Top iTunes Business Podcast

47+ Million Downloads

SPI 673: Charles Cornell—YouTuber to Course Creator

Some creators get millions of views on platforms like TikTok, YouTube Shorts, and Instagram Reels. That’s incredible! But here’s the thing—many of them aren’t generating any income doing so. Not a dime!

Today’s guest found himself in exactly that situation when he went from 52 subscribers to a six-figure following in a matter of days. He created viral video after viral video, barely making any money… until he pulled off an incredible transition to long-form content that changed everything for him!

Charles Cornell is here to share the ins and outs of how he found his audience and built a fantastic music education brand. He tells the story of his shift from creating meme content to providing online courses for his niche. This kind of change in focus is actually a death sentence for most YouTubers, but Charles was able to navigate it masterfully.

Like most overnight success stories, this one has been over a decade in the making. We cover a lot of important takeaways today, tackling everything from understanding why your content isn’t connecting with people to figuring out how the YouTube algorithm works.

Oh, and make sure you tune in to hear Charles impersonating Gary Vee. It’s hilarious!

Today’s Guest

Charles Cornell

Charles Cornell grew up learning the piano from an early age. After hearing a recording of the legendary Oscar Peterson Trio, he set his sights on jazz and began studying the artform before attending the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College. For years, Charles made a living performing at jazz clubs between the New York City area and his home in Upstate New York.

In 2019, just weeks after making an impulse move to Denver, CO, a few videos Charles had begun making went viral to the tune of tens of millions of views across all social media platforms. From that point forward, Charles became a music education YouTuber, breaking down the musical concepts that are used to build some of the most popular songs, video game soundtracks, and movie scores in today’s music world. He has built his YouTube channel to over 1.3 million subscribers along with hundreds of thousands of followers on multiple social media platforms.

In 2021, Charles launched the Cornell Music Academy, an online music education platform built with the goal of making in-depth piano and music theory education accessible for a fraction of the cost of private lessons. Since then, he has enrolled thousands of students from all over the world, helping to improve their skills in music.

In 2023, Charles launched Better Piano, the newest iteration of his educational mission to spread his enthusiasm and love for music to the world.

You’ll Learn


SPI 673: Charles Cornell—YouTuber to Course Creator

Charles Cornell: We got to speak directly with the YouTube algorithm team, and they used some language that to me was like, “Whoa, I didn’t even realize this.” They will say things like, “Well, what we are seeing, it looks like this is happening” and it makes you realize like, wait a second, they’ve built an AI here. This is not, like a, just a piece of code that just takes in information and spits out the answer. That’s not how it works at all. This thing is learning. This thing is, is in some way thinking. Right? And so even the YouTube algorithm team doesn’t have the answers.

Pat Flynn: There are a lot of creators out there who have millions of views, some billions of views, especially on short form platforms like TikTok and Shorts, and aren’t making any money or hardly making any money at all. Just because you’re getting that much reach does not necessarily mean it’s gonna translate into income.

Well, today’s guest, Charles Cornell, is somebody who started out with some videos that went extremely viral, like extremely viral. We’re gonna talk about what those videos were and how that happened. But then how he still wasn’t making any money, and we’re gonna talk about how he transitioned and took some of that audience into a business that not only allows him to generate income, but one that he is proud of.

That’s, I know a lot of musicians struggle with that, right? They wanna do a certain kind of video and then they get known for it, but then they don’t wanna do that anymore. It’s, it’s almost like a cover of something. And that’s not what exactly Charles did, but again, I fanboy a little bit in the beginning of this episode.

But then, but then we get over that, and then we get into the business and Charles spills the beans for sure, as far as like a lot of the things that is working that is not working where he’s going with this. And I think this is gonna be really inspirational for you. This is session 673 of the Smart Passive Income Podcast.

And if you are a creator, especially somebody who’s getting some reach on some of these short form platforms, you’re definitely gonna wanna listen in. Here he is.

Announcer: You’re listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, a proud member of the Entrepreneur Podcast Network, a show that’s all about working hard now, so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host, he’s been a business owner for 15 years and still has doubts that he has to fight off. Pat Flynn.

Pat Flynn: Charles, welcome to the SPI podcast. Thanks for being here, man.

Charles Cornell: Pat, thanks so much for having me, man.

Pat Flynn: I just have to say I’m a huge fan. I love your YouTube channel. Actually, my wife introduced me to the channel when you were blowing up for a lot of like meme related videos that you were doing. Yeah.

And the piano that you accompanied with it. And it was just a really genius thing I had never seen before and, and my, my entire family were, were fans of your stuff, so I was gonna get the fanboy outta the way really quick before. But, but before I have you actually share with everybody who’s listening who might not know or yet discovered your channel, like what do you, what do you do, Charles?

What, what’s your channel about?

Charles Cornell: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, it’s funny that you actually mentioned that because that’s how I sort of ran across the opportunity to start building something. But what it morphed into and what I do now is essentially I, I run a music education channel, and we talk a lot about, you know, popular music.

We talk a lot about film scores, video game scores, like anything where the music is like, you might not have thought about this as you were listening to it, but if you give it a closer listen, you’d be shocked at like how good this stuff actually is. So it’s a combination of like that. And then also looking at a lot of music that sometimes we overlook as being like, ah, it’s just pop music.

Like there’s nothing cool in that. Like it’s just whatever. And sometimes there’s actually really great stuff in it. So the whole idea of the channel is to kind of break down music in a way that’s super understandable for people that maybe don’t have as much of a theory background and in a way that they can get enthusiastic and inspired about music and maybe even, you know, go out and try it for themselves.

Pat Flynn: Were you always a creator? What were you doing before those videos, like, took off?

