Before he was a successful YouTube artist and entrepreneur, Josiah Brooks was just another geeky kid. He first turned to art as an escape, but his lunchtime hobby quickly evolved into a thriving career. Now better known as Jazza, art provided the young misfit a means of transformation. He’s embraced change and growth ever since.

We had a chance to chat with Jazza all about making art, making money and building a community online.

Why art?

Jazza said he realized early on the power he could wield through art. Younger than the rest of his classmates, Jazza felt removed and isolated from his peers in high school. That’s when he turned to art to pass the time.

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“I would just draw pictures and get really lost in creating stuff,” Jazza said.

Making art during lunch and recess turned a potential dark period into one of discovery and empowerment. Art quickly began to serve as a way to take control of his world.

“I was in charge of the universes I could create,” Jazza said. Gradually, he transitioned from the “geeky kid” to “the kid who draws.”

Finding inspiration online

Intrigued by the relationships and reputation artwork helped him build in school, Jazza took his art online. Since this was before YouTube dominated the creative scene across the web, Jazza built his first audience on sites like New Grounds and other flash animation hubs of the early aughts. In these emerging communities, Jazza could upload his animations for people around the world. He also took inspiration from other creators on these platforms.

The agency Jazza found in art expanded the more he shared his work.

“All of a sudden, okay, I’m making this little stick figure story that is being seen by people all around the world,” he said. “And there are people whose animations and stories I’m watching that I respect, or I want to be like — I want to make things that have people feel the same way about what I’m making.”

The acceptance and inspiration from these online communities had an almost intoxicating effect.

“I guess that’s where that addiction continued,” Jazza said. “The hunger to make content that people are inspired by or impressed by or entertained by all started back in high school in the cafeteria and moved to the internet.”

From Josiah to Jazza

In addition to his passion for storytelling, Jazza said he also harbors a passion for building brands.

“I liked that power to sort of reshape my image,” he said.

That’s why he adopted “Jazza” as his handle online. It’s a persona he can mold for himself.

“No one’s ever called me that in real life,” Jazza said, “but online I decided I could be this thing I decided for myself.”

Branding is a key factor in the success of any business. However, developing a brand or persona for yourself can also help you identify your core goals and values. Rather than being an inauthentic act, adopting a persona can remove the mental barriers between you and your ideal self. This leads to a more authentic presentation of yourself. In taking up a new moniker, Jazza could suddenly be whoever he wanted to be — and escape the identity of “geeky kid” for good.

Shaping his own future

These early experiences finding connection through art gave Jazza a clear direction after high school.

“By the time I graduated I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “I just wanted to tell stories, make content and build my own image of what I wanted my world to be.”

The obvious path toward this vision would have been more schooling. But this didn’t feel right to Jazza.

“I knew that the accepted thing to do was to go to university. But I also knew that I taught my multimedia class because I was better at it than my teacher in high school,” Jazza said. “I didn’t see the point in going to university to be given a piece of paper that could tell a future employer that I knew what I was doing when I already was doing it.”

There was another reason for Jazza to avoid more schooling.

“Traditional learning isn’t great for me,” he said.

He said he does better as a self-learner outside of a classroom setting. That’s why, rather than commit to more coursework, Jazza decided to jump straight into entrepreneurship.

“I just decided to keep doing it and find a way to turn it into a business,” he said

Instead of following the expected route, Jazza opted to shape his own future.

Before Draw with Jazza

While he did some freelancing early in his career, online monetization has been one of Jazza’s most persistent revenue streams. Before YouTube, Jazza was already attracting sponsorship deals for his Flash animations. However, technology progressed and Flash soon lost favor. Jazza faced a choice: start developing apps or move to a new platform.

By 2012, YouTube was emerging as a promising outlet for online creators. And it fit with Jazza’s goals and work style.

“I knew that, from working with others, that it was hard to find people with the same sort of gluttony for punishment and overworking as I have,” Jazza said. “So I decided I needed to figure out a way I could do it where I’m mainly depending on myself.”

Being a YouTuber wasn’t yet the aspirational career choice it is today. However, people were starting to make a bit of money on the platform.

