If you haven’t already picked up a copy of my new book Living and Dying on the Internet, I want to offer you an extract from it for free. I want you to be as confident as possible buying this book: it’s the story of my YouTube channel and of social media over the last ten years and I know you’ll find it fascinating. You also have my guarantee that, if you don’t like it, I’ll buy you any other book you want instead.
Here’s the extract. You can order the book here.
I sat in Tom’s room one afternoon with my guitar and played him every track I’d written for Parrot Stories. A good producer from the start, he guided me away from two or three weaker songs and tightened the structure of what was left, getting the music to a place where we were ready to record. The studio Tom used to record Painfully Mainstream was in a basement in East London, run by a guy called Oli. The only light in the room, other than his computer screen, was a large rubber duck that had been turned into a lamp. Oli fired up an electric heater to keep us warm and told us to ignore the sound of the rats crawling in the walls.
The album cost me £600. I paid for four days of Oli’s time (committing a percentage of sales to Tom for his) and we worked over a long weekend, recording three or four songs a day. Tom wanted my music, like my videos, to feel accessible and candid. We ran around the space like children; when Tom found a toy keyboard that played animal sounds, we sampled it for the first track so the album would open with it. In between songs we would play games at the pub ’round the corner, giggling and dreaming up ideas for the next song. Parrot Stories sounds like our friendship was: naive, affectionate and whimsical. Hank offered to release it through DFTBA.
Charlie’s energies remained focused on video; he was putting much more effort into mastering video-editing techniques than the none I was putting in. While I was content to have perfected the jump cut, he was playing with split screen and green screen effects. He pushed himself to learn and implement a new technique on every video he made. I enlisted him to make the music video for ‘Holding On’, the first song I wanted to share from Parrot Stories, and offered him half of whatever money the video made. Charlie agreed. He filmed me from lots of different angles doing different things, and split the screen into four, each quadrant filled with a different me doing something unique. Off the back of his and Tom’s superb work, I sold three hundred copies of the album.
When Parrot Stories came out I was selling loads of old DVDs and video games, and I would burn copies of the album on to blank discs and include a copy free with every item I posted out. With a Sharpie I would write on to the CD explaining what the album was and that I hoped people enjoyed it. I even tried to persuade Alan and Hank to include two copies of the CD inside every physical copy of Parrot Stories, so anyone who bought it could give it to a friend. They responded with good, sensible points about value and losing money. I didn’t care about that; I just wanted everyone to hear what I’d made.
After being in a studio, hearing my songs realised the way they’d always sounded in my head, my work was unfettered. I wrote, recorded and released the whole of my next album in six months, insisting for maximum impact that every track be recorded in order.
‘I don’t know any album that’s ever been done like this,’ I gushed.
‘I think Bruce Springsteen did it with one of his live albums,’ Tom deadpanned. He was unhappy with me for not spending more time crafting the songs, and he was right: the good ones were far better than my first effort but the bad ones were far worse. After hearing one track in the studio, ‘Together Tonight’, Tom had me throw out all the lyrics and start from scratch. He concocted a new rhythm for the song and, while he and Oli went for lunch, I stayed at the desk and rewrote it (and even renamed it ‘The Time Of Your Life’ after being advised ‘that lyric comes at a more melodic part of the song’). At least that track had room for improvement. Others left Tom so bereft of options he was forced to compensate by making the tracks as unconventional as possible, so a cacophony of crunching drums and oscillating synths accompanied me as I warbled on. Tom even insisted my album cover ― a picture of me in black against a bright orange background ― was wrong.
‘This isn’t the right colour for these songs,’ he said. ‘This album is yellow.’
I had no restrictions, and yet ― in my personal life as well as my work ― I often had no idea what I was doing. The freedom of not having anyone to tell me what to do came with the uncertainty of… well, of not having anyone to tell me what to do. For better and for worse, nobody could stop me doing whatever I liked. The album reflected this, right down to the title I gave it: The World Is Mine (I Don’t Know Anything).
The second album (coming, again, with a music video created by Charlie) sold even more than the first and I gushed with relentless enthusiasm about music in video after video. In the comments, my audience let me know with similar fervour that they subscribed for comedy, that I couldn’t sing very well, that they they liked it better when I played acoustic stuff, that all I ever did was try to sell things to them, that all I cared about was money and that they were unsubscribing because I’d changed. I didn’t understand why my audience didn’t respect the artistry and entrepreneurial spirit I was offering them. ‘When Walt Disney talked about his new movie, people didn’t have a go at him for trying to sell stuff,’ I lamented, as I compared myself to one of the greatest innovators of all time.
Of all these charges, I most resented being told I was just cashing in. Money didn’t matter to me beyond having enough of it. Many of my friends and fellow YouTubers had started selling t-shirts, pin badges, posters and anything else they could print their name or face on; I was only releasing what I was proud of. My work cost me a lot of money and time, and I wasn’t forcing them to buy any of it; I made all my music available to listen to for free.
