Welcome to Creators Going Pro, where in partnership with Semaphore — a creator-focused family of companies providing business and financial services to social media professionals — we profile professional YouTube stars who have hit it big by doing what they love. Each week, we’ll chat with a creator about the business side of their channel, including identifying their Semaphore Moment — the moment they truly went pro.
Sam Golbach and Colby Brock didn’t want to be YouTubers.
The duo started off making Byte-sized comedy videos on Vine, where their shared account amassed more than one million followers. They knew they loved making digital content there, but when the app abruptly shuttered in 2016, they weren’t as enthusiastic as other creators about bumping over to YouTube. They’d made some videos there before, but establishing a presence on the world’s largest video sharing site meant making an entirely different kind of content than what they enjoyed doing on Vine.
For a while, the two tried chasing viewers by hitting on some of YouTube’s trends — things like challenges, tags, and Q&As. But the sizable, engaged audience they’d had on Vine didn’t show up for them on YouTube, and once YouTube became their sole content creation platform, that was a serious challenge for their careers.
Looking back, the pair say their early YouTube content wasn’t super successful because they weren’t actually enjoying what they were making. Things only changed for them in late 2016, when they dropped trend-following and instead started documenting something they genuinely loved doing: exploring abandoned buildings. Judging solely by view counts, the difference is apparent; their “trendy” videos have a few hundred thousand views, but their first two exploration videos have 2.2 million and 4.4 million.
Since then, Golbach and Brock have been pushing into ever more exciting exploration content, establishing themselves as a go-to destination for peeps at haunted buildings, creepy caves, and potential paranormal phenomena. They’ve also lengthened their content, and often upload multipart series or feature-length films (such as the one below). Their channel now has 3.74M subscribers and brings an average of 25M views per month — and it’s served as a springboard for their other ventures, including their new Snapchat original, Stranded, and their new mental health service, Meta Life.
After years of effort, we welcome you to the #MetaLife Project!
when we started social media we had a dream of changing lives and we have worked towards that goal ever since.
— Sam and Colby (@SamandColby) November 17, 2019
Launched last month, Meta Life is a subscription-based, interactive platform that offers emotional health tips and life skill lessons wrapped in videos and posts from the duo. They’re actively involved in the service’s community, and respond to users’ comments and questions on Meta Life’s forums. Subscribers pay $19 per month (or $97 per year); the two chose to charge for Meta Life because they want to put money toward bringing experts on board and conducting research into relevant mental/emotional health topics.
While Meta Life is designed to become a safe-space social network, it’s also a place where Golbach and Brock offer up big-brother-esque mentoring — the kind of thing they wish they’d had when they were younger.
“It took years of trial and error after reading books, watching online courses, and throwing ourselves outside our comfort zones to learn the life skills we wanted to,” Golbach said about the platform’s debut. “I would’ve killed to have a friend or an older sibling to just walk me through the same steps. We realized that we could be that friend to so many others and help them along the same journey.”
To mark the launch of Meta Life, Golbach and Brock sat down with us to talk about their path from Vine to YouTube, why they’re so passionate about protecting their followers’ mental health, and what they have planned for the future.
Check out our chat with them below.
Tubefilter: Let’s go back in time a bit! For those who may not be familiar with you, where are the two of you from? What did you get up to in ye olde days before YouTube? How did you meet?
Sam Golbach and Colby Brock: We are from Kansas! We used to tip cows for fun in the prairie…KIDDING. But on a serious note, we met in high school marching band camp. We were very nerdy, shy kids, and we really became friends due to the fact that we both liked this girl in band but couldn’t talk to her because we were terrified of girls. But since there was nothing to do in Kansas, we ended up going to a lot of abandoned buildings and exploring places around the city! That’s where we got the idea for XPLR, our YouTube channel.
Tubefilter: What made you decide to launch a YouTube channel? What do you think YouTube offers you, as a content creator, to help you grow your platform and build your career?
SG & CB: We honestly didn’t want to become YouTubers! We were on Vine, but it got deleted, so we were forced to be YouTubers. We didn’t even enjoy making videos for the first three years that we made them — until we started to make videos that we genuinely found fun. When we started exploring abandoned and haunted places, we started loving YouTube, and our audience could see that, so we grew a lot! YouTube has now become the main hub where we produce content, grow our audience, and give a platform to support all of our businesses.
Tubefilter: You have a lot happening right now, starting with the launch of your new Snapchat series Stranded! Give us the show’s elevator pitch. How did it come together? Did Snapchat approach you, or . . . ?
SG & CB: Snapchat saw that we did these scary explorations, so they wanted to film a behind-the-scenes documentary about this new wave of exploring. But when we went to one of the most haunted ghost towns in the United States, Centralia, Penn., we ended up getting stranded for a few days and had to work with the crew to find our way out. This was unlike anything else we have ever filmed before, and was overall amazing content.
Tubefilter: You just launched your mental health platform Meta Life. Tell us about this project!
