Music and Film

Jay Moussa-Mann Music

How A Singer-Songwriter & FilmMaker Fought Her Way Through Her Music In The Height Of A Pandemic

Music and Film
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May 7, 2022

Who are you and what kind of content do you create?

Hi there, I’m Jay. I’m a singer-songwriter and filmmaker based in the North East of the UK. Before 2020, I was a freelance filmmaker full-time, making short promotional videos for organizations and companies. I still do that when the opportunity arises but it’s not my main focus, especially since the pandemic hit. It’s been harder to find those kinds of jobs. 

Currently, I’m spending most of my time working on my second independent album with support from a UK organization called “Help Musicians” which gave me funding to make the album. I produce my own music videos for my songs, some are stop motion, some live action.  

Let's go down memory lane, tell us your backstory!

In 2014 I started a YouTube channel called “The Directors Logbook” which was an educational channel to encourage and help beginner filmmakers. I grew it from 0 subscribers to around 3000 over the course of a few years and had some of my videos featured in NoFilmSchool and TenEighty.

I was making my first feature film at the same time, a musical, and I sent a song to BBC Music Introducing here in the UK hoping it would add some credibility to the film. To my surprise, it actually got played on the local BBC radio. Not only that, when I sent more songs in, they played more. I’ve been writing songs since I was 10. I had a vague attempt to make it a career when I was 20 and it failed miserably. After that, I told myself I didn’t have what it takes, that I didn’t have a good voice or that my talent was not enough. Getting played on BBC Music Introducing and the encouragement that came with it gave me a spark again. It made me tentatively unlock that metaphorical drawer where I’d hidden my music away and give it another go.

When the pandemic hit, I caught the virus just days before the first UK lockdown and was ill for about 27 days at home. We were told not to go to the hospital unless we couldn’t breathe. I was so ill and it just didn’t end. 

Finally, when it seemed like I was over the worst, I realized I had a long covid. That lasted for about nine months. It was awful. I slept about six hours a day as well as all through the night. It affected my muscles and subsequently my voice and my ability to sing as well. My voice sounded weaker, I’d run out of breath quickly. 

Oddly, that made me sad but also really, really angry. I’d always taken my voice for granted, I never thought it was great but it was always there for me, and now that was being taken away from me too. My anger turned to determination and I decided I wanted to push the music stuff more. I got accepted into a scheme called Sage Summer Studios, a famous music venue in the North East which entails a week-long residency to develop local musicians. There, I was encouraged to apply for Help Musicians funding which I did - twice (don’t give up!) and got funding to make an album. My voice is finally back to normal now, I feel I have the strength that I used to have. 

With the music, I have a new YouTube channel and I’ve been preparing some new videos to start growing it. I’m also turning my attention now heavily to TikTok, I believe it’s one of the best platforms to grow and people really engage on there. 

 

Where does your inspiration come from?

I’m inspired by all sorts of creators, often people who aren’t actually in my field. I’m very inspired by YouTubers like Natalia Leigh, Ariel Bisset, Tales From Anna, and Joolzzenda. When I first started my filmmaking channel and had like 3 subscribers, I had incredible support from creators like Kevin the Basic Filmmaker, and Knoptop. Tom Antos featured one of my videos on his channel which definitely brought me subscribers which I would never have had. 

One of the things which really helped me grow my filmmaking channel was a lot of collaboration, not necessarily making videos with other creators but connecting through hashtags, taking part in video challenges that were added to playlists, and joining Twitter chats. I remember creating a “Filmmakers Tag” video when I started my channel, where I answered a set of questions aimed at filmmakers and a few other creators joined it and mentioned me which meant I drew some of their audience.

 

I’ve found that a lot harder to do in this new phase and I think that might be because the scene on YouTube has changed. There aren’t as many small creators doing things like that now, but it’s still happening in a slightly different way on TikTok. 

I’m currently really inspired by creators I’ve discovered in the past year like Cecelia Bloomfehl and Hannahleeduggan. One of the things I’m attracted to in their videos is the calm. They are just so themselves, so real and authentic. I think that is the way things are going now - more authenticity. In a way, the era of Zoella and Casey Niestat was authentic to some extent but it was busy and eager and full of energy. I think the new style is more laid-back, peaceful, and more about people being themselves. I’m still trying to figure out how to harness what I like about these creators’ content and make my own version of that.    

How do you brainstorm ideas for your content and what is your advice in getting the creative juices flowing?

I get inspiration from channels like Vox, movies, and TikTok creators. I use my phone notes to jot down any ideas I get when I’m out and about. I use Notion to organize my video schedule and keep lists of video ideas. 

When I get blocked, I try and ride the wave. I find doing other things like listening to music, going for a long walk, walking the dog with my husband, and visiting family are ways to get inspiration and relax at the same time. Sometimes your brain needs to just switch off one topic to release an idea. 

If I’m trying to write a new song, I use poetry prompts, or research historical figures to get ideas for characters. Sometimes, I’ll type into Google, “chord progression”, pick one, and only use those chords to write a melody. Other times, I’ll watch some of my favorite artists like Maisie Peters perform live and watch how she plays guitar to get ideas for a rhythm. 

With videos and social media content, I make it a habit to watch well-produced videos like Vox and popular films or TV series to see what people are enjoying and how I can utilize elements in them. Once I have a video idea, I spend some time on Pinterest pinning lighting styles I want to try or I look through high-end videos on YouTube to see if I can create a similar set design or lighting setup. 

