In 2020, the internet, already an essential medium for the communication of music, became completely indispensable, as the challenges of the pandemic descended upon society. With the widespread cancellation of gigs and events across vast swathes of the globe, making music for online audiences has become an increasingly pertinent topic recently.
Back at Loop 2017, Rachel K Collier took part in a discussion that brought together three music makers who are exemplary in using YouTube and social media to connect with their audience and explore their individual music and creativity. Collier has built a significant following on YouTube, and with fellow panelists Andrew Huang and Adam Neely, they’ve collectively generated millions of video views. “If I hadn’t posted a performance back in the day, I don’t think I would have built this cool career now”, says Rachel in a recent catch up interview we had with her on Zoom.
While nobody saw the challenges of 2020 on the horizon back then, Rachel’s existing work put her in a unique position to seize the opportunities that the internet offered in a world turned upside down. Four years on, with most music venues worldwide shut for over a year, the work Collier has put into connecting with her online following is more valuable than she ever imagined – it means she can continue to perform on one of the only stages left open. Along with performances, Rachel’s YouTube channel has grown to encompass gear reviews, setup walkthroughs and collaborative projects. We caught up with Rachel to ask what it’s like maintaining such a strong online presence, now the focus on the online stage is greater than ever.
“There’s really not much time in the day that I’m not looking at the screen. I don’t mind it when I’m working, but I am pretty addicted to the phone and the laptop now. Even though my music-making is also screen time, it feels different because I’m actually creating something. At the moment I’m having a massive music phase, so I’m really behind on my socials. I haven’t posted on Youtube for, like, two months but I’m having a fantastic time working on music. The way I generally tend to work is just by deadline. Sadly, if there’s no deadline, that’s when I’ll go back and work on my tunes. I’ve found that I actually use work to distract myself. The minute that I don’t have a deadline, I don’t like it because I thrive on them. Over Christmas when I took some time off, I was feeling really anxious, and felt a need to get stuck back in. You could look at it two ways – it’s either because I bloody love my work and that it’s just my life, or, that there are underlying issues I’m distracting myself from, you know?”
The sudden cancellation of plans and deadlines in 2020 gave Collier the chance to address a need that many of her fans had been expressing to her for years: to create resources tailored to beginners. Collaborating with friend and fellow music YouTuber, Mary Spender, Collier spent the better part of six months developing a full Ableton for Beginners online course.
Rachel K Collier – "Microfreaking Out"
“I always posted behind-the-scenes videos of performances in the past and people would often ask if there was anything for beginners. I wanted to try to offer that, but it was going to be a big deal. Mary and I have a similar work ethic and drive, and I think that helped a lot. I can imagine if I’d gone into a collaboration like this with someone who wasn’t on my wavelength it could have been an absolute disaster. I don’t think I would have done this alone, because it was quite daunting. It feels so nice to now say, ‘Yes, we’ve got content for beginners covered.’”
While Rachel always hoped the musicians doing her course would connect with each other, she didn't quite anticipate how much the community of participants would come to mean to her. Through the wide variety of platforms now available to music-makers online, she's now directly connected with all people working through her course, as they share their music, experiences and questions over Zoom, Discord and Twitch.
“I love talking to people, I love chatting to people. If I can share that joy with others, that makes me really happy. We’ve set up a community for our students, we’ve created challenges, and we’re encouraging the students to share them with us so I can actually see what they’re coming up with. I do feel proud when people then share what they've done.”
To the new producers in her community, Rachel is a font of enthusiasm and encouragement, and a great believer in the opportunities out there online.
“Just get stuck in, don’t hold back, cause you just never know who is going to hear it. Word gets around you know? That’s how all these little things end up becoming something. If you’re online and there are artists you love and they do cool things, definitely get involved with them.”
Between making the course, her own YouTube channel, and being commissioned to make videos for other platforms, it’s easy to see how Rachel might struggle to find time for her own music. When she does have a moment away from deadlines though, things seem to come together incredibly quickly, like her 2020 release Microfreaking Out.
“It was like, finish that job, onto the next job, finish that job, onto the next job; that’s maybe why my music took a back seat last year. In October, I thought ‘I’m going to put out a mixtape, I’m just gonna do it’. I actually needed to carve that time out for me, and put that pressure on my own music. It was really a last minute release, we put it in the system and it came out 24 hours later.”
While the variety of projects Rachel is working on continues to grow and diversify, music-making remains her main love and passion. She’s facing the same challenges as many of us in this increasingly online world, but she’s very clear on where she’s happiest.
“A successful day is a day I’m sitting here surrounded by this great equipment and being able to make music, rather than focusing on the streams, the numbers and the followers. Even though that is important to me, because it’s motivating, it’s still not the be all and end all. Sometimes, I want to be a real human and just be in the studio making tunes.”
Watch the full Loop discussion from 2017 where Rachel, Andrew Huang and Adam Neely discuss their experiences growing and maintaining an online audience for their individual music-making endeavours, and how others can make the screen their stage.
The Screen Is Your Stage