Music Business

Stop Whining and Sign the Crappy YouTube Music Deal

June 19, 2004

If you haven’t heard by now, there is a huge row over YouTube’s treatment of independent labels in regards to their launch of a music streaming service tentatively called “YouTube Music Pass.”

Here’s the Wall St. Journal’s take

Here’s the Bloomberg article teasing that you may lose your Adele videos.

Here’s Digital Music News very early on in this breaking the EU side of the argument.

Full disclosure: I do not work for YouTube, or Google. I have consulted on some YouTube rights issues, but I do not take money from either. I also do not work (currently) with any of the indies who are fighting this press war: XL Recordings, 4AD, Cooking Vinyl and Domino.

But I am a strong supporter of YouTube, and I have written about its importance to independent artists extensively in Performer Magazine, as well as other publications. I won’t bore you with the stats, but end of story, YouTube is the largest music site in the world and that will go unchallenged no matter what they do for years to come. And every single musician/artist must be on there.

The crux of the argument has been over the threat of YouTube blocking, or taking down, independent label music videos if they do not agree to the new terms of service to participate in the YouTube Music streaming program.

As someone who works intimately with the YouTube Content ID system, this is damn near impossible.

First, the term “music video” is being misused in this case. Music videos (the official ones that the artist/label put out- think Vevo) are a tiny sliver of where music lives on YouTube. In fact, lyric videos (to a song) outperform the official music videos all the time. So, change your thinking about YouTube form ‘music video,’ to ‘videos with music.’

One song can an have an official video, but it’s the flash mob video, the a cappella cover, the lyric video, the album cover video, the guitar lesson, the live at <insert tech video company> videos, the live performance video, the Grammy performance, high school choirs, the mashup vs. video that all run the numbers aggregately. YouTube would not be able to pull down that Content ID song from all of it. They simply wouldn’t be able to.

So, some clarity. What will really happen is this: Either you (independent label) agree to the new terms, or YouTube won’t let you monetize your video channel (and/or Content ID discovery across platform). That’s it. Those videos will still be there, but they will not be monetized in any way, on your channel or on the Music Service.

That’s all. That’s the only way this CAN technically happen.

Basically it’s this: “Either you let us make you some money legally and transparently, or we will not allow you to make any money”

And what of all those artists not on a major, not on a independent label, but have a catalog of produced songs? I suspect this will work in concert with the Content ID DMCA system. Basically, you will probably get a ‘takedown notice’ that specifies you can no longer participate in the monetization program (BUT YOUR VIDEOS WILL STAY) unless you agree to the terms.

Sign the Fucking Deal! …and let’s move on.

I get it indie label. You’re butthurt. You’re not getting the same deal that majors get, you’ve been given an edict, and you want the best for your artists, and no one likes to be strong-armed.

But, step back for a moment. Of course you’re not getting “favorable terms,” of course your payout will be less. What makes you think it should be any different? Hell, even if you are XL Records, you have maybe have 5 top line artists; compared to a Sony or Warner, even you are small potatoes. You don’t drive nearly as much traffic, clicks, or views. That sucks, but it’s the truth. Your catalog market value is not even approaching the majors’.

But I do understand the need for justice. Wanting to get a fair deal is admirable. However, this is no different than the whole damn industry. Wrong. You think you got the same upfront money as a major with your Spotify deal? No. How about iTunes? No. How about your songwriters or their pubs on PROs? Guess what, they don’t get the same rates either by some cruel twist of collective licensing. It’s the same thing, only you believe YouTube is playing unfair. They’re not. The majors, and the corporate money behind them, have the leverage. You’re not worth more money or favorable terms, neither am I, or my catalog.

Ok, settle down. I’m not saying I agree with the screwjob, but back up for a moment and let’s get some things straight.

You don’t pay for a damn thing, and YouTube wants to offer you a brand new revenue stream, without you having to purchase anything… and you say no? Really?

1. You’ve been uploading, storing, and embedding your music videos at no charge for 10 years or more.

2. You are part of the largest site on the planet.

3. You don’t pay a thing for extra features like Songkick listings, or iTunes/Amazon buy now links.

4. Most importantly, your fans have a place to watch your art for free (or after a tiny ad), a way to share it easily withy the world, translate lyrics into different languages, and you can maintain a subscriber base of fans, again all at no charge.

5. AND you get top ranking on Google Search with a display video of your song.

And then, YouTube comes to you with an offer to make you more money on the world’s largest music streaming site. That’s what this is, a forced monetization play, with you benefitting by no work of your own.

And you say, fuck you?

(And by the way, that Dire Straits video above is a perfect example of how convoluted this “block” may be. A shitty quality 80’s video, not the master video, no Vevo equivalent, user uploaded, with 2 million hits)

What harm is done here? It’s all legal, you can’t sue over this, it’s competition based business that’s all. So, what is the outcome you envision? Do you really think YouTube/Google will just fold because of these independents? Not a chance, this could easily go forward with just two of the majors alone.

Here’s what I envision:

I’m willing to bet you will make more money off of YouTube than you ever did. I’m willing to bet your views will go up, you will see the conversion into paid downloads or concert ticket sales. You will gain subscribers, be added to playlists on and off of YouTube. Stars will be made, as they already have, on YouTube every year, only this time, they will make some actually money.

Sign the deal. Take the hit. Do what’s right for your artists, for the fans.