MrBallen's Meteoric Rise To The Top Of YouTube Darlings Explained

In March 2020, MrBallen made his first YouTube debut. In the clip, he shared a story about some unidentifiable entity he apparently saw in his bedroom multiple nights in a row when he was a teenager. That first video has raked in over eight million views, and his channel subscriber count quickly climbed. That real story helped catapult his career as a content creator and led him to YouTube stardom

After MrBallen recognized his storytelling style resonated with his audience, he decided to move away from personal stories and start sharing true crime stories. He talked about special forces being attacked by an unidentified creature, haunted places, and heinous acts. This pivot to true crime really helped his following blossom.

As grisly and macabre as it can be, true crime is an incredibly popular genre and it shows no signs of slowing down. In 2022, YouGov surveyed 1,000 people about true crime and found that about half are interested in the genre. Networks like Investigation Discovery continue to pull in ratings. And as far as the podcasting world is concerned, it's one of the top genres. With true crime being consumed more often than ever, it is no surprise that MrBallen rose to the top of YouTube as fast as he did.

It all started on TikTok for MrBallen

John Allen, better known as MrBallen, never thought he would become a social media star, let alone a popular true crime storyteller on YouTube. After graduating from UMass-Amherst in 2010 with a degree in philosophy and minor in English, he became a Navy SEAL. As he recalled to The Patriot Ledger, he had a particularly close call involving some grenade shrapnel while he was in Afghanistan. "I was bleeding to death. I went deaf and blind and thought I was going to die," he said. By 2017, he'd retired from the military. And then, the veteran started dabbling in social media.

In 2020, MrBallen's life changed forever when he created a TikTok about the Dyatlov Pass mystery. The clip racked up a whopping five million views shortly after it went live; he became a TikTok star overnight. Clearly, there was an audience for his content, but at first he did not know what to make of the tidal wave of viewers. "I literally thought there was a glitch with my phone," he shared with New York Post.

Of course, there was not a glitch. Beyond people's interest in true crime, MrBallen's brand works because, as he said, "I love telling stories. I love getting people's reactions to interesting stories."

MrBallen's storytelling YouTube channel took off

After he took off on TikTok, MrBallen redirected his audience to his YouTube channel and began posting videos in March 2020. While a number of YouTubers had already made their mark in the true crime genre, MrBallen still found his niche and became a bona fide star — and he didn't take it for granted. As he told the New York Post in 2022, "Even to be mentioned [with] some of these other creators is so surreal."

In order to stand out, MrBallen decided to explore a less expected point of view. "Others in the genre focus on the killer or the perpetrator. I do the opposite to make it feel like the audience is in the footsteps of the victim. Instead of saying 'Sally was in a horrible situation,' I say 'She would have been in total darkness and heard something behind her' and in my mind that's much more terrifying," he told The Patriot Ledger. His approach worked and the subscribers started growing as his videos began reaching millions of viewers.

Even with all of his success, MrBallen is as dedicated as ever to finding the right stories to tell and choosing a topic that both he and the audience will find interesting and entertaining. "Sometimes I find a great story and know it's the one," he said. "But there are days I spend 12 hours on the computer and have nothing to show for it because I've just been reading through topics and not liking any."

MrBallen saw the perfect opportunity to start a podcast

After things began to really chug along on TikTok and YouTube, MrBallen figured he might as well expand yet again. In February 2022, he launched his podcast, "Strange, Dark & Mysterious Stories." He told The Verge that he always figured his content style would work well as a podcast, but he didn't know where to start. "I really had no idea how to scale a YouTube channel into anything else," he said. But eventually he figured it out, and the results didn't disappoint. As he said to Metro, "I anticipated there would maybe be a lot of people interested in making the jump [from YouTube], but this has been above and beyond my expectations."

Steven Cohen of Cadence13 couldn't believe the momentum of MrBallen's podcast. "[It was] putting up numbers that, honestly, having come from a reasonably big network, I had never seen," he told The Verge. So, in May 2022 Cohen decided to join forces with MrBallen and help with the podcast's brand.

As for what's next? While they continue to take big steps with the brand, they aren't going to rush into anything. "Before we expand, and possibly dilute what it is we've got, we want to be very, very careful," Cohen said in The Verge. "We are rocking this very gently to bed every night, making sure it sleeps well, wakes up renewed and refreshed the next day."

He launched a content studio with Nick Witters

Like most social media stars, MrBallen realized he needed a manager to help him scale his business. It was then that he began working with Nick Witters, an industry pro who used to work at WME has experience managing other YouTubers. This move set the stage for MrBallen and Witters' content company, Ballen Studios. Deadline reported that the idea behind this enterprise was to go from YouTube and podcasting storytelling to television, film, publishing, tours, and merchandise. Building his brand continued to be the number one goal.

MrBallen considers Witters' support and industry knowledge invaluable. "He has skillfully guided every facet of the business as we've laid the groundwork to launch and scale Ballen Studios, so that my primary focus can always be on what the MrBallen community cares about the most: the storytelling," the YouTuber said.

