Lessons learnt from starting a Let’s Play channel

Did you know I do video game let’s plays? Well now you do and it’s been an interesting journey starting up the YouTube channel. I’ve also learnt about what it takes to make your voice sound pitch perfect using amateur equipment.

I can’t say that I’m an expert on doing let’s plays, but I have a few tips I can share to make starting your own channel a little easier.

Equipment

You don’t have to break the bank in order to do a let’s play; however, you do need some quality equipment if you’re going to reach a semi-professional level of recording.

What you’ll need:

Microphone

Blue Microphone is often the go-to brand for most young let’s players with the Yeti and Snowball giving you an affordable option to record high-quality sound. I use a Blue Snowball microphone for most recordings and it works pretty well. However, there are other options out there.

The Zoom H1 is a portable recorder that can have a stereo microphone plugged right into it. The device can also record on its mics for stereo recording. Zoom is also a great company that produces extremely high-quality products. They also have a range of external audio recorders, so the H1 isn’t your only option when you start shopping.

With an external recorder like the Zoom H1, you’ll also have to invest in a lavalier microphone so you can actually record good sound. A lav mic is great because it just attaches to your shirt and it’ll help you avoid blowback/background sound. There’s nothing worse than hearing a phone ringing in the background or someone huffing and puffing into the microphone. With the proper microphone you can let your voice ring out onto the Internet clean, clear, and under 6 decibels.

Recording software

Initially, I started recording videos with Fraps. It is a powerful program that will allow you to record high-definition video. Unfortunately, it’s also a bit lacking in options. Most Fraps users initially get pretty angry when they’ve finished a recording only to find that their files equal about a tenth of their hard drive. It also won’t work on game that don’t use DirectX, so you can feel a bit limited in the games you’d like to play, especially if you like doing retro games.

The program I’m currently using to do recordings is OBS. Open Broadcasting Software is primarily a piece of software for streaming, but it can also record video. It’s also free…, but the creator definitely appreciates donations. In order to record video, the software can do it in two ways: recording the game or recording your screen. Often when using the game capture options, OBS won’t be able to recognize older games; however, the screen capture mode can.

Another benefit are the smaller file sizes that OBS is able to create, but don’t sacrifice your bitrate for a quicker upload to YouTube.

These are the two programs I’ve used in the past, but they both have challenges. This is where testing your games before your record is extremely important. I had a huge playthrough of Darkest Dungeon planned a few months ago in order to push into modern gaming. That didn’t happen because OBS wasn’t optimized to record audio from the game, so I lost two hours worth of stuff.

Video editing programs

Initially, I began editing my videos with Adobe Premiere Pro CS2, which is actually free to download. You need to go to this link and sign up for an account. I was able to download the program because back in 2013 Adobe released the Creative Suite for free and they’ve been doing everything they can to hide the programs from the public.

I used it for a good, long while. However, it has limitations in that it cannot read or edit .mp4 files. Using a free program like Handbreak can help fix that by transcoding an .mp4 into an .flv or .avi file that the video editing program can understand. It’s an extra step, but it’s all free software.

After that, I decided to spend a little money and invested in Adobe Elements 13. This is a great program if you’re looking for something that will give you the most basic of basic control over editing. It’s also an extremely stable program that, at least in my experience, has only crashed once since I started using it. However, it’s missing all of the bells and whistles the other version of Premier Pro have at its beck and call.

If you’re a Mac user, you can count yourself pretty damn lucky. For about $285, you can download Final Cut Pro. This is pretty much a professional grade level editing software and the price you pay is extremely reasonable compared to the extreme amounts charged by Adobe for their products.

After that, I started using a program that I’m not going to mention in this blogpost…

Anyway, there are definitely options out there for video editing software needs. Choose your program based on ease of use rather over everything else. If you’re going to be editing a huge let’s play for hours, you need a program that will work with your computer and ensure it won’t die in the middle of a big edit. Elements might be your best friend or perhaps you can find someone in a back alley on the Internet to help you find an even better version of the program.

Branding

Finding a good brand requires a lot of thought and time spent using Photoshop. I’m lucky to have a brother who is also a graphic designer, so I had that covered going into developing the channel. It’s good to have a least three things figured out before you go public:

A Gimmick: When I say ‘a gimmick’, I don’t mean trying to sound like Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z or getting drunk while you play (which are things that people have done). I mean, you need something that makes you stand out from the crowd. We chose to do cover retro games with a focus on point and click games. While that might not be too unique, I managed to get a pretty good foothold on providing content for games like Starship Titanic and series like Pajama Sam. I figured people aren’t looking for someone who will play the next Call of Duty game or an exhaustive Let’s Play of Final Fantasy VII, people are looking to scratch that “What was that game from 1998??” itch that sometime crops up as you get older.

A Consistent Look: Pick a few colours, pick a typeface, and a consistent aesthetic. While it’s good to keep your brand evolving it’s also important to stay on message. Super Slime Brothers is about using neon colours, jungle graphics, and slime throughout our brand. Admittedly, my brother’s a little better at keeping that up; however, there’s nothing better than having an “look” for your channel that will become part of your visual brand.

Presentation: Do you like having your face at the top corner of the screen? Do you like hiding behind the veil of the game with just a voice over? Do you like having thirty people talking all at once during your let’s play? Although I can’t vouch for that last option the best idea is to pick one style of let’s play and stick with it. A good idea is also to take a look at your subscribers on YouTube and see what channels they’re subscribed to. Do they like let’s plays where the speaker shows his or her face? Well you might want to put on some makeup and get some lighting.

Finding your voice

This is, perhaps, the most important part of doing a let’s play. You need a voice… and by that I mean you need a voice with at least a smidgen of personality. Hey, I can’t claim to have a great sounding voice. I hear it all of the freaking time because of my full-time job and because of these let’s plays.

My biggest piece of advice is the same eye-rolling one you get from role models everywhere: Be Your Self. However, it’s important to be aware of who you are.

Do you have an annoying tick that causes you to scream into the microphone every 20 seconds? You might want to try to curb that.

Do you feel shaky and uncomfortable in front of the microphone, but love talking with your friends? Well maybe you need a collaborator for your channel.

Are you planning to have someone Skype into your video? Well you might as well stop making let’s play videos right now…

Another piece of advice comes from some friends who took radio production in university. Apparently you’re supposed to speak into the mic as if you’ve just experienced something pleasurable. In other words, you need to sound relaxed, at ease with yourself, and confident in belonging in front of the mic.

Lacking views? Don’t despair

I like to think that no channel immediately finds a huge audience. I think that if you’re going to start doing let’s plays you can initially expect to see very low view counts like my channel (quietly sobs). However, don’t despair because like everything else in life it all just takes time, blood, sweat and tears.

If you produce high-quality content, viewers will come. What you’ve also got to do is promote your content online through friends, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels. You never know when you’ll find a community for the videos that you create, but you want to make sure you’re extremely visible so they can find you.

It’s also a good idea to take a look at your analytics whether it’s on YouTube or on your own website. Are your viewers mostly males between the ages of 18-27? If you’re going for a retro theme for your channel, you might want to go back in time to find out what games will appeal to them the most. However, it also has to appeal to you.

And most importantly, it’s important that you like what you’re doing and you’re not just doing it to get famous. If you do that then it spoils the whole natural process for yourself. Find a niche, find a good game to play, find some friends to help you along, and just be yourself.

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