Ep 263: How To Grow a Million Dollar Membership Site With YouTube with Jonny May

AJV (00:02):
Hey everybody. This is AJ Vaden. One of the co-founders and CEO at brand builders group. Welcome to another episode of the influential personal brand. And today I’m so excited. And also just quite honestly, I’m so honored to have a personal friend on this show. So I’m gonna introduce Jonny in just a second, and really today is kind of one of those episodes that if you are building a digital business of any kind, if you are trying to grow your audience trying to scale your course, create online content. This is an episode you do not want to miss. So do not fast forward. This do not get off or early, make sure you listen to the whole thing. Take notes, listen to the recap episode and then go follow Jonny because this is exactly the episode that was built for you.
AJV (00:54):
So this is very, a very specific invitation of bringing Jonny onto the show to share some really cool expertise. So let me formally introduce you to my good for and Johnny May. So Jonny is an internationally acclaimed pianist. He is a pianist educator, founder of piano with johnny.com, which you should go check out which is an online piano course platform with more than 10,000 active monthly members across the world. He’s also a viral YouTuber and his videos have earned more than 70 million views with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of followers. He’s also one of the youngest or the youngest ever a pianist to perform at the Disneyland main street as a main street pianist. He’s also just an awesome human being with a heart and just all things good. So welcome to the show, Jonny.
JM (01:49):
Wow, AJ, thank you so much. That was an amazing introduction. Thank
AJV (01:52):
You. I should be like a professional introducer one day. You’re good
JM (01:57):
At it. Yeah, you should start
AJV (01:58):
Business, future business. So welcome. I’m so excited to have you on, because I know that so many of listeners are trying to build their digital platform. They’re trying to grow memberships courses increase their recognition online. And that is something that you have done extraordinarily well and really a short amount of time. And so we ask this question to everyone who comes onto this show and what we really wanna is how did you get to where you are? And so personally knowing a little bit of your background, what I really want everyone to hear from you is how did you go from being a professional musician to a membership site that has 10,000 monthly members, and you have grown a multi seven figure your business in a really short amount of time by leveraging your skillset as a musician to teach others how to do the same thing. So we wanna know how’d you do it.
JM (02:57):
Thank you so much. Well, you did a great job again leading into this. And so my story is so I was a professional musician. I still play professionally, but I did basically, I giggled for a living starting at age at age 18. I got, well, actually before that I was gigging at 16, like little like local restaurants and bars. And then I landed the Disneyland main street ragtime gig. I did that for nine years. I was hired at age 18 and love a gig. That’s a long time, long time. Yeah. Nine years. Yeah. Right. It’s like a little career. And I just like hustled as a musician and I, I remember playing seven nights so a week and I was playing restaurants and hotels and weddings and private parties and just bust, you know, really working hard.
JM (03:46):
And, and I, it was a lot of fun. I loved it. And basically around this time, it was 2012. My brother-in-law, who’s also a professional musician. He had just graduated college, graduated college, and we were driving home from a, a date night, a double date with my sister. He was dating my sister and then my, my girlfriend girlfriend at the time who was later become my wife. And he said, Hey, why don’t we record some of your piano lessons and put ’em online and sell them. And it was like, at the time, not a lot of people were doing this right. 2012 to was one guy who was doing it piano with Willie. So we said, well, we’ll call it piano with Johnny. And so we that’s awesome. Yeah. It was like, okay, you know, whatever cool. So he kind of put things together.
JM (04:33):
He arranged the session and we hired a friend of ours. You know, he set up the cameras, we went to my brother-in-law’s old college, his almond modern, and we recorded three courses and we had no idea what we were doing. I had never filmed like that. So I literally, AJ, I could not talk on the camera. Like I could not just talk the way I’m talking to you right now. I was stumbling over my words. I didn’t know what to say. My brother-in-law had to write out cue cards. And I was like reading these cue cards. It’s like super obvious. But it was just fun. It was like this cool idea. And I was teaching a bunch of private lessons at the time and it was like, Hey, why don’t, why don’t we try this? You know, it was just an experiment.
JM (05:14):
And so we made these three courses. We were like, okay, we gotta make a website. So we went on WordPress and like built basically like kind of pieced it together and hired a couple guys, but it looked horrible. Like it was like tons of texts. And we had, we had these three courses and we made a boogie woogie course, a blues course and a rag time course. And we started a YouTube channel called piano with Johnny. And I started putting up like performances of me, just me playing. And then little, we put up like a free version of the courses, like a 10 minute version. And we, some, we sold a course. We’re like, we’re like, oh my gosh, this is amazing. How much was it for 40? I think it was 40. And I was like, woo, woo, big money. You know, being a musician.
JM (05:59):
And, you know, I was all excited cuz it was like passive a little bit passive. And so we just kind of kept selling courses and my brother-in-law would call me and say, Hey, let’s make another course. And we ended up filming in his apartment. He had like a one bedroom apartment with a grand piano in his living room. And I actually have a, a picture. Maybe I can share it with you, but like I’m teaching at this piano. And he’s like, he’s got the two dining room, table chairs with the tripod legs. And he’s like, looking over me, it’s super awkward, but we had so much fun and we just went for it. It was like, let’s do it. And so we just kept making more courses. And I remember there was a big moment for me. It went from, okay, this is just a fun, little hobby to like, oh my gosh, like this could be a real business. And it was in the summer of 2014, we did our summer special and we made $4,000 that month. And I was like, what? This is, this is awesome. You know, that was a big deal for a musician be making that kind of money. And I just, oh,
AJV (07:00):
On that note, I think this is really important. I think you shared this like your best year ever as a full-time professional musician you made how much?
