then once I’ve decided, I really try not to go back on that.

And so now it’s like, okay, creative restriction is it has to be this song.

And then I get into the editing room, or sorry, the arranging room, and now I’m the arranger.

I basically always curse the person who came before and I’m like, why this tune?

It’s too simple, the chords aren’t very interesting and there’s weirdness here.

There’s a rap section, so that doesn’t work.

And I basically have to solve those problems as that person.

And so I do the arrangement, and then the next person to do it is the recording artist.

And he’s cursing the arranger, why did you write it like that?

That’s so hard.

But I never go back unless I’ve made a huge mistake.

And so then I record it and then I get to the editing room and he’s cursing the performer because he’s like, you made this mistake, now I have to fix it.

So it’s like, and then like the video, oh, like when you performed it, you made that mistake and now I have to fix that on the video.

Like every single sector, there was one years ago where my plan was to wear like four different color shirts because the melody passed around.

And I was like, you can’t really tell that the melody is being passed around if I look the same in all the videos.

And so I was like, I’m gonna wear four different color shirts.

And so I went to record and I forgot to change my shirt.

And so the video editor at that one was like, this idiot.

So I literally changed my shirt color in post.

Talk about compartmentalizing your emotions, man.

I mean, it’s just like it’s just the only way it works because otherwise you’re gonna keep going back and fixing things.

The only thing I do typically go back is for the mix because I’ll be listening to this thing through all the video editing and through all that post processing.

And then it’s like, oh, okay, I’ve listened to it now a thousand times.

And I do know that there are a few tweaks I wanna make with the mix.

That’s basically the only thing I will go backwards and update in that workflow.

And then after that, there’s the whole marketing.

After I have the audio’s done, the video’s done, it’s the thumbnail, it’s the title, it’s the metadata, it’s all of that posting.

And then now I think I’m done.

And I’m like, okay, now start over and do a vertical version and get the sheet music.

And I literally have to, for mine, I mean, there are easier ways to do it, but I really like how it works.

I also kind of like how hard it is because nobody’s going to copy me, which is the sheet music scrolling in time.

Like I literally do that by hand.

And like every single measure I’m programming in to be in time with the sheet music as it scrolls by.

So it’s, yeah, it’s labor intensive, but that’s the workflow.

And like, it’s what it is.

Do you batch create?

What’s that mean?

Like a bunch at once?

Like, do you sit down and make six videos and then schedule them in advance and then have some time off?

Oh man, that sounds nice.

No, I have done that in the past when I’ve been on tour, but it’s not the nice have some time off.

It’s I make six videos in like a week and then I’m on tour for six weeks.

And by the time I get back, I’m exhausted and also need to start making videos again.

So yeah, that was my experience with batch creating.

It was like, I have to.

So I’m just, I have, you know, three days to make two videos.

Here we go.

But you know, I’ve rarely had stuff ready to go.

Other than I would do these Christmas videos years ago, like one every day in December leading up till Christmas.

I did that four years in a row when I was in school and a couple years after.

And those I would start in like October.

And so by the time, you know, December 22nd came around, I was doing them in real time.

But yeah, those were, those were the only times I’ve like had enough of like a vision and time to, to really build up that without releasing them.

So before we go, I feel like we should share some of your music with our listeners.

Are there a couple of songs maybe you want to introduce?

Yeah, so my two like most recent ones, I guess, Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen, and the Daft Punk one was really fun.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

Awesome.

Okay, so this one is Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen at the Trombone Festival, I guess, last year.

And yeah, it’s played by, I don’t even remember, I guess over 50 professional trombonists.

The next one is Harder, Better, Faster by Daft Punk.

And this one was really interesting arranging moment because the melody is basically one note repeated.

And I had to convince everybody like, this is going to be really cool because I’m having people in the top orchestras in the world playing like ba-ba.

I’m like, no, no, no, it’s going to be cool.

And it’s one of my favorite tunes.

So, I want to go on a little tangent.

Was it hard to convince all of those, you know, serious classical musicians to get on board with the video?

So, I had been doing it for a few years, and at the beginning, I mean, trombone players are trombone players, and we have to remember that.

There’s no such thing as like a-

We’re really fun.

There’s no such thing as a diva, like, you know, egotistical, honestly, like famous trombone, but like we’re all just trombone players.

So the first one I did was, it’s called the Head Hunters.

And it’s like, just, I basically wrote this thing the night before of like a backing track, funk backing track.

And I just grabbed a bunch of people, Tom Bones Malone from, you know, the Blues Brothers Band and just random people.

And I said, do you want to come like blow on a funk thing?

And I’m going to put it together.

And they all said yes.

And I did it.

And I found out later, like I sent it to Tom and he went, oh, I think I know who you are.

You didn’t even know who I was.

And he said yes.

So it’s like, that’s the trombone player thing.

Like even if you don’t even know the person, you’re like, that sounds fun.

I have a theory that there is a disproportionate amount of professional musicians who are trombone players.

And I think that’s part of it because we’re just down, you know?

Like no one’s ever going to be famous playing the trombones.

We’re like, whatever, we’re just doing this because we like it, you know?

My first college trombone teacher was Weston Spratt from the Met Orchestra, and I think it was our very first lesson.

He goes, there’s no such thing as a millionaire trombone player.