What are the tools and platforms you use to help with your brand?

I always used Adobe Premiere Pro for video editing but I’ve recently started using DaVinci since I got a Blackmagic Camera. I use After Effects for motion graphics and animation and I’m constantly using Adobe Photoshop for my album artwork as well as animation videos. 

I learned to edit by editing. I did some trainee work at a TV station in Denmark when I was 18 and spent many boring hours editing speech videos together. I also sat in the editor's office and watched how they edited. I learned a lot that way. 

I love social media as a tool. When I was a kid, there was nowhere to really share the videos you made or anything you recorded, audio or visual. I am currently putting my main focus on YouTube and TikTok and a bit on Instagram reels. 

What were your fears starting out? How did you handle it? 

I’m still scared about mean comments on YouTube. Back in the day, I used to ignore them, but what’s been great in the past few years is that I see creators calling out nasty comments and blocking people who make them. I think that puts the power back in the creator’s hands. It really damaged my mental health allowing people to make racist and sexist comments on my channel in the past and not doing anything about it. 

I do worry about how people will perceive me. I worry I am boring or that I will be made fun of for some reason. I overcome those thoughts by making videos and music I love to make and by realizing there are so many popular creators out there who also get mean comments. The important thing is it doesn’t stop them.

I try to remind myself I have as much right to exist and to have a voice in this space as anyone else. 

I used to be super comfortable and confident in front of the camera. Unfortunately, when I was making my feature film I was exposed to some racist comments about my skin color during the shooting and color correction phase. (My mother’s from the UK and my dad is from Northern Cyprus.) To my surprise, this utterly knocked my confidence and made me shut down for a few years. I think I’ve dealt with that now and am beginning to grow my confidence again in front of the camera. It’s definitely a case of “the more you film yourself, the more confident you will get”. You have to spend a bit of time looking at how you come across on camera and accepting that’s how you appear. Once you accept it and maybe learn to like how you look and sound, it’s less daunting putting yourself out there.  

How did you build your brand to where it is now? Take us through your process.

I posted weekly but I would batch film, like 8-10 videos ahead of release, and then schedule them so as not to become overburdened with trying to produce a video each week. I was consistent for the first few years but then life got in the way. I stopped being as consistent and I did see less growth. It’s definitely important to have a schedule and stick to it. 

I would use a portion of the money I was getting from filming jobs to pay for videos and I did get a few funding opportunities but I never put a lot of money into my videos. I believe in starting with what you have and building up first. I think it took about 6 months to get my first 100 followers and I honestly never believed it would happen. Once it did, things started to grow from there. My channel was always super slow but it was consistent. I didn’t really get too much help in building my brand. One of the things I love about YouTube and building a channel is that it’s my own little project. I do love collaborating but I need something in my life that no one else can access. Making videos and putting them on YouTube was calming to me, like painting on a quiet morning. It was time for me to experiment with how I want to.  

For someone who wants to get into content creation, what is your advice?

For anyone who wants to get into content creation, I would strongly say sit and decide why you want to do it. I would not advise starting it to make money. That’s not to say you won’t make money or it’s a wrong attitude but you need some passion inside that will keep you making videos when there is no growth, no income, and no interest. Because really, those times will come, and then you’ll start to think ‘what’s the point of all this hard work.’ If you’re not enjoying it, it becomes very hard to sustain. That’s what happened to my first channel. I got bored with my topic and had no joy in it anymore. I was feeling insecure and I lost the plot. In hindsight, I think I lost sight of the fun I was having and started focusing too much on how to grow instead. I should have stayed making videos that I loved to make instead. 

I took brand sponsorship opportunities far too early. I agreed to make advertising videos without pay in return for the product and it didn’t work. I was bored, the audience was bored, it really affected my audience retention. It wasn’t a terrible brand collaboration but it wasn’t necessary and I should have waited for something that either paid well or something I knew I would love as much as my audience would. 

Some actionable steps for someone trying to improve their videos are to watch other videos you like and don’t like, and make notes about why they are good or bad. Learn about lighting and sound. 

Lifehack: if you’re feeling a little low on energy before you need to talk on camera or a little down, jump up and down, or run around the room a minute before you start. It makes you look and feel a bit brighter. Dancing is a good one too! 

What are your marketing strategies to grow your brand?

I am all for growing organically as much as possible. In my experience, YouTube and Facebook ads just don’t bring in a genuine audience. Joining communities on Twitter and YouTube playlists, as well as events like Nanowrimo for Authortube and Vlog every day in April, are great ways to connect with other creators and grow your audience. Those were some of the things that really helped my channel grow. 

Posting blog posts and sharing videos across all my social media platforms was a good way to get more people to watch. Some of your audience isn’t on the same platforms, some are on Twitter, and some are on Instagram. Real-world events also helped, I remember sharing about my channel at film networking events and other gatherings. Don’t forget those kinds of connections, too, if they’re possible for you to attend. 

What is your monthly earning from content creation? 

At the height of my filmmaking channel, I was earning about $500 a month but it wasn’t from YouTube advertising. That was only $5 a month. The rest came in through freelance jobs I got because of my channel, like teaching or giving workshops because people saw I had an education channel. Filming jobs came through because people found my work on YouTube. 

I think it’s good to remember that you can make money from YouTube but there are different ways to do it. It doesn’t all have to come from ad revenue. 

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