Howdy. I’m Harry Sweby, a 19-year old Brisbanite who can’t sit still. I’m a filmmaker, podcaster and writer. I have a media company called The Slop Shack that creates YouTube videos, runs film festivals, distributes podcasts and is currently building a creative collective that provides a platform for South-East Queensland creators.
But really I’m just a slave to my aspirations. At least, I was. If my ambition and I had a Facebook relationship status it would be: complicated. I feel like the people reading this will understand what I mean. Being a “content creator” is all-consuming. You’re constantly having to justify why you aren’t making a video or writing a song right now. Your holidays will suddenly be interrupted by a brilliant idea for a TV show or musical riff. You’re constantly jumping from idea to idea, leaving a graveyard of unfinished projects that haunt the “Notes” app on your iPhone. And it doesn’t just affect your life. It affects everyone around you. Your SO (significant other) is in a relationship with both you and your aspirations. You’re constantly enlisting friends to help you on projects when they probably just wanted to grab a beer or see a movie. Your family doesn’t understand why you’re suddenly nocturnal. It’s a lot.
And this doesn’t mean we, the content creators of the world, don’t like relaxing… I know I do… it just means it’s HARD to truly relax. Hard to stem that nagging feeling that time is wasting. Procrastination is the home of that feeling… and it’s still a big problem for us “motivated” folk. Put too much on your plate and suddenly you can’t face doing ANYTHING… but then you’ll read inspirational articles like the ones on this website whilst you avoid your own work, and then the fuel tank gets filled and you get to work.
I figured I’d give you a glimpse into my story in the hopes that it’ll help you navigate this treacherous and all-consuming journey you’re embarking on. Come procrastinate for 5 minutes and read this article. Yes, it’s okay to take a break. Why?
Well, maybe it can help you stop being a slave to ambition, and make ambition work for you.
A quick overview of me, if I haven’t scared you off yet.
I’ve been a content creator for as long as I can remember, and that desire to be artistic has manifested in many ways: writing bizarre novels at age 10 with titles like “Attack of the Evil Bubblegum”, writing TV scripts at age 14, making short films at 16, and starting a podcast network at 17.
The Slop Shack is my current focus – an outlet for all of my many interests: podcasting, filmmaking, entrepreneurship, art design and even improv comedy. We’ve built quite a community of artists to inhabit this strange communal shack, so check out the YouTube channel (YouTube.com/TheSlopShack) for a taste of the madness.
Am I a full-time creator? Bit of a tough one to answer. I feel like I am, given that I’m constantly working on content for my company (we typically release 2 podcasts and 2 YouTube videos a month) whilst also studying a film degree at QUT (by the end of 2020 I will officially be a Bachelor of Film, Screen & New Media… yikes). But no, the company doesn’t pay the bills whilst I study. I do casual work at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre for that.
The main things The Slop Shack is known for (as of January 2020) are:
Now I know what you’re thinking. What really IS The Slop Shack? What are its intentions going forward and why does it have such a stupid name? Well, the answers to its future lie in the past...
When I was 8 years old, I wanted a place to publish my weird little short stories. I figured: No one’s going to give an 8-year old a shot at being an author, so I’ll have to publish it myself. I had heaps of friends that were writing, making home movies, making music… and I wanted to give them a platform too! I created “Imagination Generation”, a publishing company that really only existed only in Microsoft Word documents.
10 years later, and the idea for Imagination Generation was still raging in my head. I was surrounded by SO MANY talented people that just needed a push… a platform… some motivation to really pursue these creative endeavours.
The Slop Shack happened by accident. We did a podcast about Theatresports (competitive high school improv), and then did more, and then suddenly I realised I had a platform. I figured I could use it to launch that thing I’d always wanted to make… that platform that brings creators together and helps turn their slop into gold… and so one year ago, my team and I started “Phase 2”.
We moved from being a little audio-only podcast network to being a fully-fledged media company that does events, short films, music videos, YouTube content and podcasts. 12 months later, and it’s been CRAZY. Making a website, moving to video, hosting a film festival, meeting dozens of incredible creators… we’ve seen the potential of artistic youth, and we want to help them follow their dreams, just as we are.
The goal of the shack has always been about community. About uniting content creators (just like Creator Mindset does!). Experimenting with how we can help each other follow our dreams… and how we can push those around us that are struggling to follow their passion.
I think the biggest advice I have is to surround yourself with an eclectic assortment of creative people. People from all different backgrounds and with different passions. People who dream big, and are enthusiastic about ideas. People who won’t laugh at your dumb ideas, but are also brave enough to tell you when an idea is fucking stupid.