Charles Cornell: So the first videos that took off were the ones where I was like, what, what I was doing is I was, I’d basically go through a video that was, you know, maybe like a viral video. The first ones that went viral were from Cardi B, which that material was pretty easy to use for this.

But basically what you do is you like figure out the notes of speech. Because when we’re talking, like we’re fluctuating our pitch, right? So I am talking, even though if I were to sing, if I were to sing like that, it’s more obvious. But even without doing that, everything that comes out of your vocal chords is a pitch and can be actually defined as a note on, on, on an instrument.

So what I was doing is I was just breaking down speech into notes and then playing along with it, and then adding harmony, adding chords and stuff. To answer your question about, you know, was I a creator beforehand? Short answer is no. I remember the day before the Cardi B video went viral, I had 52 subscribers on YouTube.

And that was just from, you know, random, different, let me put it this way, I had always wanted to be a creator that was like, probably for 10 years before it happened, I was like, my dream was, man, if I could do anything, I would just build an audience online and just make content that’s important to me.

That can hopefully be cool for other people and, and so that had been a goal for a long time. So, you know, as, as often I’m sure you know, you’ve, you’ve talked to so many people that have the same experience, but you know, when, when something looks like an overnight success, often it’s 10 years in the making and just happened to be the right place, right time, you know, and, and one of those preparation meets opportunity things cuz like when it happened I kind of was like, oh, this is that thing.

Like this is my opportunity to, to build it into something. And I just kind of tried to run with it from there. And here we are almost a little less than four years later.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. And you’re doing incredible things. You have an online course now, your channels over, you know, in the millions, which is, which is incredible.

So first of all, congratulations on your success. Thanks man. I want to definitely dive into later in this interview about the transition from getting known for the Cardi B videos essentially, and then transitioning into then like stuff that you wanted to create, cuz I’m sure there’s a push and pull that a lot of people can resonate with as far as like, well I don’t wanna be known as that guy and I have bigger things to share and, and more of an impact I can make. So we’ll get into that. But before you had the YouTube channel, what were you doing for work? Were, I mean, you’re in music, were you like, what were you doing?

Charles Cornell: So I graduated college in, in 2015, went to school for jazz and did the whole conservatory thing.

And from that point up until about 2019 for the, you know, so for the next four years, really kind of floundered around, you know, didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I, I was playing gigs, of course, like I was a professional, you know, working musician. And I also, I, I taught private students, so I had a studio.

I mean, at one point I think, you know, I was running, I had a small studio out of, out of like a piano shop in a mall, and I had like 20 students through there and stuff like that. So I was doing the whole, you know, playing gigs and teaching students thing, which I knew pretty early point wasn’t really for me in terms of like teaching, you know, especially like teaching beginner piano to like little, little kids.

It’s just not really where I feel like I’m most effective. There are people who are amazing at that, and I just realized it kind of wasn’t me. But, so I was doing that for, for quite a while and then for a brief period of time, I with a couple of friends, I actually, it’s kind of nuts because it’s, it’s my, my core team now, but at that point we started a little company just making social media content for local businesses in our area.

Our whole idea was just like, getting people to like just start telling stories, you know, and, and trying to get people to, what ended up happening was we would post content for a lot of these local businesses, and the content got incredible response. Nothing, you know, went like viral necessarily.

We had a couple semi vial things, but for the most part it was just about like getting that company customer base and the local support to be excited about. Like, oh yeah, these people, like I, you know, we were in, we did a lot of stuff in like outdoor motorsports and stuff, so, you know, motorcycles, snowmobiles, that kind of stuff.

And so it was a lot of like telling stories about, you know, their customers and whatnot. And we hit a point where we were like, okay, where we were, this is in Northern New York where I’m from, and it was like nobody, nobody can really pay for this. Like the, there’s just not a market where people are willing to drop the money that larger companies drop on good social media content and marketing.

And so we were like, well, why don’t we go somewhere that we can, and at this point I was making $0, like I was paying all the money that was coming in, which was beans, I was paying to my guys and I was pay, I was making nothing. And I did that because I was also playing gigs and teaching a few students.

So I was able to at least pay my rent, which at the time was like 400 bucks, you know? And so it was like we were really operating on like small, small, small time, like more or less hadn’t even started, right? And we had this idea, we were like, well, why don’t we bring the company to a place where there might be more opportunity?

And we started thinking about cities, and the only thing that made sense, because I’m a pretty avid skier, I was like, well, you know, Denver’s the only city that makes any sense to move to. So we decided, my girlfriend, Leanne and I, and a couple of my friends who were helping me with the business at the time, we all decided, okay, let’s do it.

Let’s move to Denver. So we moved to Denver. We had no clients set up. We had no money saved, and I had no idea what we were gonna do to get clients if that’s what he, if that’s even what we were gonna do at all, I, I figured maybe I’d pick up a couple of, you know, private students and, and try to go get some gigs and stuff like that and, and try to make ends meet.

And then we made the decision, why don’t we sign a, a 16 month lease at an apartment that we rented site unseen for twice the money that we had ever spent in rent. And neither Leanne or I had jobs. And we had no, we had no, like I said, we had no savings. We, we had no idea what we were gonna do. We were just like, I don’t know.

This feels right. Let’s go to Denver. And it was three weeks later, Leanne had a job at a Fortune 500 company, almost by chance she looked across o off of our apartment building and saw a building with a big name on it and was like, that’ll do. And she went and got a job there. And then about a week after that, I bought a piano for 300 bucks from a GuitarCenter and on the way home I was sitting in the car and I was reading, ironically it started with Trump tweets. I was reading some of some ridiculous Trump tweets and I was just like, God, this would be hilarious if it was a song. And so I just went home with my new piano and I just started like making a couple.

