Talking Social Justice, Representation and Thinking of Youtube Beyond The Onscreen: VidCon Europe

Last year, FCAD sent a group of 9 students to VidCon, the world’s largest convention about YouTube and online video. This year, I happened to be studying abroad in the country that VidCon decided to expand to: the Netherlands (just going to plug the #RUAbroad series here). For the first time, VidCon Europe was born. And when they released this announcement last summer, I knew I had to attend.

I thought it would be fun to share what I learned from VidCon Europe to hopefully benefit other creators and students into online video.

Key Highlights

Having the access to an Industry pass this year allowed me to go to all panels, including panels and workshops for industry professionals. I learned a lot from these workshops especially the panel on “unravelling the music mess.” The panel featured industry professionals from talent agencies and record labels to artists that launched their music career on YouTube. They talked about how with online video, artists can now rise to popularity and share their music without the need of a record label. “For the first time in history, artists have the control,” says Jack Keyser, talent manager at Studio 71. But, getting paid for your music can have conflicts. Should artists charge users to stream their music by using services like Apple Music or stream for free on platforms like Spotify and YouTube? This was the main conflict discussed by the panel and to summarize, the panelists shared how it makes sense to stream for free to gain a following and fanbase. Once an artist achieves that, there are alternate monetization methods like touring, booking gigs, and selling merchandise.

Though the panels on the business, money, and the ‘numbers’ side of online video were enlightening, I felt more drawn to panels regarding social issues and race representation online. Creators like Adande Thorne (Swoozie), Scola Dondo, Nathan Zed and Freddie Wong dove deep into these topics on two different panels over the weekend. Nathan Zed says, “Using satire to speak about social issues makes it easier to digest.” This is exactly how he approaches discussing social issues in his video, however, he says it can be mentally draining not only creating the content, but opening yourself up to learning about it since most of the time, it can be negative news. Lack of diversity in the media is also an issue. Swoozie discussed how often in films we see people of colour represented as minor or negative characters. He shares that his acting agency at first started off with sending him to auditions for roles like “Thug 1” and “Thug 2.” “It’s really difficult to get to where you want to go unless you’re Will Smith,” says Swoozie. “It’s something you have to make a conscious effort of to be representative,” says Freddie Wong. I’ve recorded those panels on audio. If you are interested in listening to it, get in touch with me on social media, @JanineMaral.

Favourite Moments

The social issues in online video panel focused on the amplification of social issues in YouTube videos but I was curious to know if they thought there was any harm in staying silent instead. Is it okay to just post a video without bringing social issues up, especially current political news? I really loved Scola Dondo’s response when she said that sometimes, silence speaks for itself. Despite new occurrences in the world, there’s sort of a power in creating content that is uplifting and positive which can spread that energy to their audience. A creator should not feel pressured to bring up social issues or new political events in their videos just because they have a following. Dondo says actions speak louder than words. If a creator strives for change, talking about it in a video will not create a change. Of course it will inform the audience, but acting for change will have a better outcome.

The weekend before VidCon, I went to Berlin with my class to learn about the creative and startup industry in the city. It got me really interested in Berlin and what makes that city so attractive to entrepreneurs or even Google opening a YouTube Space there (a creative hub and studio space for YouTube creators). After the first panel on Industry Day discussing marriage between traditional and new media, I built up the courage to talk to one of the speakers, Ronald Hortsman, who touched upon this specific topic in the panel. He shared how though Berlin’s creative community has grown drastically over the past few years alone. When comparing other major German cities like Munich to Berlin, Munich is expensive and an established business city. Just from that conversation alone, I feel like I learned so much about the YouTube community in Berlin but it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t approach him in the first place. Even though it was a small action I made, it pushed me outside of my comfort zone and the outcome was well worth it.

The Missing Link

Though I learned a lot at VidCon, both in Anaheim and in Amsterdam, I felt there was one missing link. After a week of reflection, I can finally pinpoint exactly what that was. Every creator panel had the theme of either becoming a YouTuber or how to grow your YouTube channel. Every industry panel was geared towards people who are already in the YouTube industry. But what about for people in between? I’m someone who’s trying to break into the YouTube industry without becoming a YouTuber. In that sense, I wouldn’t call myself a traditional “creator” but I also wouldn’t consider myself “industry” just yet. I strive to pursue a career in YouTube, just not on-screen, and I want to learn from both creators and people in the industry. YouTube is at a point where there are careers aside from being a “YouTuber” and I hope there will soon be a way for people like me to learn about breaking into the industry outside from starting my own YouTube channel. Maybe right now, the best way to learn is to just try it out myself and get hands-on experience.

Differences between VidCon Europe and VidCon US

A major difference I noticed between the two locations of the same convention is how much more international VidCon Europe was. There were people from around Europe everywhere and I think a part of that reason is because the convenience of the location, being in a major and attractive city like Amsterdam. To add to that, getting around the continent is easy; you can take a train, plane, or car and be virtually anywhere in a minimum of two hours. I met two individuals from Brussels, Lesley and Safia, who work in creative labs. They said that they have always wanted to attend VidCon but because it’s hosted in California it was way too far for them; so when they heard about the conference coming to Amsterdam, they hopped on a train to attend for the weekend.

I loved being around people who were from diverse backgrounds working and living in cities around Europe, bringing in their own knowledge and ideas all the while connecting over one common passion, online video. And I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I wasn’t studying abroad in the Netherlands.

Prior to attending VidCon Europe, it was hard to imagine a YouTube community existing in Europe, outside of the main YouTube cities like London and Los Angeles. If you were to tell me that VidCon was coming to Europe, I would have never guessed it would come to Amsterdam. But that weekend opened my eyes to just how large and growing this industry is and inspired me to think about my goals within the ever growing industry.

If you have any questions about VidCon or my #RUAbroad, message me @JanineMaral! I’d seriously love to chat about it 🙂