Mackenzie Johnson


► Since it is your full-time occupation, do you have a way to quantify how much time a day you spend on the different aspects of it? For example, do you know how much time you dedicate to social media per day?
I try not to be too connected to my phone. I feel like I need to be able to put it down and concentrate on other things. Of course I do spend a lot of time every day answering tweets or commenting back on YouTube. I actually used to do a lot more comment-answering on YouTube, but that has kind of gotten away from me. I still comment on those initial comments when a new video goes up. I make sure to make time for that. I think I owe that to the viewers – for being there, for waiting with bated breath, for commenting. I don’t think I have an exact number for you when it comes to how many hours, but especially over the weekend and on Mondays, when I work on those Monday videos, I dedicate a lot of time to it. And then I try to be on social media every day, say ‘hi’ and ‘thank you’ and talk to people.

► You don’t actually do all the different social media platforms. You’re on YouTube, of course, as well as Twitter, Instagram. You’re probably on Facebook, although I never look those up, because I personally can’t stand Facebook …
I feel you. I mean, I am on Facebook because I think I should be, but it’s definitely not my favourite social media platform.

Mackenzie Johnson
photo credit: Charlotte Ortholary

► But you’re not doing Vine, Snapchat or the other things that keep popping up …
Yeah, I’m not the biggest fan of Snapchat. That goes back to the idea of spending a little too much time on social media. It would get too overwhelming for me, I feel. I prefer keeping it pretty basic. I’m already on four or five different platforms. I think that’s enough. At least for me personally. I guess Periscope is pretty new, and someone asked me to do it. But I don’t really want to. And do you really want to see me just sitting around? (laughs) I mean, have you ever done Periscope?

► I have watched a few people on it. And then I quickly stopped again. As much as I love following artists whose work I like – in any genre – and learning about their story, I prefer doing it at my own pace. I don’t need people in my face all the time. That’s why I don’t like Snapchat. That, plus it seems to lack substance. As a society, we already have enough of an attention deficit. My feeling is that we don’t need random, pointless pictures that go away after five seconds.
Exactly. It’s not even here-today-and-gone-tomorrow. It’s here, right now, and it’s gone in an instant. Whereas Instagram is more like a photo album. It’s always there and you can choose when you look at it and what you look at. Although I don’t use it myself, I think Vine is pretty fascinating. To see that people can tell stories in six seconds is pretty cool. Even more than that, there are people actually making careers out of it.

► Okay, so you have chosen your own path, you found your own way to do it, and now we’re three years into your new or your real YouTube career. How much of the things you hoped for have become reality at this point?
That’s a difficult one. I think that reaching 100,000 subscribers was a big thing for me. I used to look at people with 100,000 subscribers and I was so impressed. Now I’ve already surpassed 200k, and that feels even weirder. When it comes to YouTube, these are the things we usually talk about – the numbers. So there I’ve achieved quite a few personal milestones. The 20k, 25k, 50k, the 100,000. That’s tons of awesome, wonderful people along for the ride with me. Of course getting to make music every day is an accomplishment in and of itself for me.

► Go on. How far have you come in terms of your musical aspirations?
Well, there is always something more to do. That’s how I am in general. I always think: ‘So I’ve done this. What’s next?’ I definitely need to learn to appreciate those little triumphs more. But I have so much I’m still working toward. I have yet to tour. Of course before you do that it’s good to have an album first. That’s another thing: I haven’t worked on a project in a studio yet. That’s one of my next bridges to cross. I always had that dream of being signed to a record label too, but I guess nowadays it’s possible to do it on your own. So that dream has changed a bit. The album, being able to tour, having a band with me – those are the things I work toward every day. Honestly, I haven’t accomplished everything I wanted to, but I can see it all happening in the future so clearly.

► Who are some of those people you draw inspiration from?
I’m a big Ed Sheeran fan. I think he is proof that you can do it your way. He is not your typical pop artist, but he has found such mainstream success, which is amazing. I’m also a big Tori Kelly fan. She is the definition of talent and class, and I relate to her so much because she got her start on YouTube too. And I just love a number of great songwriters. Kacey Musgraves is one of my favorites. She’s a country writer, and while I don’t play country music I’ve learned so much from listening to her. I love Sara Bareilles. I adore Dave Grohl. And I know you do too. (laughs)

► I seem to be lacking the hero-worship gene, but Dave Grohl is one of the few people who might be able to turn me into a little fangirl, yes.
(laughs) He has that something about him, right? I always say that I just want to give him a hug. If that’s all I ever did, I’d be fine with it. But that’s the thing – meeting people usually brings things back down to earth for me because I realise that they are, of course, just people too. Because there is this kind of hero worship, which can get a little crazy.