And that reminded me of this thing that I had seen years ago when I was in college, the speech to notes thing, I’d seen somebody else do it. A couple people actually, and, and I was like, oh, yeah, I wonder if I could do that. Like, I wonder. If I’m capable of like, first of all, figuring out the notes and then second of all, coming up with some harmony that would go with it.

And so I made a couple, and I think it was like the second or third one I made was the Cardi B video that went like ultra, ultra vial. It was, yeah. So it was literally like four weeks after we moved here with no plan and no money and like everything just exploded. So, you know, you wanna talk about serendipity, like why on earth, yeah, did we, did we come here? You know, I, we, we still don’t know. And it, it worked out.

Pat Flynn: You know, it’s so funny, we hear stories like this a lot here on the show where people who are in dire need finally figure something out. And it almost is like you need that, almost like something at stake to get encouraged enough to find an opportunity to go out there and expand outside of your comfort zone.

Or even, or even just to get creative if you will. Like, like you had just done. So the Cardi B video goes live. Where did you put it? Did you put it on like TikTok or Reels? Where did go?

Charles Cornell: Yeah. TikTok was the first place. TikTok was the first place. Okay. I believe I did, I, I also put it on my Instagram cuz I had been starting to post these on Instagram, but Leanne had told me, she was like, you know, I, everybody’s talking about TikTok, like you should put it on TikTok.

And I was like, I don’t know really. And then I remembered, cuz you know, I, I had consumed quite a bit of like Gary Vee content and, and I know like, you know, Gary’s whole thing is like, dude just put it everywhere, just put it all over the place. Like, and he’s just like-

Pat Flynn: Oh my gosh. That was a great impression! Minus the F bomb. It was perfect.

Charles Cornell: And I remembered that and I said, all right. I guess, I guess, yeah, I guess I should put it on TikTok. And I did. And the next morning I woke up and there was a DM on Instagram from a random person who said, Hey, I put your TikTok video on Twitter and Cardi B retweet it. And I was like, what?

And this person was like, do you have a Twitter? And I was like I, no, but I’ll make one I guess. And then I did. And the day this happened, like I said, I had 52 YouTube subscribers and I had maybe a couple hundred followers on Instagram who were all mostly like just friends and people I knew. And nobody on TikTok, cuz you know, this had just kind of, I just decided to make, make the TikTok and put it up and it went viral everywhere, like on every platform to the point where within a couple of weeks I had a six figure following on five platforms, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube. It was like, it, I couldn’t even make sense. It was, it was the, yeah, it was just nuts. It was insane. Oh man. And, and I’m thinking, I’m immediately thinking, so, so then I started, but then I started making the more of these videos.

And I think about this now and I’m like, wow. I’m, I’m like, what am I doing now? Like I, I need to really get back to where I was at that point, cuz I made two of these a day. I was making two of these videos and they were only 30 seconds long. But they were a tremendous amount of work cuz I had to transcribe and learn to play it and then learn the physical aspect of trying to play it and then come up with harmony to play with it.

And I was doing two of these a day, like I was making them and putting them out on the same day. So I had no backlog. I had no, I was just like slamming, working through these things. And and I think about that now and I’m like, oh my God, I’d lose my mind. Like I would, I would not be able to keep that together.

And yeah, and I just, I just hammered through and just kept going and kept going. And, You know, I go back and look at some of the things I made and I was like, why did I make that? Like, that didn’t need to be made. That, that was totally unnecessary. But at the time I was just like, anything I could get my hands on old Vines, like yes, like everything I could possibly think of. I was like, let me do this one. Sure. Put it out and, and it was just, yeah, it just, it didn’t really slow down.

Pat Flynn: How are you feeling as far as like a body of work that would potentially now be monetizable, did it even turn into money? I mean, get it going viral is one thing, but you know, I know a lot of people with millions of views, you know, aren’t making any money.

Charles Cornell: So, yeah. And that was, that was the biggest thing that kind of drew me to, okay, what’s the next phase of this? Because the reality is, sure, you can’t really make money on 30 second content, especially, this is before Shorts was a thing and, and, and, and before there was any type of monetization.

TikTok, I’ve never made a dime off of. Instagram, I’ve never made a dime off of, you know, and so it was, it was in the beginning. The other problem too is that in order to monetize your channel, you have to have a thousand subs, which was no problem. But 4,000 watch hours was a problem when my videos were 10 seconds long cuz it didn’t matter if they got a million views, it was still not that much watch time.

So it took a while to really kind of start to get to the, to a point where I could monetize the channel, to the point where I straight up ran outta money. Because I didn’t have anything saved. Right. So it was like, it didn’t take very long after we moved here and I just, I had no money left. And there was, there was a month where Leanne had to pay the full rent.

And I was like, oh man. But I was like, you know, I told her and she knew, I was like, you know, like, it’s just gonna be a little bit of time, but then once this thing gets unlocked, we’re good. Like we can, we can work with this. And she knew that and she was totally down for that. And so, and it took, I’m trying to remember how long after I initially like went viral, that I got my first paycheck from YouTube, but it wasn’t very much. I think my first YouTube paycheck was like $1,800 or something, you know, which at the time I was like, great. Like that’s, that’s all I need. That’s perfect. And I also got very lucky in that from the very first paycheck I got from YouTube, it was enough that I could live on.

So like I was able to do it full-time from day one, which is, I know it’s pretty rare and I got really, really lucky that that was the case, but it enabled me to really put a lot of focus into it and figure out where it was gonna go from there.