He’s like, you could be the first, but that’s not why we’re doing this, you know?

Nobody’s going to get famous playing the trombone, which is a little funny that now I have made my name doing it.

But now that you’re literally famous because of the trombone?

Yes, of course.

Well, you were, congratulations.

Well, yeah, there you go.

I’ll let you know when I hit my first million.

But he had a great point, right?

That can’t be why we’re doing it.

You have to do it for a different reason, because if you’re doing it for money or fame, there are easier ways to do that.

So, but yeah, convincing those people to play.

The first couple of years was a little harder.

And then once the video started to pop off and the festival got wind of it, they gave me more resources.

And now, I mean, I basically walk into it and people are like, hey, what are you doing this year?

Like, so they’re asking me about it.

So it’s very fun now.

But even still, I get nervous.

Like, I’m like, I don’t know if they like me.

I’ve never, like, I just did one with that, the Queen one was with Christian Lindbergh and Delphio Marsalis.

Like, I had never met either of them.

I don’t know how they feel about me.

Like, they’ve probably seen my videos.

Like, they think I’m some like hot shot young guy.

Like, I don’t know.

But everybody’s been down.

Like, nobody has said no.

Everybody’s excited to do it.

Even if they’re super, super busy and can’t make it, they’re like, oh man, I’d love to.

So yeah, it’s been, it’s been from that first year to now, it’s a big difference.

The second year I had to do it outside because I didn’t have a room to do it in.

I literally brought my laptop.

It was recording people like out in the, you know, on the lawn.

So yeah, it’s a big difference now that there’s some notoriety with it, but everybody’s always been down.

Well, you need to change your website.

Christopher Bill, the first famous trombonist.

Yeah, Trombone Shorty gives me run for my money for sure.

Okay, second most famous trombone.

Yeah, exactly.

And that’s only because his name is Trombone.

I mean, that’s true.

I was really lucky, really lucky that he got named Trombone.

He plays trumpet and drums now.

Come on.

He’s cheating.

All right, I don’t want to get canceled.

Before we go, what would you say to the middle school musician that’s thinking about having a career in music, wanting to do it, and looking at just how difficult the landscape is and how complicated it is and how much it’s changing?

What would you say to them?

Yeah, I mean, the biggest thing is combine your passions.

Like I said at the beginning, the reason I’m playing pop music is because I love it.

The reason I’m doing video editing is because I love it.

The reason I do it online and not in person is because I love social media and marketing and sociology.

I love even thinking about as I’m making something, how is somebody going to receive it?

That is part of my passions, of thinking about what it looks like.

If I were just scrolling and I saw this video, what would I think?

That’s part of what I like.

So if you have passions and one is music, what are the other ones?

And think about creative ways to combine them, because it’s not going to look like what I do, unless all of those things line up.

It might be like you love law and music, now you’re like a copyright lawyer or something.

Like there’s always, if you love like metalworking, now you’re making trombones, right?

Like there’s always something that makes sense where you are doing everything that you love, and now you’re the person who does it rather than one of the people who do it.

And that’s where it becomes very sustainable and easy and fun.

And you could talk about it for an hour on a podcast without even thinking about it.

Like that’s the goal is to love it so much that like, oh yeah, like I don’t have to prepare for this.

Like just go and set me off and I’ll talk way too much.

The other thing would be, other than combining your passions, like make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, make sure you’re doing it for you.

I was, I think just lucky that I was doing it at the time when I did it because, like when I started playing trombone, like I said, YouTube didn’t exist, so you couldn’t be doing it for the wrong reasons.

I think it would be harder for me to do that now knowing that that’s a possibility.

So you just gotta be careful with that and then just be really like, it’s a weird one, but if I had goals, like set clear goals, I could not be doing this.

You know what I mean?

Like if I was in middle school, like I’m gonna play in an orchestra, like that clear goal, I would know the steps that I have to do to get there and I could work it out and I could try, but I didn’t have clear goals.

I was much more flexible about that.

So at least for me, that flexibility and having like, I love trombone and I love all these different things, but being able to like test out different things and basically like take the path of least resistance, given that I love all of the paths.

You know, I could have played on Broadway.

I think I would have been very happy to do commercial work.

I still do some like remote recordings for TV and film and that stuff.

I really love that.

But like, if one of those worked better than the one I’m on, I would have been doing that.

So being flexible enough and not so precious about like, I have to be musically fulfilled, I think also helps, you know, like as long as you love it, don’t worry about the like the other stuff.

I think that’s fantastic advice.

Where can people find you?

Where can they find your music?

Yeah, I mean, Classical Trombone on basically everything.

Spotify, great place to see the stuff that, like the new singles that are more original stuff.

And yeah, YouTube is still the main one, but you find me wherever you want to find me.

TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, everything.

Everything, but yeah, at Classical Trombone.

Okay, final, final, final question.

Are you going to appear in the last batch of Stranger Things?

I am not allowed to talk about those things.

I had to try, I had to try, man.

Here’s what I’ll tell you.

There was a big old strike from writers and actors, so I have not done it.

I’m not going to say yet.

I have not done it.

I am not currently in Stranger Things Season 5, okay?

That’s a perfect place to leave it.

This has been really awesome.

Thank you for being so generous with your time.

Thank you for having me.

This was fun.

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