► Talking about your inspirations: Tell me if I am mistaken, but I feel that I’m detecting a whole lot of Ed Sheeran in your original song What I Want
Yes. And no. I mean, you’re not mistaken. It’s not something I set out to do, but it did end up sounding kind of similar to something Ed might write. I love this kind of acoustic rap thing because you don’t hear that all the time. Ed Sheeran is definitely one of my inspirations because I think he is a whole new brand of singer-songwriter. And you don’t see a lot of females doing that. So I thought it was pretty cool to get to write something like that. And I just love the challenge of rapping while playing guitar.

► Well, you have taken on TLC songs. That’s a tall order, seeing how the late Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez was one of the best female rappers ever. And those covers are great.
Thank you. I love TLC. And I love a lot of 90s female bands, even the pop groups, like the Spice Girls. And Left Eye was definitely awesome. I love playing those songs – No Scrubs, Waterfalls, Creep.

► This is always an interesting question to me: How do you pick the songs you cover? A lot of times, the crowd favourites aren’t necessarily the ones a musician really likes to do, and the other way round. How calculating are you with your picks?
It’s actually a very spontaneous process for me, to be honest. Of course I have noticed – through my time on YouTube – that being relevant is important in order to get people to listen to you. So I started covering a lot of really popular songs. And I still do because that brings a lot of people to my channel. It’s a way of putting yourself at the top of the searches and being seen by more people. But I have gotten to a point where I can do a popular song and get a lot of views but also do a song that is not so popular or do one of my own songs and still have people take the time to appreciate it. You’ve seen the videos. It goes from country one week to rap the next and then to one of the 90s songs. Some of these may not be as relevant anymore, but they are some of my favourite songs. But I realise that I am lucky to now be at a point where people want to listen to whatever I put out, whether it is something they know or not.

► But you are also open about the fact that you don’t want to do cover songs forever…
Yes. I really used YouTube as a platform to gain an audience, and covers are a way to do that. At the beginning, I really felt that I had to do covers. Now I genuinely enjoy doing them. When I say I don’t want to do them forever, what I mean is that I don’t want to cover a song every week forever. The weekly video thing is something that works for me at the moment being an active YouTuber, but I do want to eventually get away from that. I think I will always cover songs because it’s fun to put your own spin on someone else’s music. But, being a songwriter, my real babies are the songs that I have written myself. And putting them out there has to be the goal.

► I’d like to wrap this up with a kind of reflecion. With your personal experience, would you tell someone who is 14 now and wants to get into music through YouTube to go for it, even if some of it might suck? Or would your advice be to maybe wait a few years, mature a little, grow a thick skin first, and then go for it?
I always say it’s so worth going for it. I think it is a tool that I would have been a fool not to utilise. The important thing is to realise that what you put out there will be out there forever. That is what you have to be prepared for, no matter how old you are. When I was 14, Twitter wasn’t a thing yet. Social media wasn’t ingrained in me in the way it is in many 14-year-olds today. So it would be difficult to tell them to hold back. All I can say is that you have to be ready for how other people can be. And maybe that these things can have consequences you’re not thinking about now. If you put something on YouTube now and you apply for a job in a few years, a potential boss might see your old videos. So maybe the real advice is that, with whatever you’re thinking of putting out there, stop for a moment and think about whether or not it’s worth it, whether it might hurt or offend anyone.

Study the people who are already doing it successfully. Take hints from what they are doing, now that they have had the chance to grow and learn.

► That’s a filter I apply in my own mind whenever I tweet. Write the tweet, then stop to think how someone who doesn’t understand the context might take it.
Yes, I always think about that when I tweet. And, let’s face it, not every tweet you come up with is really worth putting out there. So for any singer-songwriters or anyone at all who wants to use YouTube and social media to gain a following: Study the people who are already doing it successfully. Take hints from what they are doing, now that they have had the chance to grow and learn. Take a little time to figure out how to use that for yourself, to mature, to hone in on your craft. And don’t try to completely emulate someone you like. Be yourself. But be clever about it. :x:

featured image courtesy of Mackenzie Johnson

Interview by Ewan McGee.

Leave a Reply