Content Creation Diaries - #1
08 Mar 2021
What is this series of posts about?
Time for something a little ‘meta’ - a new series on my blog where I talk about the process of making content online. Whether it’s blogging or YouTubing, which are the two mediums I’ve picked up, these posts will be in diary format, talking about progress, successes, set-backs, gear and goals.
I thought this series would be a great way to bring you, the awesome audience member, along for the ride to see how a content creator grows from the beginning - there are many routes, and things will work differently for different folks, so this is just one perspective (droplet) in the online ocean.
These are the main topics covered in this post:
- Why I started making content online in the first place
- Goals, dreams, aspirations and all that
- Starting out on YouTube, then came the blog
- All the gear and no idea
- Filming to editing
- Successes and setbacks
- Progression, and where to next?
Why I started making content online in the first place
It’s March 2020, and the global pandemic rocking the world has finally called the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom into action. Cue nearly 12 months of ‘will they, won’t they’ lockdown enforcements, tier systems and snippets of freedom before the gates slam shut again. During this time, and rightly so, the kindest and safest thing to do was to just stay at home. Even during those brief lawful periods of freedom, I still didn’t really leave the house in order to protect loved ones, and the general public in case of being an asymptomatic spreader.
That meant finding stuff to do in order to fill in the excess of time at home. Days on end were sparse of any sort of concrete plans, social contact or errands that didn’t involve deciding what impulse purchase to make from the middle of a European budget supermarket (a milk frother has been a great purchase for making hot chocolates, by the way). A vacation from all that wasn’t even worth thinking about risking with the ever-changing rules.
That same month of lockdown #1, Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out on the Nintendo Switch and I spent the bulk of the first main stint of lockdown playing that until I was blue in the face - burning out rapidly and then only dabbling with it when there was some sort of new update, event or ‘thing to do’ - or fish to catch that month.
Whilst playing AC:NH, I was multi-tasking - listening to hours and hours of YouTube videos, and closely following a number of moderately-successful YouTubers and their uploads on release. Watching one, then finding another to subscribe to off the back of that due to a collaboration or recommendation on the rabbit-hole sidebar. The ‘Tubers that resonated the most were talking about prosperity, creating life on your terms, financial independence and so on. Watching their growth, and their joy permiating through the screen into my brain made me think - “if they can, why can’t I? Isn’t it worth a try at least?”.
Goals, dreams, aspirations and all that
As a teen, I spent a lot of hours either playing The Sims 2 or running an evangelistic fansite for my favourite band of the month (things really haven’t changed nowadays, let’s be honest). This meant one thing - when I grew up, I ‘wanted to work on a computer’. That meant anything to do with spending 8 hours a day behind a screen - coding, creating, writing, making the next Sims game… it just had to involve technology. I knew the world was going that way but never imagined it would have exploded into what it is today.
Then I took up Media Studies, and that was it - that’s the career I wanted. Anything to do with designing mock-up magazine covers and articles with my favourite band of the month on, or making a trailer for a non-existent film - the grades spoke for themselves, it was ‘my calling’.
Until I went to a career advisor who pretty much said, “don’t bother persuing a media career, it’s too competitive - you either do an apprenticeship making tea with a small chance of making it, or go down the academic route and do something else”.
And so, the academic route it was - whatever ‘plan B’ was going to be still had to involve computers, so I decided to look into Computer Science, persuing it via A-levels and a subsequent bachelor’s degree.
Fast forward to now, I’m doing OK - but the left-side of my brain was screaming out all the time, wanting some sort of fulfilment, aside from spending a lot waking hours trying to pacify it by listening to music and my favourite band of the month. I’ve tried all-sorts of things, such as crafting, drawing, sewing stuff, knitting… always hitting a wall with them and either feeling stifled, not being able to improve, getting frustrated at being so bad at them and then tossing them aside for the next creative ‘fad’ (remember loom bands? Yeah, I did all that too).
During 2017-2018, I decided to make a blog as another creative venture, in pursuit of becoming the next big influencer. It was a consumer tech blog, so that was niched-out from day one. This pursuit led to an expensive purchase based off yet another search for a creative outlet / skill to build (i.e. photography) - a DSLR.
You guessed it, that blog got retired and the camera started gathering dust on the shelf.
Starting out on YouTube, then came the blog
Deeper into the lockdowns and with hours more YouTube inspiration under my belt, I was getting itchy feet again about doing ‘online stuff’ and started thinking of a name, a guise… something unique, but not enough to get pigeonholed straightaway into a niche. I went with my childhood nickname, ‘Titch’ - which ironically had nothing to do with being short, as I was either the tallest, or one of the tallest in the class at school.
That was one of the hardest parts, coming up with a name. The next hurdle was the ‘what’, in terms of content. With too many interests to keep up with, even with many tossed aside, some were always congealing in my brain day in, day out.
