Have a unique idea for a video, but not sure how to start a YouTube channel? What every beginner needs to know, and the tools to invest in.
So, you want to be a YouTuber. You have a story to tell. Or, maybe a hack to share or a recipe to demonstrate. Maybe you just want to share your thoughts, expertise, and/or lifestyle with the world. But, you might not have any idea how to start a YouTube channel. Well, whatever your goal, you have our support. After all, we have a YouTube channel, too.
YouTube is a fantastic tool for connecting with others, building a community, and maybe even making a little money. But, what’s the best way to start your content creation adventure? Don’t worry, we’ve got you. Welcome to “How to Start a YouTube Channel 101.”
First Things First: Establish Your Point of View
So, what’s your point of view? What’s the purpose of your YouTube channel? Are you passionate about this purpose? Because passion’s going to help.
Passion comes through to potential subscribers. Even better, a passionate point of view is going to keep you engaged when your YouTube channel is no longer new. So, make sure your topic—whether it’s travel videos, filmmaking video essays, gear hauls, you name it—matters to you.
Whatever you decide your Big Idea is, work to keep it your singular focus. Support that focus with consistent title graphics and music cues. You’re building a brand here. With so much noise in the world, a clearly presented brand vision can only help keep viewers interested in your offering. Define your point of view as definitive and tell your story like only you can—your subscribers will follow.
Gearing Up for Your New YouTube Channel
Fact: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to start a YouTube channel. As you’ll see below, it’s possible that you may not have to spend any money. You definitely need gear and creative assets for sure, but you don’t need to rush out and buy a professional studio’s worth of brand-new gadgets. Simply identifying your needs on a video-by-video basis is a reasonable way to get through your first few uploads, and it’s an approach that promotes smart spending.
So, let’s take a look at some gear options—some of them free, some of them almost-free, some that are a little more “wish-listy,” and some you might already own.
You’ve got some options here. First of all, you likely have a high-powered camera in your pocket right now, and there are plenty of tips and tutorials out there to help you capture solid footage with your smartphone. If you want to get a little fancier, it’s never been easier and more affordable to start shooting 4K footage with the array of quality cameras on the market.
When you’re picking your camera, just remember to keep versatility top of mind, and understand that your camera is only a means to get your story to the people. So brush up on some cinematography tips, take a look at the cameras the pros prefer, and shoot away.
If you do have additional budget available, and want to capture better quality video, let’s have a look at some recommended cameras on the market today.
Sony ZV-1 – $749-$849: Vlogging
This camera has excellent autofocus, a hot shoe mount and input for external mics, plus video stabilization. An ideal choice if you plan on creating a vlogging channel. As it’s compact, you can easily keep the camera in your pocket, and vlog when needed.
Some retailers also bundle the GP-VPT2BT Wireless Shooting Grip with the camera. This grip allows you to flawlessly record yourself without having to awkwardly hold the camera. Additionally, the grip has several function buttons, so you don’t have to bring the camera back to adjust the settings.
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III – $749: Live Stream
If you intend on creating a live streaming channel, perhaps for gaming, you’re going to need a setup that allows your camera to feed into the computer, but also a setup that broadcasts your camera footage at high quality.
That can be costly as you need a video capture card to do so, and because of the pandemic, many are in short supply with an extended pre-order time. Instead, you can look at the Canon Powershot G7 X Mark III, which allows you to livestream (with no cables) straight to YouTube!
Sony DSC-RX100 VII – $1298: Every Day Tutorials
If you’re looking to create everyday content, perhaps tutorials about surfing, or maybe just documenting the local surf scene, the Sony RX100 Mk VII is a solid choice.
With its articulating screen that faces forward and down, a wide 24mm lens that can extend to 200mm, and it can record for a lengthy time in 4K (whereas most cameras at this price range shut off after ten to fifteen minutes), it makes it the perfect shooting camera before you step into the advanced mirrorless market.
No matter what you’re pointing your camera at for your new YouTube channel, lighting matters. A thoughtful approach to lighting can instantly up your production value and help your clips stand out.
