She’s got more than 50,000 YouTube subscribers and thousands of loyal followers across social media – and Christina Rotondo’s stock looks set to rise even more in 2018.
Christina, a singer-songwriter and Insure4Music policyholder based in Nottingham, sat down with us to talk about her musical influences, what it’s like being a YouTuber and much more.
Do you want to start by telling us how you got into music, what your earliest memories of music are and who your influences were growing up?
I first got into music at primary school. It was quite a religious school so we would often sing hymns during assemblies. I remember being in Reception and sitting cross-legged at the front singing a hymn, when the deputy headteacher came over and said I had a beautiful voice.
That memory sticks out in my mind because of how chuffed I was at the time! As I progressed through school, I began singing in the choir and if you were a member of the choir you got to go down to London to get your vocals recorded on CD. At that time, recording yourself or getting on a CD was nothing like as accessible as it is now, so it was a fairly big deal!
Outside of that, there’d be competitions here and there and friends would always ask me to sing to them – I was hooked on singing from then on. I also play guitar, but this started a bit later on in life when my auntie got me a guitar for Christmas.
Strangely though, I don’t think I had many influences in terms of singers or bands, I was just interested in music in general. A lot of the music that influenced me later on in life didn’t appeal to me when I was younger.
So, when my sister would have heavy metal music blasting out of her room, I used to hate it! I was more into chart stuff. As I got older, I got more into bands like Linkin Park and started hanging around with people who were into skating and wore leather trench coats, so subconsciously this kind of music must have had an impact on me.
You mentioned that you play guitar and obviously you own your own vocal gear. Can you give us an overview of the equipment you use?
I’ve got a Fender electro-acoustic and a Fender Squire Affinity electric guitar. I run my acoustic through a Shure PG42 Side Address Condenser Microphone – I don’t ever plug it in because I think it sounds awful that way.
I also have a Scarlett 2i2 mixer, which I’ve just upgraded from an M-Audio. I mostly use cheap pieces of kit, because good equipment is so readily available now that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a good sound.
When I first started out, I used a £30 USB microphone from Maplin and the sound quality wasn’t worth the money I spent on it. My advice for other musicians would be to just concentrate on the sound – don’t worry about the price tag.
How would you describe your musical style and is there a particular genre you identify with?
I definitely sway towards alternative rock and metal – that’s where my heart lies. But when I’m doing session work I get to perform in a lot of different styles and people are very complimentary about my versatility.
Getting that feedback has made me a lot more open-minded and willing to test different forms of singing. The session work I do now is pop-based, whereas when I write my own music it tends to be more ambient, ‘rocky’ and chilled out with loads of effects thrown in.
The exposure I’ve had to different genres has definitely made me a better performer. I think one of my best videos is my cover of ‘Doomsday’ by the British metalcore band Architects. It’s a heavy and fast-paced song which I was able to transform into my style. Since putting out my cover of Doomsday, I got a lot of positive comments from people saying I needed to focus on that approach more often.
That’s what drives most people to my YouTube channel and gets the best responses, is giving people a different perspective on a song. On certain tracks, I’ll try and retain the original vibe – it depends on the song. The aim is always to make something sound as good as it can with my take on it.
Do you have a certain song or artist you most like to cover?
I’d say Architects and Bring Me The Horizon. Their style has evolved quite a lot over the years, in that they’ve moved over to a more melodic style and that’s something I really enjoy, so those two artists are my favourite. If a band has gone away from the genre that people know them for, I always like the challenge of bringing back their sound.
I’ll always take on board suggestions from people who comment on my videos as to who or what I should cover, but a lot of it is down to how much I like the song. So if, for example, Bring Me The Horizon released a song but it was miles away from what I listen to or like, I wouldn’t do it. I won’t do covers just because they’re popular.
When did you set up your YouTube channel and what were you hoping to achieve from it? Was there an end goal or was it a case of just seeing what happened?
I technically started the channel in 2007 but I didn’t upload anything for a few years and I wasn’t properly active on YouTube until around 2014.