Pat Flynn: So where did it go from there, because you’ve obviously stopped doing those viral type videos. And how did you start to create content that was, you know, more you, if, if, if you will. Like, what, what was the decision there? What was the struggle even?

Charles Cornell: It was, it was interesting because I, I didn’t actually think about the whole aspect of like, oh, I can create, you know music education. But it did make a lot of sense to me to say, well, why don’t I make a video where I just tell people how I’m doing this?

Yes. Yeah. You know, explain this process from a music theory standpoint, because I always felt like I was relatively okay at explaining concepts in like music theory and stuff like that. And so I was like, well, you know, I can tell people how I’m doing this and hope it might make a lot of sense to some people.

And so I made a video, I think it was called like How I Turn Cardi B Into Music. And like that video got a million views and that’s where I was like, Oh, that’s really interesting, there’s something here and cuz you know, that opened up the door to making long form content that’s much more monetizable and all this stuff.

And so that gave me, I guess the, the full permission, if you will, to say, well, keep trying those types of videos too, and see, see if people bite, see if people like them. And I, I mean, I got super lucky my audience was down for that shift. They were like, yeah, cool. Like, let’s talk about this stuff. Which, which, which is also pretty rare.

And, and you know, a lot of times when channels try to really shift focus and, and just completely changed the type of content they’re making, it’s, it’s a death sentence. And, and I was very fortunate that, that my audience at the time was very open to checking out a new type of content. And it was a new type of content, but it was still in the same vein of like, you know, people who are super interested in, in music and music theory.

So, you know, it, it made sense as a transition, but I still you know, thinking back out on it, I’m like, thank God that worked.

Pat Flynn: You know, like that was the perfect video. You know, it was a, it was the video you needed to filter people who are interested, yeah, in your work for, for the meme stuff to then transitioning into, well, many of those people may also be interested in the music theory stuff.

Which was gonna be the future of your channel. So I th like, that was super smart. I think a lot of people do try to like go, you know, 180 a completely different direction and their audience is like, whoa. Like what? This has nothing to do with anything that I’ve ever come here for before. And then they get scared or they don’t watch new videos, and then they don’t ever see that channel again in their feed.

So I, that was definitely a very smart video. I watched that. I, I wanted to know how the sausage was made, if you will. And it also established how talented you were as a musician. Oh, you’re telling me I I would still not be able to be able to do that cuz I, I can’t recognize that, like you can, but then it was just like, okay.

Then like more videos came out that were a little bit more advanced music theory specifically for people who were into music creation. And those started to do pretty well, but obviously much fewer views than a Cardi B meme video, of course. But now you’re talking to your people at this point and you know, how did it feel creating videos that, yes, we’re longer, but we’re getting significantly, relatively speaking, less views. Were you ever pulled to like potentially try to go back to that or what was going through your mind there as you were getting into the new era of, of Charles Cornell’s channel?

Charles Cornell: That’s actually a really great question and I like, I like your, the note about did I ever consider going back to it?

Because I think that there’s an interesting answer to that. You know, first of all, the idea that like, okay, now I’m gonna make this other type of content, it’s gonna get fewer views, most likely. That did happen a lot. It didn’t always happen, believe it or not, because we did post plenty of the memes that just kind of bombed that just, that just, you know, weren’t very good.

I think there was a transition where you, you stopped seeing like the, the crazy growth. Like we stopped getting a hundred thousand subs in a month. Like, you know, it, the growth kind of leveled off a lot more and it felt, I think every creator goes through a time period where it’s, it’s very much a live or die where you’re either gonna get consumed by this feeling or you’re gonna push through it and you’re gonna, then you’re gonna learn that it’s cyclical. Because the thing that was happening was every time we would post a video that got an alarmingly low number of views, you get this, this crushing feeling of like it’s all over.

It’s, it’s like it’s coming down, it’s coming crashing down. I am washed up, like nothing’s gonna work. My channel’s gonna die. Everything I’m gonna have to, you know, I’m gonna have to go, yeah it’s like, it’s like you just go through this thing. And, and even now, even now when I’ve, when I’ve gone through so many of those sites, because like, I, at least in my experience, and I’d be curious, you know, your input on this, but I find that YouTube is very cyclical.

Like you’re gonna go through periods where you have algorithmic momentum, you, you know, audience momentum you have, you’re getting great views and you do a string of topics. It just happens to line up where it’s like you have a bunch of bangers in a row that happens, and then sometimes you’re posting videos and at the time we’re recording this, we’re actually in a mi in the midst of one of these, these slumps where it’s like you’re posting videos that you think you’ve done the research on, you think you’ve done the, you know, the, the process to like validate that the topic and the, and the way you’re framing the topic should be clickable and interesting and it just tanks and like you have no idea why. And even in those moments, there are still times of feeling like, man, are we actually, like, could this be it?

Like, you still have those, those, those small, you know, moments of feeling that. But I will say, I trust the process a lot more now. Like I trust that like, hey, you know what? We’re gonna have videos that suck. We’re gonna have videos that don’t do well. Forget it, move on, keep going because you’re gonna, you’re gonna hit gold again.

Like as long, you just keep applying the things that you’ve learned, keep applying the things that, you know, work on the platform and like it’s gonna, something’s gonna happen and it’s gonna be fine. I trust that a lot more now, you know? But in terms of, to, to answer the question about did, did I ever consider going back to the, to the memes, I hit this really weird point where I was like, oh, I can’t.