In an attempt to establish some common ground, I decided to mine my back-catalogue for something of the ‘early Nerimon’ my viewers claimed to miss and stumbled across the silly comedy piece I did about Harry Potter being gay. The video was fine but the editing could be much better and most of my larger audience wouldn’t have seen the original, so I deleted and remade it, tightening the jokes and the cuts and adding in some new things, implementing all I’d learned about vlogging over the last three years in the process.
When I uploaded ‘Harry Potter Is Gay’ this time, it caused a storm of controversy. Too many commenters believed I really had uncovered a secret layer of subtext to the Harry Potter books and argued over the authenticity of my findings with others. I had Melissa Anelli (the founder of LeakyCon) on the phone to me saying, while she understood the joke and found it funny, lots of people in her office were bothered or offended by it, assuming I was disparaging gay rights or gay people. I was again accused of having changed ― the thing I’d most sought to avoid by making the exact video I’d made in the past. With my subscriber count swelling, there were ever more people to be offended and misunderstood.
My audience, once supportive and excited to be watching my videos, now became demanding and dismissive. The more I shared about my life, the more people could find to criticise, and these weren’t the generic insults from my earlier years. People had sharp, precise judgments on my sexuality, my relationships, the way I conducted myself and my career, my hairstyle, my clothing, and what I should or should not do, say or believe. When — for my own mental well-being — I stopped replying to my comments, they didn’t like that either, taking it to mean I believed myself above them. They all signed up to a new app for sharing photos with pre-made filters, called Instagram, and were infuriated when I didn’t join them. Here’s an example of a message I got around that time (to my private email account, no less):
I’m a big fan of yours — I love your videos and all of your projects. I bought Chameleon Circuit and I think it’s amazing. I also read your diary.
I’m emailing to ask you — wtf?! Your diary is normally very well written and informative and contains your personal insights into situations which are always extremely illuminating.
But…what the hell! You haven’t added a single entry about the death of Michael Jackson!! Why?! Instead you’ve written something trivial and unimportant about some loser who’s pretending to be you on Twitter.
What I’m saying is, when you look back at your diary in years to come, you will completely miss the fact that Michael Jackson, one of the most important figures in music within the last century, died prematurely. You will instead remember that some dude was posting as you on a social networking site. Does that not sound like you’re getting your priorities mixed up??
I’m not trying to have a go, here. And you’ll probably reply (if at all) saying how it’s your diary and you can write whatever the hell you like in it. But for the sake of memory! The best diaries include insights into the major events of the day! See Samuel Pepys!
P.S. You’re probably wondering how the hell I got your private email. I can’t tell you because the guy who gave it to me will probably lose your trust/respect/friendship if I do.
P.P.S. Oh and another thing while we’re at it. You should start doing some exercise, because although you’re a skinny dude now, you’ll start putting on weight as you grow older and the sooner you start exercising, the more you can postpone it.
P.P.P.S. stop doing so many less than 3′s (<3), they're so annoying and cliche.
I made frustrated videos ranting at my subscribers. My views started to drop.
‘YouTube shouldn’t be work,’ John Green said at the time. ‘YouTube should be what you do instead of work.’ It wasn’t just the strangers watching my videos who demanded acknowledgement. All of my friends were producing online content too, and I had an ever-growing list of videos, tweets and blogs to keep up with. I needed to disconnect a little, step back and focus on what was important to me. Friendship shouldn’t come with required reading.
I unsubscribed from some of my friends’ channels and encouraged other people to detach too. I couldn’t see how I could make new things if I spent all my time discussing the old ones (and watching other people’s). My friends didn’t understand; I received angry emails accusing me of turning my back on them.
With my albums, I was finally doing what I wanted to do. YouTube wasn’t worth this hassle to me and I believed it had outlasted its value. I decided to delete my channel.
Order your copy of Living and Dying on the Internet here.
I guess a few of you bought my book or shared it with friends yesterday.
What did I just see on Amazon? It’s UNBELIEVABLE.
This is Amazon’s best-selling author charts for Cultural Studies (my book’s genre) and I’m SECOND – and ranked along with Jon Ronson, one of my favourite authors and a huge inspiration for this book.
Even crazier: I outsold Zoella for a while yesterday. ZOELLA.
Overall my book was ranked #63 across ALL books on Amazon. If we sell 2,000 copies in the UK the book becomes a bestseller and we’re already halfway there.
If you’d like to help see what fun we can have with the rankings, buy some copies for yourself or your favorite friends. You can do it right here :)
Thanks for making this a fun day. Remember, if you don’t like the book, email me your proof of purchase and I’ll buy you any other book of your choice. You have nothing to lose.
Thank you so much,
I’ll make this quick cos I know you’re busy:
I’ve written a book about my life online which I think you’ll find fascinating. It’s called Living and Dying on the Internet. I’m so sure you’ll love it that I’ll give you a guarantee – if you buy the book and don’t like it, contact me and I will buy you any book of your choice.
I know people find it hard to make time for reading and I don’t want to hold you up from something you will love. So that’s the deal. Order my book on Amazon now, and if you don’t like, I’ll buy you whatever you would rather have read instead.
Thank you so much,