YouTube doesn’t work for musicians

I recently attended a YouTube workshop for musicians hosted at Google European headquarters in Zurich. Afterwards I watched a TV documentary about YT by German ZDF television. I have  uploaded 30 videos of my own music, I have more than 600 “fan uploads” containing my music at least partly and I’ve had more than 350’000 views since I started the YT partner program in January 2014. With all this I have earned a little bit more than $24 in the process. This ridiculously low payout explains my mixed feelings towards Google and YouTube. A couple of things became clear to me after having been to the workshop and spending some hours thinking about YT and its role for musicians.

YouTube wasn’t built for music

In the beginning it was mostly cat videos and similar stuff that populated YT. Then there were the first “YouTubers”, mostly young people who posted regularly and gained astonishing followings in the millions. Advertisement was added by Google to monetize on the newly found popularity. The whole thing got professional with studios, managers and Multi Channel Networks (MCN) added, who connected and cross-fertilized YT channels and started making big money.
Then the first musicians reached astonishing popularity levels on YT, sold nice quantities of CDs and were attracting crowds to their often DIY tours. The myth of YouTube as an efficient music promoting platform was born.

Ads don’t work for music

Now these days YT is filled with music, rivalling Apple Music and Spotify in the depth of its repertoire. According to in 2014 52% of all streaming happened on YouTube but only 13.5% of total streaming payout came from YouTube. So YT definitely offers by far the worst deal to musicians. The reason is that ads don’t work for music. Hardly any advertisers are tempted to place their ads on music videos while it perfectly makes sense for a cosmetics company to place their ads and products in a channel about makeup. Who would put an ad in front of my video I Am One (LSD Housewife) as long as LSD is illegal? So it seems that the so called YouTubers are making real money with their teenage idol thing as well as some of the specialised how-to channels. Music is hardly getting any ad money: for a million views you make about $65 which is a terribly sobering figure.

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Youtube doesn’t claim to pay on a per view basis at all. They pay when they receive money for an ad on your video. Typically that’s a CPC (a pay per click). So the more views your video gets, the more ads are placed and, hopefully, the more ads are clicked on. It’s theoretically possible to have a million views of an video with ads on each one and have very little or no ad revenue generated. In addition, the rates that are charged for the ads vary considerably on the content, time of day, and a variety of other variables most of which are unknown to the content providers uploading their videos. There is a complete lack of transparency how income is generated and distributed. (This section has partly been taken from a comment about one of my posts.)

Music promotion with YouTube doesn’t really work any more

As YT is so crowded with music the usual music video gets only some hundred or some thousand views. Even if you spend loads of time in doing everything the YT textbook says and you happen to run into the millions – so what? The money you get from YT is next to nothing. Some people might remember your name but they won’t buy your music as they already get it for free. Maybe somebody will like your songs so much that some booking or so will happen. Maybe even a couple of downloads or CDs are sold. So the musician is in a big dilemma: you can’t afford not to be on YouTube but when you are on YouTube you are ruining your possible income from recorded music. As I wrote in one of my former blogs it’s possible to make the point that YouTube is the world’s largest piracy site. Certainly YouTube has helped very much to ruin the business of recorded music.

Google doesn’t seem to care about musicians

The YouTube music guys at the workshop have been very nice and helpful giving all kinds of hints and ideas how to spread your music. Unfortunately I have lost hope that it’s worth to spend much more time on YouTube. As long as YouTube doesn’t stop people from listening and watching everything for free YouTube along with the piracy sites seems to be the biggest threat to musicians who strive to make a living from their work. YouTube should limit the non-paying access to music to 30-60 seconds but Google doesn’t seem to care about musicians…

Disclaimer: These thoughts above come from my personal experiences. Ralf Henninger of Hamburgs’ Respect Music has told me that he has some musicians on his labels that make a couple of thousands Euros per month from YouTube. For this to happen they must have either dozens of millions of views each month or have found a way to attract advertisers. I’ll try to find out and keep you informed.