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Herman Li explains why more rock musicians should be getting into online content creation

Herman Li
(Image credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

When he’s not setting stages alight shredding with DragonForce, Herman Li is often in his home studio, streaming live on Twitch with a handful of special guests or posting entertaining videos to his YouTube channel. 

Such is his following – the DragonForce YouTube (opens in new tab) channel that hosts his videos has over one million subscribers – it’s safe to say that Li is not just one of today’s foremost shredders, he is also a content creator.

Li isn’t the only guitarist in recent years to diversify his activities and branch out into the realm of social media to attract larger audiences. Many of today’s contemporary guitar stars have thousands of followers across their social channels – audiences who they cater to via short snippets of six-string brilliance and other entertaining content.

Ichika Nito, Seiji Igusa and Matt Heafy immediately spring to mind, as do guitarists such as Mary Spender, Paul Davids and Tyler Larson, all of whom have fully dedicated YouTube channels.

For better or worse, the career of being a guitarist is becoming interlinked with the art of content creation, and it’s a business that Herman Li thinks more rock musicians should be getting into now more than ever.

Speaking to Metal Injection as part of a Content Creator Round Table, Li explained that having a larger follower count gives guitarists a secondary source of income, and can be used as a bargaining tool when it comes to dealing with industry heads.

“If you are writing music and you get your content creator stuff going, you have so much power to negotiate your record deal,” he said. “You're just laughing at them.”

Li said that, if you amass a large enough following online, you hold all the aces in negotiations. 

“Why do you think I've got a million subscribers on YouTube?” Li continued. “So I can go to the next record deal and say, ‘What have you got for me? Oh, you have your YouTube channel? I got that too. I don't care. How much money are you giving me? What's the deal, what's the percentage?’

“There's an upside to that, how you can switch it around and make it less, like, 'Why do I have to do [content]?’

“A lot of the [endorsements from companies] and brands have moved from artist endorsements to artist influencer departments now. Being able to write great songs and being a big band is just not enough for you to even get free gear sometimes now. And guess what? If you're a content creator you get free gear and you get money on top. So win-win there.”

Li went on to say that, while money is an important factor in such discussions, having such security from commercial deals ultimately gives you more creative freedom. It is a stark commentary on the current state of the music industry.

“Having that security lets you control your art,” he concluded. “Understanding the business, understanding that part [of things lets you] control your music and your art. Or else someone else is going to come in and do it for you, and they always know better than you, because their percentage is really what they care about the most.”

Li's comments make sense, since the changing nature of the music industry and the growing importance of content creation for income has been known for some time. In June last year, Heafy revealed that he earns more money from his Twitch than he does from Trivium's digital streaming revenue.

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Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.