Like, I cannot go back to doing those now. I’m stuck. And, and the reason I felt like that, and maybe this is probably, you know, maybe in my own head, but I started seeing the, like a lot of people started doing these, you know speech to notes thing and it became more, a little more popular and kind of went through a phase where there was a bunch of ’em all over the place. To whatever degree I had a hand in helping that happen, like, that’s super cool because I think it’s just, it’s a really fun thing and it’s a great exercise with, you know, with applying people’s talents in music. I certainly was far from the first person to do that, I mean, there were a lot of creators in the past, all the way back into the seventies that were doing that were doing things like that. You know, I mean, even back to to John Coltrane in, in the sixties, there’s, there’s hints of this thing of, of, you know, playing along with speech, kind of, not explicitly, but, but it’s there all the way back. But I hit this point where I was, if I go back to this now, I don’t like the optics of that. I don’t like what it looks like because it, I felt like it would, it would feel very much like I’m just desperate for views. You know what I mean? Like, it felt to me like if I go back to doing this thing that I have now moved on from, and other people have now sort of taken up the reins on and are doing more, it’s gonna feel like I’m trying really hard generate some viewership and I just, I didn’t feel right about that. I was like, eh, I want, I wanna make, if I was gonna do it, I, I did, I wanted to do it for the right reasons and, and I didn’t feel like jumping back into it would be the right reasons, because to be honest, when I stopped doing them, I stopped doing ’em cause I felt like the joke had been played out. I was like, I, I, this isn’t funny to me anymore. Like it’s, you know, some of them are for sure, like, there’s always opportunity, but. I just felt like I had, I had, it’s, it had run its course for me anyways.

Pat Flynn: You know, I think it’s smart to have transitioned and to, to find your voice in this. And it took that viral video to a understand that, wow, there’s people actually out there who like my stuff and now you want to get into stuff that’s more personal and more important to you. And wow, there’s still people here. Like, let’s keep going and let’s, let’s just focus on them now. I think, you know, I know you and I are in a mastermind together currently with Antonio who brought us together, not just you and I, but a bunch of other YouTubers who are all going through challenges, struggles and wins, and we’re all sharing with each other and such. And I, I remember you recently mentioned that like, you know, you still sometimes have trouble understanding exactly who your audience is.

Can you, can you go through what’s going on?

Charles Cornell: I feel like I have no idea. Yeah. I think, and maybe it’s because like I said before, you know, we’re currently in one of these modes where like our last few videos have not been, have had not done great.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. So it was like, it makes you question everything when that happens.

Charles Cornell: Really does, it doesn’t matter how experience, I mean, you’re way more experienced at this stuff than I am. And, and, and like you’re saying this too, I feel it just like, it’s wild man. It’s just like you never get away from it. But I feel like there have been a number of times when we’ve really attempted to calculate how well a video’s gonna do based as many factors as we can apply that we know are important factors to consider when making YouTube videos, everything, title thumbnail, you know, pacing, opening the first 10 seconds, first five seconds. Like all this stuff that we’ve given attention to and we’ve validated the topic through a series of questions and said like, you know, for these reasons, is this clickable?

Is this something that might pique people’s interests? And every time we come to the conclusion of like, yeah, I think, I think it hits all these things. I think it, this might do well, and then it just doesn’t, and we have no idea why. And, and it’s just one of those things where I think, and this is why like mastermind groups and, and anytime you can get together with your peers, like it’s, it’s just such a great resource because your friends will tell you, especially your friends who are, you know, in that industry. So, you know, like Thomas Frank is like one of my best friends and I am able to consult him every time. He like, dude, what am I missing here? And he’ll be like, oh, well it’s this. And he can see it clearly from the, out, from an outsider’s perspective, but neither me nor my entire team could, could figure that out.

And so, you know, sometimes it’s just like these things that we just didn’t, didn’t even think about that are. Oh, well, no wonder nobody wanted to watch that video because it’s this or this, or this or this. Here’s these reasons. And you’re just like, man, I, I need a process to be able to see that. You know?

And so you try to create these processes for seeing as much as you can anyways before you post a video. But then sometimes it, it, it just doesn’t seem to, at least in, in my experience, I mean, you know, and, and I think it’s probably comes down to haven’t learned enough yet. You know, but like a lot of it just seems to be like you can answer all the questions in the world, sometimes the algorithm just hates you. I don’t know.

Pat Flynn: Like, yeah. I mean, it’s, it feels random sometimes, even though we know it’s not completely random, you know, it’s not. Yeah. Yeah. But, but you can do everything right and still not have it work. But then, other times you scrap together a video last minute and you’re like, oh, we didn’t put everything into this.

And then it just goes crazy, right? I feel like it balances out in a way, but it definitely is hard mentally to to, to, to be a creator on this space. But I, I like the idea of just like, you know, just keep going. You’re gonna go through seasons of YouTube, and I can attest to that on both my channels and you on yours and every other YouTube creator who’s been doing this for a while.

It’s, it’s literally that. And, and the worst thing to do would be to, to give up or to keep changing things because one video didn’t do well.

Charles Cornell: That’s something that I think we do probably too much, is every time we go through a thing where it’s like, you know, we’ve made a couple videos that. You know, didn’t work or something like, we we’re like, all right, we gotta rethink the whole channel.

Like we gotta, yeah, right, right. We gotta come up with all these, and it’s just like, no, no, no, just, just, just hammer away and bits and pieces, you know, you’ll, you’ll learn bits and pieces each time you go through one of these cycles, and then you just try to apply it as best you can. And I think, I think, at least, you know, I’ll tell you one of the, one of the biggest revelations that I had in regards to the algorithm, which I think it was Jimmy Mr. Beast, who was like, replace algorithm with audience, right? Because that’s really all that matters. It’s not, you’re not trying to game the algorithm, you’re just trying to create content that your audience actually wants to watch, right?

