🔴 It took 13 years ...

How to diversify a creator business ft. Andrew Southworth (YouTuber, musician, newsletter writer, and marketer)

Your guide to the newsletter world — new stories every Friday. Brought to you by beehiiv.

Today’s guest, Andrew Southworth, became a mechanical engineer to become a musician. Last year he was able to quit his day job to make music and help other people market their own music full-time. His most visible work is on YouTube, but he has a newsletter, courses, an agency — he does it all. We spoke about:

  • 📆 A 13-year-long bet to become a creator-entrepreneur

  • 🪴 How to diversify effectively as a creator

  • 🤔 Can you over-diversify?

— Francis Zierer, Editor

P.S. We have a podcast! Listen to Andrew and I in conversation on Spotify, Apple, or YouTube. It’s a tight 30 minutes.

“You're collecting data, you're putting it in graphs and spreadsheets, and you're interpreting the data to make a decision about what to do. And so marketing, engineering, they’re not really that different.

Business can be a little more different, but it's, again, a numbers game. It's all about trial and error: doing something, collecting data, figuring out what happened. And so, growing a YouTube channel, it's kind of the same thing.”

The long road to a dream

Andrew Southworth started playing guitar at 12, singing at 14, and doing both in front of a camera, then uploading the results to YouTube, at 16. He wanted to grow up and become a professional musician — he dreamed of attending the prestigious Berklee College of Music.

That dream almost came true: at the end of high school, he applied to Berklee, got in, even registered his @berklee.edu email address, and then decided not to go: the $50,000-per-year tuition was too steep.

Instead, Andrew played the long game. In 2011, he went to college for mechanical engineering, knowing he’d be able to get a lucrative job and pay for music gear, recording time, and marketing. By 2018, he’d finished his master’s degree and secured a well-paying job.

At no point did Andrew stop working on his music or uploading YouTube videos. Yes, college coursework and various jobs pushed the passion projects to the bottom of his priorities for a few years — he stopped making as many songs and videos — but after the master’s degree, he was all-in once again, often working 80 hours a week across his day job and music.

Finally, In August 2023, only five years after completing his master’s, Andrew could quit his engineering job to work in music full-time. His side project income had surpassed his full-time income; thirteen years after saying no to Berklee, the long bet paid off.

A business built on a YouTube audience

Today, Andrew has nearly 70k YouTube subscribers. He says the first 5,000 came largely from his videos teaching screaming vocals, but the majority since have come after he refocused on music and YouTube in 2018.

After releasing two albums in 2018 that nobody really listened to, Andrew accepted that his art needed marketing. He applied an engineer’s approach to experimentation and data analysis, attracting more listeners using Facebook ads and Spotify distribution tactics. And while he’d continued accruing YouTube subscribers for his lessons and his original music, educational videos on music marketing became his primary niche in 2020.

Music marketing helped Andrew’s own music, but all the more, it allowed him to become his own boss. Anyone can make a song; distributing that song to thousands of people is a much tougher proposition. There was relatively little demand for his music, but there’s a high demand for his marketing skills.

In 2018, Andrew started Genera Studios, which is the umbrella for most (not all) of his various projects and business ventures. These include:

It’s a lot. I asked him why: “The reason is, I built all this stuff over time and I never had this grand vision of all the things that would come to be.” In a perfect world, he says he’d just have the Genera Studios site and his blog and newsletter would exist purely as part of the site; the problem is he’s built up traffic on these other channels and any infrastructural changes might end up hurting more than helping him in the short term.

All you need to understand about this jungle of projects is that Andrew’s educational content on YouTube is the top-of-funnel acquisition channel and all the other products are downstream.

In theory, Andrew’s audience of musicians, their managers, and record label owners could watch his videos on topics like music marketing trends and growing from zero to 2,500 monthly Spotify listeners and apply the lessons to their work themselves.

“I usually tell people to try the videos first, see what you can learn. And then often people, depending on their learning style, they'll either go to the course or they'll book a call with me.

And then some people are just like, I don't want to do this myself. I want nothing to do with this. This looks horrible. I hate this. Can I just hire you to do it?”

In other words, members of Andrew’s audience with more time than money buy courses, while members with more money than time buy his agency’s services directly. He started off selling courses and added consultation services later.

Newsletters aren’t (necessarily) email marketing

Music Marketing Monday, Andrew’s newsletter, launched in June 2023. Characteristically, he learned about a tool (beehiiv), saw an opportunity to efficiently diversify his output, and quickly took it — he had a blog, and he’d done some email marketing, but he’d never done a newsletter.