JM (07:09):
Oh my gosh. I think my best year and I, I took every single gig. Every single, I think I made $60,000
AJV (07:18):
Thousand in a month,
JM (07:20):
4,000 a month. Big deal. That was a big deal. I mean, that was like almost what I was making anyway. And it was a big deal and, and I, but I just remember something went off. I was like, oh, this, this could be a business. This isn’t just like another gig, another side thing. And so I started taking it more seriously. And then basically a few things happened that I lost a couple gigs at Disneyland. They like closed a showdown and they like changed the performers and I suddenly didn’t like, didn’t have work. And I had to like go scramble for work. And I kind of realized, you know, I had been at Disneyland for nine years and like, I, I really did not want to be playing piano at a theme park, you know, in 30 years. And so I had a, a lot of deep interest, a lot of prayer, as you know, I’m a believer and really turned to God said, you know, what, what do you want me to do with my life?
JM (08:06):
And I loved teaching and I had this opportunity and then we had the summer sale and long conversations with my wife and just like, what’s your purpose? And I, I was like, you know, I really, I really think I wanna be an entrepreneur. And it was like, okay, like, wait you’re gig musician. No, no, I I’m still a gig musician, but I wanna do, I wanna be an entrepreneur as well. And so I kind of fused together. These two things that I had always loved as a little side note when I was 16. No, no, no. I was younger. I was 13. I started an eBay business selling pirate at software. And I did that for a couple years. I made like $10,000. So like ripped off soft software. I was like copying these CDRs. I like Napster
AJV (08:52):
The days of Napster.
JM (08:53):
Yeah. It was the days of Napsters downloading music and copying games and making labels. And it was so illegal and this guy emailed me one day and he was like, I’m turning you in. This is like, he, I, he bought one of the products and I was, I emailed him back and I was like, dude, I’m only, I’m only 14 years old, man. I’m so sorry. You know, I’ll never do this again. I was like apologizing and my parents had no idea that I was like running this like illegal eBay business from like my bedroom. But I was always an entrepreneur. I always like liked creating things. And so, you know, as a, you know, I left Disneyland when I was 27 and I had this, like this desire to start a business, this like unfulfilled potential. And I was like, I think this is the time to do it.
JM (09:35):
And so I struck out from Disneyland, we sold our condo. And oh, so this was a big part of my journey as I went back to school to learn business, cuz I was like, I don’t know anything about business, you know? And so I went back to college. This was in 2014 and I got my business degree while running piano with Johnny. And it was really, really hard to do by it. I, I did it. And then we just kept making courses and kept learning from our audience you know, growing, using YouTube. And we launched a membership that was a really big deal for us is we were selling courses up till 2015. And we were like always like running sales and Hey, you know, buy the blues course, whatever. And we were like, Hey, why don’t we just have a membership? And just people can pay for access. That was one of the smartest decisions. And I think when we did that, we had like a hundred members right off the
AJV (10:23):
Bat. Oh my gosh. OK. So I wanna pause right here. Cause I think there’s three things about your story so far that I think are pretty significant to people who are listening to this. Is that one you really built your business leveraging YouTube.
JM (10:37):
Yes, absolutely.
AJV (10:38):
Okay. So, so let’s pause and like talk about that for a few minutes of like, what were some of the keys of building your YouTube following? And like even today, now it’s like YouTube is still like your primary social media platform, right? It’s like, that’s where your go to is. So for those of us who are going, okay, I really want to leverage video and YouTube and I wanna use that to build my business. Like how do you do it? Like, what are some of those insider tips and secrets of growing and utilizing YouTube?
JM (11:07):
Yeah. I mean, you’re so insightful. And this is when people ask me, like, how did you do it? How did you do it? I say YouTube. It is YouTube. Like literally like to your point from 2012 to 2019, we did zero paid ads, zero paid ads. It was all on YouTube. And we, I think we grew in 2019, I mean the business was almost a seven figure business by that point. So YouTube is huge. I don’t think people realize if you get a video that goes viral, it’s the traffic is incredible. So here’s what I’ll first start off by saying is we did not do YouTube very well when we started, when we started well we did some things well, so as a performer that drove a lot of the traffic, but we did not do a good job making content for YouTube.
JM (11:52):
So what we were doing, we had these courses and then we, we would take like 10 minutes from a course and we would do like a demo version and then it would like fade out and say, Hey, you want the full course and the YouTube channel. I would say didn’t grow as quickly as it could have until several years later that we started actually making content for YouTube and making weekly content. So that’s a big, big thing is our YouTube channel did not really take off until we started making weekly content and it was for YouTube. So, okay. I’m gonna make a 10 minute video and it’s gonna feel really good for the rather than give 10 minutes of a larger course, I’m gonna make content for that audience. And I’m gonna get to know that audience really well. That was a big deal. And we started doing that much later in 2019. So
AJV (12:35):
I have a question. You said we created content for YouTube,
JM (12:40):
AJV (12:41):
What does that look like?
JM (12:42):
So it’s, it’s knowing the YouTube audience, knowing the content that they wanna see and then creating a short video that they get to the end of the video and feels they, they have this great sense of satisfaction that they learned something. It’s I, I guess the, to me, it’s not as promotional. I think the demos were more like, Hey, it’s a little piece, but you really need to watch the course. This was like the feeling I think for the user was, wow, this is like free like, oh my gosh, this is great instruction. And it was really hard to get to that point because I was like, wait, I’m not gonna just give away my knowledge. Like, no, you have to buy the course. You know, I had that attitude like, no, I’m not gonna give and I cannot tell you how wrong I was about that. As I started giving more, I received more. And that was like so bizarre. Like I would make longer videos for YouTube and like make them really like put everything I had into these videos. And then the, the videos would do really well. And so that’s, I guess that’s what I mean is they weren’t promotional. It was like, it was, I was really actually giving for free and not, it
AJV (13:46):
Was like truly curated content on how to, right. So it wasn’t like here’s a little preview by the course. It was like, no, I’m gonna give it all to you. Here’s a, how to video on X, Y, Z.
