Lindybeige - The Medieval Warfare Youtuber
When Youtube first came online in 2005, even the founders had little idea of what a powerful medium it would become. It has since become one of the most viewed sites on the web, and a huge source of information. It has also developed its own cadre of experts - Youtubers - who have seen success and large followings by creating videos on topics, ranging from cooking to movie reviews.
This includes Nikolas Lloyd, better known as Lindybeige. The English media creator launched his channel eight years ago, and has since amassed about fifty million views through his videos on weapons and warfare in the Middle Ages and ancient periods. We interviewed him by email, asking about his work and how he became one of the most well known medievalists on Youtube.
Being a Youtuber is an interesting career choice in that you decide to put yourself out there for the world to see, and the more successful you become the more pressure you have to create great videos. How do you deal with the kind of fame and attention of being someone followed by hundred of thousands of people?
I don’t know that it was really a ‘career choice’. It crept up on me by accident. I started on YouTube because I was trying to break into television with a pilot I made for a series about human evolution called ‘Built for the Stone Age’, and after eight years of failing to get any TV commissioners to watch it, because I wasn’t famous enough, I decided to put it onto this new thing called ‘YouTube’ and hope that someone out there saw it and picked it up. Just as a hobby, I added a few more videos every now and then. To my surprise, people started subscribing to my channel. After two years I had 1,000 subscribers, and this doubled every year, so after five years I had 8,000. Then I had my one and only viral hit which shot me up to 20,000 in one day. The video was about the noise swords make upon being drawn (generally not ‘shhhiiiing!’). The demographic of my audience went from 65% male to 93% male, and after that, I became YouTube’s ancient and medieval weapons man. As the years have gone by, others have started covering the same topic, and at least one has surpassed me. I thought, wrongly, that over time the proportion of female viewers would slip back to its old figure, but actually, I had gone past some invisible tipping point, and now 98% of my viewers are male and want me to talk about axes.
It is only in the last two years that I have given up teaching swing dance and now rely on YouTube for my living. Despite what your question implies, YouTubery, or at least my version of it, is a lonely experience. Though I would of course love to report that I have to hire guards to fend off the scores of glamorous groupies, in truth I spend my days hunched in front of my computer, editing videos. People hugely underestimate how much time it takes to edit videos. Just this week I once edited through the night until 9.30 a.m. to meet a deadline, and that video was almost entirely just me talking to the camera. Dealing with the fame so far has been easy. One reason is that I am not really famous. I can shop in the local supermarket and be unrecognised. Another reason is that what small amount of public recognition I have is confined to the demographic of geeks, who have hitherto proven polite and cordial. I only get recognised much if I go to an event of highly-concentrated geekery, such as the medieval week at Visby, or the National Student Roleplaying and Wargaming Championships, where I got greeted by strangers a lot, but again, I am yet to be mobbed, and I have been lucky so far in that few people seem motivated to rush up to me in order to say that my channel is rubbish. I have over a quarter of million subscribers now, but these are scattered around the world so I never have to deal with large formations of them.
Why did you want to create a YouTube channel about the history of warfare?
Warfare is but one of my interests, and I make videos on other topics. I am not very money-motivated, so am happy enough to ignore the popular topics, and do whatever my whims direct me to. Warfare, though, is an innately interesting topic. It encompasses so many things: history, archaeology, technology, psychology, experimentation, the drama of life-and-death conflict, the formation of nations, and the role of the male. Evolutionary psychology has shown quite convincingly that people grow up with a natural interest in certain things, and little boys love tanks. To be male is to be born into a sex that for countless generations had to know how to fight in order to survive and reproduce. It seems that the main way that Nature equips men to learn about such things is to make them naturally interested in them, and then we do the rest.
How do you develop your ideas for creating videos and what kind if topics do you most enjoy dealing with?
I am fortunate in that I have far too many ideas rather than too few. One topic that is popular is the video that points out mistakes in films and television series. A problem with this sort of video is that it takes ages to make, and then it often makes little or no money because the copyright of the entire video is claimed by a company that owns some of the footage used. I have a huge queue of films waiting for this treatment, but if I am in a rush to produce something, this is ignored in favour of the piece-to-camera. I seem to have a rare ability to talk to a camera normally. I don’t know why it is rare. I am surprised that most people change their tone of voice and become strangely unnatural in front of a camera. When talking to a camera, I want to say something that others would not. People sometimes ask me to talk about a certain weapon, but I don’t because I can’t think of anything I have to say about the weapon that I haven’t already read or heard someone else say. It is nice to be able to speak from personal experience of having used a weapon or worn a piece of armour, and that personal experience gives me something to say that is unique to me.
I do get surprises with viewing figures when I drift away from historical warfare as a topic. One of my most popular recent videos was about medieval forest management.
Are you interested in branching out to other kinds of media and doing other history-related projects?
What I always wanted to be was a film director. Making professional-looking films is getting cheaper, so possibly one day I will get there on my own. At the moment, I am buried in the task of writing the script for a graphic novel called “In Search of Hannibal” about the Second Punic War (see www.InSearchofHannibal.com). On the up-side, I have a great collaborator in the illustrator Chris Steininger, and a tremendous tale to tell, involving many battles and intrigues, the fate of nations and all that, but on the down-side it is a strong contender for the tale most difficult to tell. The war lasted a long time, was fought in north Africa, Spain, Sicily, Italy, Greece, and Gaul, and involved a vast cast of characters half whom are called either Scipio or Hasdrubal, and I have somehow to make people care about long-dead characters in a war of which everyone knows the outcome. I am determined to make it work both as authentic history, but also as a human drama. It is proving quite a challenge, but it is good to stretch oneself. I don’t want to spend my life just criticising the creative works of others.
What advice do you have to other people who hope to make it big on YouTube?
Last year I was invited to a meeting in London for the 300 or so British YouTubers who had made it past 100,000 subscribers. One suspicion that this confirmed for me was that no one knows how to run a YouTube channel. Every successful channel had its own particular explanation. Very few people can get anywhere by relying on ‘viral’ hits. The main things seem to be to keep at it and produce a long steady stream of videos, with original content, a recognisable channel identity, and a decent amount of integrity. There may be exceptions, but most channels represented there were run by enthusiasts for their topics, who talked engagingly with an audience, and didn’t pretend to be something that they were not.
You don’t need an expensive computer or state-of-the-art editing software, nor the greatest of cameras, but you do need an understanding of how to edit, and a decent microphone. Bad sound will ruin a video more readily than bad picture. YouTube channels often succeed by picking a tiny niche market and catering to that. The world is very big, and there are so many people in it, that it is possible to pick a topic so obscure that only one person in a myriad is interested in it, but that is still an awful lot of people. On YouTube, you could become the video king of that small topic.