The Struggles of a Mediocre YouTuber

As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close in the UK, Dre deepdives into his history of being on the Internet, YouTube and how it affected him over the years.

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Read time: 9 mins

Hey guys, Dre here, and on Mental Health Awareness week in the UK, I wanted to spend some time out of my usual schedule of shitposting on Motorsport, to talk about me, the industry I largely watch over, and headspace. Because now’s a good a time as any, and while we as consumers of media and content over the Internet get to see the finished articles and enjoy what we see at face value, there’s a side to what many of us do that I feel, isn’t spoken about enough.

So let’s the stuff you probably know out of the way early. Andre Harrison. 26. Tall, dark, handsome. Ish. You probably know me best from my days running the “Harrison101” YouTube channel, where I mostly did “Let’s Play” videos for the F1 series, and dipped into other racing series like GRID, Forza, Gran Turismo, MotoGP and more. I had a knack for having more of an opinionated outlook on things. Game reviews, F1, Motorsport in general, and off-topic elements like politics, Top Gear, and whatever else tickled my fancy.

It wasn’t my first attempt on YouTube. I had tried everything, from playing Pokemon online via a terrible sim called “Shoddy Battle” to playing Halo on a digital camera. But from September 2011 to January 2016, Harrison101 was my main hobby and dedicated a lot to it. By the end, it nearly broke me.

It may sound silly at first, and that totally makes sense. Because I was very fortunate. A channel that had 6,500 subscribers. Over 1.5 million views. I got to interview Bernie Ecclestone for ZoneOne media, interviewed Felipe Massa and WRC’s Elfyn Evans, be invited to the Zoom Charity Auction, and the Formula E global launch. Memories I’ll always hold onto. And that’s the terrifying part… So many would look at me and think: “How could you ever feel like you didn’t matter?”

It’s crazy. I just did this for fun. But as time went on, I kept growing. 100 subs became 400. It became 1,000. I started talking regularly to fellow creators. At one point, I was just outside the Top 10 for F1 guys. I had a good half dozen mates I was chatting to every day. Even met some guy with a surname called King. It was great.

But as with many communities, as they grew, things changed. There was a split between bigger YouTubers who were growing rapidly and the smaller ones, especially as the bigger ones started working with Codies to get F1 game footage early. Guys like Aarav, Tiametmarduk, Into The Barrier, AthleekVG and xMattyG stood out. I was in the middle. Not big enough for all the privileges and “elite” status, but above many guys who had 50 subs asking for collabs.

Factor in, one more important thing – This was the time in my life I finally started accepting I had Asperger’s Syndrome, after brushing off a diagnosis when I was 17. Remember when Anne “The Governess” Hagerty from “The Chase” was in the jungle last year? Yeah, that. It’s a high functioning form of autism. And while it’s different for everyone, long story short, we see the world differently from the average person. We often struggle with social interaction, suffer social anxiety, struggle with body language, sarcasm, tone, etc. We can have very highly focused interests, we like routine, and we often seek time alone above anything else when it all gets a bit much.

From as early as I could remember, I always knew I was different. I was seeing speech and language therapists in primary school from 6. Being yanked out of Maths lessons so I could go into a quiet room and learn how to have conversations with people, or how to make eye contact, or not feel embarrassed for talking about… anything at all, really. This went right up until my GCSE’s when I was 15.

17 year old me in Sixth Form. Yay. Peak of video blogging me.

So when you’re a guy who struggles with people in general, didn’t leave his bedroom very much, and the one safe space you had splitting part… Yeah, I felt like I didn’t belong. And when you feel like you don’t belong, you do irrational things. I spoke out a LOT about the community I was in, I put a lot of people indirectly on blast. When people agreed in the comments, it hyped me up, it felt like a form of validation for me. In reality, it wasn’t healthy. It was like when the popular kid in school pulls the pants down of the quiet kid in PE because his mates told him to.

NEVER be that guy. Seriously, I lost a few good friends when I turned a Women in Motorsport blog into a bitch fit at Twitter last year. One of whom was the aforementioned Tiametmarduk, and someone who’s now in Dorna’s head office as an editor for MotoGP. I still deeply regret it to this day. It’s never worth it, no matter how bad you think so at the time.

(Above, some small evidence that I used to be a Pokemon YouTuber. Could you tell Rampardos was my favourite?)

Before I was a gaming YouTuber, I made video blogs talking about random shit when I was in Year 11. From school to sports, to games, whatever. I came back to Sixth Form that year and everyone loved them, and everyone wanted shoutouts. It was goddamn hollow when you literally become a gimmick. Validation is overrated, folks.

As that split took hold, YouTube changed too. Likes, dislikes and views mattered less as the rise of the misleading thumbnail, the fake beef and the transition to collabs, analytics, minutes retained, and trying to produce as much content as possible. I became a debate guy and became known for answering nearly 15,000 toxic anonymous questions on Ask.FM that often descending into racism, trolling and hate. I got my degree, joined the gambling industry at William Hill and I couldn’t keep up with more dedicated guys who rode YT’s new algorithms to success.

Being the numbers-loving Aspy’s nerd I am, I sometimes would spend hours trying to break down what I needed to do, where I stood, and often getting really insecure. I was working my ass off producing new series, new ideas, trying to find new ways of making the same old game every year seem interesting. I was at 5-6,000 subs, while guys like Aarav, GameRiot, and Ben were topping out at 200,000.