If you’ve never experimented with lighting, don’t fret. Even beginners can lock down the lighting basics in no time at all. Just check out the video below. With a little light reading on color temperature and go-to lighting techniques, you can create professional looks with ease.
Lighting is another area where you don’t have to spend a bunch of money. Sunlight is free, after all. And then, there are the countless almost-free lighting options, like holiday light strands and paper lanterns from your local party supply store. It’s even possible to shoot in near darkness with only one light. Additionally, the internet is filled with tutorials for building DIY lighting rigs that’ll only cost you a few bucks and a couple of hours in the garage.
Ultimately, just remember to keep an eye on shadows and space. Search for the lines and borders created by light sources and consider how they impact your scene. Learn how to shape, redirect, and alter your light with diffusers, gels, and flags. Understand that you simply must illuminate the things you want your viewers to see.
With just a little intention and time before you start shooting, you’ll discover how even minor tweaks to your lighting setup can make the footage appear more vibrant and natural-looking. And really, in the beginning, the fact that you’re even thinking about lighting is a step in the right direction.
However, if you did have additional budget available for lighting to give your visuals that extra kick, here are two compact, low-budget lights we recommend.
Elgato Key Light Air – $200
This is a an industrial grade LED that can cycle through a color temperature range of 2900-7000. And, to boot, the light connects wirelessly to your PC, Mac, Android device, or iPhone. These lights are especially useful for those creating video game content on YouTube.
Aputure MC RGBWW LED Light – $90
On the box, it states,
The Aputure MC RGBWW LED Light is part of the Aputure M-series of lights, and features RGB LEDs, as well as both tungsten and daylight-balanced LEDs, creating a full hue of controllable LED that emits up to 95% of the BT 2020 color gamut.
So, what does that mean? Essentially, you can change the light to appear as near enough to every color possible. Perfect if your channel has a specific theme.
In most cases, you would require more than one of the recommended lights, but just one light is a step-up from none.
Perhaps one of the more looked-over elements when starting YouTube is audio. In the world of filmmaking, audio can often be more important than visuals. After all, the audience can subconsciously forgive a visual intrusion, such as a crew member in a shot or a break in continuity. However, poor audio is immediately noticeable. And, the same can be said for YouTube. Someone presenting in a room with an echo can make for a poor viewing experience.
You may be tempted to just use the microphone built into your camera. After all, it’s there for a reason, right? However, they’re often omnidirectional, meaning they pick up audio from all areas of your room or location. Not ideal if your cat is scratching his stomach while you’re making a video.
Therefore, it’s recommended to also purchase a microphone to place on top of your camera. Now, we don’t need to give you a list of microphones to choose from—although we do have some ideas. However, for nearly ten years there has been one consistent brand that has supplied inexpensive microphones for content creators: RØDE.
Their main content creator mic, the RØDE Video Mic, has several variations to fit your need.
- RØDE VideoMicro Ultracompact – $59: For smaller cameras
- RØDE VideoMic GO – $99: For cameras and portable recorders
- RØDE VideoMic Pro Camera Mount – $229: The all-star original
- RØDE VideoMic NTG Hybrid – $249: Premium quality
4. Studio and Location Gear
Camera and lighting: Check! The rest of your gear needs really depend on your topic and your goal for your channel. Our friends at PremiumBeat agree in their thoughtful look at how to prioritize your gear investments. The first step they mention? “Define your ideal projects.”
Shooting product reviews in a studio will require a different setup than capturing travel footage in the desert. Fortunately, it’s easy to find gear roundups that focus on numerous specific situations that YouTubers, videographers, and filmmakers often encounter.
Of course, there’s some equipment that can be considered standard, “nuts and bolts” type of gear that’s useful and handy no matter your goal. If you feel the need to spend money at the start of your YouTube journey, spend it on these items. They’ll help you stay agile and ready to shoot as your new YouTube channel gains traction and subscribers.
Take the humble C-stand, for instance. It’s a simple, affordable device made of metal rods, arms, and fasteners that can rig lights, hold up diffusers, or even support a boom pole.