My other advice is definitely not for everyone, but I highly recommend it. It definitely changed my life:
Get involved in improv! Yes, it sounds a bit absurd, but hear me out.
Improv theatre is all about ideas, spontaneity, sparking the imagination and building on those sparks with other people. People who will challenge your ideas, grow your ideas, and reject your ideas… all within the confines of a 2-minute improv scene! You learn how to get ideas quickly, trust those around you, how to solve problems, when it’s good to be silent, and how to get a reaction from an audience. Everything an entrepreneur or content creator needs!
Plus: it’s fun! You don’t have to be a drama kid or a stand-up comedian to do it. Everyone who starts out is terrible, but you learn the skills at an insane speed.
It also improves your social skills, builds confidence (there really is nothing like walking out on a stage with absolutely no plan and convincing the audience you aren’t terrified) and is a great way to become friends with other creators (almost every improv comedian I’ve ever met has at least two creative projects on the go).
There are classes and 8-week courses everywhere (if you live in Brisbane I’d recommend Big Fork Theatre) and it can be life changing if you invest in it.
The Slop Shack started on Soundcloud with a single podcast, which was a nice little microcosm where I learnt how to create provocative thumbnails, engaging titles and the technical details of using an RSS feed to distribute content on Spotify and iTunes. If you want to start a podcast, like a lot of content creators do (either as the primary product or a supporting one), I’d recommend hosting on Soundcloud (it’s cheap and easy to link to) or Podbean (quickly becoming the most popular hosting platform).
I used to create very rudimentary graphics on Microsoft Word (years of creating my book cover using Word shows you just how nifty you can be with limited software), but once we moved into the YouTube space we needed some better tools. I’m a big Adobe subscriber… Premiere Pro and Photoshop are the birthing suites of most of my content… but if you’re a video editor Da Vinci Resolve is quickly becoming the new go-to… you can’t really argue with the word “free”. Learning these tools can be a pain, but with sites like Lynda (now known as LinkedIn Learning) and YouTube tutorials university courses in filmmaking and production are quickly becoming a relic of the past.
Most video folks learn the process through making shorts with friends, so if you’re new to the medium I’d recommend the same: Go and make some random videos with friends. Mimic the style of your favourite YouTube video. Be more ambitious with each video ie. I’ll use a green screen on this one! to force yourself to learn keying.
The Slop Shack is on all social media platforms, and it is difficult to maintain consistent posting unless you plan ahead. My advice: get a bank of posts ready to go, re-use old content in new ways, and stay aware of the trends (TikTok!).
The big thing we’ve learnt is that engagement in your content will live or die based on how well you can convince someone to click… so be creative with your titles, thumbnails and descriptions! The time of day and hashtag you use is less important than the EMOTIONAL value of the post… be it humorous, provocative, bizarre or sad (especially when you’re posting the same kind of content to a stagnant audience over and over again).
Side notes: We use Trello to manage social media plans, which is a great resource when working with a team, and Canva is also a great place to make quick and good-looking social media designs. I also highly recommend using Instagram TV, especially since you can add clickable links (the swipe up feature on Instagram stories isn’t available until you have 10K followers… but you can do this clever trick.
Fear is the biggest hurdle as a creator. And I think one of the biggest fears creators have is that their “product” isn’t good enough. We often feel like things have to be perfect, and we kill ourselves to get it across an impossible finish line.
Often we’re afraid that we won’t get the response we want, and so we leave something on the shelf… waiting for that ever elusive “right time”. You want to wait for the perfect moment that’ll catapult you into the stratosphere. I mean, who wants to GRIND for their dream job? No one! But instant success is very very very rare.
The Slop Shack’s philosophy is one that embraces imperfection. When we were starting out, our graphics sucked. Our social media was ugly. Our audio was barely listenable. But we kept going, and they got better.
You can’t go from zero to Gary Vee in a day. Or a month. Or even a year. So don’t bother. Do the best job you can – and then release it. Put it out there, and move onto the next thing. You can spend your entire life perfecting something, but you’ll never grow as a creator.
With The Slop Shack I wanted to let others know it’s better to release it in a messy fashion than to not release it at all. Art is meant to be messy. The Slop Shack wants to provide creators with a home for that mess and help them polish it into something they can be proud of. That’s how we see Phase 3 (coming in 2021): Using the community we’ve built and the lessons we’ve learnt to give back and help other Brisbane creators create, distribute and overcome their fears.
