So, You Want to Start a Guitar Cover Channel on YouTube

If you want to start a guitar cover channel on YouTube, there are a few things you need to keep in mind in order to stand out from the crowd. Learn more from a YouTuber with 16 years of experience.

You’re interested in creating your own guitar cover channel on YouTube? That’s great! Before you get started, however, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind. In this post, I’ll discuss my own experiences with YouTube, and give you some tips that could help your videos stand out in the highly competitive guitar cover niche.

YouTube Has Changed Over the Years — A Lot

When I started my guitar cover channel on YouTube in 2007, the platform was still in its infancy. “Influencer” didn’t mean anything back then. The Partner Program didn’t exist, Content ID wasn’t a thing, and there was no video recommendation system. The most popular uploads included viral home videos, Flash animations, and techno remixes of popular movie scenes.

In 2007, it was possible for absolute nobodies like myself to grow a following without trying all that hard. Viewers simply typed in stuff like “guitar cover U2” and found my videos with ease. I didn’t have to pester my viewers to like and subscribe or use wacky thumbnails. In fact, custom thumbnails weren’t even an option back then!

YouTube obviously doesn’t work this way today, and has not worked that way for a while now. Modern YouTube is dominated by influencers with slick, professional-grade video production skills, sponsorships, and marketing teams. Thanks to the rise of influencers, many viewers now expect to see high quality videos when they’re scrolling through YouTube. If you want your videos to be seen by more than a handful of people, you’ll have to create videos that are almost as good as (or ideally better than) the most-watched videos in your niche.

Tips for Creating High Quality Guitar Cover Videos

It may feel impossible to get noticed as a new YouTuber these days, given how much things have changed. There are a few things you can try that could help, however. What I’m about to suggest has definitely helped me out over the years, and I’m about the exact opposite of an influencer.

Avoid Playing Over Official Recordings

Most people who upload guitar covers to YouTube today (myself included) started out by playing over official recordings. We used cheap video cameras and cellphones to pick up our video and audio simultaneously. Our videos were often terrible, as a result. This was fine in YouTube’s early days, back when everyone was new to home recording, but it’s not advisable today.

First of all, by playing over official recordings, you open yourself up to copyright strikes. If you accumulate three strikes, that’s it: your channel is gone. YouTube has no choice these days but to adhere to copyright law — even if the video in question simply features a hobby guitarist playing over one of their favourite songs for fun.

YouTube’s Content ID system has gotten so good at identifying copyrighted material, it can even detect a tiny sample. I learned that the hard way when I received a copyright strike on my cover of U2’s “Beautiful Day.” I sampled mere seconds of the original recording, and that was all it took for Universal Music Group to block the video. You risk shutting your channel down every time an official recording can be heard in the background of a cover.

Another reason to avoid playing over official recordings is … well, it just doesn’t sound all that good. When you play over an official recording, you’re adding another layer to a track that was not mixed with your contribution in mind. As a result, your guitar can disappear into the mix, or it can overpower it. Either way, it sounds noticeably “amateur,” and that will unfortunately hold you back on YouTube today.

Use Guitar Backing Tracks to Support Your Performance

To get around copyright strikes, some people film guitar covers with no musical accompaniment whatsoever. This is fine if you’re doing a bare bones acoustic cover. If you’re closely adhering to an original full band recording, though, your cover will sound incomplete. Viewers lose interest quickly when you don’t present them with the full instrumental package.

Furthermore, without musical backing, you’ll likely run into tempo issues. Few things sound more stereotypically “beginner” than a guitar cover with timing that’s all over the place. The issue becomes even more apparent if you’re using time-based effects, like delay.

Backing tracks give you a full band sound that other people will generally find more interesting to listen to than a solo guitar performance. If people enjoy listening to your performances, they are more likely to respond positively and subscribe. Backing tracks can be found fairly easily on YouTube, or you can learn how to create your own. Be sure to bookmark the Tutorials section of this website if you’re interested in creating your own backing tracks from scratch, as my guides on the subject are forthcoming.

Use an Audio Interface, Rather than Your Phone

It’s pretty easy to record an amplified guitar performance with a smartphone, but the audio quality leaves a lot to be desired. I recommend using an audio interface and a digital audio workstation (DAW) when filming your guitar covers. Use your phone for video only. Always remember: it’s a lot easier to sync up an audio track with a corresponding video than it is to improve the quality of audio recorded on a smartphone.

With an audio interface, you can record your direct signal and use digital amp modeling for a clean sound that’s easy to work with. If you have an instrument microphone, such as a Shure SM57, you can also use your audio interface to record your amplified tone. When you use an audio interface instead of your smartphone’s mediocre microphone, the difference in audio quality is like night and day — and your viewers will notice.

Check out my tutorial on how I record electric guitars without an amp if you’re interested in learning more about my recording process. It has worked out well for me, so it may also work out well for you.

Film Multiple Takes to Reduce Mistakes and Create Interest

I often see guitar performances filmed in a single take that would be great, if not for the fact that they’re full of mistakes. Repeat after me: it’s OK to record covers in multiple takes! Few people want to watch sloppy covers. A mistake here and there is fine — we’re all human — but when mistakes occur throughout a cover, they’re distracting at best and off-putting at worst.

Making mistakes while recording is natural, and it happens to all of us — including our heroes. I’ve personally been recording cover videos for 16 years now, and I still make nervous mistakes when I’m filming. The phenomenon is so common, it even has a name: Red Light Syndrome. Your favourite bands don’t record albums (or even concert films) in one take, so there’s really no need to record your cover videos in one take.

Another thing to remember about one take videos is that they’re not very interesting, visually. When you record in multiple takes, you can film your performance from multiple angles. Cutting to different angles is a great way to keep viewers interested. When you engage viewers, they’re far more likely to subscribe and check out your other videos.

One take performances were common in YouTube’s early days, back when video editing tools were less accessible to the average hobbyist. Now that free video editing software like DaVinci Resolve exists, there’s really no need to upload sloppy performances to YouTube. Refer to my Tutorials in the near future for a guide on how to make multiple take covers appear seamless.

Conclusion

Starting a guitar cover channel on YouTube today may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. If you follow my advice, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of most people uploading guitar covers to YouTube. I can’t guarantee you’ll end up with thousands of subscribers, but I can assure you that you’ll create videos people may actually like watching — and that is a joy in and of itself!


Questions?

Do you have a question about the subject matter of this blog post that I didn’t answer above? Feel free to leave a public comment on my YouTube channel by clicking on the button below, and I’ll get back to you there as soon as I can.

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