But there have been times when like, You’re thinking about the algorithm and you’re like, well, there’s a, there’s a key to this. There’s like, there’s a way that this thing works. And I can remember through my agency, we got to speak directly with the YouTube algorithm team, and they used some language that to me was like, whoa, I didn’t even realize this.

They will say things like, they won’t be like, so this is how it works. It does this and it does this. They will say things like, well, what we are seeing, is that it seems, you know, that that videos that do this are, it appears that they’re being prioritized more or like it looks like this is happening and it makes you realize like, wait a second, they’ve built an AI here.

This is not like a, just a piece of code that just takes in information and spits out the answer based off gives this then that, right, exactly. That’s not how it works at all. This thing is learning. This thing is, is in some way thinking. Right? And so even the YouTube algorithm team doesn’t have the answer.

They can’t tell you definitively that if you do this, that’s what’s gonna get views. What it, what it really requires is to actually replace that word algorithm with audience because, and, and this is what Jimmy has done so well and why every single video he posts is, goes so crazy virals because he simply has, has worked out the perfect picture of who his audience is, and he can say, I know that if I say this or if I post this, these people are going to be interested. You know? And, and I think that’s a difficult thing to do because sometimes, I mean, how do you make that determination? You literally only have the data that you have access to, to, to draw conclusions about the people watching your videos.

And we have done that in the past. We’ve tried to draw conclusions based data that we have and analytics of people who watch our videos, and sometimes it just doesn’t work. We’ve been able to identify over time some things that wouldn’t appear in the data that become glaringly obvious. Like, for example, there was a point at which it was actually a funny, it was actually a funny meeting moment in, in our, in our, in our meeting room, Jake, who’s my main, my main editor, he, he was like, you know, we were all sitting around and we were talking about ideas and talking about, you know, we need to figure out like more details about who our audience is, and like, what, what they wanna see. And so, and, and finally Jake, Jake pipes up and he goes, he’s like, yeah yeah, I realized I was editing the video and I have no idea what you’re talking about. And I was like, I was like, well, that’s an important piece of information to know because it kinda opened this, this I was like, that makes so much sense now because I’m, I’ve made the mistake in the past of assuming that my audience is comprised entirely of advanced level musician.

That’s just not true, right? And so these are sometimes these fallacies that we can develop about your audience structure and trying to draw conclusions about who your audience is. And sometimes we can just be wrong. You know? It, it is very, it’s very obvious and reasonable why I might have come to the conclusion that like, I can talk about this on the channel because, you know, they get it and it’s like, well, a lot do, sure, but not all, not everybody. And, and I would go as far as to say, probably most do not. That was an important thing to learn and just an example of like the number of different things that we have to, that we have to be aware of when you’re looking at what your audience wants to watch.

Pat Flynn: Right. Like you could, you could jam on a circle of fifths, which is, which is like fundamental knowledge for anybody who’s done any music.

But then for a more general audience, I mean, they’re outta that video at that point. Cause I don’t even know what it’s You’ve lost them. Yeah. You’ve lost them, right? Yeah. Thank you for. Being vulnerable here, sharing the real true story of how things have come to be and how it’s not all rainbows and unicorns at this point, but things are way better than they were when they started.

Absolutely. This channel has, has given you this amazing I know there’s YouTube, a revenue coming in. I think you’ve done sponsorships as well for your channel, and now you also released an online course, which is incredible to go from Cardi B videos to now teaching music to people with an online course.

Talk about the origin of wanting to create a course and how that launch went and, and how you launched it.

Charles Cornell: YouTube ad revenue has never been a huge earner for us, and a lot of the reason for that is because we often have to talk about copywrited content, and while there are laws in place that are designed to protect, you know, the creator in this instance, they make it very difficult to take advantage of those laws.

And this is actually, this is, this is a recent change that is, that has actually made things much better. YouTube is much better now with this stuff. But for a while there was a culture of companies would hire, and I would imagine most of the time it’s probably outsourced, they would hire these, these people to essentially scour the internet manually looking for anything that they could claim because these companies think massive record labels, for example, they just pull in tens and tens of millions of dollars off of creator revenue that they’ve claimed through the YouTube content ID system.

And most people don’t know how to fight. I was lucky. I had some connections, people that helped me out. Adam Neely was somebody who helped me out a lot in the beginning. Devin Stone from Legal Eagle, he helped me out a lot in understanding. Devin’s great. Yeah, Devon’s fantastic helped me out a lot in understanding how to, how to deal with this stuff.

And, you know, I, I have a system now where if somebody comes at me, because my content that I make, Is fair use. It’s very clearly well protected under fair use. I am able to discuss the content in an educational manner and use the content to show and then talk about that is perfectly legal.

Pat Flynn: Yeah, it’s probably the most clear version of that actually.

Charles Cornell: I believe it is. Yes. You know, and so, but you have to fight to get there. You have to fight to, to get these claims released. And most of the time people will stop at, they submit a dis well, they’re, they’re scared, first of all, to even submit a dispute, which doesn’t, I mean, you’re not in danger of getting a copyright strike if they reject a dispute.

So you do that, and then they always reject the dispute regardless of your rationale, because there is no consequence. YouTube has not built a system where there’s any consequences for fraudulent claims, so it just doesn’t exist. So they’re like, well, why would we say, oh, you’re right, sorry. There’s no point.

It’s just like, say no, say no, because the only thing you can do at that point is submit an appeal. And that is very scary. It’s a very scary, scary worded process and YouTube’s like, Hey, just so you know, if you do this, they can come after you, they can sue you, you can get a copyright, all this stuff. And then you learn, no company is gonna actually reject your your appeal because it would endanger the precedent that they have.

