How our YouTube videos get made

  • Our story today starts with a chap called Roger, who had cold-called me (via SMS) to ask for buying advice. That Roger had assumed use of my private phone number to source buying advice from yours truly – and on a Saturday to boot – was the reason for my curt reply:

    If you think I’m being a little harsh on Roger’s plea for help then consider this: my videos are the help.

    Had Roger’s request landed via email, I would still know nothing about the man’s music taste, his sound preferences, his room’s acoustic makeup, his existing gear, his domestic situation or anything else that might inform a purchasing decision. How much time would need to be spent on email to and fro to flesh out those details isn’t minutes. It hours. Hours that I don’t have.

    Let’s dig deeper.

    My hi-fi reviews used to comprise words and pictures. Now they are published as videos on YouTube. And the latter eats more of my time than the former.

    You might think that the review process starts with listening. But no, it starts with a phone call (or emails) to the manufacturer in order to tee up a review loaner. This takes around 30 minutes. When the review sample arrives, it needs unboxing and setup. Another 30 minutes. Don’t forget to read the manual. Another 30 minutes. I’m 1.5 hours into video review production before I’ve even hit play.

    Now we get to the listening. Usually, this is spread across six days (Mon – Sat) with a minimum of 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening. That gives me 12 hours from which to form a first impression, dig into a unit’s more advanced functionality, try it with alternative gear and take notes along the way. After spending six of those twelve hours on the unit itself (more if it has myriad functionality), I’ll get to comparisons with similarly priced alternatives — that eats the other six hours. My working week has now clocked up 13.5 hours.

    Time to write the video script based on the listening and comparison notes. I usually set aside 3 hours for this so that I have sufficient time to check any specs, pricing and features that I may quote in the video directly because, unlike written reviews, there is no correcting them afterwards. Running total: 16.5 hours.

    Next comes shooting day. I spend one hour setting up the furniture, the lights and the gear under review (plus ancillary gear). Cameraman Olaf arrives and we shoot video for six hours. Tidy-up and tear-down takes me another hour. (Side note: I hope you didn’t forget that even on shooting day, I spend 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening listening to and testing gear). All up: setup, shooting video and teardown bring our running total for the week to 24.5 hours.

    Olaf takes the footage home, colour grades it and then calls me when it’s ready. I bike on over to his house, collect the footage, chat with Olaf about any issues or running changes we need to make and then head home. This round trip takes 1 hour. I load the colour-graded clips into Final Cut Pro to begin the editing process. Each video is made from approximately 150 clips: 20 or so of me as a talking head and the rest as b-roll (see header image above). The talking head timeline takes 3 hours to rough cut and then finalise. Onto this, the b-roll clips must be carefully (and surgically) cut and placed — this takes a whopping 8 hours. Why? I have to ensure that the b-roll reflects what I am talking about in the main timeline where I also have to hide as many jump cuts as possible. Running total: 36.5 hours.

    With the editing process’ back now broken, I add the graphic labels and text animations (2 hours) and select the music that will score the interludes (1 hour). Of course, music isn’t just plopped into the project. It must be cut to length, the video clips cut to sounds heard in the music and its fadeout executed so that it crossfades into my voice just no. Another 2 hours. Hello, 41.5 hours.

    Almost as labour intensive as the b-roll cutting and placement are the playback checks. These checks require my undivided attention and usually number four: one when I think I’m nearing completion, a second that hopefully corrects errors found in the first, a third as an export from Final Cut Pro and a fourth once the video has been uploaded to YouTube. With each video’s runtime around 20-25 mins, these four playback checks can eat up to 2 hours. My working week is now at 43.5 hours but we’re not quite done with the video yet.

    Every YouTube video needs a thumbnail. That’s the graphic you see before you click play. It can make or break a video’s success on YouTube. I usually build two or three versions and this takes me around an hour. Filling out the description box takes 30 mins. With 45 hours of work behind me, I am now ready to hit ‘publish’ on the video.

    And all of this video production comes before anything written on this website, videos made for my Patreon or a podcast episode is recorded and edited. Even when prioritising work that benefits the many (and not individuals), my working week nudges 70 hours.

    Moreover, because the 45 hours of my time that go into each video – plus Olaf’s not inconsiderable day rate – are financed by Patreon and an ever-decreasing pool of advertisers, each video can be supplied to you (and Roger) completely free of charge.

    This isn’t a complaint. I am totally fine with putting in the long hours needed to make each video. I also have no issue with viewers getting to watch the end result for ‘nowt. But beyond video production, podcast production, Patreon content production and this website’s needs, I have no more (time) to give after 70 hours in the saddle. Sorry, Roger.

    If anything, I need to reclaim some of that time for myself…

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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