JM (13:57):
Exactly. And then of course I would say, Hey, if you want to go deeper check out course. But I, it was like, I think a lot of it was like an attitude thing of mine. And I, I imagine that it came out also in the way I taught in those videos, you know? And then the other thing is a lot of the courses, you know, we weren’t releasing a course every week. We’d really, of course, every two months. So I was only putting out one video every two months. Oh wow. My new strategy was like, oh, I can make a 10 minute video every week. And that’s, I guess the second piece is so not only making content free content with the intention of it being free, but secondly is you have to put yourself on a schedule. And I I’ve talked to so many people who they’re like, yeah, you YouTube, I’m doing this, but you know, I’m not sure what to post and I haven’t posted a month or two. And I always say to them, like, you need to post, this is my opinion. You might disagree with it, but post every week post something. And a lot of the reason people don’t post is they’re nervous on camera, you know? And so you, but you overcome that as you post more, it’s like, well, you need to do the thing that you don’t wanna do to overcome that. And so anyway, I just made a habit of that and that’s when the channel really took off on YouTube. So consistent,
AJV (15:05):
Consistent weekly. It’s like, yeah, I would say daily, weekly, just make it like consistent. So people know when can hear from you. Right. So it’s like consistent but free curated content really to just give like, ultimately give value on how to, for YouTube. I love that. And then every single person we talk about talks about consistency. Right? I think it, I think it was Gary V maybe giving credit to the wrong person here. You said, content may be king, but consistency is queen.
JM (15:37):
Mm. Right. Absolutely.
AJV (15:38):
Content only goes so far. Cause we need to have that expectation of when are you gonna give me more? But then you mentioned something else about when a video goes viral and I know that at this point you’ve posted thousand and thousands of videos. So I’m curious to know, it’s like, do you guys have predictions and indicators of what you think will go viral? Or is it kind of like, who knows? Wait and see,
JM (16:02):
You know, it’s funny, AJ, I’ve not solved the puzzle of YouTube. I’ve been doing YouTube eight years. Right. And just tons of videos. I still, it still blows my mind. I’ll do a video on like, man, this is the video. Oh man. People are gonna love the title and the thumbnail. It’s perfect. And then it’s like, w wa you know, it’s like, and it’s so disheartening too, you know? And then, and then I’ll do a video and I’m like, Hey, like I barely like take any time. And it, it like gets hundreds of thousands of views or millions of views. And so I, you know, there, there are certain things that I do. I mean, yes, absolutely. That I’ve learned that do better, but I wouldn’t say like, well, here’s like the formula I’ve noticed. I mean, I can, I can offer your audience some tips that I’ve
AJV (16:46):
Yes, please. I’ve
JM (16:47):
Realized. So the thumbnail is huge, you know, keeping the thumbnail really simple. And in using images, I’m sure you’ve talked to your audience about this, but try using less text and images to represent whatever you’re trying to say. I try to keep the word, I do put words on my images, but I, I usually try like five words, six words, because it’s that it needs to be that guttural thing, cuz people are St scrolling and it’s the first thing they see. And then actually you shared something that was very profound with me last year and it actually helped my thumbnails. I don’t think I’ve ever shared this with you. Oh,
AJV (17:21):
I’m so in, I’m sorry. I’m trying to hear what this is.
JM (17:23):
Yeah. You, you did, you shared it with me when we were in the Florida retreat, but you said for the thumbnail, it needs to be the, I want to, right. I want to, and I was like, oh, like I never thought of it that way, but that’s true. Right. It’s the, I want, and so I started restructuring the thumbnails that way and I noticed an increase. So it needs to be that, that gut thing, I want to play jazz piano. I want to and so that’s worked well. And then there’s a lot of strategies for like the title, but short titles, not too many emoticons. I like the, the carrot at the end of the stick. Like here’s how to, you know, improvise, you know what, something with this or the top thing I do it like, it’s like, well with that thing. So creating a sense of curiosity. And then I wouldn’t say we’re the best that our thumbnail, our thumbnails don’t look amazing. They’re very simple. But I would say there is definitely a strategy behind the video itself. I can talk about too. I don’t know how deeply you want me to go.
AJV (18:21):
This is so helpful. It’s like titles, thumbnails, the video themselves, like all, whatever you have bring it on.
JM (18:26):
Well, okay. So it’s branded around me, you now with Johnny. So I’m in every video, that’s it doesn’t have to be that way, but that’s a decision we made. There’s always a keyboard because Hey, you know, we’re about the keyboard, but then we don’t do fancy backgrounds. Almost every one of our thumbnails. It’s the same angle. It’s, it’s not like we do a lot of production. One of the advantages of our production is it’s incredibly simple. So we don’t do a lot of product. And you know, we don’t have a lot of camera angles. It’s just me at the camera. I’m usually holding an object pointing to something and just trying to convey a very simple message. Then so, but this is actually in some ways, not what matters the most. Cuz people get to the content. If it’s good, they stay. If it’s bad, they go right.
JM (19:07):
And so really like those are gateways. They’re entry ways to the content. The content has to be excellent. Right. Wow. You know this right? And so we try to make 10 to 15 minute videos. Sometimes they’re 25. We just did a 27 minute video. That’s fine. We’ve done six minute videos. I think the key is teaching. What needs to be taught no more, no less. And then what I found that really works, and this is for me as a pianist is the moment people open the video, you need to show them something they really want. And in my case, it’s like, Hey, I wanna play like that. And you need to show authority. You need to show credibility. And so almost every video, I try to open with me playing something, just like freaking awesome. Right. And I wanna hook them in and then go, ah, I wanna play that.
JM (19:55):
That’s awesome. And I see a lot of YouTube YouTubers start their videos with talking. I think that’s cool. But I just think if you can establish that hook right away, that’s extremely important. And then I structure the inner, I always say, Hey, you know, do you want to learn this thing? Usually it starts with a question to engage them. And then I’ll say, and then rather than give ’em the answer, I’ll say, well, many teachers would say this or a lot of students think this, right. It’s kind of challenging in an assumption. I, again, this is a very like general way of presenting a video and then I’ll go into, but actually this is the case, but no, no can do it this way. And then I’ll say, but you need to learn this thing, right. Again, the, the carrot, right? You gotta keep them engaged and excited about.
