FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW:
Aaron Konzelman: Hello. I’m Aaron Konzelman here with American Small Business Institute, and today we are talking with the one and only Brian Brushwood.
Brian Brushwood: Hello.
Aaron Konzelman: He is a magician and illusionist extraordinaire. I would say maybe a purveyor of the bizarre.
Brian Brushwood: I like that.
Aaron Konzelman: He has built very large crowds and following through YouTube videos and the use of video content. Today that’s what we’re talking about, is building a crowd.
Brian Brushwood: Sure. I guess, whether it’s a crowd online, in the case of Scam School, we’re at nearly two million subscribers on YouTube. The Modern Rogue is only nine months old, and we’re creeping up on a half million on that one.
Aaron Konzelman: Wow.
Brian Brushwood: And yet, all of the fundamentals of what I’m doing are exactly the same as when I first learned to street perform doing my fire eating, shoving nails in my eyes magic show, on Sixth Street here in Austin nearly two decades ago.
There are a few things that I’ve learned, and it turns out that they’re the same, whether it’s on an online virtualized format or an in-person format. There are certain aspects of crowd dynamics. And I didn’t have the words for what was happening until years later I read Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence,” where he talks about the importance of social proof. Social proof is that feeling of … They are heuristics, they are clues that what you’re doing is appropriate because other people are doing the same. In other words, there’s the reason that McDonald’s says billions and billions of hamburgers are served. That’s a heuristic thing, there clearly not all poison because they’re selling a million of them. Right?
Same thing for Laugh Tracks, when you’re watching a sitcom, that’s why we love Yelp reviews, we love knowing that we’re not going to invest our time in something that’s abject garbage because it’s not like they can all be wrong.
When you’re trying to build a crowd on the street music is different than magic. In music, you can play to an empty room. You are physically capable of performing the entire song. Magic, that’s not the case. You have to have interaction, and more importantly, you have to have somebody in a place where they’re able to stay engaged so that they can remember their card or they can be amazed or have a reaction.
And what I figured out really early is whether it was on the street, or maybe at a community college, somebody would book me for a daytime show, and it was clear nobody expected there to be a magic show. What I noticed is the difference between having a nucleus and not. If I got on stage in the middle of everybody’s lunchtime break and started performing. By the end of the show, there would be people watching, but they would be in a bubble at a distance all around me. Nobody would want to penetrate that bubble, and as a result, the show wouldn’t carry.
Whereas, I realized if I just spent a little bit of time introducing myself, “Hey, I’m Brian. Did you know there’s going to be a magic show? It’s going to be great. There’s going to be fire eating, escapes, mind reading. You’re going to want to watch.” And then, I would set up just two rows of chairs at the front. And I would personally invite people, “Hey, would you mind filling this seat? Would you mind filling … As soon as you fill the seat, we can start the show.” Now, granted, I was only performing to six to eight people, but that was the nucleus, that became the gravity well around everything else sucked in.
Aaron Konzelman: The relationship between you and the audience is what made the show work.
Brian Brushwood: Correct. And that’s a great way to put it because you wanted to spell that fantasy that the art stands on its own. There is no divorcing the art experience from the interaction with the folks enjoying it. So once you had that nucleus, you could start performing, and at that point, I didn’t care who was watching. I would, of course, try to rope more and more people in as we went along, but I was performing for this guy, this one guy, who is clearly enjoying it. And that infectious energy is what made it work for everyone else.
When I started doing that online stuff I had a failed TV pilot a little over a decade ago and when I was finished I was like, “Okay, I wanna host a TV show, I need experience hosting a TV show, what can I do?” And I look, I had a couple of crappy cameras, I had a full tour, I had a partner in crime who was on the road with me, who was entertaining. So I just decided I had a show. The biggest key to growing an online audience is regularity of content, you’ve got to keep showing up every single week. If you have irregular content, people think, “Well, this isn’t very reliable, I don’t know when it’s on or whatever.” But if you can build yourself into their routine, where it’s Wednesday night, that means it’s time for another Scam School episode. They will show up every single time.
But the rest of those same key aspects matter. For example, when, in real life, you perform and the show ends, you can shape their experience even after the curtain closes, because you meet them afterward, you take photos, you answer questions, and you engage. If you look at the popularity, the views, on the Scam School channel, the first year and a half, it’s like a heartbeat, every Wednesday there’s a little bit of a blip in viewership and that’s it. Then there’s one moment that it takes right off, like a complete hockey stick. And that was the moment that I realized, “I’m going to start responding to every single comment in the comments.” And something about that engagement, that ability to move the needle after the art had presented itself had a massive, massive impact.
And then once that started to flat-line or taper off, then it became, “How else can I leverage this into other platforms?” Because, basically, as much as I loved reaching so many people on YouTube, I realized that that was not my platform, and that could, at any minute, take me away from that channel. And that terrified me. So I started doing giveaways. And the giveaways didn’t cost me a lot, a little bit of time and effort to sign stuff and send it out, but mainly, I was amassing an email list. And after two or three years, we had almost 100 thousand emails.
Aaron Konzelman: That’s amazing.
Brian Brushwood: And then, with using that fan-base, that active tribe, that group of invested people, when we launched the Modern Rogue we were able to say, “This is our new thing, come along on the new adventure.” And what previously had taken me three or four years in Scam School has already happened in the first nine months of the Modern Rogue.
Aaron Konzelman: So you’re inviting them in, you’re creating a context where you’re not just presenting content or art for an audience, but you’re allowing the audience to be a part of the art by interacting, You’re creating the atmosphere where they feel like they’re involved in the discussion, in the art, in the presentation.
Brian Brushwood: Absolutely. Not only do they have a stake in it, they’re part of the game-
Aaron Konzelman: They’re part of it.
Brian Brushwood: … they’re part of the tribe. And, the best part is, they, at some point, begin to create your content for you. Think about the original conceit Myth Busters. Originally, it was like, “We’re gonna debunk all these urban legends.” They ran out of those in the first three or four years, very quickly it became completely self-sustained. It was all the fans suggesting, “Hey, does it really look like this in the movie?” “Is it possible to do X, Y, or Z?”
At some point, your fan base becomes your writing staff, and they become invested because-
Aaron Konzelman: That’s awesome.
Brian Brushwood: … The very fact of, “That’s a great idea, we’re going to do that next week.” All of a sudden, not only are they going to watch it, they’re going to want to pass it on to all their friends, as well.
Aaron Konzelman: Love that. I love that idea of involving them and they become your own writing staff, they become the people that supply you the content for you to give back to them.
Brian Brushwood: And as long as you’re honest and upfront about the entire thing, they are very aware, like, “Oh, this is great.” He enjoys having me … He recognized my clever idea, I get to feel special, I get to be part of this thing that I’m really enjoying. As long as nobody feels exploited, then it ends up just winning, win, win all around.
Aaron Konzelman: Yeah, awesome, I love it. It’s good.
Brian Brushwood: Cool.
Aaron Konzelman: Thanks for being with us today.
Brian Brushwood: Yeah. Just go out, get yourself a couple million YouTube subscribers. It’s easy.
Aaron Konzelman: Yep, there you go, simple as that. It’s easy. Anybody can do it. Love it.
Brian Brushwood: Dude, find yourself a safe place to be bad so that you can become good. Understand that it’s only through experience-
Brian Brushwood: … that you’re going to become polished.
Aaron Konzelman: Love it. All right. Rock and roll. We’ll see you next week.