How to Edit YouTube Videos

How to Edit YouTube Videos

Our increasingly social-media-based society is speckled with more than a few markedly successful YouTube channels yet the embrace of YouTube by those within the film industry was virtually nonexistent for the first few years of the site. The apple-red streaming service did not have the same unspoken artistic integrity we found within the sacred 4-sided frames of our favorite films. It seemed that YouTube was reserved for something “less-than” what we as filmmakers were capable of committing to the screen. Yet, after a short period of incubation, YouTube managed to ignite a spark of inspiration from within the hearts of tutorial-based aficionados, the DIY community, and yes — even soon-to-be respected filmmakers.

Now, YouTube is one of the main sources for video content consumption. The website has built icons and careers from the ground up, upload by upload, subscription by subscription. And, though the website is free to access, it has lined the pockets of creators from all walks of life, ages, and talents (or lack thereof). But, how does one harness the power of YouTube, and tame it to their own financial benefit? What is the secret to a YouTube channel keeping one’s lights on?

Our suggestions for how to edit YouTube videos include:

  1. Watch high-performing content and find what makes viewers tick.
  2. Make sure your design and editorial voice are consistent across content.
  3. Watch tutorials to gain attention-getting editing skills.
  4. Reflect on what makes your most popular videos hits and what makes your less popular videos not as interesting.

Hidden In Plain “Site”

It’s no secret that YouTube is literally one of the most popular websites ever conceived. The site receives more viewer traffic than any live television station, especially by way of the younger generations. Increasingly, and interestingly, through an unspoken trial-and-error, YouTube channels have built and maintained multiple formats for what hooks and sustains a channel’s following. Since the site’s genesis in 2005, this coveted mass following is the coveted Holy Grail of the digital age.

A mass following is the dream for which every creator on the site strives to obtain. Yet, the creators who do achieve (and sustain) this following all have one unmistakable ace in the hole; the person behind the curtain. Yes, it can all be summed up (within reason) to a singular element needed for success BEYOND the viral cat meme: you need a rockstar Editor.

Now, mind you, there are caveats within the following applicable guidelines. As with all things in the film world, it is longevity you should seek within the market, and prepare yourself to be “wrong” often. Failing your way to the top is essential within the entertainment industry, and whether you are choosing to create your own YouTube channel, edit YouTube videos for a third party, or looking to expand your clientele base through editing YouTube content in your spare time; it is ESSENTIAL for one to first accept that a following doesn’t happen overnight. Adding onto that, when a video IS a viral sensation overnight, (*cough* cat memes *cough*) it doesn’t last long because this type of YouTube content often lacks any of the artistic integrity that you as a filmmaker are hopefully squaring up to achieve within your work.

With social media especially, there is no one right way to execute a plan of action, but after keeping my own lights on by editing YouTube videos for both personal clients and major brands over the last few years, I would like to share with you a few crucial pillars of support I wish I had been conscious of before I dove into the turbulent waters of content creation…

Personality Intuition

We’ve often heard of the X- Factor that comes with performers — the unique charismatic blend associated with each of the personalities honored between La Brea and Gower on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Also referred to as “The It Factor,” this personality trait is an essential checkmark for keeping the masses intrigued with a performance, an act, or even an edit. Yes, even the blending of images and sound designs can have a charismatic allure and personality of its own!

Often Editors at the beginning of their YouTube careers, (or any film-related endeavors) attempt a basic cut and dry approach. Meaning, they are entirely basic in their execution of editorial presentation. Replicating what’s been done is a great way to discover your own style but you must set out to do MORE than just getting from Point A to Point B. We learn the rules to break them. It is very important for one to breathe not only life but personality into their digital work. Whether this is unique transitions, playful jump-cuts, or cartoonish sound effects, choices must be made. Would you watch your own video? Would you enjoy it BEYOND the fact that it’s your own work? Once it’s off to the races, your intuition for visual interest will become more clear: what “works” will be revealed to you, but only if you dare to be different.

Showcasing Style & Creativity

In the same vein as bringing personality to a digital landscape, an Editor must find their OWN expression of the craft, or they run the risk of everything they create being unoriginal, predictable, and down-right boring. You can have the greatest host, shot with the greatest camera, in a professional studio — but if the Editor doesn’t embrace the life within the media, and use their own original creativity and style to assemble it into a finished export, then it’s all for nothing.

There is no book (or blog post) that can guide an artist to their own style. The only way to discover the distinct flair you will be known for is to immerse yourself in the content you’re creating and your competitor’s content. Not only is mimicry the most flattering form of compliments, it is also a compass pointing towards an elevated level for any number of skills, including video editing. Seek out videos that have already performed well and study what it is about them that is so addicting to viewers. Then, without blatantly copying anybody’s work (plagiarism is frowned upon) you can begin to craft your own framework, using the esteemed work of those who came before you as a guide.

