In 2018, you don’t have to live in Los Angeles, New York or Chicago to become famous.
On platforms like YouTube and Instagram, users can launch themselves into stardom without the help of agents, managers, talent scouts or auditions. With a phone or a webcam, digital content creators are establishing cult-like followings by the millions, offering audiences anything from original comedy sketches to makeup tutorials.
In Maryland, some have begun turning their social media presence into lucrative careers.
YouTube, which is owned by Google, reaches more 18-to-35-year-old viewers on mobile devices alone than any television network and hosts over a billion visitors each month, according to its website. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, boasts nearly identical numbers.
Such statistics have lured big-name advertisers to support the platforms. Content creators — sometimes referred to as influencers — can promote products or companies on their accounts for money.
YouTube earnings can range from a few extra bucks per month to over $20 million per year, depending on page views and subscribers.
Ryan Burton and Noah Taitano, the creators of the loveliveserve YouTube account, began uploading comedy sketch videos in middle school and continued uploading weekly shorts throughout high school. The two La Plata natives both attend Drexel University, where they study film and television production.
Today, with some 3.5 million YouTube subscribers, Burton and Taitano post videos every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and hope to continue growing their brand after they graduate this spring.
“It took about two years to get the ball rolling,” Taitano, 21, said, adding that they grew their subscribers from 1,000 to 100,000 during their first year of college. “After that, we [knew] we had to keep going and scale this as much as we could.”
Burton said he and his friend never planned on making money from their side hobby. He and Taitano specialize in comedy skits, parodies, pranks and pop culture commentaries for young audiences. Videos like “Blasting Inappropriate Songs in the Library (Part 2)” and “How Drake Recorded ‘God’s Plan’ ” have amassed over 32 million views combined. Now that they’re making money, they said they’re working with a talent management team in Los Angeles and hope to move there to further grow their business after graduation.
“The plan right now is to continue to do YouTube, but the space is so volatile,” Burton said. He added that eventually, the two are interested in pursuing other acting and performing opportunities.
But not all YouTube sensations have their sights set beyond the internet.
Sydney Herz, a 14-year-old gymnast from Severna Park, has amassed over 20 million YouTube page views documenting her life as an athlete, twin sister, singer and coming-of-age teen on her Sydnastical channel. Videos like “Sydney’s Night Time Routine WITH BRACES!” and “GRUELING 7TH GRADE HOMEWORK!” have accrued some 250,000 views combined.
On Instagram, some 678,000 users follow her account.
Herz’s twin brother Luke often joins her for Q&A sessions, tutorials and other family-friendly challenges. She also posts gymnastics tutorials demonstrating basic skills and floor routines. She hopes to compete in college-level gymnastics and, eventually, get a law degree.
She said her social media skills allow her to be a role model to others.
“I like to know that I’ve helped somebody,” the Severna Park High School student said. At the end of every year, she donates a couple hundred dollars to several charities. “I can be a positive influence on the younger generation, and I just really enjoy people looking up to me.”
Brothers Cyrus, Darius, Lucas and Marcus Dobre of Hagerstown also view themselves as role models to the more than 17 million followers they’ve drawn to their many YouTube channels. As gymnasts, pranksters, musicians, dancers and adventurers, the Dobre brothers said YouTube gives them the autonomy to do it all.
Still based in Maryland, the brothers have garnered over 3 billion total page views.
“Nobody’s telling us what to do — we’re directing everything,” Darius Dobre, 23, said. “It’s fun and it’s flexible and also financially, it’s doing well for us,” he said, noting that their YouTube salary has helped support the family’s luxury sports car addiction.
Dobre said he and his siblings can’t picture their lives without their YouTube career.