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As communities around the globe work to adjust to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, many are turning to the digital realm to find solace in technology's limitless online resources and capabilities. Whether that's in the form of staying connected with one another or simply staying informed or entertained, chances are we'll all be seeing our weekly screen time averages increase as the situation continues to unfold. As many content creators can attest, leveraging one's platform into a career is no easy feat to navigate--current events aside--especially for those who find themselves in the position of being able to successfully monetize their social media channels. While it can be daunting to balance producing quality content with building one's business one YouTube page view at a time, entrepreneur Dan Levitt has helped ease the burden for over a dozen creators by sharing his business savvy and multifaceted digital expertise.
"I would say it helps enhance the auditory experience by adding a physical sensation to it in a way that is done really seamlessly."
As a renowned digital talent manager, Dan has carved a lane for himself as someone who not only understands the ever-evolving digital landscape but who truly wants to support creatives so that they can do what they do best: create. After working for companies like Big Frame, Disney and Columbia Records, originally finding his footing as an emerging A&R, Dan decided to refocus his attention on discovering and developing talent on YouTube specifically. His passion for helping others grow their personal brands has since culminated in the form of his own digital-first talent management company, Long Haul Management, which officially was founded in 2013. With an innovative focus on where art and commerce intersect, Dan oversees a growing roster of digital talent, namely in the gaming, sports and film/tv industries.
In addition to managing a diverse group of creators and helping execute strategic brand partnerships, Dan also has worked as an Executive Producer on the YouTube Red series MatPat's Game Lab and can often be found consulting startups, brands and creators on digital strategy and business development. During a recent conversation with DropLabs, Dan shared more about how he got his start in the vibrant world of digital talent management, how he turned discovering talent online into a tangible career and his advice for those looking to start a channel of their own.
What do you do for a living and how did you first get started?
I'm the CEO and founder of Long Haul Management, where we manage a bunch of digital creators. I got started by working in the music industry as an A&R guy, so I was signings bands and songwriters. I wasn't having that much success, in my opinion, because people weren't listening to me [Laughs]. I saw people on YouTube building an audience doing covers, and I realized there was an opportunity for someone like myself to help them build and turn what's a successful channel into a diversified business. There were a few companies that popped up that were working with creators at the time and I got job offers from the top three. I chose the one that was the best fit for me and then after a year, I went off on my own. I've been doing my own thing since 2013.
What would you say is the most rewarding part about managing different talents across different digital verticals?
So, we focus mostly on gaming, sports and sneaker/streetwear, and for me, it's helping our clients get opportunities that they never dreamed would happen. I've had clients do the craziest stuff. I had a client meet the Pope. With my client MatPat, we were able to sell and develop his own YouTube original show, where I'm also an Executive Producer. I'd never been more than a PA before and now I'm an EP of essentially our own Mythbusters-style gaming show where we had complete creative control, which was pretty wild. And then, for some of my basketball guys, it's helping them with opportunities to play one-on-one with James Harden, or learn directly how to do a Euro step with Giannis, things like that. So really, it's providing our clients with opportunities where they get to create some amazing content and really just have an amazing life experience.
Growing up, did you have a distinct moment of recognition where you realized you wanted to gravitate towards music discovery?
When I was a kid--I don't mean to be dating myself now--but when I was in high school, I would find bands online. This was in the late 90s, so much different than today. But there were a few blogs that would talk about unsigned bands and I'd find new music that way. The bands that were unsigned that I liked would go on to get signed and eventually put out albums and do well. So, I sort of had a feeling that I had an idea of what people would like, and that was the basis for my dream job. I went to college, came out to LA and sort of struggled for a couple of years until I got a chance to do that. I got my dream job eventually, but it really wasn't what I thought it would be like. At least where I landed, things were a lot more political and it was frustrating being in the game but not really having any success. I had to reassess everything as I was getting older and figure out a way to pivot.
When I first saw what was happening with YouTube, believe it or not, I started doing my own channel and would create content in 2007. I was pretty early to the platform, but I wasn't consistent with it. Around this time, I made a promise to myself that the next time I saw an opportunity, I was gonna go in really hard. When I saw YouTube taking off, while I was working at Disney a couple years later, I recognized that that's the place I need to be.