“When I think of a newsletter compared to an email marketing blast, an email marketing blast is usually short, straight to the point, gives people an offer. When I think of a newsletter, each one should be as valuable as a blog post. It should have some chunk of information that people can walk away with.”

Pre-launch, Andrew had an email list of 7k he’d built over the years, largely through his Facebook ads and CTAs in his YouTube videos. Today, one year later, the list sits around 10.5k.

A dream delivered

As a 16-year-old uploading videos to YouTube for the first time, Andrew did not plan on any of this; he just wanted to make music.

In August, it will be one year since Andrew quit his mechanical engineering job. He’d been building up to that point for years, saving two years of his mortgage and pushing the various Genera Studios revenue streams higher than his full-time salary. I asked him if he’s happy with the business a year on:

“If you were to look at this month compared to a random month a year ago, I'm almost definitely profiting less, but I'm also not working 80 hours a week anymore, which I'm super glad about because I was just getting so burnt out after doing so many years of it.

Some weeks get overwhelming, and things go wrong, and then I'm working crazy hours. But for the most part, it's a lot more stable now. I feel like the things I'm doing now, I could do forever and I'm happy doing them. But that being said, you know, I'm always looking for how I can grow and scale things.”

Andrew created his YouTube account in 2006 and started posting in 2008. He has not stopped since — he has posted 720 videos in 16 years. His earliest videos are of him illustrating guitar picking exercises, and his latest are about navigating Spotify features as a musician; his instinct has always been to educate. And he’s made quite the business of it.

“[In 2008,] YouTube wasn't this thing you could even make a business out of. It was this silly platform you’d upload fun videos on. And I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

You can connect with Andrew on LinkedIn or Twitter.

For the full story, listen to our podcast on Spotify, Apple, or YouTube.

🎙️ In Andrew’s episode of The Creator Spotlight Podcast:

  • 🤔 Advice for creators (regardless of niche or medium)

  • 🤝 When and why to hire outside help as a creator

  • 📺️ Lessons from 16 years of being a YouTuber

Listen on Spotify, Apple, or YouTube.

Diversification is the difference between creating content and being a creator-entrepreneur

Andrew’s story is one of diversification nearly from the start. He realized that a music education could not reliably produce a good income, so he studied mechanical engineering to support the music; it was all of a piece.

His business today is almost over-diversified. There’s a balance to be struck between quantity and quality; looking across his full portfolio of projects, some are clearly less cared for than others. He knows this. His expansions have been opportunistic, not rigorously planned, and the only reason he hasn’t consolidated is because it will take a great deal of work and incur short-term risks.

Look: you do not need me to tell you that diversification = good. It’s as basic a business truism as there is. But the lesson here is, for creators, is twofold:

  1. Have a bias towards action; an idea only had is action not taken; an idea acted upon is (at the very least) experience gained. But plan first; avoid creating a consolidation debt down the road.

  2. Experiment (diversify) early and often. Andrew spent 13 years getting a mechanical engineering degree as a diversification strategy for his primary goal of working in and around music.

Andrew’s instinct to diversify goes beyond what we can see in his business; he told me he has five savings accounts across which he evenly distributes his money.

“I'm glad I have five savings accounts, right? Because all five [banks] aren't gonna go under. I do the same thing for my content.

Like, I feel like YouTube's going great right now. How can I have my blog do even better? The blog's doing well, how can I make the Instagram do better? I'm always paranoid. I'm always just trying to diversify so that if the worst thing should happen, it won't be that bad.”

Two pieces of content we’re interested in this week.

  • Three months ago we published a feature on Andrew Huang, who also happens to be a music-education-focused YouTuber. It’s a good story about the outcome of concentrating hard work in a short period of time and a lesson in prioritizing what to work on as a creator.

  • Emanuel Maiberg at 404 Media wrote a fascinating longread about “autoblogs” — AI-powered websites ripping off other websites — and the people who make them.

Thank you for reading. Check out Andrew’s episode of our podcast if you want more — on Spotify, Apple, or YouTube.

Next week’s guest is Kate Lindsay, an internet culture writer who writes her own newsletter to 34k+ subscribers and edits another. She was generous with behind-the-scenes details and I love how she thinks about the format.

And if you missed last week’s story about what a successful newsletter acquisition looks like, read it here.

Talk soon,
Francis Zierer, Editor
Twitter / LinkedIn

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