Photo courtesy of Amy Nicola, Jad Slaibeh, and Michael Rizzi. Edits: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.
Reading Time: 8 minutes

If we’re being honest, Ottawa is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of hot YouTube talent. But if you do a little digging, you’ll find that this is not the case. The Fulcrum sat down and talked with a number of local content creators to document their journey and success on the popular video sharing website. 

amynicolaox (Amy Nicola)

Subscribers: 161,800+
Joined YouTube: Aug 18, 2008
Genre: Beauty, style, fitness, and travel vlogs

Former University of Ottawa student Amy Nicola’s transformation as a YouTube content creator has been professionally and personally gratifying. Not only has her channel come to include new content and better production values throughout the eight years she’s been on the platform, she’s also come to embrace a much healthier lifestyle. After undergoing a dramatic body transformation in the past couple years, Nicola is now dedicating her channel to helping people lose weight, eat better, and look good while doing it.

What encouraged you to get into YouTube in the first place?

I started YouTube in my first year in residence at the U of O. One of my good friends and floormate saw that I had recently gotten interested in makeup and had grown quite a larger than average collection. So she showed me the whole YouTube community as I had no idea that people made makeup and beauty videos online.

How has your channel evolved throughout the eight years you’ve been on YouTube?

Initially, I created just beauty videos, so my focus was entirely there. It was also more of a hobby—I didn’t have a set schedule and made videos sporadically whenever I felt like it.

As I progressed I started being able to monetize my videos and create a revenue stream, so I began to take creating content more seriously by adhering to a set weekly schedule and investing in better equipment—DSLR camera, lenses, professional lighting—to upgrade my quality.

Also, when I lost the weight two years ago, I uploaded a video documenting my experience and what I did. That video gained a ton of views and great feedback, so I realized there was a huge appetite for weight loss and healthy lifestyle content.

What’s it like producing entertainment content in Ottawa, a city that’s not really known for producing this kind of content?

In terms of the content I produce, it hasn’t affected me too much as (my content) isn’t Ottawa specific or doesn’t require a lot of amenities, or sets or permits to film on location.

However, most of the YouTube community events or beauty brands I work with are located in large cities—Toronto, New York, Los Angeles—so I don’t get to meet and engage with other content creators as much as I would like.

Ideally it would be great if Ottawa became more of a central city in the community and more events were held here.

How is the path to success on YouTube different from the path to success in other entertainment mediums?

On YouTube your success is directly tied 100 per cent to you as the content creator. Ultimately, your success is down to being as genuine and true to who you are as a person.

People come to YouTube to watch “real” people just like themselves, so it’s important to let your personality shine through and be transparent, honest, genuine, and interact with your subscribers to build that relationship.

Success also depends on the creator themselves and how much work they want to put into their channel. Subscribers like consistent uploads and, now that things have progressed, great high quality videos, so it’s up to the creator to set an upload schedule and stick to it.

What’s your favourite video that you’ve produced?

I am very proud of my “How To Get Rid of Belly Fat” video. It was a topic I was very nervous to talk about on camera and I didn’t expect such a huge response and millions of hits.

My personal favourite however would be my recent “Spring & Summer Fashion Lookbook 2016” as fashion videos are the most fun to film and I had to find locations in Ottawa that would be appropriate to film in outside without bothering people. 

What’s the worst part of doing YouTube?

The worst part is probably not having a dedicated filming room or studio. It means I have to set up and take down my tripod, lights, etc. every time I film multiple times every week. It’s hard to get it exactly perfect and takes about 25 minutes every time!

Oh, and how hot it gets sitting under all those filming lights!

Any plans for the future?

I want to do YouTube videos for as long as I can, basically until my viewers don’t want to watch anymore or I don’t find it fun, because it’s something your heart has to be into.

I definitely want to go to more industry events where I’m able to meet more of my subscribers in real life, as those experiences are unforgettable!

I also want to upgrade my quality and play with new lenses/lighting even more, and I’ve already got great future content and videos planned and lined up for the next few months, so it keeps things exciting!

Outside of YouTube, beauty/fashion/lifestyle still is a huge passion for me and I majored in communications, so I’d love to combine the two and get into that field, perhaps as a beauty publicist or in the PR department for one of the major beauty brands.

Michael Rizzi

Subscribers: 116,600+
Joined YouTube: Feb 24, 2012
Genre: Travel vlogs, comedy videos, edutainment content (sex ed and LGBTQ+ issues)

Self described as a 21-year-old, Nutella-eating, boy-loving, clothing-obsessed guy who likes to talk to his camera, Michael Rizzi started his YouTube channel in high school with the sole intent to make friends online. Now that’s he’s got a partnership with Much and is about to finish his communications undergrad at Carleton, Rizzi is looking forward to putting his “heart and soul” into his videos on a full-time basis.

What’s it like producing entertainment content in Ottawa, a city that’s not really known for producing this kind of content?