JM (20:41):
Right. So, and then I transition to the teaching and then for my staff teaching, I try to get right to the point. I try to, you know, people don’t wanna sit there and listen 15 minutes. So it’s a weird balance of getting to the point, but like having, having more. And so this has taken a lot of time for me to learn, but in the video you always need to be like saying, well, I’m going to, I’m gonna show you this other thing, like in a little bit. Right. Or like, okay, I’ll show to put together a little bit. And so, so it’s a real art I would say to the teaching, but how
AJV (21:10):
Did you learn all of that? I know you’ve been doing it a long time, but for those people who are going what you just said could change my business. How do I learn how to do that better? Like how did you do that? Like, did you watch videos, courses, classes, trial, and error. Watch yourself. Yeah. What’d you guys do
JM (21:27):
Well, I’ve watched a lot of other guys do what I do. Like I’m very aware of the competition. I, I see what works and I try to integrate it. I’m a big Steeler steel so much like, yeah. I mean, I mean, think about it. Like I’m playing the freaking piano, like a sea. I didn’t invent a sea major chord. Like all this stuff I’m teaching like I’m regurgitating, right? Yes. I think what we need to do, this is really relevant for your audience is you need to repackage information, sorry. You know, you’re, you’re not inventing what you do. You learned it somewhere. Another thing that comes to mind is you, is it’s important to coin language. A, a lot of what I’ve done as a pianist and as a teacher is make up my own language around what I do. Because there’s certain chord progressions that there’s not a name for there’s certain scales or techniques.
JM (22:12):
And so there’s real opportunity. I think all of your listeners who, you know, maybe your field is beauty or your field is fashion or your field is, you know weightlifting or whatever. You, there are opportunities to, to sort of own a little space of that field. I mean, I’ve literally made up words for a, I made a, a scale. It was called the major blue scale. Right. It’s kind of a technical name. And I was like, it’s the gospel scale? Right? It’s the gospel scale. And literally it’s now like people search the gospel scale.
AJV (22:43):
That’s awesome.
JM (22:44):
And it was like, you know, I’ve made up, I made up a a technique called pops, Sten. It’s like a pop chord progression and an AA, which is like a boring, kind of a boring classical term. And I was like, it’s, but it’s a pop Sten, like, you know, the sentimental chord progression. Like, so my point is like, I think it’s important if you’re building a brand is to actually build language
AJV (23:05):
JM (23:07):
In that space that you can kind of own, right. If you’re the first person to coin it. And I certainly wouldn’t go about just doing it, you know, willynilly or just for the sake of it, because you know, there’s a, there’s an advantage to having the language. But I think in every field, there’s what I’m trying to say is an opportunity to kind of use your own language.
AJV (23:23):
Absolutely. I love that so much. I’ve never heard you say anything like that, but I think that’s a whole point of put your uniqueness on what you do. It’s like the, so many of the things that all of us do are commoditized. And the only thing that makes us different is us.
JM (23:40):
AJV (23:40):
Right, right. The, the beauty of what we’re doing and what we’re talking about at brand builder’s group, and what you’re talking about is if you simply be you, what you do is unable. Cause no one else is you. Right. Right. And it’s like, the more that you can infuse you into the language, the culture, the imagery, the feel, the essence of it. No one can copy it. Right.
JM (24:01):
Totally. Totally. Yeah. We call it, you know, barriers to entry in business. Right. I don’t own, I mean, I do have copyrights on my sheet music, but my biggest beer entry to entry is there is no other Johnny Mae. Yeah. And you’re totally right. Like all of your listeners, you know, each one of you guys are watching this, you possess a very incredible and unique skill and you need to own it 100%. Like I’ve never, like, I like, I, I wear this type of shirt, like as a collared shirt. And I’m just, I’m like, you know, the, I just do it. Like, it’s my thing. And, and I think if you can own that and build, as I said, language around it, don’t like, copy’s like the worst thing you could do. And I know I just said how much copying works, but I think in terms of, it’s like a weird balance, I guess. Yeah. You want to copy and you also want to be yourself.
AJV (24:49):
No, I, no. It is a unique balance that it’s like to some degree it’s like, no matter what you do is copying a little bit. It’s like, what is really new today, but it’s how you put your spin on it. Right? Your take your unique perspective and view. And I, I love that those are so many really good little nuggets there. Y’all, it’s like simplicity in the thumbnail. Right? Keeping it about the imagery, the way that you start getting quick to it creating those little cliff hanger moments where it’s like, but stick around because in a minute, we’re gonna talk about and we, we shared this a lot that it’s like, you, you said it and I love that you brought this up and it totally, it was like, ding, ding, ding, ding in my head. Because like, you know, you always hear people say like, save the best for last. Yeah. Our philosophy is you always save the best for first, like lead with your best content lead with whatever you have. That’s going to like grab people’s attention and suck ’em in. And that’s exactly what you said. It’s like, no, it’s like lead with your best stuff. Show ’em what you got. Bring it and bring the heat from the beginning.
JM (25:50):
Oh my gosh, AJ, I need some like organ music right now. Like you’re preaching it girl like that. Like it is so true. And it’s like, it’s like a relationship, right? I mean, when you are courting a customer, you want somebody to post a customer. You, you show off your best, you dress off your best. And then you build a relationship. Like that’s another mistake. I see. So many people ache like in YouTube is they, they ask for a lot before they give, yeah, you need to not only give, but you need to give over a long period of time. Our sales cycle is not based on YouTube. I am not looking for a sale from YouTube. I’m looking actually for their email. That’s the most important thing, cuz email’s a little bit closer to their heart, right? We’re all we will. As consumers, we will subscribe new channel, whatever.
