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Do-It-Yourself: How Peter Hollens Balances Business & Creating

July 13, 2016 | Written by: Stem

As the old idiom goes, “Experience is the best teacher.”

This idea can be applied to almost any facet of life; as we grow and experience more, we learn. For the career of a creator, it’s no different; experience can help artists create more efficiently, optimize their time and even learn how to control their own business. Experience and education go hand-in-hand.

This thought process is not lost on Peter Hollens, whose resume boasts his experience as a singer, songwriter, producer, leader and entrepreneur. With nearly 1.4 million YouTube subscribers, over 180 million views, over one-hundred digital singles and collaborations with artists like Lindsey Stirling, Jason Mraz and Tyler Ward, Hollens’ hard work in pursuit of his passion has yielded incredible success.

The most exciting part, however, is that Peter Hollens is completely self-managed.

We had the chance to have a very candid conversation with Hollens at the Stem HQ about his career and how he finds balance. Read on to learn what drove him to manage his own business, how he stays organized and how aspiring creators can take advantage of the resources available to them.

Peter Hollens at the Stem office in Los Angeles, CA (June, 2016)

You have almost 1.4 million subscribers and over 180 million views on YouTube, and you’re completely self-managed. What drove you to want to be in control of your own business?

I think just the sense that no one advocates for me as much as I do.

Early on, my first experience with an MCN was bad. So, right away I thought, ‘Why would I need a middle man when I can just talk to people?’

I also just like learning. I like learning the lay of the land of how something works; even if I’m leaving money on the table, I’d rather learn how it works so I can do it better next time.

What tools help you to be self-sufficient as a DIY artist?

What tools don’t? You have so much at your disposal now. You have analytics across every platform — whether that’s Facebook, YouTube, Tubular — just about anything.

So you have the nuts and bolts of:

‘Is my marketing campaign working?’

‘Do any of the posts I just made have any bearing?’

‘Did the post that I literally just made on Instagram impact the number of signed CDs that I’m selling?’

There’s so many things you can look at in real time; I use everything that’s at my disposal.

Patreon is also a big part of your operation. How does it help you manage your business?

Patreon is essentially the be-all-end-all of my reliable source of income. It’s my salary, it’s the thing I keep as my number one metric to base whether not my career is going in the right direction. I don’t care about views anymore, I don’t care about sustaining a consistent growth across so many different social media platforms as much as I used to. But growing [Patreon support] substantially and increasing that week after week makes me feel at ease that I have the ability to continue producing and supporting my family.

I think anything that allows a creator to feel like they have a sustainable business model, especially sustainable income, is extremely important.

Another [platform I use to measure success], to a much less extent is money coming in from Pandora via SoundExchange because the numbers are transparent. Non-interactive streaming is where I think the rest of interactive streaming should be, where there’s a non-profit company that’s showing how many times my music is being streamed, how much I’m being paid, and consistent details that aren’t just a label’s version of, ‘Here’s a thousand pages of an excel sheet, have fun figuring out what this means.’

Peter Hollens’ YouTube channel has almost 1.4MM subscribers & over 180MM views — and he is completely self-managed

What facets of being a self-managed creator take up the most of your time? How do you find balance and stay organized to make sure everything gets done?

I have three assistants. They help me stay organized. What takes me the most time would be communicating with my fan base, communicating with my business relationships that I have to do myself. I guess even if I had a manager, I would still need to handle two hours of emails a day, no matter what. You always have so many horrible deals coming through so you want to make sure you go through your emails with a fine-tooth comb so you don’t miss anything legitimate.

What is your favorite & least favorite thing about being DIY?

Least favorite would probably be the overwhelming sense of the need to be constantly working 24/7 or constantly on. It’s not like I’m a mortgage loan officer and I go in at nine, leave at five, and don’t care what happens in-between when I’m in and out of the door. Being always on is hard.

Best thing is knowing what’s going on at all times, that I know that there isn’t a relationship that isn’t being messed around with. For example, artists are sometimes represented by managers who don’t speak and treat fellow artists the way you want them to be treating your peers. So then an artist gets upset at the other artist when the other artist has no idea what the manager is doing on their behalf.

I love knowing that I’m treating my relationships as best as possible, that I’m nurturing them and caring for them and giving back to them.

What were questions you asked potential managers, multi-channel networks (MCNs) and agents to vet them?

