He’s spent years creating his dream and molding each blissful note of life into music. He has hundreds, if not thousands, of students. He teaches beginners to professionals in multiple musical styles with multiple instruments. If that sounds complicated, it’s not. He removes guess work, strips away noise, and makes what otherwise might be difficult, easy. A current YouTube sensation to some, this multi-instrumentalist hammers out one song after another, uploading numerous lessons to the internet so that you may play along at your own pace. His students—most of whom he’s never met—call him everything from a badass instructor to an endless spirit. His friends mostly call him Munson.
Munson Summer is a guitar virtuoso who probably has no idea the depth of his talent, but YouTube might be sensing the wave. The popular video sharing website recently recognized Munson with two Silver Play Buttons—one for MunsonMusicLive and one for MunsonCovers. The coveted recognition is awarded only to those whose channels surpass 100,000 subscribers. “It’s the one big mark before you get a million subscribers,” says Munson.
Subscribers are an integral piece to Munson’s success. They choose who and what to follow to stay updated with new videos. They can comment and share videos with others—something that is encouraged by the YouTube community. Munson says most of his followers are grateful for the opportunity to learn online and comments are usually positive. “YouTube has opened up a lot of doors. You get to communicate with people all over the world and that alone is pretty inspiring—that people are digging my work and making requests.” Munson says he probably has over 1,000 song requests from his regular and online students.
Munson’s four main YouTube channels cumulatively have over 300,000 subscribers, and years of hard work paid off—literally. He says his YouTube partnership earns him enough to pay the mortgage. “I’m a YouTube Creator. YouTube makes money off me, other artists make money off me, and I make money off them. Okay, so we’re all pretty happy because it’s usually mutually rewarding,” he says.
MunsonMusicLive, Munson’s main channel, has over 8,600 videos. Munson says he spends five to six hours on each song, beginning with fleshing out the melody to write out the song chart. “I pick all these (songs) out by ear. I just listen to the song and try and figure out what the chord progression is and once I’ve got the chart, if it’s something I decide to do, I go back and spend two or three hours shooting it and then another two or three hours editing. And then, once I have all the videos, then I upload. So, one video, one song with eight different takes will take about an hour and half to two hours to record. If I record with a capo, it takes twice as long.”
Munson records and uploads each song using multiple styles and instruments including strum guitar, fingerstyle guitar, banjo, mandolin, bariuke, ukulele, soprano ukulele, bass guitar, and piano. He says while he wants the chords to be well represented, he’s not so critical of his singing and he doesn’t want others to be intimidated either. “It’s supposed to be a guitar lesson. I expect people to be playing and singing along with me and having a good time.” Munson says he most often records playing his Jack Bouknight guitar.
Munson created his first YouTube channel on August 12, 2012. He saved years of videos from music jams and bands and his musical diary needed a home. With that, he uploaded his first video—Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” He then began recording videos that he calls How to Play Tutorials, walking the beginner through strum patterns, like he would one of his students. He also has instructional videos for intermediate and advanced players. “Playing songs with friends led to Cover Lessons. When I started learning guitar it was go to your friend’s house and try to follow what they were doing. So, the YouTube channels with those kinds of lessons are the same kind of thing. It’s really kinda taken off. I just play the song and have the lyrics and chords on the screen so that you can just play along,” he says. All of his channels are connected, linked with an annotation, and hopefully, a playlist.
Munson says one of the most baffling things about YouTube is the amount of time people spend watching channels. “It’s weird. YouTube has this thing called Analytics that gives you an idea of watch time. In the last 28 days, watch time was three years and 86 days. But this is just one of four channels. You can spend all day looking at numbers, but I don’t stress it. It’s not what I’m living for.”
Of his YouTube success Munson says he thinks it’s cool that he has more subscribers than some of the artists he loves. “Dinosaur Jr., 22,000 subscribers, Abandoning Sunday, 18,000 subscribers, Stevie Nicks, 75,000 subscribers, Bruce Hornsby, 43,000 subscribers. I just think it’s kinda funny when I hit a video by an artist like Bruce, especially, and I’m like, that guy is awesome. He’s my hero. He needs more subscribers.”
Munson says another hero—his biggest hero—is his father, Henry. “I think I’m a great example of my dad helping me follow my bliss. I don’t know where I’d be, literally, without my mom and dad’s support. I don’t want to think about it. I have this love for music and they just encourage that as much as they possibly can.”
Munson got his first guitar from his parents on Christmas when he was sixteen. He says his Uncle Walter was his first guitar teacher—teaching him tunes from Fleetwood Mac to Bob Dylan—and that passing songs Uncle Walter loved to the on-line community makes him smile. He says to him, music is life, although he had no idea that his career would revolve around music. “I always played around with technology, so I thought that was my thing. But when I got in college, I realized computer science was a math degree—you know, it wasn’t playing games on the computer. So, I ended up staying in my dorm room a lot, playing my guitar.”
Munson says he didn’t do well his first year of college and that he had to improve his grades before he could return, earning his Bachelor of Music and Music Education and Performance Certificate in Classical Guitar from the University of South Carolina in 1999. “Once I had guitar as my major it was like night and day. As soon you know what you want to do, you get motivated. So, I got my grades up and I was like, yeah, let me do this all the time!”
And the world let him do what he wanted. Following his bliss for nearing 20-years has given Munson his dream of playing guitar for a living and eventually, it led him to his wife Kira and their three children.
In addition to his YouTube partnership, Munson continues teaching private lessons at his store, Munson Music, in downtown Newberry. Stop by and say hello when you get a chance. Until then, grab your guitar, go to his YouTube playlist, find a song that you love and play along. After all, music is life.