Especially considering how much the digital landscape has evolved into what it's like today, what advice do you have for content creators who are hoping to stand out?
Stand out for the right reasons. It's not too hard to go do something controversial and get some attention. YouTube's really a digital creation marathon. So, try different things but do the thing that you want to do. If you're starting a format, you have to keep in mind the question of, "What's this gonna look like when I do this for the hundredth time?" You have to ask if it's sustainable or not. If it's not something you're going to be excited about further down the road, you shouldn't do it. Don't start creating a certain type of content that actually isn't meaningful for you because it's way too hard. If it's not something that you're naturally inclined to do and are excited to do, you're gonna lose the desire to do it. Even the most fun video concept, after the hundredth time, is going to start to feel like a job and a grind. It's got to be something you should already feel some sort of affinity for.
In your day-to-day, how does creativity come into play? Do you have a hand in brainstorming ideas with the creators you manage?
We land at the intersection of art and commerce. Our clients need to be true to themselves and to their audience, in terms of the organic content that they want to make. But they're also open to partnering with brands that can help elevate what they're doing and sharing with their audience products and services that might be interesting to them. Our job is really helping make sure that intersection is done thoughtfully, in a way that provides, first and foremost, value to the audience. With every opportunity that comes our way, especially on the brand side, the first question is, "What's the value for the audience? Why should they be excited to watch this?
With our experience, we're going to understand what the brand is looking for in a better way than our clients will, just because we're deeper in the weeds on that. Often, it's thinking, 'Okay, how can we best position what's important to the brand through the prism of our client's content?' The brand will explain the product or service and outline the four or five things they want to convey. From there, we'll go to our clients and say this is what the brand wants out of the campaign and here are some ideas on how we think you could make this work. It can be hard for channels to come up with ideas from scratch sometimes, but they tend to be better working off a couple ideas and molding something to better suit them. We're often going back and forth between the brand and our clients, trying to find some common ground. If brands come to us and say hey, it needs to be this way and it's not a good fit for the creators, we're not going to do it.
What surprised you the most about trying DropLabs Technology?
I'm pretty forward thinking with technology. For example, I have these Bose sunglasses that have a built-in speakers and mics so right now talking through my sunglasses. With DropLabs, I thought it felt pretty seamless in terms of listening to music. I thought it might feel a bit more disruptive and distracting, but it really is done in a way that enhances the experience. That was my big concern. It feels natural. It feels like an extension of either gaming or listening to music or whatever activity you're doing at the time.
How would you describe the DropLabs experience in your own words?
I would say it helps enhance the auditory experience by adding a physical sensation to it in a way that is done really seamlessly. When you're listening to music usually, it's very much in your head and this allows it to also be in your feet and the rest of your body. It allows the sound to hit you on a deeper level without distracting you.
What are some projects you're currently working on or some goals for the year ahead?
That's obviously a bit in flux now, but there's a bunch of things I'm really excited for. I manage this group 2Hype, which is comprised of six YouTubers who all have their own channel. They now have a group channel, which is close to crossing 1 million subscribers. I'm really excited to hopefully bring larger opportunities to them. I'm also excited for sports to come back and to help my clients build their businesses.
What advice do you have for people who are just now starting channels or video series and are embracing digital content creation in response to coronavirus-related quarantine?
In a time where there's a lot of stress and uncertainty, I'd say have fun with it. If you're looking to do it as a career, I'd say good luck and stick with it, but make sure you're at least having fun during the process. Even when you have success, and you're able to do it full-time as a job, there's other stress that comes along with it, especially with all the digital platforms in general where monetization has been uncertain. When you compound that with the times we're in now, it really makes for an uncertain way to make a living. I would say just have fun with it. Make sure you're enjoying what you're doing because you've got to treat it as a marathon and if you get too frustrated in the short term, you're never going to make it. It's really such a grind.
As innovators by design, the team behind DropLabs Technology™ is dedicated to supporting and elevating members of the creative community. Together, we aim to serve as a platform highlighting different creators as they work towards achieving visionary excellence and inspiring others along their path. To nominate a creative leader you’d like to see highlighted on our website, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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