Other gear to put on your wish list: basic audio gear that ensures easy-to-understand dialogue. A nice stash of memory cards. A drone or two, and an assortment of lenses. And, don’t forget to stock up on the YouTuber’s most valuable tool: gaff tape.
5. Editing Software
It’s time to pick a non-linear editing system, or NLE. If you’re new to videography: NLE = editing software.
Your edit is where the magic happens. It’s where your story comes together. A solid grasp of editing techniques is a definite “level up” for anyone interested in living the YouTube life, so watch every video tutorial you can find.
Again, you’ve got options here. Shooting on your phone? Edit on your phone. Want a more robust editing experience? Master your chops in a tried-and-true standby like Adobe Premiere Pro, or dig into one of the many free and almost-free NLE alternatives.
Hot tip: Check out DaVinci Resolve from Blackmagic. Pretty much anything is possible with Resolve: editing, color grading, compositing, animation—it even has a “boring detector” that can help you keep your cut energetic and moving forward. Another strong selling point—it’s not for sale. DaVinci Resolve is totally free.
No matter where you land, take the time to experiment with your NLE. Get used to the interface, learn shortcuts, and keep practicing until using the software is second nature. Learn how to make sure the story that’s unfolding in the editing process is actually the story you want to tell. Remember, editing is where your story takes shape.
The value of music for YouTube projects can’t be overstated. Excellent visual storytelling depends on sound. When employed thoughtfully, music completes the narrative experience you’re sharing, of which footage is only half. Visionary director David Lynch explains it best, “The sound, picture, and ideas have to marry. If an idea carries with it a mood, sound is critical to making that mood.”
What do the musings of a surrealist filmmaker have to do with your new YouTube channel? Everything. Specifically the part about “making that mood,” which is just a Lynchian way of saying, “Build a soundtrack that supports what’s unfolding on-screen, and create moment-by-moment moods that hook potential subscribers.” Sort of.
When it’s time to build your YouTube channel’s soundtrack, Shutterstock’s got your back with our new annual music subscription that gives you the freedom to download as many tracks as you need, whenever you need them, for one low yearly price. Unlimited song downloads make it a breeze for YouTubers like you to keep music beds and background tracks fresh across numerous episodes and uploads.
The moment you subscribe, you get instant download access to thousands of songs, all of them covered by our popular Standard license that’s perfect for YouTubers. You’ll never have to worry about your content getting flagged, all of Shutterstock’s music is 100% safe for YouTube.
Remember, it’s tough to build an audience if people can’t find your videos, and using the latest Billie Eilish hit is a fantastic way to guarantee that your video gets yanked for copyright infringement the moment you upload it. Royalty-free music to the rescue!
6. Extra Footage
Even the greatest YouTube cinematographers need a shoulder to lean on sometimes. Many times, that shoulder is stock footage. It’s quite the undertaking to shoot and edit an entire video, much less to do it monthly or weekly, as many YouTubers try to do. Luckily, stock footage is a seamless and on-demand way to fill the gaps in your video. Find establishing shots and transition shots, location shots and people shots, and all those in-between clips that get your story told.
Our five clips/month video subscription was made with YouTube creators in mind. We know that you need stock here and there to tie together an edit, but you don’t necessarily have the budget or need for a high-volume plan. With this smaller subscription, you get the assets you need without the risk of over commitment. Pay annually, or go month to month with no contract.
7. Downloadable Assets
The section heading says “downloadable assets,” but “icing on the cake” would have worked just as well. Your cake is the footage, music, and edit. Downloadable assets—like light leaks, film grains, blockbuster LUTS, text tools, sound effects, and more—are the delicious frosting that pushes your cake over the top. (Fun fact: every asset linked in the previous sentence is totally free! In fact, here—have a few hundred more freebies from our buds at PremiumBeat.)
Motion graphics assets are commonly associated with After Effects, but don’t believe the hype. Whether they’re free assets or paid video elements, most of them are easy to simply drag and drop into the NLE of your choice. (Of course, if you want to learn how After Effects can help your YouTube channel, information is easy to find.)