JM (26:32):
Right? It’s not a big deal, but, but who gets my email address? Not many people. Right? You’re a little more protective of that. And so it’s, it’s gradual. And then once I have their email, it’s we drip the content and honestly be people won’t become a customer customer of ours for six months because they’re getting this content weekly and it’s like, okay, you know, you need to build trust with these people. So to your point, give your absolute best. And that should be the first thing they experience. I did have a couple other things I wanted to say about YouTube that I think are really that have helped us. And it, I guess it actually relates to this, but when you’re making a YouTube video, start with the easiest ask, don’t start with a big ask. So, you know, a, a big ask in my case might be by a or sign up for the membership.
JM (27:19):
I will always start usually two minutes in with, Hey, if you like this video hit the like button and subscribe, right? It’s like no big deal. Then the second is generally related to an email address. And then the third is related to a course. And so I follow, if you watch my videos, I almost always follow this structure is very easy. Ask to you know, putting the, the carrot out there. They may or may not wanna get the course, but I think some people ask for a lot early, they’ll start promoting their, like their thousand dollars membership. Two minutes in it’s like, wait a second. I don’t even know you dude. So
AJV (27:51):
It’s building that. Yes. Momentum. So, Hey, if you like this, yes. You’re conditioning their behavior from the get go. It’s like, like this, subscribe to this sign up for this. Oh and Hey, by the way, you can buy this core. So it’s like that gradual conditioning.
JM (28:06):
Exactly. Yeah. You have to be very, very mindful of what you ask from people. And especially if they don’t know you, it’s like, well, you’re just another guy on YouTube making piano videos. You have to build a relationship and there’s so much trust involved. You know, we sell our, our membership is a, you know, 40 bucks a month. It’s not a product, but you you’ll be amazed how long people wait to sign up for a $40 month product or the $300 annual membership. So, you know, I just wanna drill this point to all of your listeners is build a relationship with your customer and don’t ask for the full buy on the front end, defer it, defer it as much as possible. I’d say at least six months. And it depends on your product. If you have a thousand dollars product, like it might take a year, that’s a big, that’s a big chunk of money for people.
AJV (28:53):
Yeah. You know, it’s so funny. There’s been this like ongoing growing conversation and the brand builders group community around. I just thought I would be at a certain place by now. I thought I would have this many followers or this many ERs or this many members. And, and it’s I think this is such a great reminder. And I’ve heard maybe this message is from me today because I heard this from like four people today about the importance of patience.
JM (29:18):
Yeah, totally.
AJV (29:20):
It’s like, it’s like, you gotta win the trust. Then you win a relationship. But that take time. It’s like you wouldn’t ask, you know, your girlfriend to marry you after, you know, six weeks. I don’t know. Maybe you would, but for most people it’s gonna take a little bit of time, but it’s like, why are we asking our customers to buy the moment they show up on our page? Where’s the relationship, where’s the trust. And there’s just some things you can’t expedite so much. And those are such good reminders and a little bit of patience is a good, healthy reminder to all of us, no matter what we’re doing. That’s so good. So, okay. So I have two other quick things for you. Cuz I know that we I literally could continue this conversation. It’s like, I’m gonna have to steal you for coffee and talk more about YouTube.
AJV (30:06):
Cause that is not, I would say our, our wicked skillset, it’s not YouTube, but we want it to be, so I really need to steal some of your brain. But you said two other things I think are really important. You went from a course format to a membership format. Yes. So I’d love for you to talk about how did you make that successful transition because you don’t just have a membership format, you have 10,000 active monthly members and a multi seven figure business. Yeah. And that’s, that is what so many people in this community are trying to do. And it’s like, how do you do it? Like, so what are some of those like simple steps, maybe not easy, but they’re simple.
JM (30:43):
Yeah. It’s a great question, AJ. I would say if you wanna build a a membership business the first, well, the first thing is you gotta have enough content to justify a membership, right? You, you have three courses, you know, it’s like really I’m gonna pay monthly for this. I just wanna buy the course. But for us, the breaking point was about 20 core. Okay. It was about, you know, Hey, you’ve got 20 courses, we’re selling them 40 bucks, a pop that’s $800 of a worth of a catalog and sell to sell someone. A actually, when we launched our membership, we were selling it at $15 a month. It was pretty cheap. So I don’t know if that comes out too, but that’s like, you know like 200, 200 and it was like, well, okay, that makes sense. Right. I’m I’m paying $200 a year for $800 worth of content.
JM (31:27):
Right. That’s like a no-brainer. So I think you have to get to that point, you have enough content. I think you need to be making regular content. A lot of people make their flagship course and then it’s like, they’re done. It’s like, no, if you’re gonna have a membership, people expect, you know, you go on Netflix, you expect new movies. And so we were, we were making about one new course per month. That was, that was a big thing. Let’s see. What are the, what were the big things? I think those, those were key. Just having the content. We didn’t have a lot of people, like a ton of people sign up for it, but we had a hundred and that was kind of pre of concept was like, okay. You know, and then we just kind of grew it from there
AJV (32:08):
Four year membership site. And this is like a pretty technical question. What, what do you guys use in terms of payment processing and a membership access, do you guys use like an LMS or what do you use?
JM (32:21):
We use member mouse.
AJV (32:23):
JM (32:24):
We and great. They integrate really well with WordPress. So then there’s a bunch of platforms out there. And there’s ones that make it a lot easier. You know, it’s interesting when we started the business there weren’t teachables and Cajas and all these platforms, you know, we just kind of to do it ourselves. So we have a custom built website, but it was like by necessity, I would say to a lot of people, like don’t spend a ton of money, like just use one of these. You can build a membership site on, on a lot of these platforms and get started there. And then if at some point you need a custom site. Great. But don’t go spend $20,000. Yeah. Don’t do it.