They’ve got this nice little system where they can mostly unbothered go round up people’s money and just take it for themselves. And so they have this system going on. They don’t wanna jeopardize that. And they know that in a court of law, I would be right. So, they don’t wanna risk that precedent being set in a court of law because it would put the whole system at risk.

And so you all, I’ve never lost an appeal ever. So anyways, that was a roundabout way to say you two ad revenue.

Pat Flynn: No, but that’s huge. I mean, that’s wild. That’s a huge thing to understand. Like thank you for sharing that. I didn’t even know that.

Charles Cornell: It’s a very big thing to understand. Yeah. Like I have never lost an appeal, knock on wood.

But you know, so, you know, YouTube ad revenue has never been super great. And also I’m in a niche where, The CPMs aren’t fantastic, you know, it’s not like being in finance or anything like that. It’s, it’s a lot less for the same number of views.

Pat Flynn: So that’s Charles and I are in this mastermind group with Steve too, who’s from My Wife Quit Her Job, and he was sharing some of his numbers, and Charles and I were like, insane.

Charles Cornell: What? Like what? Why are we, this is, why are we even in this like, I gotta make a new challenge.

Pat Flynn: You need to do piano, like, invest into a 401k.

Charles Cornell: Yeah. Piano music business building. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I mean, it is, it actually, that’s really important stuff that not a lot of students are getting in, especially in collegiate settings too.

I mean, you know, higher education oftentimes with music does not focus on, Hey, how are you actually gonna take this knowledge and go make a living? That’s true. That’s a good thing that people leap out. That is true. You know, and that’s one of the things that we’re hoping to try to, you know, fill in the gaps with with the course platform.

But yeah, so, you know, sponsorships did a bunch of sponsorships, but very quickly realized like, man, that has its limitations. That has its limitations. You are still beholden to a boss in a sense because you know, now you’re, now you’re making content to fulfill someone else’s needs and you are helping them build their dream, right?

And so that was something where I was like, hmm, well there’s two things going on here. Number one, helping somebody else build their dream, all for helping people, but you know, if it’s, it’s some massive company coming in like, you know, I don’t know, in insert any big YouTube sponsor here. Yeah. NordVPN. Yeah. They don’t need my help. You know what I mean? So it’s like whatever. And then the other thing too is I realized like, hey, my audience cares way less about NordVPN than they do about something I’m doing. You know? And so that was the initial thing where it was like, why don’t I become my own sponsor in a sense?

Why don’t I, you know, try to create something where not only can we create a, a really great product that can deliver hopefully things to our customer base that are extremely helpful and can help them push, push them down their, their path of, of learning music. But it can also be coming directly from me.

So it gives people a little more trust and incentive to want to participate and want to support us. It’s just a much, to me, it feels a lot better just in general as like a, a way to ask people to take action on something. Like if I ask people to take action on NordVPN, it’s just like, sure, okay. Like you could.

Pat Flynn: NordVPN’s great, by the way.

Like, let me just clear that up for everybody who is a user.

Charles Cornell: And, oh, I’ve had, I’ve had Nord like, like I’ve used it and, and it’s very, very cool for sure. You know, but it’s one of those things where it’s like, you know, if I’m weighing the two options of saying like being your own sponsor, perfect, yeah, that’s what I’m saying.

You know what I mean? And it’s just like it’s, I think it’s makes a lot more sense for the audience. It makes a lot more sense for people who are looking for ways to support you. And so that was kind of the, the idea behind, you know, saying like, Let’s just build our own thing. And so we started building and my idea from the get-go was never to build a course.

My idea was to build a library of courses, which immediately I was like, oh geez. That’s like, because you know how much work that is, you know, it’s a lot of work. Right. And so, and we’re still in the midst of it. We’re still working on it. And right now we’ve got about seven courses available. Launching, we, we launched initially just outta curiosity, like I can talk about, depending on what you want me to go into, I can talk about like the specific methods in which we launched and whether that like how, if they were difficult or whether they posed an issue.

Like whatever you, how, however much detail you want me to go into, I’m happy to, to, to talk about.

Pat Flynn: Sure. I’m curious about how you let this audience who has gotten to know you through YouTube learn that you now have something for sale.

Charles Cornell: Yeah. Essentially what we started doing is rather than taking sponsors on our videos, we were simply our own sponsor.

So we just had sections at the end of the video or you know, maybe a quick mention in the middle or something where we just were like, Hey, you know, instead of saying like, Today’s sponsors, Nord vpn. It was, it would be more like, I just put out this thing, if you’re interested in, in learning, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

You like, you can find it, link in the description below, all the same stuff that you say a lot of the times for sponsors, we were just saying for our own products. And that was. I mean, still today we’re, we’re, we’re a about a, we’re almost two years in since launching the first course. And that has still been, and this is one of the things where it’s like, you and I have talked about this and this, I, I, I need to get it together with this side of stuff, but that has been the only way that we’ve ever told people about, that we, that we have anything available, which is powerful because, you know, I do have the opportunity to reach a lot of people, so that, right, that helps.

Pat Flynn: But, but you mean, in other words, no email list, no emails to drive into that and that, that kind of thing. So, but, but the power of a platform, right? To let people know about something and Cornell Music Academy, I think is the name of it.

Charles Cornell: Yeah. So we actually just discontinued the Cornell Music Academy in its first sort of stage. Right. That was kind of the first chapter of it. And we have now converted that over into the new venture, which I’m really, really excited about. It’s called

Nice and Better Piano is essentially a platform where people, I wanted to create something where people didn’t have to necessarily, pay me money to get value out of, and I know the YouTube channel is functions as that as well, but I, I wanted to create essentially like a, this place where we just dump useful stuff.