The way YouTube values its content creators can be confusing at the best of times. Many assume that a viral video that garners millions of views will put the creator in YouTube’s spotlight. And, while obtaining an obscene number of views is a perfect boost to your channel, engagement—more specifically watch time—is what YouTube values.
Outside of creating awesome content, how do you keep your engagement high and the channel growing? Well, by regularly uploading content.
Recently, YouTube introduced a new feature where you can see your subscribers grow over time. In 2017, I decided to step away from my personal YouTube for a while to focus on growing other ventures. Whether or not that was for the greater good, it’s clearly reflected within the growth of my channel. As you can see, its growth slowed around 2018.
So, what do you need to do to keep your channel going?
First and foremost, a publishing schedule. Look to set out a schedule for when you think you can publish a video and, most importantly, keep to it. Try not to be too rigorous at the start of your YouTube journey, and perhaps give yourself some leeway instead of sticking to an individual day. But, if you think you can publish four videos per month, look to release them the same day each week. This consistency will give your audience a familiar time of the week to expect your videos.
However, videos don’t appear out of thin air, so you also need to set aside time to create the video. Let’s look at one of our tutorials to see how many days it took to produce.
Day 1: As some of our tutorial videos are quite technical, I prefer to write a script instead of plucking the information from the back of my mind when filming. This keeps the flow fluid and stops me from saying incorrect things. Again, as our tutorials are in-depth, they sometimes require research. So, I will put aside a single day to research the subject and write out the script.
Day 2: The second day is spent filming the content.
Day 3: The final day is spent editing. Although, the editing stage can take a few days longer if there are animations to be completed, as well.
Now, thankfully, I get to do this as a job. However, it would be highly unadvisable to quit the day job just yet, if you’re just starting. But yes, bringing a video to life is going to eat two to three days of your time (unless it’s a video filmed at your desk in a single take). This is why you see so many content creators take time out from YouTube citing burnout, and additionally, why many creators also get irked when people say it’s not a real job. It’s an extremely demanding job and one that thrusts you into a spotlight of constant critique.
However, you need to set aside a few hours each week for additional tasks, such as replying to comments, issuing copyright notices (if your channel becomes large enough), and marketing your channel. With that, let’s look at two ways you can market your YouTube channel outside of populating the video with relevant keywords.
Creating an eye-catching thumbnail with an attention-grabbing title is just one element of obtaining new viewers. You also need to be actively marketing your channel. One factor to consider is to use other social media platforms to help grow your YouTube channel. Let’s look at a live example currently in action.
Throughout this article, we’ve linked numerous helpful videos presented by our Shutterstock Tutorials pal, Todd. Well, Todd has just launched a new YouTube channel with another Shutterstock tutorial host Mike, and on their first video, at the time of writing, they’ve obtained 4,000 views.
The notion of obtaining so many views in the initial month of starting a YouTube channel, from zero, is a dream to many. But, outside of creating outstanding YouTube content, they also have a solid Instagram and TikTok marketing plan that allows them to obtain viewers who might not have found the video on YouTube.
Co-Host Michael Maher says:
If you are starting a YouTube channel in 2021, you must also have a strong social presence on at least one of the major platforms. You need to decide based on your target audience. If you are doing something like DIY home makeovers, then Facebook and Instagram make more sense. If you have a very music-centric channel, then you need to be on TikTok. This year, I see our biggest growth opportunities on Instagram and TikTok.
Just be sure to link all your accounts together. TikTok has direct links to YouTube in your profile. On Instagram, you can use a link in the bio app to link out to your YouTube, and to other sites and channels.
The goal in all of this is to find an active community where you will engage with your viewers and community. Interaction is key. It’s not just answering YouTube comments. You need to be proactive in engaging on social, as well. If people can’t talk to you or follow your journey, they’ll likely forget about you.