AJV (32:59):
If you use member mouse, then there’s like Meum Thinkific, teachable Cajabi okay. So that’s cool. And so, okay. Another question I have I’m trying to think of all the questions that we get. Yeah. In our community. It’s how did you set your pricing? Like how did you, and then, cause you said it, you started off really cheap and then you’ve increased it. So how did you said it and then how did you decide when to increase it?
JM (33:23):
So a lot of the price setting was just the market. Like what are other people charging? We, our strategy has been not to be at the high side, not to be the low side. We don’t want it cheap and people will, will equate the value to the price. If we put it for a dollar, people go that’s cheap, you know, $60. Right. It’s, it’s somewhere in the middle. I think for a lot of people, you have to be aware of the market. People would disagree with me and say, no, you, you gotta price it to what you think it’s worth, but you’re competing. There’s other places to learn piano. So so $15 just seemed like a reasonable price. If seemed affordable, like it was like a lot of things at the time were 15 bucks like Netflix or Spotify, it was like, yeah. 15 bucks, whatever. What changed for us was it was actually, I was doing a presentation in my college program and I had all these like investors, you know, CRI critiquing it. And several of them were like, you’re undercharging. And I was like, really 15, really? Like, it’s like passive income. Like it’s just so great. They’re like, no, it’s worth 40.
JM (34:22):
And I was like, like really people pay $40 a month. That’s a lot of money. Like, that’s not your like, you know, Spotify music, right. That’s like, that’s like a gym membership or something. And sure enough, I, I couldn’t believe it, but we’re like, let’s try it. And we, you know, if you still business, we talk about, talk about elasticity, right. And the getting the right price points. Like if you raise the price, do your sales go down, our sales didn’t go down. And so it was like, oh my gosh, like we can charge 40 people. We’re still buying our, you know, profits went up and you know, we could have gone up and there’s other people who charge 60 a month or 80, but it’s just, you know, fell it right. It felt like, okay, this is worth 40. And then it gave us some also wiggle room. This is important for your, for your audience is you need to have, if you’re gonna run sales, like you need to, you be able to drop it. And so it’s kind of a sweet spot for us. We can do we can do sales based on that and still feel happy. I will say to your audience, you need a set of a, a base, you know, for us, we never go below 15. We have never offered our membership for $10. That’s where we just say it’s, it’s worth it.
AJV (35:29):
Not worth it. Yeah. So it’s interesting. I have two thoughts here on this. So a part of this is going, how much content curriculum do you have, where people would stay. And then it’s looking at how much are you charging for each piece of content and going, what would be worth it? So I think about like, even like our content and brand builders group, we have 14 full two day curriculums and to come to our two day event it’s a $3,000 ticket, right? We’ve got 14 of those and our flagship program’s a thousand bucks a month. So it’s 12,000. I’m going. Maybe we’re undercharging. Right. It’s like, whoa, there, that was a big light bulb for me of going what we’re literally giving you 50, $60,000 of curated education for 12, right? Yeah. So part of that is like that spectrum. But then another part of it, what I hear you saying is like some, and I, I think this is true for any business owner, for any entrepreneur.
AJV (36:27):
I think most people undercharge, they undervalue what they’re doing, because that’s just the nature of what we do is like we don’t see our own value. So having outside people weigh in to give you perspective, and I can think about this one very particular time and mine and R’s speaking career. And this was like, I don’t know. Our first work came out in 2012. So this month we celebrate 10 years of our first book coming out, which seems impossible. But I remember like three or four years after that, we were meeting with a really good friend and he was sitting down and at this point, like the book had hit like the New York times list and it was doing really well. And he was like, so what are your speaking fees? And we were like $7,500. And he literally said, get up outta your seat, walk out of this room, increase your fiefs to $15,000 and come back, I’m getting a P a cup of coffee. A, we were like double our fees. Are you insane? Yeah. And it was like, the rest of that day was convincing us of how like, no, like $7,500, like that is not 70. That that is not what you should be charging. Totally. We were terrified. We increased our fees to $15,000. Nothing else changed. And we were book solid. Yep.
JM (37:38):
Totally. But
AJV (37:38):
It was some by weighing in and carrying that confidence and seeing the value that we did. And so for everyone listening, it’s like, who are those wise counselors in your life that can give you wise Sage business advice on how you’re doing, what you’re doing and what you’re charging. Right. I think that’s really important for all of us.
JM (37:59):
Well, oftentimes we lack that perspective of ourselves, right? Absolutely. We tend so critical of ourselves, but absolutely. Yeah. You need to build, you need to build like your tribe of people around you. You know, we can, we wouldn’t have gotten to 10,000 members, if not, for all of the support, encouragement, I mean our wives and just a great team. That’s another piece of all of this is you can’t do it alone, like you to, you need the right people. So
AJV (38:22):
I love that. Okay. I have two last questions for you and I promise I’ll keep this on time. So I wanna know, how did you guys grow to 10,000 members? Right. So it’s like you started, I mean, clearly something happened along the way that was like, okay we figured out something, do you know what that, something was like, was there a moment a trigger? Like how did you go from a hundred to a thousand to 10,000?
JM (38:48):
I’m so glad you asked AJ, this was a big piece of it. I think your listeners all should. I mean, I think it’s helpful for them to know this because it was really slow growing. Like I remember we started launched the membership in 2015, in 2018, 2018. I think we had just hit a thousand members. Okay. So we’ve gone from a thousand in 2018 to 10,000, like three years later. So we did three things. Okay.
AJV (39:15):
Everyone write this down.
JM (39:16):
Okay. Write this down. The first is what I already said, which is we started making weekly YouTube content. Our, we, our YouTube channel had about 10,000 subscribers in 2018. And now it has 250,000 subscribers it’s because we started making weekly content make content weekly. And if you think it sucks still it because you’re gonna get better at it. So that was number one second, we launched a funnel. Okay. And I copied this company that all of you guys should be aware of called jump cut. Okay. That’s two guys that were YouTubers and they teach people how to become famous YouTubers. And they had a very successful funnel and I studied it. I analyzed it. I read every email. I watched every video and I took notes and literally copied their format with my words. So that’s what I mean by copy. Look at the people, doing it well and copy them.
