Friday, August 16, 2013

A Decision

This coming January, I'll have been on YouTube as disneykid1 for seven years. During that time, I've tried my best to be as honest with my viewers as possible regarding just about every aspect of what I do. And so, to continue this tradition, I'd like your input on the following. I'm sorry it's so lengthy, but it requires some explanation.

I sort through emails each week asking me to endorse products or websites or other things in my videos. I turn down ~100% of these proposals, for a variety of reasons I've discussed before. A while ago, someone asked me something on my tumblr that prompted a reply about this, as well as a story about one of these product opportunities, but I'm going to reiterate my reasons here just so they're clear.

For nearly every opportunity I've been presented with (in regards to product-type placement), I'm asked to discuss the products/company before I begin my video--basically, they want me to talk about their product for thirty seconds before I even start on what the video is actually about. To each his own, and I know I don't completely understand the reasons others have chosen to do this, but that just doesn't fly with me. I already allow pre-roll ads to run before my videos, although I make sure to use the skippable ones because my content is definitely not worth forcing you to watch thirty seconds of anything before the crap that follows. I think it would be shitty business to stack ads like that and make the viewers listen to promo after promo after promo before even getting to the core video. I don't believe that's what online video is about, or should be about. If you're okay with that many ads, you might as well watch TV.

I started YouTube at a time when making money from my videos wasn't a reality, and before the media realized they could make a pretty penny by turning all these video-making clones into their product-pushing puppets. I started creating videos to make friends and express myself via a platform I had fun experimenting with, and I've tried my hardest to stay true to that. Google eventually purchased YouTube, ads came to videos, fame came to vloggers, and the site has never been the same since. (I'll leave it up to you to decide for better or for worse.)

In the past, I've chosen not to speak about or endorse products/companies at the beginnings of my videos because I feel it cheapens the overall message and content and, in the case of many YouTubers today, making money via ads has become the main motivation of many for making videos at all. (Many of these product-pushing YouTubers try to pull the wool over your eyes and tell you otherwise. I know for a fact they're lying, but it's not my place to out specific people.)

The last (and I believe the only) product I've ever endorsed or promoted was a humorous t-shirt line a friend of mine was making about a year ago. I didn't get paid for it, and I only did it after making him promise to donate a portion of the shirt sale proceeds to a charity house for runaway LGBT youth. Otherwise, the only money I make from YouTube is from my skippable pre-roll ads and other contracted video jobs, like the work I do on Answerly for My Damn Channel, the videos I used to post on The Stylish, and other various one-time vids for other companies that don't appear on my personal channel. I consider those to be jobs that I take seriously (although they're fun for me, too), and I can sleep well knowing I'm working hard and being creative for those paychecks.

This isn't to say I still haven't been open to product placement opportunities in the past. It's just I've never been presented with a product I care to endorse or that wouldn't be weird for me to talk about. It would just be strange for me to blab to you about a pair of windshield wipers for thirty seconds and then expect to make a smooth and believable transition into my own content. It would be even stranger for me to try to sneak discussion of windshield wipers into my videos. If I did stuff like that, I wouldn't even be writing videos around my life and my experiences anymore, but around products and brands instead. I want my content and voice to remain my own, and I want my audience to trust that.

It's a whole other discussion as to whether doing any of these things is right or wrong. I've been told by various advertisers to suck it up, that this is what everyone is doing now, so I should do it, too, and be okay with it (although they usually say it much nicer). Basically, do things I don't believe are right because everyone else is doing them.

Others have said, "Who cares if I have to listen to a little blurb or advertisement before a video begins? I can stand it." It makes me sad this practice is so common now that people are okay with it. It's what people have learned to stand because it's become the norm, and I don't think that's okay. It may just be thirty seconds of speaking, but it taints the entirety of the video and makes you question the vlogger's intentions. Is the rest of what the vlogger saying real? Do they care what they say after that? Or are they just making this video to get paid?

These are all things I've discussed before, mostly on tumblr and perhaps here in old blog entries that are long gone. However, this is the part of the post where I'm going to start discussing things from a viewpoint I've never really explored before, and it's going to be really weird and might confuse you after I've condemned all these practices above. Hopefully, though, I'm able to show you where I'm at in life, explain my situation and requirements, and get some feedback from you.