On a personal level, I think being an on-camera personality can be tough, especially when you’re having to spend thousands of hours a year editing yourself. No one scrutinises you like you, so it can be hard to watch yourself over and over again. But those that take steps to work in front of the camera are usually the ones who want to be… so just remember: You did this to yourself, which means you probably did it for a good reason. And again, improv is a great way to improve your hosting chops. After all, you can’t spell improve without improv! (fuck that’s a dumb ass line, I’m sorry).
Side note: The “you only have yourself to blame” is a mantra that will help you in the hard times. You put all this pressure on yourself, so you can take it off as well. OWN your ambition, don’t let it own you.
Back to fear: I think that a complete lack of response is worse than a negative response… because you can’t learn what you did wrong without feedback! Most of the people that take the time to tell you your thing sucks will also tell you why: which is useful! Some of the most enlightening experiences I’ve had as a content creator have been posting videos onto Reddit (asking for feedback) and having it torn to shreds by strangers. Most of the time, if you choose the right community to post to, the people commenting will give you tips and point out flaws you may never have seen whilst also complimenting you on the good things you did. Subreddits like r/indiemusicfeedback and r/mealtimevideos and r/filmmakers are great for that kind of thing.
It all kind of happened by accident. After a surprise win at the QLD Youth Theatresports competition, my team and I wanted to tell our weird-and-wonderful story. So we did a podcast. We enjoyed the banter, and so we did another, and soon the podcast became an interview series with new and diverse guests. Then I realised that I was slowly evolving this podcast into my original idea for Imagination Generation – and so I enlisted three friends (Ash Whyte, Ava van Zijl and Joey Hughes), who had similar aspirations.
We had the trouble of taking what people saw as a podcast network and evolving it into a fully-fledged media company that did YouTube videos, events, music videos and short films. We created a “Phase 2” initiative that pervaded our social media, and did a big “Christmas Special Event” to kickstart the endeavour and make it clear to our audience that we meant business.
We kinda got stuck with The Slop Shack name (it’s hard to back out of a domain purchase), but we have embraced it. That said, our brand has always been a bit hard to pin down. It took us a while to find the core of the business and develop strategies to make it easier for people to understand our brand. But it’s really all in the name: Slop is messy, and combination of lots of different ingredients. So are we. Shacks are housing, and we’ve built a home for creators.
We had big ideas for Phase 2. A film festival was top priority. Creating new shows was another. We wanted to get as big as possible as quickly as possible… but we didn’t have the foundations to match our ambitions. So we managed our expectations. That’s a big tip. Always want more, but never too much.
We had little money and not much by way of equipment & venue, so we looked to those around us. We were all QUT students, so we used their Film Club to get access to professional equipment. We used our friends recently renovated back-shed to record in. We reached out to high-school friends to come and help film. A sound engineer gave us old audio gear that was to be thrown out. We were resourceful, and surrounded ourselves with people who wanted to help.
Building the brand and our audience mostly came down collaborating with lots of different artists. We were strategic about whom we invited on our podcast because it could lead to a collaborative relationship and new opportunities. If we saw people doing things that we wanted to do as well, we invited them onto the podcast to talk about it and learn from them. Having an interview podcast is really a great excuse to meet people you think are cool.
After two years, I wanted to see some more results from our efforts. We’d released 54 videos in a year, but most of them ended up around the 200 views mark. But just as I was getting frustrated, we had a shining light: Reddit! Our video explaining Scientology blew up on r/mealtimevideos and gave us our first real taste of mass engagement. This was encouraging, and helped shape our plans for the future.
The operation today: Ash Whyte and I are the main team (me as CEO and Ash as COO), and we work with a dozen or so constant collaborators (Movies of the Future, Fin Taylor, Orange & Juicy) to produce a variety of content. We’ve taken a month long break through January to examine the last two years and implement the lessons we’ve learnt. We’re bringing in new team members, revamping our social media aesthetic, and focusing in on the content that got the best response. The next big steps are brand deals and sponsorships (see final question).
In future, I see The Slop Shack becoming more of a production company that supports my filmmaking career, with subsets that focus on YouTube / podcast content and Brisbane based community work (running workshops and seminars).
The key to overcoming procrastination (at least for me) is to create deadlines and add pressure to them. I won’t get anything done unless there’s a consequence for not doing it. You get that with school and work, but when you’re the only one who cares whether or not you write that script, or make that video, it can be hard to stick to deadlines.
That’s why I like to tell people about my projects when I start them. Get them excited about them, so that if it doesn’t happen, you feel bad. Post about them and tease people on your social media (but don’t set unrealistic deadlines either).
Tell yourself that you can’t go to [INSERT SOCIAL EVENT] until you’ve finished your Daily To-Do list. I know I hate the feeling of having not done everything I wanted to do in a day, so I’ll work to finish it before the social event. I also know not to pack too much into a day, because then I won’t get to enjoy the event. So, essentially, make sure you have a reward system in place. Give yourself a pat on the back every once in a while!