JM (40:08):
And so we launched a 10 day blues challenge and we started running ads on Facebook and Instagram. And it was like, Hey, you wanna learn? The blue were free, sign up, you get five free videos, stream, email inbox. And basically we used lead pages for that. It was really easy to set up my business partner. And I literally made the pages ourselves and then connected it to MailChimp. Like we, we did it ourselves. We’re not computer guys. We’re like musicians and then made the email automations. And then at 10 days, Hey, you get 40 per sent off all the sales stuff. And that grew, so our strategy with that, AJ was not to make money. Our strategy with that was to break even and build our email list.
AJV (40:48):
Yeah. Preach.
JM (40:49):
That’s when our email list went from 10,000 to, to like, I mean, we have 150,000 now on our email list because of that. Right. And so the, the funnel was really helpful started doing paid ads. And then the other third thing was we, we needed a new website and we took out a loan for a website at that point. Wow. Yeah. I know, like we didn’t, it was like 20, it, I think it was $30,000, but like we didn’t have the money. And so that was a smart, a decision for us because we had a much better experience. And so those were the three things in 2019 that kicked us up into, I think, 3,400 members. By the end of that year, 2020, we were up to almost 8,000 members. Yes.
AJV (41:33):
Doing the same thing,
JM (41:34):
Doing the same thing we’d always done. But with the paid ads, with the weekly YouTube content, we still have the same website. Of course we’re making improvements on it, but there is a fourth thing. And it’s something that was not in my control, but we were ready for, it was COVID. Yeah. You know, every, everyone stuck at home. And so we did a quarantine offering, like the month of proof, like terrible. It’s like, you’re stuck at home and your life is miserable, but you can learn jazz piano. That’s. And so we gave away a month membership and we had a huge influx of people who came in, it was like, Hey, I get a month for free. And then, you know, people who liked it stayed. And so we were just kind of positioned for that for that event. And so right now the membership’s still growing.
JM (42:16):
It’s not growing as kind of hockey puck as, as we were. But yeah, I would say to your audience is it’s those three things is get the, get the organic traffic right now. We’re actually focusing a ton on SEO. In fact, we just hired a full-time SEO blog writer. But I, I would just really encourage your audience if you’re doing anything, visual people go to YouTube. In fact, if people search on Google for something, Google pushes all the YouTube videos to the top. So you’re not only getting all the traffic from people on YouTube, but you’re getting all the Google traffic. I mean, that is like the world, right? So, so video, I think is key. And then second is the paid is like paid ADSS, you know, funnels all that.
AJV (43:00):
Oh my gosh, this has been so insightful on so many levels. And I love to your humility and all of this goes, and I asked you if you wanted to come on the show, you’re like, I mean, what would I talk about? Like, are you kidding? Like this, this has been so brilliant. So, so awesome. So if people want to connect with you and I’ll put all of this in the show notes for the listeners, so make sure you go to brain builders, group.com/podcast. You can get all the show notes with Johnny Mae but just go to piano with johnny.com and it’s J O N N Y piano with johnny.com. And then if they wanna follow you to see how you’re doing this on YouTube what’s your YouTube channel?
JM (43:45):
Well, we have two, we have the piano with Johnny channel. It is exclusively piano education. So it’s literally me teaching all the, all the time. I have a second channel. That’s Johnny May, it’s just my name. And it’s just me playing the piano and I’m playing on a rooftop somewhere and I’m playing on a hill somewhere and I’m playing a beautiful, like sparkling grand piano. It’s all performances. And I imagine a lot of your audience, you know, if you wanna learn piano, go to piano with Johnny, but if, yeah, if you just like enjoy piano music, then go to just look up Johnny Mae and you’ll have tons of piano videos to your hearts content.
AJV (44:16):
Oh, I love it. All right. So here’s my last question for you. And totally gonna catch you up guard, but where do you see this business going in the next five years?
JM (44:27):
Oh my gosh. That is something I think about every single day. And to be honest with you, it’s something that I, I don’t really know. I, I think right now piano with Johnny has I don’t know if it’s hit, like it’s sweet spot and it’s something to just ride out. I think for me being an entrepreneur and loving the building process, I want to take it to the next level. Something that really, it sites me is taking our model, taking our system and making it accessible to other teachers. It’s like, oh my gosh, I was able to grow this seven figure business. It’s like, why? Like I see so many talented musicians struggling. I’m like, ah, I wish I could help them. It’s like, what if I could like white label what I’m doing for them? And so I, I toy with that idea, but I think minimally getting other teachers involved is quite exciting. We’re actually starting to hire other teachers. So yeah, but it’s like, it’s the journey. It’s the fun part. It’s like, ah, I don’t know. I don’t know. Where do I want take this?
AJV (45:25):
It’s the blessing and the curse of being an entrepreneur. And I think the here’s what I, and here’s why ask this question for all of you. I, I don’t know if you’ve picked this up, but there isn’t a whole huge staff and team. Like you guys are a pretty lean mean operations and production team, and you guys have built a multi seven figure business. You have 10,000 plus members, you have viral videos with millions of use. And you have done that off of being consistent and having exceptional content.
JM (45:55):
Yes, absolutely.
AJV (45:57):
Everyone listening can do that too.
JM (45:59):
Right. And I will say to your audience, you know, you might look at piano with Johnny and go, oh wow, you have this big team. Do you know that we have three full-time employees? That’s it, three full-time employees, our growth, our business has been around great content and doing what I love and sharing it with the world and being authentic and, and being mindful about the business. But I think to your point is your audience has everything it takes right now. It is unbelievable how many resources you have at your fingertips. I didn’t have almost 10 years ago that are plug and play. You just need to do it. You need to take the first step.
