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How A Portuguese Singer Got 20 Million Views On YouTube

IMB_AnaFree2 Ana Free is a singer and songwriter from Portugal who started her career with a simple idea. For the past three years she has been recording herself in locations ranging from her bedroom to regional concert stages singing cover versions of popular songs and her own original compositions accompanied by just her guitar and posting those videos on YouTube. Alone, that doesn't seem like anything countless other singers might have tried to do, right?

The difference is that this collection of simple videos on YouTube has gathered more than 20 million views and brought this relatively unknown singer fans from around the world – including more than 20,000 on Facebook. She was recently featured in a music video from the band Hands On Approach and self released her own album last year on CD Baby.

In a world where the music industry seems to face a new struggle almost every month and many in the music industry fear that the next generation of consumers are growing up with a perception that music is something that they should not have to pay for – what could Ana Free teach us about marketing, engagement and the potential future for up and coming musicians around the world? Here are a few lessons:

  1. Share your beginnings. One of the most powerful things about Ana's story is that you can see the whole history of it on YouTube. All of her videos (including her first video) are available on her channel and watching them gives you the sense that you are seeing a talented musician mature with each video – and offers a personal connection to her story because you get to see it evolve.
  2. Be authentic. A common theme in her videos is the authenticity with which they are recorded. She sings to her cat, shows outtakes from recording sessions and sometimes forgets the words to songs. All of these pieces are captured on video and give the viewer a sense that they are seeing some real and unscripted – a welcome change to all the overly produced and narcissistically perfected music videos available online today.
  3. Use a common language. By starting with doing cover songs that people would recognize, Ana uses the common language of popular songs to introduce herself and her style to her audience. While she does have original songs, if she only had those, her views and audience would likely be far smaller. Singing songs from other artists is a simple way to reduce the barriers that may exist for people to engage with her music.
  4. Find complimentary partners. At several points, Ana partners with other musicians who themselves have large and active YouTube audiences like Maria Zouroudis. These duets allow her to engage another audience outside of her own and introduce herself to music fans who will likely enjoy her music as well because it is a similar style to the other musicians who she partners with.
  5. Ask for help from your community. When Ana finally released her own album, all the videos in her channel used tagging and links to drive viewers of any video to listen to her music and get a copy of it. She also posted a video asking for help in promoting the album and spreading the world. By integrating this promotion with all her existing videos and directly asking for help, she is engaging the community which has supported her over 3 years and asks them to take the next step by talking about her new album and recommending it to others.

16 thoughts on “How A Portuguese Singer Got 20 Million Views On YouTube”

  1. While in college, I had an art professor who was formerly a medical doctor. He said that his first career choice was to become an artist, but after discovering how much it cost to be an artist, he decided that he needed to become a doctor so that he could fund his dream of becoming an artist.

    In recent years, I have noticed a number of very talented musicians on youtube, who would have never had the opportunity to be heard by hundreds, thousands, or even millions of viewers. Youtube seems to be a great buffer for those who are simply trying to be heard and become known. The site also really cuts out the costs that have been so long associated with producing art/music and lets musicians and artists get more publicity than they otherwise would have never received.

    It takes a lot to be a great musician, but youtube is a great outlet for those who have worked hard and simply want to be heard.

  2. This is a very inspiring story. Its something very simple, yet effective as far as strategies go. Sure, many will say its mostly thanks to her being beautiful. But her talent with music is what made it possible.
    She did take a bit of a risk though, with singing already known songs. I cant be the only one to admit that I wince whenever I hear someone trying to sing a popular song, most often because the people singing have little talent, but some people just prefer the original singers and their styles opposed to new people trying their own thing.
    Nevertheless, she managed to start a following, doing what she wanted to and used what resources she could.
    Well done her 🙂

  3. Great story! Because it’s about a realy hardworking person, not about another emerging in a moment star.
    I think she’s a great singer first of all and persistance enough to promote her chanel for 3 years. Thats are her keys to succeses.

  4. Working with other musicians is the smartest move – partnerships are extremely effective in appealing to new groups of fans.

    However, don’t buy into the “authenticity” hype. In the music business (where I worked in marketing for five years), there’s plenty of “authentic” stuff that fails miserably, and plenty of slick, overproduced material that succeeds beyond expectations — ever hear of Lady Gaga? And how are those high-concept, heavily rehearsed OK GO videos doing?

  5. @Alex – Thanks, fixed that typo.

    @Freddy – Agree on the partnerships and authenticity is certainly a buzzword and I appreciate your challenge that it’s too easy to just give advice for being more authentic. What I think really works for her, though, is the way that she is NOT overproduced and you do get her personality through the videos because she shows the outtakes and high fives her collaborators when they “don’t screw up.” She’s human and real and whatever negative reaction the word “authentic” may bring, that personality is what people do (and always have) connected with. As you know, there’s no perfect formula in a business like music anyway – sometimes it’s just the right person hearing your music at the right time.

  6. Great bit of personal marketing and thinking outside the box. You can imagine that if she had approached the music industry directly they would have laughed her out of the room, so she has used the tools available and worked around that problem! Cool

  7. Looking at Ana Free`s youtube channel, official anafreemusic website and other articles, it comes across that she is a smart, educated young lady. She has a Degree in Economics from the University of Kent in the Uk. Her final year dissertation was ´What is the Impact of Tecnology on the Strucure of the Major Record Labels.´ (between 1995- 2005).The website shows her participation in the Congress of Communications in Lisbon, Portugal where she was a guest speaker alongside people such as Richard Allan from Facebook. Her focus is obviously mainly on her music, but not solely, as Ana seems genuinly interested in the new music tecnologies and the situation the music industry finds itself today. Ana obviously has thought intelligently how to project herself in the fast changing music business. Smart.

  8. YouTube is a great source for marketing. It has helped many singer/songwriters, that I favorably love to listen to and have purchased their music through iTunes, personally promote or market themselves as an individual or a group in a band. YouTube has helped one of my favorite artist, Kina Grannis (the winner of the Dorito’s SuperBowl commercial several years ago), do exactly the same thing here that Ana Free has accomplished. YouTube is a great way to market oneself or even organizations.

  9. That is truly amazing. The power of youtube is incredible. It goes to show that talented people can get their voice heard by the world with a limited budget these days.


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