One of my closest childhood friends went viral in 2012 when he released Gandalf Dubstep, a video at the intersection of blockbuster movies and new music fad.
With close to 2 million views and thousands of comments, this video absolutely fits the bill of “going viral” even though that was not top of mind when uploading the file to YouTube (are they ever?)
As a digital marketing lecturer, I try to relay my marketing experiences to students, and virality is something I always teach but had never experienced myself. But Mike had a spectacular 15 minutes of YouTube fame almost 10 years ago that has become a tremendous case study. Nearly a decade later, there are many lessons learned nearly in the art of going viral.
I recently caught up with Mike and re-lived his 2011 going viral story.
Q: Gandalf Dubstep was uploaded almost 10 years ago. At that time, what was the goal of the video?
A: The inspiration came from my first encounter with dubstep. My roommate’s brother was playing this new genre of music called “dubstep” and I thought it was so foreign. This guy named Skrillex had just released an album and dubstep was getting popular in a hurry. I thought it sounded like a monster coming up from the dead.
Having recently watched the Lord of the Rings, I thought, “Dude that sounds exactly like that scene from Lord of the Rings.” Having been a video editor I had some time between finishing undergrad and my job starting so put those two together to make a little music video and see what happened.
I really liked the final product so I uploaded the video to my channel in May, 2011. It didn’t really take off at the time – nobody watched it. But I didn’t really think anything of it. It was out there, and that was the end of it. Or so I thought.
At what point did the video start “going viral” or at least accumulating views?
It took off some time in 2012. Somebody mentioned it was posted on a popular sub-Reddit and took off from there. YouTube and Reddit were both getting really popular at the same time – like dubstep – and all those ingredients added up to over 1.5 million views in a matter of months. I got 6,000 subscribers during all time too, which was cool.
What actions, if any, did you take to improve your visibility or profitability from the video after noticing that?
As Gandalf Dubstep grew in popularity I tried to capitalize on this momentum by making more videos like it. I started with Gamer Dubstep (57,000 views) and then followed that with Avengers Dubstep (240,000 views) and they both accumulated a lot of views really quickly. But they didn’t come close to Gandalf Dubstep’s popularity. Viral videos were so rare back then. To get over 1 million views was really tough and you had to be virtually in the right place at the right time.
Any publicity come out of it?
After the Avengers video took off, I was contacted by The Collective, a multi-channel network that signs YouTube creators and handles the marketing and ads for them. Then I caught the attention of Epic Meal Time and Corridor Digital – they both asked for similar dubstep cuts of their videos. I didn’t make any money off those, but it was cool to work with them.
YouTube was the Wild West back then. Some people made some money, but it wasn’t a career-changing opportunity.
At the time, I didn’t want to be a YouTuber. I wanted to be an editor. I also wasn’t really motivated at the time – it was a pastime, not a goal to go viral. Gandalf Dubstep took me almost a month to edit because I didn’t have a powerful editing computer back in 2010.
In 2014 I created the Lego Dubstep that got 57,000 views and was picked up by a movie channel. Afterwards, in 2015 I tried my hand at being a YouTube personality and putting my face in front of the camera while doing behind-the-scenes videos. But that immediately fell flat.
What are you doing now for the video to keep it up, if anything?
Gandalf Dubstep completely bottomed out in 2014 and since then I’ve had some blips but that is it. I get emails when people comment. That’s the only time I really pay attention to it now.
I’ll have a week here or there where I get a flurry of comments which means it may have been shared or embedded somewhere new and exposed to a different audience.
Do you wish you had done anything different back then to better capitalize on the video going viral?
If I had created Gandalf Dubstep with an established YouTube channel posting weekly videos and subscription goals, I could’ve seen better numbers. Creators couldn’t monetize their videos back then, but since I used copyrighted material on both the video and audio, I wouldn’t have been able to monetize it anyways.
I wish I could go back and upload an HD version. People comment about that all the time but back in 2011 the standard definition version was all I had.
You changed your opinion on being a YouTube personality. What are your thoughts on YouTubers now?
People ultimately relate to a person more than a feed of videos. If I had given it a face or at least did behind-the-scenes videos, it would have helped. Content is only half of it – you have to like the person you’re watching and develop a relationship with them.
I had briefly contemplated trying to be a YouTube personality back in 2012 but didn’t really end up trying until after I missed my window. I always wanted to be behind the camera, not an actor.
At the time, I did it to be a resume-builder rather than a self-sustaining business. I didn’t think it could turn into that, but instead be an opportunity to grow professionally into something else.
What else did you learn from your experience going viral?
I was exposed to two new things: trolls and copycats.
In my first trolling experience, this guy kept incessantly commenting on Gandalf Dubstep, saying he knew who I was and would come to my house. I blocked his comments but then he’d create new usernames and keep commenting. After 10 different usernames and blocks, he finally stopped. I didn’t engage him – just blocked him and moved on.
On the copycat side, somebody launched a channel that did the same thing as mine and even stole my look and feel. I was more flattered than upset about it. One of the things he posted was my original video and then after I contacted him he started posting his own versions.
Mike currently works in sports video production, living in North Carolina with his wife and son.