Remember, your edits need to complement the host or narrative being communicated. It is a very fine balance we keep as the person behind the curtain. Some say that a great Editor should be completely invisible within a production; our work should aim to complement and avoid distraction. It’s our job to make “cool stuff,” essentially. The only way anything is going to be “cool” is if an Editor separates the video apart from the rest of the pack.

Replicating what’s been done is a great way to discover your own style but you must set out to do MORE than just getting from Point A to Point B. We learn the rules to break them. It is very important for one to breathe not only life but personality into their digital work.

Establishing and Maintaining Brand

Once an Editor has embraced their own creative skill, they need to then abandon all of their ideas. Or, rather, they should be emotionally prepared to morph their ideas into the window for whichever brand they’re currently working for. If you ARE your own brand, GREAT, lucky you! But the majority of content creators will be expected to utilize their skills within the tight parameters of what a company desires. Corporations and companies are very particular about their brand’s image, especially with online content. But consider this: most brands hire us Editors because they don’t know how they want to be seen. Even an already established company/brand, one sporting an online presence, is always open to new and inspiring trends.

But if you’re creating content for anything — from gardening to gaming — consistency is the golden, diamond-encrusted key. Across the board, your design and editorial voice needs to be identical between videos. The reason Diet Coke is so popular is because every time a Diet Coke is cracked-open it’s the same. Your videos need to resemble each other. The best options for maintaining a concise image across the board are found within the first fifteen seconds of every video: the opener. The titles, graphics, and (sometimes) music are what saves each video within a channel from becoming annoyingly randomized; the opener of a video communicates to the viewer what to expect. Give them a product and make it the same product every time.

Reinventing Skills

Editing video content for an online platform requires more than just 1 + 2 = 3. There is no equation for what achieves desired results. However, with ALL video editing, the name of the game is reinvention. There is one sure-fire way to watch your numbers rise: impress your viewer.

It’s the digital age! Everybody online knows what “good” content is! Good content = good editing. Even the most out-of-touch viewer can distinguish between good editing and bad editing. Good editing is woven with impressive, bold choices. Good editing includes what I like to refer to as “flexing.” Anything that widens eyes and drops jaws is flexing. Whether using Premiere, iMovie, Final Cut, or AVID, a YouTube Editor should flex. Flexing is simple, it just refers to the incorporation of visually impressive features within your edit. Don’t worry! You don’t need to fret if you’re not a skilled Editor. There are (literally) THOUSANDS of easy tutorials available online that can help you flex!

And, truthfully, these tutorials offer up an impressive list of possible options to include in your work. They take time, but adding professional-level attributes to your videos will create the generalization that your work is top-notch and of the utmost impressive skill level. Flexing can be visually creative lower-third graphics, beautiful color-grading, or captivating animations. Nobody wants to watch a video that they themselves could have created — people want to watch videos that offer more than just the bare minimum. Teaching yourself from tutorials is an excellent source to fuel your editorial reinvention.

Good editing includes what I like to refer to as “flexing.” Anything that widens eyes and drops jaws is flexing. Whether using Premiere, iMovie, Final Cut, or AVID, a YouTube Editor should flex. Flexing is simple, it just refers to the incorporation of visually impressive features within your edit.

Speed and Adaptability

As Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz says, “People come and go so quickly here.” Brace yourself. The world of content creation is a whirlwind of fast turnaround times. Even if you are your own boss, be sure to set deadlines for yourself. YouTube channels only do well if there is new content always being uploaded. The recommended output is two videos per week, in order to see even just a semblance of a following.

Yet, the most grueling and cruel aspect of editing YouTube videos comes with the reflection on how a piece of content performed. Whether a video was a huge success or a miserable failure, your clients will always want more from you. If you’re your own boss, YOU will want more from you. Again, blame for failures often won’t be attributed the host, camera, or even the owner of the channel — it will be on the Editor. It’s the Editor’s job to make sure that the videos perform well, are structured pristinely, and are both visually and socially engaging.

Adapting to popular trends is probably the most aggravating condition you will face when editing for any online platform. Whether Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube; what works always becomes what doesn’t work. What’s new always becomes old incredibly fast. Learning to prepare and anticipate where the industry is headed is so imperative to success as an Editor in this field.

Export and Upload

One of the best feelings in the world is seeing your own content perform well; watching those view numbers rise and the comments roll in becomes something of an addiction. Chasing the high of generating desired results is something you will soon come to know, as long as you take into consideration the aforementioned finer details of the biz. These tips (and a great thumbnail) will set you off on your journey into the digital realm with an advanced knowledge of not only what to expect, but how to advance. Welcome to YouTube.

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