For a musician who didn’t pick up a guitar until he was 17 or teach a lesson until a few years ago, Sean Daniel’s career has come a long way fast. And he looks to be just getting started.
You can find Daniel giving lessons at his downtown studio, performing on the Westin Hotel rooftop, and producing records and animated videos at his home on Siesta Key. But his greatest influence has come on YouTube, where his nearly 900 videos have attracted more than 20 million views. His channel has nearly 200,000 subscribers. The eclectic and often hilarious videos, with titles such as Learn Every Blues Song Ever in 8 Minutes and How to Recover From a Nightmare Gig!, garner a million views a month.
With his slightly spiky brown hair, facial stubble and easy smile, Daniel, 35, has the looks of a troubadour. He laughs often, and often at himself. “Nothing really says blues music like a white guy wearing a linen shirt and chambray toms,” Daniel deadpans in an introduction to one of his videos.
Daniel didn’t grow up in a musical family. “My parents have terrible taste in music,” he says, “so I kind of grew up hating music.”
That changed when Daniel was a junior in high school, where, one day, a student brought in a guitar. He took it in his hands and, in a sense, has never let go. In 2015, Daniel and local musician Andres Colin combined on a record, Pack & Go, that Daniel considered his most accomplished work. It went nowhere.
Daniel says he might have given up or become embittered, but his years of playing basketball—he is known as one of the better recreational players in the area—gave him an inner confidence.
He was also buffeted by the new reality for artists, driven by social media and videos, that means a musician doesn’t need an agent or to be “discovered” in a nightclub. “All I need is a camera and instrument,” he says. “It’s empowering.”
When Daniel put his first videos on YouTube, he started getting monthly checks for $1, which surprised and thrilled him. One weekend, he went offline. When he plugged back in, his phone was going haywire with notifications of new subscribers.
“I realized I had something,” he says.
Daniel is now making $2,500 a month from YouTube and another $1,000 to $1,500 from related advertising. That will rise significantly if he realizes his goal of increasing his subscribers to 1 million in the next three years.
“It may sound hokey, but I’m doing this to help people,” he says. “And to be able to make a living doing it, I’m not going to lie, that’s damn exciting.”