I think Toronto, as well as Montreal, have become strong YouTube hubs. I think Ottawa is obviously lacking in that, but that’s for every reason that it lacks in other things; public service, employees, and its much older population.

A lot of our sets are bedrooms or living rooms, so you can totally start a YouTube channel and acknowledge that you’re here in Ottawa. You don’t have to live in a city where all the action is happening all the time.

How is the path to success on YouTube different from the path to success in other entertainment mediums?

I think, especially now, there are so many different channels, similar to something like traditional media where it’s very difficult for a new network to come in, because it feels like everything’s been done.

So, in the same way with YouTube, I feel like almost everything’s been done. But when I see YouTubers blow up it’s because they’re doing something that no one’s done before. They’re doing a variation on something.

What’s your favourite video that you’ve produced?

There was a video I did when I interviewed a series of HIV positive people. So there were different age ranges, different genders, and I sort of talked to them about, not necessarily living with HIV, but living with the HIV stigma.

That was sort of a really cool thing for me because I had the idea, I reached out to everybody to confirm, produced the video, edited it, and uploaded it within two weeks while I was a full-time student. And I think that was the moment where I thought “Damn, if I want to put my mind to something of actual substance I could totally do that and I can do it essentially by myself.”

What YouTube creator(s) inspire you the most?

I watch Casey Neistat. He really pioneered artsy vlogs…they’re not even vlogs, they’re like daily films.

I also watch Laci Green because she also pioneered the sex ed genre on YouTube.

Are you concerned about having some of your videos demonetized by YouTube?

Nothing for me has been demonetized. But I would say even if they were to get demonetized I’m not too worried about that because I sort of structure my channel where the ad revenue is not necessarily my main source of income. I try to make something a little more well-rounded.

I work with brands, I make my own merchandise, I try to make value in myself, and not necessarily my YouTube channel.

Any plans for the future?

I find that, as much as I like being a personality, I also really like engaging with people and interviewing people, and I think doing my YouTube has taught me that I really like being a voice for something.

So I think television works for that because it reaches a broad amount of people and I want to interview because I want to be a sort of voice behind something. A cause or a brand or something.

ChadWithaJ (Jad Slaibeh)

Subscribers: 478,500+
Joined YouTube: Apr 2, 2013
Genre: vlogs, public interviews, skits, and challenges

ChadWithaJ is a full-time local Ottawa YouTuber who specializes in skits, vlogs, and generally having a good time on camera. As a member of Team Alboe—which consists of local YouTubers DavidParody, WolfieRaps, ItsYeBoi, and Deejdesign—Slaibeh is part of growing movement that aims to dispel the idea that the nation’s capital is not the place to be when it comes to producing online content creators.

How did you get started on YouTube?

My friends and I started on YouTube four years ago, kinda before the boom of YouTube happened. We got into it because we were all interested in filming and videography and it was a nice medium to control what we put on the Internet.

So, you said you started with a group of friends. How many people?

We all have our own channels, but we started as a group and the group is called Team Alboe, which stands for “a little bit of everything.” Our group is multicultural. The combined subscriber count for all of us is just under 6.5 million subscribers.

What’s it like producing entertainment content in Ottawa?

Ottawa is so important to us because not many YouTubers are from Ottawa and many transition to Toronto right away. Us staying in Ottawa and showing love to Ottawa and being in the Ottawa scene is important to us and we are trying to embrace the local support.

How has YouTube developed over the last few years?

Four years ago when we first started, if you had 20,000 subscribers you were a top YouTuber, you were killing the game.

But now you have thousands of channels that have over one million subscribers. It just shows the amount of growth with YouTube. It is crazy to see how YouTube used to be such a niche thing, but now it’s very normalized. Even if you are not a daily watcher you will end up watching a viral video from YouTube throughout your week at some point. 

Why did you choose YouTube over other entertainment paths?

I chose YouTube mainly for versatility. On YouTube right now, I can upload any type of video I want—a funny cooking video, or prank calling somebody. (With) the versatility that YouTube offers, you can film anything you find entertaining and there are no limitations. Other platforms, especially media, if I am going to go into television I can only follow what they want to do.

What’s your favourite video that you’ve produced?

I started a viral trend on YouTube. Well it’s been done before, but I gave it its own style. I started with a paper clip and see what you can trade with in a mall. I ended up with Beats headphones just by trading.

How did you come up with that idea?

When I was a camp counsellor we would do that as a challenge with the kids. It was really fun and I just saw how engaged they were and I thought I should try that on my YouTube channel.

What YouTube creator(s) inspire you the most?

There’s this guy that is everyone’s favourite YouTuber. Casey Neistat, a daily vlogger entrepreneur from New York City. His videos have such a high quality, but he releases a video every single day. He’s mastered the art of both quality and quantity.

Any plans for the future?

Immediate future is to potentially sign with a network. MuchMusic is one that we are interested in, and then releasing merchandise so people can buy our merch, and then hopefully one day doing a North American tour to meet our fans across the globe.