It’s also obvious that making video content is time-consuming, and you may go days or weeks or months without a new YouTube video, especially if you are working on something ambitious. What social allows you to do is post teases, like behind-the-scenes, or test renders, or even snippets from the upcoming video that will help build anticipation. It’s a good way to buy yourself a little more time and still stay engaged.
Finally, you also must make sure to promote the video after it’s published, as well. Share some making-of photos or even deleted scenes. You are making a ton of content, it’s best to find a home for as much of it as you can.
The newly added Instagram Reels feature seems to be a haven for views and engagement. If you have some funny outtakes from your YouTube video, post them as a Reel. If you’re not too sure how to use Reels, we have a tutorial for that.
Outside of actively promoting your content on other social media platforms, you can also obtain new viewers on YouTube itself with collaboration videos. These are when you appear in the video of a more recognized creator and subsequently gain new followers from their subscriber base. However, quite like a business transaction, you can’t expect to appear in someone’s video without bringing value to their channel.
Look to see what the larger creator hasn’t covered on their channel, and politely ask if they would host a collaboration between you two to talk about the non-covered topic. Of course, note if the creator even hosts discussion videos in the first place, and if they refuse, politely move on.
YouTube Channel Art
One of the more overlooked features of creating a channel is creating YouTube art. This refers to your banner image, channel thumbnail, and video thumbnail. Not only do creative banners and thumbnail art promote a more professional representation, they also build visual branding for your channel.
For example, let’s look at my earliest videos from nearly ten years ago. There’s no sense of branding and identification. If you came across one of these videos by chance, and was already a subscriber of mine, you wouldn’t instantly know you were looking at one of my older videos.
However, if we look at the recent videos from the filmmaking channel Indy Mogul, we can see a clear example of visual branding. The yellow triangles and colored circles create memorable and identifiable visual identification.
If you find that you can talk for hours about makeup, but creating thumbnails and channel art isn’t within your skillset, thankfully, we can assist you as we have ready-made templates that you can customize quickly and easily using Shutterstock Editor.
These are primarily for channel art (YouTube channel art is the large, horizontal image that fills the top of your channel’s page above your profile picture, see ours above.) But, the templates can be a good start to initiate some thumbnail ideas, too.
Starting a New YouTube Channel: What’s in it for You?
Let’s get a handful of FAQs out of the way real quick regarding the value and benefits of starting a YouTube channel.
1. Is it Free to Start a YouTube Channel?
Yes. Creating a YouTube channel is free.
2. How Profitable Is a YouTube Channel?
Very. Or not at all. Or a little. It depends. You can indeed make money after starting a free YouTube channel, but only if you’re enrolled in the YouTube Partner Program, which gives creators greater access to YouTube resources, support, features, tools, and, yes—monetization.
3. How Do I Become a YouTube Partner?
Here are the minimum eligibility requirements to join the YouTube Partner Program.
- Follow all the YouTube monetization policies which, according to YouTube, are: “a collection of policies that allow you to monetize on YouTube. If you’re a YouTube partner, your agreement including the YouTube partner program policies requires compliance with these monetization policies in order to potentially earn money on YouTube.” (Definitely take a minute to dig deeper into YouTube’s monetization policies. Adhering to them diligently is the only way you’ll ever potentially see even one cent from your YouTube channel!)
- Live in a country or region where the YouTube Partner Program is available.
- Have more than 4,000 valid public watch hours in the last twelve months.
- Have more than 1,000 subscribers.
- Have a linked AdSense account.
Take a closer look at the application and review process, and pay special attention to YouTube’s tips for improving your chances for approval. With their guidance, the right gear and music, a unique point of view, and a little passion, hustle, and luck, you’re well on your way to seeing your YouTube dreams come true!
Looking for even more tips and hints at succeeding on YouTube? Check these out:
- Supercharge Your Channel with Unlimited Music for YouTube Videos
- How to Set Up a YouTube Video Studio Anywhere
- How We Got 100,000 Subscribers on Our Youtube Channel
- The YouTube Cinematography Channel Every Filmmaker Should Watch
- Refresh Your Channel with 10 YouTube Banner Art Ideas
Top image by Jacob Lund.