We, we do articles on all kinds of different music theory topics and piano topics. We have a whole database of mini documentaries, you know, like three to five minute documentaries on just significant pianists throughout history and all types of different genres. We’ve been working on this library of, of all these, you know, pianists and we’re up to, I wanna say we’re up to hundreds right now of free exercises, all with video.

Each one is its own video and you can play along and all that stuff with downloadable PDFs and all kinds of things like that. The plan is, and what we’re working on currently is I’m, I want to have a library of thousands of free exercises that anybody can go on site and, and at any point just like, dive in, Hey, I wanna work on major, you know, scales or, or something.

Pat Flynn: To like a Khan Academy similar situation.

Charles Cornell: Yeah. Just come in and, and, and pick a topic and pick a, a particular, you know, pathway or direction and just get in there and, and do some practicing. You know, but, of course we have the courses, which is, you know, when, when, when you’re a member of Better Piano, then you get access to the, our full library of courses and additional in, in addition to courses, you also get access to an expanded exercise database with all the exercises that go with those courses.

And also we are working on a live masterclass workshop type of thing with, with, with regularity. We are are in contact with a lot of like amazing pianists out in New York City and, and stuff like that. And we’re gonna be doing some pretty cool stuff there. So, so yeah, so that’s, that’s where it’s currently at.

And it’s, man, it’s, it’s been, it has been so much work to build this thing. I know you know this from building all the stuff that you’ve built, but it’s just like, it feels like it never ends. Like, you know, just being in the build process and going, man, we have this, monumental mountain of tasks to get through.

Pat Flynn: But the courses are generating revenue.

Right. I I, I think I remember you saying they’re, they’re doing extremely well and you know, now you have a little bit of diversification in the income that’s coming in and, and you’re doing something. Yeah. That’s so huge. Yeah. It, it, it is huge. And, and, and again, the biggest thing is you now have something is your own that you are proud of, I know you are. And, go ahead and check it out. No offense to Cornell Music Academy, but that sounded like, you know, Berkeley School of Music, right? That’s like, it’s a, yeah, it’s a lot. It’s a lot. Right? And, and so With now free information that people can go in.

So go ahead and check that out if you’re curious and people can upgrade to the, to a membership to unlock a, a bigger library, more exercises, more access. This is the kind of stuff we teach her and I, it’s so cool to see you doing it and, and to hear the origin story and to get to where you’re going now.

And, you know, we’ll have to check in with you in the, in the distant future to see like where things end up. And I know you and, stay connected and hopefully we can meet up in Denver with Thomas and, and have a coffee there or, or something at some point. But absolutely. I just appreciate you, man. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story, and congratulations on this wild ride that you’ve been on.

And you know, this move to Denver with like almost nothing turning into these viral videos and now landing on something that you’re, you is truly you is is really inspiring. Thank you so much.

Charles Cornell: Dude, thanks a lot man. I appreciate you having me. It’s a, it’s a blast to, to talk about this stuff and to, you know, just kind of jam on, you know, how to build things and, and this is what, you know, your content is so great for.

And, you know, I’ve been checking out obviously like, oh, your course material and stuff like that. And that’s, Very inspiring and telling me that I need, I need to get it together with so many of the things that we’re still not doing, you know?

Pat Flynn: So no, you’re still do, you’re doing great and you know, you have this superpower, especially in the music space, plus like the personality that comes with it.

It’s just so easy to connect with you, and I think that’s why people love your videos and. Even though maybe they didn’t want music theory, they’re still hearing it.

Charles Cornell: We’re, we’re shoving down their throats. Anyway, watching, you need to learn this. No, thanks so much.

Pat Flynn: No, I’m learning a lot too. And, and I appreciate you. Charles Cornell on YouTube. Where else can people go and find you? If there is any?

Charles Cornell: Anywhere else. Everywhere. I mean, I, I think TikTok and Instagram, it’s at Charles Cornell Studios. I haven’t used Twitter. I don’t even bother. I mean, I haven’t used Twitter in so long, but I’m there. It should be easy to find.

Pat Flynn: Cool, man. Thanks so much. Appreciate it man.

Charles Cornell: Thanks, Pat.

Pat Flynn: Alright. I hope you enjoyed that interview, I sure did, with Charles Cornell. You can find him now, which is pretty cool. I love how he brought that in there. I know he was still in the works actually at the time of this recording for that program.

A lot of it’s free again, and check out Charles Cornell, he has a really, really good video that my family and I love. It’s like four different versions of the b, the Happy Birthday song, like super Easy and Getting into advance, and there’s like a character named Jimmy that comes in that like he plays himself in his videos.

He’s super, super smart with the way he holds engagement on a lot of these videos. But then a lot of his more recent videos, as we talked about, are more music theory and for more of the musicians in the audience. Now he has a course in generating an income and it all started with a Cardi B meme. Anyway, thank you so much for listening in.

I appreciate you. If you wanna check out the links and resources to everything Charles talked about today, head on over to the show notes page at Thank you so much. I appreciate you. I look forward to seeing you on the next one.

Thank you so much for listening to the Smart Passive Income podcast at I’m your host, Pat Flynn. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Our senior producer is David Grabowski, and our executive producer is Matt Gartland. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media, and a proud member of the Entrepreneur Podcast Network. Catch you next week!

Share this post

Smart Passive Income Podcast

with Pat Flynn

Weekly interviews, strategy, and advice for building your online business the smart way.

Get Unstuck in just 5 minutes, for free

Our weekly Unstuck newsletter helps online entrepreneurs break through mental blocks, blind spots, and skill gaps. It’s the best 5-minute read you’ll find in your inbox.

Free newsletter. Unsubscribe anytime.

Join 135k+