Testing the waters, I made two YouTube channels and two websites - ‘Titch Plays’ to cover gaming and then all my other interests on ‘Titch Talks’. This was all fine until I wanted to make a small change on one - it often meant following up on the other and it was taking double the effort to do anything. That meant the merger came, from ‘Titch Plays’ and ‘Titch Talks’ into one, manageable entity - ‘Titch Life’, what we know today.
For ‘Titch Talks’, I started coding out a blog using a pre-existing platform and then customising the layout and ‘branding’ to align with the modern-grey ‘Titch’ theme that I had randomly plucked out of the sky. This was then converted over to ‘Titch Life’ - meaning my online guise was now becoming an actively-updated YouTube channel and a now-and-again updated blog. This meant two means of online content outlets, doing one or the other dependent on life commitments or my mood / inspiration that week.
All the gear and no idea
Let’s set the scene here with a shameless plug of my very first YouTube video:
You’ve seen the content, so there’s no point me going on too much about that as it speaks for itself - but how is it made? Where did it all begin? Everyone has to start somewhere, and the best port of call is to make use of what you already have. Admittedly, I did that stupid thing I always do - throw money at a hobby that I’ll get bored of within a week or two, so there were a few new things that I picked up. Definitely wouldn’t recommend that from a financial point of view but we all have our downfalls, don’t we? ;)
Camera: Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam - I picked this up in the hope that it would be useful for continuous video recording and live streaming, and it definitely was convenient for the former. I haven’t done any live streaming yet so couldn’t really comment on that side of things, but it did a great job for recording facecam straight into capture software (without worrying about memory cards filling up or batteries running out). Quality- and customisation-wise, it’s nowhere near a DSLR / camcorder with all the bells and whistles, but it’s a good start if you’re at square one and need some facecam.
Lighting: USB-powered ring light - You can get these pretty much everywhere online, but I managed to pick one up from a local shop selling them as a ‘social media ring light’. It has three settings (warm, cool, or both mixed) and then a wide range of brightness settings on top. Really useful for starting out with!
Microphone: Trust Gaming GXT 232 Mantis - Audio is always regarded as the most important thing quality-wise before video, and so an external microphone that you can get near to your mouth is a must (instead of relying on the stock microphone on a camera, which tends to be pants). I didn’t really have one other than the one attached to a gaming headset / headphones, so I picked up this one to get me going, as user reviews suggested it was a good ‘all-rounder’ for the price. The scissor arm was purchased separately and is recommended to reduce vibrations that tend to travel through stock mic stands and into the pick-ups (reducing as much background noise as possible is desirable). Like the ring light, you can find these pretty much anywhere online. It is worth noting that this microphone is also a condenser microphone - learning the different pick-up types of mics is worth the research so you can get the one you need for your use case. I found that this one sounded good enough, but it kept picking up too much background noise, and so I tired of it quickly as it made editing a pain.
PC / games console: GTX 1080 graphics card, i7 processor, 16GB RAM custom-built PC - Running Windows 10, I built this in 2016. In today’s terms, it’s not using the most recent hardware specs but it still plays like a dream and the option is always there to swap out stuff in future when the time comes.
Capture software (camera): Logitech Capture - Free software that works seamlessly with your Logitech webcam. This was used to record the footage of me talking to camera, either in front of a white curtain or green screen.
Capture software (gameplay): OBS - Open source, well-renowned software that just works. This was used to record gameplay footage whilst playing The Sims 4, and can be used beyond recording your desktop for stuff such as live streaming too. You can directly record both your facecam and your gameplay together into the same footage, but I like to have them separate to have more control over editing each part individually.
Capture software (microphone): Audacity - As above - well-renowned, open source, just works. There are lots of post-processing effects that you can faff with, if you really get into all that stuff and know what you’re doing. Even if not, it just records straight off the mic into a project and then exports to whatever file type you fancy.
Video editing software: iMovie for Mac - Free video editing software that comes with Mac as standard. Yep, I’m in both camps (Mac and Windows) - they both have their uses for different purposes and I love both for their individual strengths. iMovie is great to get you going with chopping clips and different audio files together on a timeline (but it is limited, which we will get round to later on in the blog).
Photo editing software (video thumbnail): Procreate for iPad - Probably not the most conventional app to use for thumbnails, but the thought of learning Photoshop and the like is daunting for me right now. I started faffing about with Procreate to make logos and found it really satisfying to use, especially with an Apple Pencil for precision and cutting out bits of images. I love using it - probably one of the most fun parts for me is making the thumbnails (or even just editing bits and bobs, like the pictures in this blog post for example).
Procreate and a "here's what I prepared earlier" thumbnail
Green screen: Generic green photography curtain from eBay - In layman’s terms, this is used so you can cut yourself out and be free of a background, and stick yourself on top of your gaming footage neatly. Pricing, sizing and convenience varies so to start with, I just got a curtain that tied onto a horizontal pole.
Backdrop: White studio backdrop curtain, with drop-down USB-powered LED lights - I used this to make a ‘pretty background’. As of the placement of my desk (in front of a door), putting up and taking down the curtain and lights before and after use was necessary, and an eventual nightmare which I got tired of very quickly!