Everything is negotiable. Everything in life is negotiable. I don’t care if they say, ‘This is the only contract.’ Everything is negotiable. Everything is a sales pitch; if it’s word-of-mouth, it doesn’t mean anything. Unless it’s written in a contract and signed by two different people with lawyers involved, it’s not guaranteed to happen.

I would never sign an MCN deal, no matter what vertical you are, unless they had a guarantee amount of brand revenue they were going to bring me. You need to know for a fact that you’re going to get guaranteed money in brand deals that they’re going to bring you. And if they don’t, then they have to give you a check [for the difference].

There’s a lack of transparency between artists and representation. In any brand deals between you and another company, especially an MCN, you should ask to see a copy of the check that came from a brand. I want to see a copy of the check that you paid me, because one-hundred grand paid to MCN-X or manager-X, they’ll tell the creator, ‘Here’s ten grand for this.’ And the brand will have thought they were giving the creator a hundred thousand dollars. Then they’ll be upset that there was only so much production done, and the creator won’t understand why the brand is upset, when in reality, the the middle man in between can hijack a bunch of money.

We all know this type of thing has happened for years across many verticals, not just ours. It’s about time we utilize the technology of our time to create clarity and transparency and never allow this type of behavior to happen again. And guess what? If you’re dealing with companies that won’t give you that type of transparency, you can come to your own conclusion why that is.

You often collaborate on videos with your wife, Evynne. How do you find balance between your personal and professional lives? What can other creators learn from your relationship?

We’ve always constantly worked together. Even after we got married, we went off and sang on cruise ships together, and she was my boss in a very close space. So, I learned quickly to do what the wife wants so that we’re both happy. Make the wife happy.

Know what each other’s strengths are, and be real with yourself about what your weaknesses are so that you can help each other become better people, stronger people and stronger artists as a whole. We are very transparent with each other with what we’re good at and what we’re not good at. We balance each other out; she’s really good at performing live, I’m really good at recording. It’s important to learn from that and balance.

Working together and living together are two stressful things, so we will always constantly have one date a week where we don’t talk about work, we’re just normal. Even though she would like to talk about work all the time.

It’s also important to give her her own circle. I’m not constantly hovering around her trying to tell her what to do, and vice versa, because that would not fly. Space is important. Even if you are the most lovely lovers and you always want to be constantly around each other, at some point you’re going to explode unless you allow some sort of semblance of letting the person breathe and be themselves.

You lend your expertise to many panels at events like Playlist Live & VidCon. How can creators attending events like these for the first time get the most out of it?

Number one: Go to the panels that interest you.

Number two, which is even more important, is try to make connections with people. I think networking and creating real relationships is most important. Following up with panelists, if you think you can provide some true value to them, maybe they’ll actually reach back to you when you give them your business card. Or, more importantly, with the people in the panels with you, introduce yourself and be outgoing. And then just common-sense business 101: finding out what the other person does, how you can help them, try to provide value in other people’s lives.

Collaboration is talked about so much in our community, but in a larger sense, collaboration should be more holistic, like, ‘What are you using?’ ‘What other companies are helping you?’ If you’re collaborating on a specific level, if you’re two creators, one can shoot video and the other can produce and engineer audio, you can collaborate behind the scenes. You don’t have to be just doing a collaboration and exchanging fans. Collaborating can be knowledge, time, anything.

What’s your advice for creators that want to do what you do?

Educate yourself. Read up online about the industry, take business classes, learn how to manage money, connect with a lawyer and others who can help you.

Make sure you’re going into this for the right reason. You know you were born to create, you are incredibly hard-working and driven, you’re willing to sacrifice hobbies, friends to do what you love for a living. I think that’s what this amazing opportunity in front of us is; you have so many companies that are willing to support you so that you can create, but in order to do so you need to work your butt off. You need to create unique content, you need to do something that’s authentic to who you are that is truly fun for you so that you love the work. If you don’t love the grind, if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re not going to succeed. If you’re doing this for any reason that’s even remotely near being famous or making a fortune, you’re gonna fail.

Be honest, be open, try to look at your peers as peers and not competitors. Constantly innovate — if you’re going to to keep doing the same thing over and over again, even if it succeeds in the beginning, it’s going to get stale. You have to constantly innovate and constantly better your craft in a multitude of ways.

Watch Peter Hollens’ videos on YouTube.

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Interview questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity. Views expressed by the creator reflect their own.