“The timing was really fortunate,” he said, “and also my choice was really fortunate. I just thought, ‘okay, I’m going to make a job out of YouTube.'”

Jazza on YouTube

Draw with Jazza launched on YouTube in 2012. Though he said he didn’t have a clear picture of what the end result would be, Jazza’s goal for the channel was simple.

“Do what I want every day and follow the projects I’m passionate about,” he said.

From there, he anchored onto his most consistent passions: storytelling, reaching people and creating stuff. Thanks to the brand relationships Jazza had formed through animating and designing games online, he had a sponsorship deal with New Grounds on day one. This signaled that the channel could sustain itself and become profitable.

But a promising launch isn’t enough to guarantee long-term success. You also need to understand your platform and your audience. A quick scroll through his channel history reveals Jazza’s skill in building and maintaining an audience online. At the same time, he was learning to balance click-ability with his personal interests.

Among his earliest videos, we see a strong focus on educational content, primarily drawing tutorials. There are videos on fundamental drawing and animation techniques mixed with some speed paints and artist showcases. As his channel progressed, uploads evolved to include more pop culture references, like a Minecraft-themed speed paint titled “Steve, Explorer of Mines” or his “Let’s Draw Yoda” tutorial. These character tie-ins undoubtedly helped draw a broader audience to his channel.

However, throughout each shift, Jazza points out that one element has stayed the same.

“I’m creating stuff and sharing it with people,” Jazza said. “And that’s the thing I love doing.”

YouTube as an entertainment platform

Over time, YouTube viewers and the algorithm began to lean away from long-form content and began favoring content that was more expressive and playful. Partially in response to this shift, Jazza began to stray away from his straightforward tutorial content.

From there, Jazza started uploading his character design session videos, a favorite among viewers. In videos like “Character Design: Fairy Demon Hunter,” Jazza takes suggestions from a live Twitch chat and designs an original character. It’s a great way to involve his audience in his content.

In later uploads, he pushing his creative limits in timed animation challenges, odd-ball art supply challenges and more. Before his channel became self-sufficient, Jazza supplemented his income by giving informal musical performances in train stations and on sidewalks. And before that, he participated in theater. All of this performance experience proved invaluable as Jazza pivoted from educator to entertainer.

“I’ve followed the platform as it’s shifted,” he said, “but it’s suited me personally really well.”

Embracing transformation

In August of 2019, Jazza officially ended the Draw with Jazza brand. For Jazza, drawing is just one of many passions. That’s why he simplified his channel name to simply, “Jazza.” The rebrand has allowed him to tackle bigger projects and explore creative practices beyond drawing. This signaled a new era for Jazza, one of experimentation.

More recently, Jazza posted a video titled “I don’t like what I’ve become,” where he addresses recent critiques from his long-time viewers. In both the video and our conversation, Jazza references a Venn diagram to explain how he conceptualizes YouTube success.

The first circle in the diagram encompasses clickable things — video topics or concepts currently favored by viewers and the YouTube algorithm. The second circle, Jazza explains, covers the video ideas you are most passionate about. Unfortunately, these two categories may not always have overlap. Jazza reminds us that it’s important to aim for the middle.

The last circle represents time — how your upload schedule influences which video ideas you pursue.

“If I set a precedent where I’m uploading two to three videos a week, I need to find that balance,” he said. He may, for instance, record a few shorter projects so that he can then dedicate time to a more involved production.

Basically, Jazza needs to remain clickable for an ever-changing algorithm while keeping up with a demanding production schedule and also making things he actually wants to make. In “I don’t like what I’ve become,” Jazza promises to find a better balance. Sticking to this promise will require his channel to undergo yet another transformation; the result will be more authentic content that aligns with Jazza’s own goals and values.

Making money on YouTube (and elsewhere)

On his channel, Jazza approaches art from many angles. He takes the same approach to earning money online.

“It’s all about diversification, really,” Jazza said, recalling his high school days selling t-shirts and DVDs to supplement his online ad revenue.

SkillShare provides a great example of Jazza’s multi-pronged approach to online revenue. The first revenue stream comes from a SkillShare sponsorship, which Jazza now renews yearly.