My main advice: Get to know that feeling of frustration you have when you look at all of those projects that you procrastinated into dust and use it as a weapon against yourself. Visualise how awesome it will feel to get something finished, and use that as a carrot on a stick. Those two feelings are enough to get anyone off their ass.
Now, I’ve always been one to start early on projects (I’m the kind of guy who is utterly terrified of the last-minute scramble to finish something) but others aren’t as lucky. I think that’s the biggest key to success… start early. Don’t stress yourself out at the last minute. Get scared of that last-minute rush, so you never want to experience it again.
But once you do all this… once you build a good work ethic… you need to be careful. My issue was that I did this so well that it stopped me from being able to enjoy downtime.
Someone once told me I’m the kind of person who “bites off more than they can chew and then chews like mad”, which is great, but you need to be careful. I always have a ridiculous number of projects on the go at any one time, so I never have a time where there’s nothing to be done. The key to sanity is to schedule in breaks and rest days. Remember why days off are important, and recognise how well they can fuel your creativity and present new ideas.
It sounds like a good problem to have (I have to decrease my work ethic), and maybe it is… but it will forever be my biggest challenge in life. Work/Life balance.
The conclusion: Don’t let your ambition work you. Don’t let it take over your life. Don’t put a clock in your head that constantly reminds you of your mortality. Make your ambitions work for you. Let them motivate you, let them bring you to people and places you never dreamt of, and let them give your life meaning. Control your ambition, know when to send it on a vacation, and never forget that your ambition doesn’t define you.
You aren’t a failure if you don’t achieve your goals. You achieve your goals through failure.
Sappy enough? I hope so. Moving on...
Given how hard it is to make liveable money off of content creation, especially as I am dividing my time between the business and being a full-time student, I will be keeping my casual job for a foreseeable future. Luckily, it is one where I have heaps of flexibility in shift times and dates (given that I only work when there’s an event on). That’s something all side-hustling entrepreneurs need: an understanding and flexible workplace. If only they were easy to find…
I graduate at the end of this year, and will then be able to spend most of my time working on the business. If all goes well (with our upcoming brand deals, revenue streams and freelance filmmaking) I can forsee myself being a stable full-time content creator in the next three years.
I suppose the most useful thing I can say in this section is directed at students: Yes, you CAN start your own business whilst both studying and working. No, it’s not easy. A lot of people start on the holidays, and then fall off once the semester starts. You have to make sure that you develop strategies to prepare yourself before the semester begins (either by building up a bank of content or lightening the load) and then commit to releasing certain things. Create deadlines and add pressure to get things done, because it is worth it. And be smart: Incorporate your degree into your business and vice versa. Use an assessment piece in a way to creates a new piece of content for your channel. Or use a tutorial as a place to make contacts. Kill two birds with one stone.
Being able to finish your degree and have a two/three year old business that’s benefitting from the lessons and contacts you’ve made during university is great safety net once you enter the “real world”.
Hosting a film festival at a major cinema in Brisbane with over 200 attendees was definitely the highlight of last year.
Seeing our logo up there on a massive screen, followed by a film I had made, and then seeing 15 other brilliant short films made by talented filmmakers in South East Brisbane that wanted to be a part of our festival was surreal.
After putting out videos online for years, where viewers are just a statistic, it was incredible to have hundreds of people sitting together in a room watching our content. I am forever grateful to those who came to support local content creation.
Want a taste of this feeling: Submit your film to our next festival in April!
Collaboration was the key to our expansion. The Slop Podcast helps expand our audience by inviting in an entirely new fanbase each month with our guest. We create music videos for artists to expose our brand to fresh audiences. We build shows around successful brands that have an in-built audience, bringing our technical knowledge and experience to help them expand their platforms (like producing a YouTube reaction show for musician Fin Taylor or producing a podcast for a movie news Instagram page).
Getting out of your immediate circle (the friends and family) is the hardest part of building an audience, but Reddit has helped immensely. Being smart about where and when you post (and making content that is inherently geared towards a specific subreddit) can be a huge win.
As we are still a growing business, The Slop Shack has been reaching out to smaller local brands that we like and offering them free advertisements and shout-outs in our content. This was a great way to test our audience’s engagement in advertising, and create a precedent for sponsorship without the icky world of finance. We’re now using the information and experience to help us secure deals with bigger brands, using engagement numbers to demonstrate their potential return on investment. This is a big step for us in 2020, so hopefully all goes well!