The first cover video I uploaded was in 2010 but I left it and forgot about it. Then when I was at university, I randomly came across the video and saw that it had a few thousand hits. At that time, I was in a band and the reason I started doing cover videos was to drive traffic to the band page.
Even after the band broke up, I kept uploading videos because I was touched by how supportive people were of what I was doing.
On that point, how does it make you feel when you see some of the reactions you get from viewers?
It’s really nice that people take time out to leave such kind and thoughtful messages. I read every single comment and message I get and aim to respond to all of them. I’ll get some messages on Facebook from people saying I’ve saved their life, and obviously that’s very humbling and so weird that people rely on me this much.
But with all this reaction, there’s going to be the occasional negative sentiment. That’s what makes my job so difficult – because of the sheer amount of messages I get, I find it hard to take my mind off the negatives.
You can get 1,000 positive messages, but you get one horrible message and it’s as if those positive messages don’t exist. It can be quite easy to get wrapped up in the negativity and question the content you put out and whether it’s all worth it.
I have to remember to be thankful. The people who support me are genuine and the hate I get is only the odd comment here or there. The more of a following I’ve built up, the less the trolling phases me.
More generally speaking, what’s it like being a musician on YouTube?
From a musician’s point of view, YouTube is really, really hard to crack. You’re not in one of those niches like comedy or gaming, where you can produce daily content, because it’s just not possible. The content cycles are also different – you can’t just shove out content constantly and you can’t keep on top of trends because there aren’t many in music.
I’ve regularly been stressed out over my subscriber count and views, but over the last few months I’ve tried not to think about it as much. I don’t upload a video and keep refreshing my browser to see how many views I’ve got.
However, therein lies a potential problem, because once you tell yourself not to care, you stop caring about a lot of things. That’s why it’s so important to strike a balance between not letting numbers or comments affect you and being motivated enough to keep your supporters happy. I feel like I’m halfway towards achieving that balance – I need to keep working on content but I also need to enjoy my life.
Music is now a full-time job for you, but what did you do prior to this?
I used to work in marketing and PR. I actually got made redundant from my last job but I was quite fortunate in the way it worked out. I got gardening leave, which gave me the time to focus on my music and assess whether it was for me. I’m glad I took the jump because I always wanted to work for myself and never felt like I fitted into an office environment.
Going full-time has been both the best and worst decision I’ve ever made – the upsides are undoubtedly the flexibility and freedom that comes with having your own schedule. I recently went to London to work on some vocals for a movie soundtrack and I’ve also worked on a project with a gaming company – stuff like that is really cool.
The worst part about the job, however, is being self-employed. At the beginning of every month I feel very stressed out and anxious about how much work I’m going to get. I never really know if I’m going to hit my target, so I need to take a lot of initiative.
Knowing I’m not getting a secure pay cheque every month does play on my mind, but it’s worth it because music is my passion. Feeling like I’ve got no choice but to make it work allows me to fully explore this passion.
Obviously you’re a solo artist but, as alluded to, you’ve had spells in bands before. How do you reflect on these experiences and what did you take from them?
When you’re in a band, you’ve got that added creative input. I find it difficult to write instrumentals, but in bands people can do that for you and the record you make is a group effort – I prefer being in bands for that reason. I also got to tour more and play more shows than I have done as a solo artist.
It’s definitely something I want to get back into, but it’s a lot of hard work – sometimes it’s a case of more people, more problems! It’s hard to find people who are on the same page.
You’ve got Public Liability cover with us. Why did you decide to get specialist music insurance and what would you say to other musicians who maybe aren’t entirely sure why they need it?
I’m playing at weddings all over the UK this year and the venues I’m performing at have requested that I have Public Liability insurance. For not a lot of money I’ve given myself that extra level of security with music insurance. Ultimately, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
When people are booking you to play on their premises, if you can say you’ve got Public Liability, they’ll be more eager to hire you.
Just finally, why specifically did you take out cover with Insure4Music?
They were recommended to me by a friend who’s a guitarist, so I looked into the music insurance they provide and found that it was a really good price. Musicians spend a lot of money on gear, so to find such a cheap level of cover which offers so much was fantastic. Insure4Music really stood out from the crowd and getting covered with them was the best choice I could have made.