Certifications in the music industry are no longer measured through solely through brick-and-mortar sales. Data provided by YouTube and Spotify, the dominant streaming services, are now the best and most accurate way in which to determine the popularity of a particular artist.
By that measure, 10,000 subscribers on YouTube is a heady accomplishment for any local artist. One hundred thousand is creeping toward international notoriety. But one million? That’s a serious tally reserved for those with Grammy Award wins and fanatical followers.
Few would assume that latter category includes Victoria couple Reb Stevenson, a former journalist, and Billy Reid, a musician and puppeteer — and yet there they are. Thanks to Pancake Manor, their YouTube music channel for children, the duo currently has 2.65 million subscribers and 1.85 billion views.
And they do it all from the comfort of their home in Saanich.
The roots of the musical project date back to 2011, when they were living in Toronto. Reid was the principal content creator until 2013, when Stevenson signed on and Pancake Manor became a full-time entity for them both. The project was eventually shifted from music videos for teenagers to music videos for the pre-school set, which was more feasible and less prone to trend swings.
Reid and Stevenson, who were both born on Vancouver Island, have made the majority of their income from YouTube since 2016, when their song and video about the colour pink, which now has 105 million views, took off. “That was the very first time we were like, ‘Whoa, these views are through the roof,’ ” Stevenson said. “That kickstarted the channel to a whole new level.”
The problem with content creation in 2022 is the need to constantly feed the platform. Time off in the online world doesn’t technically exist; subscribers want new content daily, so the couple (who have a three year-old daughter, Rose), are often forced to balance life and work at all hours of the day. “The one silver lining about making children’s entertainment is that it is evergreen,” Reid said.
“Our most popular video is Old MacDonald Had a Farm, and we made that video in 2014. But we always feel beholden to YouTube’s algorithm. We do feel like we constantly have to put out fresh content.”
YouTube isn’t the only revenue generator for Pancake Manor. The couple has a presence on Apple Music and Spotify, where they have 215,000 monthly listeners, and sell via their website T-shirts and plushies of Zach and Reggie, the puppets who appear regularly in their videos. But YouTube, for better or worse, is the dominant provider, Stevenson said.
“It really is feast or famine, and a lot of that is outside of our control. YouTube’s algorithm really determines what kind of paycheque we get, from dismal to celebratory, so it evens out to something that is comfortable but sometimes stressful. YouTube is constantly changing how much you’re getting paid. So you might get paid a certain amount per view one month, and the next month it is half of that. You can’t count on it at all.”
Pancake Manor released its eighth album last week. Just a Minute includes 25 original songs all written and recorded by the couple at their house. Though it’s a simple set-up, the studio out of which they make their living has brought their company worldwide attention, proving not all YouTube stars in the modern era hail from epicentres such as Los Angeles.
“I know there was one instance where like 300 kids in a Chinese school were out in a courtyard singing along [to our music]. That’s really quite neat, because often Bill and I feel like we’re in a vacuum.”
They may not find themselves hidden from the limelight for much longer. As streaming continues to dominate — thanks, in part, to the pandemic — creators whose work exists solely online are becoming today’s rock stars. Pancake Manor may not be an in-person entity (Reid and Stevenson have never performed a concert under the banner) but opportunities abound in the world of entertainment aimed at children.
The channel with the second-most subscriptions on YouTube currently is Cocomelon, which has 127 million subscribers and offers nursery rhymes and educational songs for kids. It’s worth nothing that the UK office of Moonbug Entertainment, the media company which owns Cocomelon, is the entity which distributes all of Pancake Manor’s recordings. Could that mean even bigger things are on the horizon for the pair?
Stevenson isn’t planning that far ahead, despite having a plaque on a wall at their home, sent to the couple by YouTube, to certify one million followers. “There are household names that don’t have those kinds of numbers, and would like to have those kinds of numbers,” she said. “But we’re not a household name.” firstname.lastname@example.org