Filming to editing
Without going into the extreme nitty-gritty detail, here are the steps of the main process:
- Record the footage!
- Get all the files off of the PC and onto an external hard drive, including gameplay, facecam, mic audio and all required thumbnail imagery.
- Dump the files onto my Mac internal hard drive / leave them in place on the external drive.
- Get all the video and audio files into iMovie and edit them down into the final footage, ready to upload to YouTube.
- AirPlay (a quick Bluetooth sending feature on Apple products) the images intended for a thumbnail to my iPad, then edit and manipulate in Procreate.
- Depending on the video, find royalty-free / copyright-free music as a bed track - I bought a couple of tracks at 99p each on Amazon to use to get me going and to help a lil’ indie creator out. The tracks are then stuck in the timeline with the dB cranked down so it acts as a bed and doesn’t drown out my mopey voice. If the gameplay audio is suitable, this bit isn’t required.
- Once all done, upload to YouTube Studio, choose all the tags, SEO keyword fodder, playlists, scheduled release date, end cards and so on.
- Set up scheduled posts across all social media platforms to promote the video on release. Sit back and watch the scattergun spam DMs for digital marketing services flood your social media inboxes for using the hashtag #newyoutuber.
- Rinse and repeat for the next video!
Successes and setbacks
Given that this set-up was the starting one, it’s been some time since I used it and so I’m relying on piecing together bits from a sketchy memory… but anyway.
What went well:
- I made it out alive.
- The use of the webcam made it so easy to just film continuously, without a million settings to understand and work out prior to starting.
- Recording the speed build footage meant I could get the house built in The Sims 4 game at my leisure, to my perfectionist standards, and potentially over a few days rather than cramming to get it finished and recorded into a video within a few hours (filming is tiring for an introvert, so I have a short window to record within before being exhausted).
- None of the footage corrupted or managed to go awry - any mishaps with it were down to lack of experience which I learned along the way and rectified accordingly.
- As above, the whole thing was a learning experience, and most importantly, it was fun!
What didn't go so well:
- Not having two screens - I have a single monitor and my desk set-up won’t accomodate another screen. A workaround for this is using Duet Display for iPad, which turns your iPad into an extra monitor for Windows (for Macs, there is an in-built feature for this called Sidecar) via the same WiFi network, or cable. Having an extra screen is useful so you can see how your recordings are doing on one, whilst you play the game on the other.
- iMovie was limiting in what I wanted to achieve in the editing bit. Yet again I was running before walking, basically, but when you have lofty ideas but the software limits you, or makes something simple become a pain in the derrière, then it’s mildy infuriating. One example of this is trying to get your green screen footage on top of the gameplay, which you can’t just do in iMovie - you have to do a faffy workaround to achieve it. Another issue is it not liking certain video file types, your library ‘corrupting’… grr.
- The microphone was really sensitive and picked up every single noise, pop, sniff, dramatic sigh, clumsy whack of the desk, fan hum, central heating clang and hungry cat meow in earshot, making editing more faffy.
- My nerves, and having a script - you’d think that having a script would help, but I sound even more robotic when reciting pre-planned lines. Although this is a necessity in some cases, such as when you inevitably need to beg for audience engagement at the end of your video. Anyway, nobody is perfect and especially never will be on their first venture into YouTubing.
Progression, and where to next?
Since that first video, I created my second one which was a speed build of a Christmas cottage on The Sims 4. This followed the same creative process as the first video.
After that, I got the bug for the whole thing and started to want to ‘upgrade’ stuff and learn how to make stuff ‘look’ better. Everyone says you should improve the audio first so I decided to do the opposite and upgrade the video quality first (rules are meant to be broken, right?). The main reason for this is that it didn’t cost me anything to do.
Why? Well… remember that DSLR that was gathering dust on the shelf? ;)
Also, I really struggled with nerves and the idea of being on camera, potentially being watched by people from all walks of life across the globe. Not a great concept for an anxiety-sufferer, but I soon got used to the idea by imagining I was talking to a close friend and thinking “you know what, it’s harder to pretend to be someone else or act like something you are not, than it is to just be yourself”. One thing I’d love to work on / change is my robotic voice, but if you have read my YouTube video descriptions, then there is a disclaimer on that as it might not be possible! Maybe over time I will improve my speaking skills naturally.
The story goes on…
Of course, that’s a shameless Shenmue reference right there - but indeed, this is a diary series and so it will be in multiple parts, documenting the progress of my content creation ventures. Stay tuned for part 2 where I plan to cover the next iteration of gear and process upgrades (I jumped through upgrades quite quickly cos again, that’s what I do - get too involved with a hobby too soon!).
At some point, I should probably talk about how I coded up this blog and the main site homepage, but I might sit on that for now as a magician doesn’t always share their secrets (just kidding, I’ve got different ideas / plans for that but just haven’t got round to it yet or made a concrete decision on how to document it yet). :)
Thank you muchly for reading. See you in the next blog, or video!
The images in this blog post were actually photographically taken by me for once, rather than just taken. ;)