SG & CB: Yes, launching Meta Life was a dream come true! A project that we had a dream of creating for the last six years! Meta Life is a platform we created solely for our fans. When we were younger, there were a lot of issues, like confidence, anxiety, bullying, and other obstacles, that we struggled with, and felt like we had to figure out on our own. Ever since we started social media, we have been getting constant messages from our community members who are dealing with the same issues. So, we wanted to share the things we’ve learned along the way, and expand on those lessons by doing research and talking to experts. We hope Meta Life will be a place where we can all learn, grow, overcome challenges, and find the best ways to meet our goals — together. It’s a private, bully-free community so that we can all express ourselves without judgment and learn life skills that directly apply to our daily lives.
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for?
SG & CB: Our first check was around August of 2014, and it was a brand deal on Vine. We made only $75 to split between the two of us. That’s when we knew it was going to be a long ride ’til we could support ourselves, but it gave us hope that one day we would be able to!
Tubefilter: Along with your exploration videos, you’re known for your horror and paranormal content. What draws you to horror, and particularly to reality-bending, lo-fi, found-footage-esque horror?
SG & CB: Honestly, we love pushing boundaries and doing things that other YouTubers won’t (or can’t) do. So exploring the abandoned has always been something we found interesting because it sets us apart from all the rest! And after doing that for a few years, we were really intrigued about the paranormal. Both of us were veryyyy skeptical about ghosts (and, quite frankly, even religion for me [Sam] personally). We found the stories and the idea that there is something more to this world just so fascinating that we knew we had to try it out, and after some pretty incredible experiences, we now definitely believe in the paranormal. And although personally we do it to prove something more to ourselves, we do think generally the world is always interested in things that are not yet proven…so it usually is a pretty popular subject!
Tubefilter: Why is Meta Life, and mental health activism in general, so important to you?
SG & CB: It’s important to us because we’ve been in dark spots in our lives before! We relate to the people and the fans who are going through what we once did. It almost felt selfish, in a way, to not share this information with someone who may think there is no hope for them. Sometimes all you need is a support group and someone who will listen. Meta Life is the perfect platform to provide that.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realized you were a professional creator?
SG & CB: I don’t think there’s ever been a SPECIFIC time we both sat down and realized we were professional creators. But as of this past year (2019), our content on all platforms has elevated tremendously and really made us realize the impact we were having on some people. Especially after winning a Teen Choice Award, when I used to watch the people we were up against on YouTube years prior.
Tubefilter: How do things shake out behind the scenes? Do each of you work on tasks like editing, etc.? How do you come up with ideas for videos and pick new places to explore?
SG & CB: So this is how it goes. I (Colby) will usually take all of the footage from a specific series and cut it down, make sure there’s no unnecessary clips, and so on. Then I hand it over to Sam, who does the effects, music, title cards…basically everything else. It’s split up pretty evenly with the workload! And it’s super easy to come up with ideas now since we’ve been doing this for so long. Fans give us new ideas of places to go explore and investigate on the daily.
Tubefilter: Similar question here for Meta Life. Have you each worked on different parts of the platform? Who else is working on ML with you?
SG & CB: Yeah, so it’s pretty much all even! We are together for every call, every email, every text, etc. There’s never a time when one of us is not present, because we are both so invested into this. We have a whole team who have helped us so much to make this dream a reality, which we are incredibly thankful for! But also, to make sure the content is very credible, we partner with experts to help us with every video, and also have partnered with organizations such as Love Is Louder, which has really helped with the idea creation and course structures!
Tubefilter: How long does it take you, on average, to put together a video, from conception to upload?
SG & CB: Wow, it varies. Depending on where we travel to, to the amount of footage we captured, to juggling all of our other social medias and personal YouTube channels, it’s hard to say an exact number. But we DEFINITELY put in more than 50 hours of work into our series. The editing process alone can be eight to 10 hours per video, and we usually have four videos per series, so that’s already 40 hours. It’s a lot, and we do everything on our own.
Tubefilter: Do you have anyone else working with you behind the scenes at all?
SG & CB>: Our team is incredibly helpful! Without them, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish half the stuff we are doing! We have managers, an agency, we are in the process of having editors, and we have a huge friend group who is always helping us film our videos, which makes everything easier. And it just helps that there are two of us. Splitting up ideas, work, and ultimately the stress of a business between multiple people is the best part about being a duo.
Tubefilter: What do you think is the most vital skill you possess as a creator?
SG & CB: Our mentality about the whole process! We aren’t doing this whole social media thing just to become famous or rich; we truly started our social media in order to make a change and have a connection with our audience. We think the fact that we are able to portray this mentality to our supporters creates almost like a friendship bond that is so much more than a normal “fan to creator” bond.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you, your channel, and Meta Life? What are you building toward?
SG & CB: We strive to be the best ghost hunters on YouTube. We want to be the kings of horror and entertain millions of people. As long as that keeps scaling the way it has been, we are happy! As for Meta Life, it’s something we’ve always wanted to evolve into school programs and other creators fandoms. At some point in the future, we don’t necessarily want to be the face of Meta Life. We would like it to be a completely universal platform for people of all ages where they can go and work on becoming the best possible versions of themselves. It would be cool to someday have other creators and/or celebrities be a part of this project and share their stories.
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