This past week, I was presented with an opportunity that coincides with my rigorous requirements for participation. It's for a company that fits in with the content I make, and one that I've used before and enjoyed. What really caught my attention, though, was that the discussion of the company would come at the very end of the video--the last thirty seconds instead of the first thirty. Furthermore, I would be able to tell you I was being paid to discuss the company instead of hiding it and writing an entire video around it, which I would definitely not be okay with.

I'm not going to pretend the financial aspects of this opportunity aren't attractive to me. I recently graduated university in May and have been looking for a job to help pay off my heap of student loans. If you've been following my blog, you know I've also been having health issues here and there, and hospital and doctors and medicines are definitely not free, and all these things have slowly been eating away at the money I've been saving while in school. YouTube has never been a full-time job for me--and I've never wanted it to be, because I'm afraid of that making it mundane and changing my creative motivations--and I've only been able to do it consistently the past few years because I haven't had to worry much about things like rent (as a 25-year-old student who lives at home, whoop whoop for amazing parents) or food money--although I do use my funds to pay for things like gas, the interest on my loans while in school, my insurance, and any other debts/purchases I have or make. But it takes a lot more money to live in the real world, which I know from having lived in Philly for the couple years I was there. In the spirit of staying honest with you guys, I couldn't currently live on my own with only the money I'm making from my videos and contracted jobs. Unless I lived in a cardboard box, I guess, and even then I might be scraping by.

And so I have some options for paying my impending bills now that the real world is settling in and I'm ready to leave the nest. (There's a Birdsong joke to be made about leaving the nest, I'm sure, but I'll let you form it, yourself.) Option one: I can go out and get a full-time job (which I'm fine with--I'm not afraid of hard work--and which I've actually already been applying for) but which would also ultimately take up the majority of my life and (hopefully) fulfill it in a different way. Unfortunately, in this scenario, I would most likely slowly and gradually stop making videos altogether due to my time and brain power going towards something else.

Or, option two: I take the occasional advertising opportunity like the one I just mentioned, which fits into my rigorous set of requirements, make a little more money from that, and maintain a part-time job while also continuing to get my creative fulfillment from making YouTube videos and exploring other creative outlets, like working on a podcast (which is coming soon) and writing on my blog (which you're actually reading now, in case you haven't realized what this is).

Honestly, option two sounds a little more up my alley at this point in my life, mostly because I don't feel like I'm finished being creative online in all the ways I want to. I'm not done going on weird ghost hunts with my Louis Tomlinson doll or making funny rap songs with my friend, Sam, or drunkenly slurring while wearing a pink wig and applying Gollum makeup or recording and uploading all these things.

But after explaining all this, I want to know if it's something you, as a viewer of my content, would be okay with me doing. In addition, I want you to know I'll always be honest with you about the things I may someday promote in videos. I want you to know I will never make videos just to tack on an ad and get paid. And I want you to know that, as of now, the beginning thirty seconds of my videos is still not for sale.

On a personal note: Every day I'm feeling better. I know I've mentioned it in the past few entries (so you're probably sick of reading about it), but the medicine I'm adjusting to is keeping me in a bit of a haze for the majority of my days and occasionally making me a little crazy, which is why I haven't been as active as usual online in the past week. I ended up taking down the last entry I posted--partially because it written in a moment when I was really out of it from the meds, partially because I re-read it later and was embarrassed at how I sounded, and partially because I think it worried some people about the situation I've been dealing with, and I really don't want anyone to be worried. All you really need to know is I'm here and I'm still fighting and I'll be fighting in the future for a long, long time.

I also want to thank you for all the lovely emails and messages and vibes you guys have been sending during this unexpected downtime. I know I've been vague about this whole situation, but I can't thank everyone enough for how much they've respected my privacy while simply sending their best. Y'all know I hate the mushy emotional shit, but it needed to be said. So thank you. And if you're confused by all this love-type crap I'm spewing and are craving some good ol' fashion Joseph Birdsong verbal abuse, I'm back to tweeting so I'm sure there will be much more of that very soon.

Oh, and one more things for you Animal Crossers:

Let me know if you visit!

EDIT: Wow, I couldn't have asked for better responses to this--and from just about everywhere: Twitter, Tumblr, email, and, of course, the comments (although I know a few of you had trouble posting. Blogger's comment system seems to be buggy, but I appreciate you getting a hold of me in any way you could). I promise to continue being transparent by letting you know--either here or in my video descriptions--about any paid opportunities I take on that crop up in what I do. Thanks for all the input, for giving me new ways to look at things, and just thanks again, for everything.