“Which is great security for us,” he said. “It means we’re not always pitching the next thing.”

Aside from sponsorships, Jazza has also worked directly with SkillShare to produce courses for the learning platform. Jazza also receives a portion of SkillShare’s subscription revenue according to watch time. (Jazza Pro Tip: Skillshare is a great place for video creators to start earning money. Payment is proportionally higher on SkillShare than on YouTube.)

Finally, Jazza also monetizes the videos themselves through AdSense. This partnership encapsulates Jazza’s broader strategy.

“Spread the net as wide as you can, but also keep within that what you can maintain,” Jazza said.

How Jazza gets things done

When asked how he keeps on schedule, Jazza gave us an analogy.

“Where I’m at is in one of two modes. I either feel like I’m in the driver’s seat of a car forging ahead with a direction,” Jazza said. “Or I feel like I’m tied up with a rope being dragged by the back of the same car headed in a direction I may not control. It always is one or the other.”

Jazza said it’s easy to find yourself getting dragged along quicker than you expect, but he stays optimistic.

“It’s just about finding your way back into that driver’s seat,” he said.

For this, it’s essential to find the right systems and to plan and organize your time efficiently. He urges creators to establish pipelines and deadlines then create a system to keep track of everything.

“Having the right tools and getting the right help is definitely key,” Jazza said.

Working with a team

As the channel and production value has grown, so has Jazza’s team. This is good because he often has several projects in the works at any given time. He currently works with a staff of nine but jokes that they are still perpetually understaffed thanks to his ambitious production schedule.

Jazza, who started his career on YouTube to maintain control over his work, said it’s been a learning experience to relinquish control to his team. However, as a result, he has more opportunities to pursue his diverse interests and to support his team’s individual creativity. He talks about hiring an editor as a particularly difficult step in his channel’s growth.

“It was as much my communication style as anything,” he laughs.

In the end, however, giving up that control was worth it.

“As soon as I did that, I had so much more time to make cool stuff. And,” Jazza emphasizes, “other people are talented!”

Now, Jazza embraces teamwork. In fact, one goal for his new studio space is to bring on more creative talent.

“That’s something I’m really excited about…” Jazza said, “getting people on board who can create stuff … things that are so much bigger than just me.”

You can take a peek behind the curtain on the Jazza Studios channel. There, he gives his community insight into the production process and upcoming projects.

On the horizon

Beyond his work on YouTube, Jazza wants to continue to work with brands to craft new and innovative art supplies.

“I care a lot about making stuff that actually has impact,” Jazza said. “And I’m in no rush.”

He doesn’t want to release stuff just to make money, so he’s willing to take his time in developing quality products — but that’s all he can say for now.

According to Jazza, his short-term focus rests on “realizing the full potential of the main channel.” He plans to make his content more focused and hone in on what really resonates with his audience.

He also wants to continue building new things, with roleplay-focused Tabletop Time as a top priority.

“I’m in a really unique position to be able to fully reinvest the channel in itself,” Jazza said. He doesn’t take a paycheck from Tabletop Time and instead uses any profit to pay his team and increase production value. The overarching goal is to grow and lift all of these channels.

Building long-term success

Jazza will admit that “imposter syndrome is real.” But he does have a theory as to why so many people watch his channel.

“I think it’s clear to my audience that I give it 110%,” Jazza said, acknowledging that it’s true both in terms of what he creates and in how he relates to his audience. “I don’t hold back.”

For aspiring creators hoping to find similar success, Jazza had this advice.

“Choose something you can always fall back on,” Jazza said.

He warned that the competition is cutthroat, but said that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. More than consistency, Jazza believes you need a gut for how people react to content and the ability to adapt quickly to your audience’s response.

“You actually have to really understand how your content is being served on the platform you’re gonna succeed on,” Jazza said.

And, it’s a constant learning process.

“I don’t know YouTube!” said Jazza, despite having nearly a decade of experience on the platform. “It will become more mysterious … people need to understand that.”

Jazza concludes by explaining that, though it can be difficult at times, it’s important to find an anchor point, even as you continue to grow and adapt.

“The only thing they can rely on,” Jazza said, “is the thing that they authentically care about and the person they authentically are.”