by Laura Kemmerer
With the rise of the Internet, there are very few occupations that have gone unchanged. Self-publishing has become a viable alternative to traditional publishing for writers, and musicians are able to promote themselves on platforms like YouTube. Not everyone makes it into the ranks of the well-known, but every once in a while, there’s a success story.
Enter Mike Falzone. Known for his frank, funny comedy and music, Falzone has an unusual perspective that musicians of the last 30 years didn’t—he has been able to promote his music with YouTube. With almost 32,000 subscribers on YouTube, 2.6 million YouTube video views, 7,407 likes on his Facebook page and 6,073 followers on Twitter, Falzone’s career has begun to snowball.
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him about his experience with YouTube and using it as a platform to promote his work, and how it has impacted his professional and personal life.
LCK: What was your first video that really took off on YouTube?
Falzone: Around 2007 or 2008 I did a Sidekick phone giveaway. When I gave it away I had some online contest, and all of a sudden I had all of these email notifications. I was all, “What the hell is going on?” I only had 300 subscribers or something like that, and what ended up happening was that video wound up getting 65,000 hits or something like that. I had never really experienced what it was like to have a viral… anything. So that was kind of like a “fake” viral video, because I had one of those random number generators, and I said, “If you comment on this video and the number corresponds to your comment, I’ll give you a phone.”
I think the first [video] that had any kind of creative… anything was when I did a cover of “Friday” [by Rebecca Black]. The shtick attached to it was, “the singer can’t cover Friday without laughing.” It was such a ridiculous song that I couldn’t even get through it, so I just kept all of these outtakes in the video. And then it ended up with, I don’t remember how many hits, and that was my first big video. And then more recently my biggest one of all time was my “Why Women Date Assholes” video.
LCK: I think that was the one I saw on Reddit—a social media news site that receives content from users—a while ago. It was either that or the music industry rant.
Falzone: Well Reddit played a huge part in that. That video was on the front page of Reddit, and it was on the front page of The Chive [a website dedicated to sharing photos from around the web]. And that kind of changed the way that I started using YouTube because I was—and still am—a musician, [and have been] for a long time. So what I thought you had to do to be seen on this was to do covers and I was kind of apprehensive to add my own thoughts to everything. And now if you look at my channel, there’s very little music, and there’s these things that I think. That was really cool for me, because that told me that I didn’t have to play somebody else’s song. I could just talk and air my opinions and try to make people laugh. There’s an audience out there for that, and my audience has kind of exploded since then.
LCK: Which is totally awesome, and which leads into my next question. Since your comedy and music tie into one another, what serves as the prime inspiration for your music? Has it always been more of a comedic slant, or did that just grow over time?
Falzone: There’s this quote from Tina Fey that I heard through Donald Glover, “All good things come from honesty.” I think she told him that at one point, and then he ended up using it in a song or something like that. No one who starts creating stuff is using their voice right off the bat. I feel like that’s very few and far between. I think you need to work through some stuff to find your voice, and I think just adding a comedy, tongue-in-cheek thing has always been there a little bit. It’s just kind of the way I talk. I think anything good that I genuinely felt has just come from the way I talk. It’s not so much something that’s on purpose. It’s not like, “Oh I can’t write this song because it doesn’t have any element of comedy to it.” It just comes out because it’s the way that I think. And the way that I think came about by just going through a ton of stuff until I found my voice.
When you originally created your YouTube channel, what did you have in mind? Did you have a set plan for how you were going to release content, and then get more reviews as a result? Or did you just say “screw it” and do it anyway?
I created my YouTube account in 2006 or 2007, about six months to a year after the site first came out. No one really knew how to use the site back then. Talk to anyone back then and they weren’t like, “We’re going to put out shows and have a schedule.” No one knew what it was going to do. All of us musicians—and even comedians—were on MySpace. That’s just where everything was. I don’t think there was even a Facebook at that point.
I just thought I had to have one, even though I didn’t know how to use it. I think the regularity started coming in a little bit when I started the series “Makin’ It,” and we would just take a camera to different shows that we had. I ended up meeting Meghan Tonjes [a singer/songwriter] and becoming good friends with Michael Buckley [an Internet celebrity]. Mike and Tonjes were like, “You have to do this once a week, people need to know that you’ll be there at a certain time.” And I was like, “What the fuck am I going to talk about once a week? I’m not going to do that. I just have nothing to talk about.”
The thing I started regularly putting out was covers. And once I did that I started to see people come up and talk to me in real life or even in the comments. “I wonder what you’re gonna do next week,” or ,“Do this next week,” or, “I’ll see you on Wednesday,” or whatever. People started expecting it. That’s one of the most important elements of it now. But back in 2006 or 2007 I had no clue. I don’t think any of us had any clue what we were doing.
How do you think your career would be different if you didn’t have access to a platform like YouTube when you did?
I probably would still be music heavy. I don’t know if I would have gotten into comedy as much. Performing-wise, music was all that I knew. Now I’m getting all of these hosting opportunities, advertising opportunities, writing opportunities—all from comedy. And I would never have explored that if I hadn’t found an audience for that. So I would still desperately be trying to be funny, but in a more music-related package.
Using YouTube as a platform as you do, is there anything you would do differently, or have YouTube do differently, to make the site more accessible for musicians and other creative types? Maybe YouTube should let lesser-known musicians have access to a partnership to help market themselves?