As for Witters, he has always complimented MrBallen and his work ethic: "John has the determination of a Navy Seal, a creative mind for Hollywood and an ability and thoughtfulness to tell a story better than anyone ... We at Ballen Studios could not be more excited on this path of expansion and honored the growing MrBallen community is coming along for the ride."

MrBallen got an exclusive deal with Amazon Music

After he co-created Ballen Studios, MrBallen's brand continued to move forward and he took yet another huge swing. In September 2022, he announced he'd made an deal with Amazon Music. As of November 2022, Amazon Music has had the exclusive rights to his true crime podcast content

Jen Sargent, the CEO of Amazon Music's Wondery podcast studio, shared a statement that highlighted the way in which MrBallen's brand had resonated and connected with fans all over the world. "We're thrilled to be working with John, Nick Witters, CEO of Ballen Studios, and their team in continuing to expand the reach of their existing show and are looking forward to working with them to develop new formats, content and stories for Amazon Music's global audiences around the world," she said, per The Hollywood Reporter

As happy as MrBallen is for this new deal, he hasn't forgotten the fans who have been such a big part of his journey. After the news broke, he took the time to share a statement and reassure his loyal audience. "I will always be dedicated to bringing them the best, and continually raising the bar with the art of storytelling," he said, per Variety. "Working with Amazon Music allows us to do just that... We're just getting started."

He still finds success with his podcast and YouTube

Many social media influencers will focus on one platform and upload their best content there. Whether it be photos on Instagram, videos on TikTok, vlogs on YouTube, or new episodes of their podcast, they know what their followers are looking for. But MrBallen chose to go beyond that and tap into several platforms to share his storytelling content, and he sure has made it all work.

As MrBallen's YouTube channel became more popular, he figured his content could work well on a different medium. As he told The Verge, "I wanted to do a podcast but I just didn't have the bandwidth." As previously noted, once he did find the bandwidth, it panned out for him. In February 2022, it was the No. 1 true crime podcast on Spotify , an especially big deal considering how massive the genre has become. And after it moved to Amazon Music some months later, the podcast continued to find success in its new home: As of this writing, it's one of the top 50 on the platform.

And just because his podcast has done so well, don't think MrBallen has left his YouTube channel in the dust. Rather, it's continued to flourish, too. As of this writing, he has over 7 million subscribers and his videos continue to rack up millions of views. 

He keeps his podcast and YouTube separate

While MrBallen does indeed explore true crime stories on his podcast and his YouTube channel, he treats the two as separate entities. For one thing, while the content may be similar, it isn't identical. What's more, the videos are usually shorter and the details are more sensational to appeal to the audience's emotions. "Video also gives me another layer to play with... I can just throw some visuals on screen to support whatever I'm saying," he explained in The Guardian. His podcast, on the other hand, is audio only and gives more insight and details into the true crimes he is narrating.

MrBallen also told The Guardian that the two may not stay separate forever. As Steven Cohen said to The Verge, "we'd like to find a way to have all of those things meet in the middle." For now, there's the MrBallen Podcast YouTube channel, but don't expect to find a bunch of podcast videos there. As of this writing, there's only one video on that channel: an announcement about his deal with Amazon Music. 

Telling stories runs in MrBallen's family

One may think MrBallen got all his storytelling skills while studying English at UMass-Amherst. However, it sounds like the ability to tell a story well is something that runs in his family. MrBallen's father was a reporter for The Patriot Ledger and an assistant managing editor at The Boston Globe. His mom is a writer who runs the circulation department at a library. What's more, his mother writes scripts for his YouTube videos and podcasts. 

"They are smart and really talented writers," MrBallen told the outlet. "I always thought I was the worst writer of the group. The way I communicated stories was not through writing but by speaking. Compared to them, I always felt I had a leg up when it came to describing stories and talking about stories. But, they got me beat on the writing."

Growing up in a creative environment gave him the resources he needed to know exactly how to handle storytelling and the kind of twists his audience was looking for. Nowadays, MrBallen is a father himself and the question is whether or not his children (or at least one of them) will follow into this legacy of writing and sharing stories.

He has used his platform to honor victims

Thanks to his YouTube channel, podcast, and partnership with Amazon Music, MrBallen's done rather well for himself. But even as his star continues to rise, he has not forgotten the subjects of the stories he shares — especially the victims and victims' loved ones. 

In July 2022, MrBallen launched the MrBallen Foundation to help honor victims and give support to families impacted by the crimes. Per PR Newswire, he said in a statement, "It is my hope that the MrBallen Foundation can be a valuable resource to aiding both victims and their families through financial support, as well as providing training, educational resources, and a pathway to give back." The site includes donor options as well as information about the organizations two grants, the Hope Grant and the Honor Grant. The first recipient of the Honor Grant, which is reserved for other nonprofits that aim to help victims, was the LOVE>hate Project. In February 2023, the MrBallen Foundation announced on Facebook that Experience Camp, a summer camp for grieving children, would be receiving a $50,000 grant. Talk about using a massive platform for good.