Ever wondered what it's like to make YouTube videos for a living? Here's how tech expert MrMobile got started, and how he makes it work...
Many dream of becoming the next YouTube star, but few have the work ethic, drive, and technical flair to make it work on a week-to-week basis.
That’s because, as we’ve been learning, YouTubing regularly is a real mettle tester, and taming the dreaded ‘algorithm’ is not for the faint hearted. Don’t believe us? We’ve been catching up with tech YouTube sensation MrMobile – otherwise known as Michael Fisher – to find out how he built a 675,000-strong audience, what an average day looks like, and why “not having a life” is probably your average YouTuber’s best kept secret…
MrMobile: Ten years (and four centuries) in the making
If you have a passing interest in mobile tech, you’ve probably heard Michael’s distinctive voice before; he looks at everything from laptops to smartwatches, and has appeared across the web for almost a decade now. But to get to the start of MrMobile’s story, we need to jump boldly into the future:
“Growing up in the early 90s as a massive fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I was seduced by the mobile tech of the 24th century. As a kid, I had no expectation that communicators, tricorders and PADDs would become reality in my lifetime. So when they started hitting the market – and at affordable prices – I became obsessed.
“I bought as many mobile phones as I could afford, and turned to the Engadgets and CNETs of the world to learn more about them. Then, when I figured out that I had something interesting to say about those technologies,” he adds, “I began applying to write for some of those publications. After plenty of rejections, a phone-review site called Pocketnow hired me as a writer and video producer focused on mobile technology – and, over the next four years, that’s where I learned the ins and outs of this business.”
But soon, it was time to go solo – a move Michael accredits to the “relentlessness” of the mobile review treadmill. In 2016, having declared his verdict on dozens upon dozens of smartphones for Pocketnow, YouTube seemed like a logical next step.
“While I loved reviewing smartphones, and still do, I wanted to broaden my coverage to include things like laptops, electric cars and weird gadgets from the fringes.” Having already gained experience, and an audience, from ten years of video noodling (“way back in 2006, my father and I started a channel called RapidNadion, devoted to our wacky remote-control projects”), Michael was approached by Mobile Nations – a community of tech publications – to launch his own channel.
Two years and over 200 videos later, MrMobile is part of the tech YouTube elite. So what’s the secret to his success?
You reap what you sow
Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty. What kind of work goes into making a tech review video in 2018? How does a hands-on with the latest iOS or Android device make it into your YouTube app? Michael tells us you can boil the creation process down into three major phases: scripting, shooting, and editing.
“A scripting day usually sees me camped out at a coffee shop – or hunkered down on a train or plane – with headphones on, writing the copy that I’ll later record into voiceover.” Then, once the script’s sorted, the real fun begins. “A shooting day is just hours and hours in the studio with my cinematographer and producer,” he says, “filming ten times as much footage as I’ll eventually use – or it’s a hands-on with a new product at someone’s office or at a trade show, usually in poor lighting conditions and with a time limit.
“Finally, there’s editing and publishing the final product – which I can do anywhere from my laptop, as long as I have a power outlet.”
Of course, the difficulty in trying to nail down what an average ‘MrMobile’ day looks like stems from the fact that no two of Michael’s videos are alike. A big part of the channel’s appeal comes from not following a set review blueprint – a pitfall Michael’s keen to sidestep:
“I’ve been doing it for long enough at this point that the process is pretty straightforward,” he explains, “but the challenge these days comes in trying to avoid falling into rote repetition. It would be very easy to just decide on a uniform format and follow it for every new video – but those videos would then become stale to the audience that’s supported me all these years.
“So while the process itself is the same – use the device, take notes, research, produce the review – each new video is very much a bespoke product.”
Arguably, it’s that extra effort that makes MrMobile what it is, but for every loyal subscriber gained, there’s a net loss in terms of time. Remember when we said YouTube isn’t for the faint of heart? Here’s Michael’s take on the key to his channel’s fandom:
“Not having a life. A fellow YouTuber and I were catching up recently and when we finished talking about work, he asked ‘okay, how’s everything else?’ And my response was basically, ‘what do you mean, everything else? This is it!’
“I’m exaggerating,” he says, “but only slightly. I work more hours per week than at any job I’ve ever had. It’s insane.”
Find your own voice
Still keen to dip your toes in the video-making waters? We didn’t let Michael get back to the studio without gleaning some expert advice…
“Have something interesting to say,” he says. “I think a lot of new folks try to emulate trailblazers like MKBHD and TechnoBuffalo, but if you just buy expensive cameras and try to hone your smoothest pan shots, you’re totally missing the point. Those shows’ creators, Marques Brownlee and Jon Rettinger, got where they are because they’ve always had something to say. They excel at the mission I laid down for MrMobile when I launched it: to get to the truth of the product being reviewed.
“Without that,” Michael adds, “a pretty video is just a commercial for whatever you’re shooting. And, I mean, that’s another way to do YouTube – sponsored videos are all the rage these days – but it’s not what I’m here to focus on. Success on YouTube takes skill, timing, and luck – but most of all it takes a tremendous amount of hard work.”
“If you just buy expensive cameras and try to hone your smoothest pan shots, you’re totally missing the point.”
And, while we’re mentioning some of Michael’s contemporaries, he’s got some surprising insight when it comes to life in YouTube inner circle:
“Looking at it from the outside, I think I expected a much more competitive landscape,” he says, “with YouTubers battling one another for access or attention. The reality is, the mobile tech space is a pretty tight-knit community, so many of us have actually become quite good friends. We even help each other out where possible, so everyone can do a good job.
“Of course,” he continues, “a less-pleasant surprise has been what an absolute boys’ club it is. For every Erica Griffin cranking out incredibly in-depth phone reviews, there are twenty dudes shooting variations of the same old content. So it would be great to see a more varied mix of perspectives.”
Finally, with time on our chat drawing to a close, there was only one thing left to ask: what’s the future for MrMobile?
“I’ve never had ready answer to the ‘where do you see yourself a few years down the road?’ question,” Michael tells us. “When I was 18, I went to college in Virginia thinking I was going to join the Navy; instead, I ended up getting a degree in acting, which landed me a voiceover job that took me to Boston.
“When that dried up after four years I decided to turn my tech avocation into a vocation – and over the next four years I went from writing smartphone reviews to covering everything that falls under the “mobile” umbrella. That’s a pretty wild ride, and it’s one I’d never have predicted. All I can say is, I’m finally doing the job I was born to do – and I’m going to keep doing it as long as I possibly can.”
Is YouTubing different on this side of the pond? Get a very British take on life as a tech reviewer from TheTechChap, in our exclusive interview with top videomaker Tom Honeyands.