AJV (46:32):
Oh my gosh. I need to have be back on the show again, too. This was so good. It was so insightful. Thank you so much for giving us some of your time today. I so greatly appreciate it. This was an incredibly valuable episode and I hope everyone listening comes back, shares this, likes it connect with Johnny and then make sure you come back to listen to another episode of the influential personal brand.
JM (46:58):
Thanks AJ

AJV (00:02):
All right. Y’all AJ Vaden here on your recap episode of the influential personal brand. Here are my key takeaways from my conversation with Johnny May and Johnny and I are really good personal friends. We both live here in Nashville, Tennessee. We are both in EO, which stands for the entrepreneur organization. He’s in my forum, which means I get to spend an entire half a day with this genius every single month. Just learning and sharing best practices in business. And I’ll tell you what, like, this is like one of those conversations that I had and I pinged him after and I was like we’re are gonna need to continue this conversation over coffee or dinner. So how can I bribe you to continue this? There is so much strategy and wisdom and firsthand experience and expertise in this interview.
AJV (00:57):
Y’all if you were trying to do anything on YouTube or you’re trying to grow and scale a membership model, this interview was literally built for you so highly, highly recommend it specifically if you are trying to grow and scale on YouTube. So here’s just a couple of my key takeaways and I’m gonna heavily lean into, please go listen to this entire episode. It is one of my favorite episodes. It’s so tactical and so strategic and so much firsthand experience and wisdom in this Johnny Mae. So, all right, here’s the first thing. I kind of feel like at brand builders group, we are very new beginner novice when it comes to YouTube. That is not probably our strongest, strongest skillset and terms of leveraging that to grow and scale our business. So this is probably why I’m also so inclined to listen and re-listen, and then re-listen to this episode again.
AJV (01:56):
So first thing as talks about the massive importance of thumbnails and titles, and it’s like, in theory, I get that. But it in practice, are we actually doing that? And he goes simple works, right? Keep the titles very short so they can fit and you can read ’em. He says he keeps his, all of his titles, five to seven words, max make sure that the images are something that actually demonstrates what the video is actually about so that people know, make sure the titles lean into what you’re gonna get from this video. So the first thing was just very strategic tips around your thumbnails, titles and images in the thumbnail. So really important, subtle, but significant. They’ve been at this game for over 10 years. They have a eight figure memberships. And what I mean by that is they have more than 10,000 recurring monthly members, a seven figure BI business of people who are subscribing to learn piano lessons from Johnny piano, with Johnny.
AJV (03:02):
And so he goes like, literally, like our full time thing is focusing on what titles work, what thumbnails work, what goes viral and what does, and he goes, that’s our full-time job. So this is what I’m doing all day every day. And I love it, right? He’s doing it, not as a, an agency, but as the actual business owner. So the importance of titles and thumbnails keep ’em simple, keep ’em clear, make sure that they demonstrate what the video is actually about. Make sure that the title is short and is also very indicative of what you’re gonna get in the video. Loved it. That was the first thing. Second thing is the video itself, because you always wanna start the video, not out with some introduction of who you are or what you’re gonna get. He goes, no, you immediately wanna start the video with a sample of what you’re gonna get.
AJV (03:46):
Then pause, explain it, do a little introduction and tease them of why they need to stick around. He goes, but most people you get into their video and you say, Hey, this is AJ Vaden. And here’s what we’re gonna do today. He goes, they don’t want, you want to get right in and go, all right, this is what you’re here for. Let me show you and get to it in his case, it’s a very tangible show cuz he is teaching piano. But for so many of us, it’s like, how can we start with the best stuff that we have, right? That’s a saying that, and we have a brand builder’s group. As you save your best for first leave with lead, with your best content, that’s gonna catch ’em right in the beginning. Then you can introduce yourself. Then you can explain what’s happening, give context, but then tease why you need to stick around to the very end.
AJV (04:32):
So the first part of this, like, you know, successful three tip trio here is titles and thumbnails. The importance of that, the second is actually how you start the video. I think that makes a really big difference. And then the third thing he talks about is you have different types of videos. Some videos need to be just for content, that’s it? No ask, no offer other videos. You wanna make sure that they’re there to build your email list. He goes, that’s the most important thing we do. He goes, we invest all of our paid traffic, not into converting them into calls or converting them into sales. It’s converting that fan, that follower into an email on our list. He goes, that is what we’re doing. They have a hundred more than a hundred thousand people on our email list by just doing this. And so again, it’s how much of your content is strategically just to provide value.
AJV (05:25):
How much of it is to give something away for free, where you can get their email. And then there’s a separate type of video where there’s the ask, right? He goes, but all the content that we’re making for YouTube is YouTube specific content do not repurpose. He goes, we make content for YouTube. We do not make a piece of content and then repurpose it and all the different channels. He goes, no, we make, we make our content for YouTube. So be intentional about that. And he goes, and we create a ton of free content and we’re monitoring what goes viral and what doesn’t that has to do with the value of the content, the titles, the, the images, how they lead with it. But all of those things are this very, you know, somewhat simple, but yet complicated formula of how do you build your business on social in this particular case on YouTube he goes, build your content for the channel.
AJV (06:21):
That’s really uniquely important. He goes, this is content specifically designed for YouTube. And we have three different types of content. We have content that is just for value just to get people interested. Some is to help us collect emails so they can get ’em onto our list. And then some it’s encouraging them to sign up for our membership. But the majority of what they’re making is unique content just for value, add specifically built for YouTube. Again, I cannot tell you how many more ideas and tips and strategies just like this were in this episode. So if you have listened to this and you’re like, huh, that sounds like me. I would you to go listen to this entire episode. It’s extraordinarily good. You can also follow Johnny May on YouTube or on Instagram to learn more, see it firsthand of what they’re doing. And then please always come back, check out another episode on the influential personal brand. We’ll see you next time.