Deep down, you feel you’re making good content. Your fans will always stick around. But you hate the fact that no matter what you do, it’ll never be good enough to rub shoulders with the true greats. And that sucks. I spiralled. It’s why I went over 6 months between videos on M101 for a while. I had a crisis of confidence and felt like what I was doing wasn’t good enough, so I just… froze. And what’s worse is, it wasn’t the first time I’d felt like that.

I still remember the day. January 3rd, 2016. My brother’s 18th birthday. Upstairs, after uploading a video blog about the frustrations of YouTube grind, I broke down into tears. A full-on breakdown. I cried worse and harder than when my own grandmother passed. I felt useless, I felt empty, I felt like years of hard work were for nothing.

Two days later, I was sat in a Skype call with Adam Johnson and Ryan King, and Motorsport101 was born. I immediately felt a massive weight, a burden lift off my shoulders. All the burnout, the grind, the 15 social media channels you have to update every time you upload a damn video, just melted away.

But that’s just it. The rise of “burnout” from people as they struggle to keep up with YouTube’s insatiable demand for content is literally taking the humanity away from people. I love what YouTube stands for, but the demand to turn it into just another search engine where the big brands take over the front page and anything less than a daily routine is punished, for me, is sick.

It’s why I’ve always said being in the middle on YouTube, is the worst. When you’re small, you do it just because you want to do it. You motivate yourself. There’s enjoyment. You just want to see your stuff get published and take pride in that. If you’re big, it’s probably your full-time career. It makes enough money to keep you afloat, and for many, that’s the dream. Being in the middle takes the worst of both worlds. The tedious grind, the analytics, the insecurity of seeing what you’re going up against, but then that same motivation you had when you had 50 subscribers, just disappears. The end product? Me, circa 2015.

Yep, that’s Neppo. Before the underage gambling.

Anyone who’s still at this, 8 years after the original F1 YouTubers like me were around, then boy do I salute you, and a part of me wants your brain. But what have I learned in that time? Here’s some basic, pretending to be a health influencer tips:

– Ask yourself why you’re doing this. I would have said this in 2014, let alone now. So many folks see The Sidemen, or Casey Neistat and think they can have a part of that life. Now, I’m never going to tell you not to do something, but if you’re doing this with the intention of making this a career, or suddenly sharing a mansion with 7 folks, you’re probably going to be disappointed.  Personally, I say, do this, because you want to, let everything else come later.

Always look after Number 1. There is no harm in being a little bit selfish here. Again, another awful trait of YouTube is that it forces channels to stick to the programme. If you deviate off the path, you don’t get the hits and the traffic. Which sucks. I see it all the time where YouTubers are afraid to deviate from what made them big because it’ll literally hurt them to do it. And then they pass that onto their fans. Listen, the people who love your work will always watch. I’m so lucky to have had viewers that have watched me for 5,6 years and still read my BS. Don’t fear to lose them. The real ones will always stick around.

Don’t break yourself feeling like you HAVE to make something. Doing this should never feel like a job or a chore. The moment it becomes that, you’ll start losing the passion you had to do it in the first place. I saw that Jay Hunter of the brilliant OSW Review felt like he had to apologise to his viewers after losing his Mum yesterday, and that’s heartbreaking. It should never have to come to that. If you’re telling yourself: “I have to get this done”, it’s probably the start of a slippery slope. Look after yourself. Take breaks. Rest. It’s something my misses tells me all the time, and I’m juggling this, a 40+ hour a week job based on rotas and shifts, and another 10 on M101 a week. It’s hard, but it’s ultimately satisfying, way more than it was three years ago.

Nobody else is you, and that is your power. Don’t ever lose sight of that. You are your own unique selling point. It’s something I so blatantly forgot when I was on Harrison101, where I sometimes felt like I had to do what everyone else was doing because they were popular.

And this is something that can be applied to not just this, but to every part of your life. There is only ONE you. Be yourself. That is your power. Don’t ever compromise it, you’ll only be doing yourself a disservice. I’ve never been the best editor in F1. My production values have never been amazing, I was never eSports level gameplay, but it took me years to realise my greatest selling point… was me. You watched, you read, you listened, because you wanted to hear what I had to say. Now, that fills me with more pride and confidence than I’ve ever had before. Embrace it. Humility is overrated anyway.

I’ve rambled just about long enough. What I will say to wrap this up is. Don’t let this post put you off. Don’t feel sorry for me, I made some idiotic mistakes along the way. Content creation can be a beautiful struggle sometimes and trust me, that sentence makes more sense than you realise. Don’t shy away from who you are, and make it work for you. It’s not going to be easy. It took me years to find myself and become happy with what I am now. Let that be your aim. Chances are, you’ll probably be better for it in the long run.

Me personally? I know that I don’t fit the standard Motorsport industry spectrum. Re-hashing race results and reporting just isn’t my calling, and I hate even calling myself a journo – I’m not in the trenches, I’m not in paddocks asking the tough questions. I’m just a guy who’s a little bit good at media, has a degree growing dust under my excessive amount of shoe boxes, and I look at the sport differently because of my AS, and sometimes, the colour of my skin too. You guys seem to like that, and that’s perfectly okay with me.

But most importantly, look after each other. We all need it. I’m incredibly lucky to have some amazing friends and family (Who weren’t always so keen on all this), and others may not be so lucky. Say hi. Check-in. Make sure they’re genuinely okay. Burnout is a very real thing, and unchecked, it can destroy people. A little bit of empathy goes a long, long way, more than you think.

And finally, thank YOU for all the unconditional support, love and warmth I get from doing this. I always say it and will do so again – You’re the best audience in the world and I never feel alone, thanks to you all. I love you.

Dre x

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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