I feel like anybody can be a partner now. That’s easy-peasy, but people will get all upset because they’re not making any money because no one’s watching their videos. It’s more about people being lazy—it’s not YouTube’s job to have people come to their site and find people. Especially if you’re a performer, it’s more busting your ass and working smarter than working harder and just spinning your wheels. Functionality wise, it would have been cool back in the day if there was more of a calendar function for people who perform live, and if there had been more of an emphasis on that. I feel like now there’s just Facebook, and if you don’t see a Facebook event, you’re kind of blind to it because anybody can make those. If I see Facebook events pop up, I don’t even really see them anymore. It’s just Internet fodder. Shows I go to now, I don’t even know how I hear about them because I don’t pay attention to Facebook events or anything. I have to hear somebody talk about it. So there needs to be some kind of a way to help promote live performance better.
Have you met anyone of note as a result of the things you’ve gotten into more recently?
I think everyone of note I know is because of YouTube. Any famous person that’s heard of me or knows who I am, like Max Bemis [of the band Say Anything], knows who I am because of YouTube. Cory Booker [the mayor of Newark, N.J.,] knows who I am because of YouTube, and that blows my mind. There are NPR people and all of these people that know me because I said something and it was passed around the Internet, basically.
I think one of the coolest things is that if you go to the mobile application for YouTube you can kind of see who is watching and rating your videos. Every time I’ve put up a walk-and-talk video for the last two months Mitchell Davis [a YouTube personality] has rated it. And that was someone I knew only because friends knew of his YouTube channel. And now he’s watching my stuff. Like Dan Brown [a YouTube personality] actively watches and talks to me about my stuff—just all of these people that have hundreds of thousands of viewers and millions and millions of views who like what I’m doing. And in the case of the field where you’re doing something creative, you just want to be honest and put out what you think is good, and you’ll be recognized by your peers eventually, if you’re speaking from your heart, whether you’re trying to be ridiculous or not.
Has there ever been some really awesome event that was triggered by the stuff that you’ve done on YouTube?
Me and Tonjes perform all over the country and I toured before YouTube. And you just go all around the country and there’s no one. Now people show up because you make videos on the Internet, and that in itself is amazing. And it still amazes us every day, and that hasn’t worn off at all. So going on tour and people being there, just like I’m talking to you because you came to a show, like that’s outrageous.
I’ve been playing out since I was 12, and no one would show up. People might show up once in a while, but then you go to the other side of the country and no one knows who you are. And now there are just people everywhere. We went to VidCon [a conference for online videos]. Me and Meghan [Tonjes] were in an arena of [5,000] or 6,000 people. At the first Playlist Live [a festival dedicated to online videos and music] in Orlando I kind of begged to go on, I think I had 7,000 subscribers at the time. I begged, I had to call in a couple favors and they ended up letting me on. They said you have 15 minutes on stage, good luck. So I went and I performed.
The next year they invited me to come again. And they’re like, “We loved your performance last year, your YouTube audience is growing.”So I went the next year [when] I had twice as many subscribers. I had between [15,000] to 20,000 subscribers, or somewhere around there—probably around 17,000. So I performed, and they had been following me at this point. They knew I did more comedy videos, and I had had some good luck with Reddit. So they even invited me to talk on panels. To put it all in perspective, I went from begging to be on this event to speaking at this event. And then I get invited to VidCon, which is the mother of all of this stuff. And then I get to perform for thousands of people. Before Playlist Live even ended, they had me booked for the next one. It’s all been snowballing since that point. So that’s been some of the most awesome stuff—just being recognized by other people and them asking you to travel around the country to do stuff.
Have you had any fans creeping on you at a show or anything?
Yes! Some people are just weird as shit. I get it because YouTube is like a personal thing, and you just watch in your room when it’s dark or whatever you wanna do. Some people, without saying any names or giving any specific events that, yes, some people are just weird as shit.
Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s just really nice people saying really nice things. Some of them are really nervous, but being nervous is fine. I’ve gone up to celebrities and been like shaky and sweaty and nervous. And that’s awkward, but it’s fine. That’s life. But when you’re saying weird shit and shit just gets weird. People get mad at you for not hugging them enough, and it’s just weird. It’s not all the time, but still.
Kind of gearing more back toward your channel, is there anything you would have done differently in how you managed the content on your channel? More recently you started doing “Historically Speaking,” would you have preferred to have done that sooner and maybe you would have had more attention now, or would you have just kept pacing it out like you have?
If I knew anything back then, I would have started scheduling sooner. You can’t put up a video and then wait six months to put up another video. No one’s going to remember what you did, unless it was something that was incredibly viral. But that’s the only main thing I would have done differently—scheduling.
I did the Batman thing for a little while, and it was just fun as I was doing it. Now I’m doing the history thing because I don’t care if no one watches that. I think it has the potential to be really funny. And hopefully in three months we’re sitting here and “Historically Speaking” is one of the biggest things on the Internet.
I think my “meat and potatoes” is telling people about themselves in these little walkie-talkie things. I think you have to have one staple, and just try shit. So why not just try stuff?
And just as a wrapup, are there any words of wisdom you have for musicians that are using YouTube as a tool for self-promotion?
Just be honest. Just be honest as shit—don’t do it for the views, it’s like if you say you don’t play music for the money, don’t put out videos for the views. People get so stressed out over numbers. It’s almost like what they’re doing doesn’t mean anything to them. I’ve been there—I’ve made every mistake you can make in the music industry. And you just got to be patient. No one today wants to build anything. Everybody just wants to have everything. You have to have the patience and the steadfastness to build something.
I put out videos and I tried for the longest time to answer every comment on every video. I’ll still do it. I’ll still go back a week and answer every comment, so that people know that you’re real and that you’re there. And you want something, and you believe in what you’re doing.
I see what people are doing now—they’ll put up a song and they’ll wonder why it doesn’t have 100,000 views. Then they’ll just think YouTube doesn’t work for them. They’ll say, “I don’t really do the YouTube thing, it’s all bullshit now.” Everybody has a million excuses, and no one wants to just build something.
You can find Falzone on YouTube, on Facebook and on Twitter.