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Is YouTube Destroying or Saving Music?

A few weeks ago Wired posed the question “Is YouTube Bad for Music?”. Their article asks if music fans’ access to almost limitless free music via YouTube is hurting revenue for artists by undercutting premium streaming services, and of course, iTunes/CD sales. 

Later on, YouTube responded, stating that “Free Music Can Pay As Well As Paid Music”. YouTube retorted that their monetized views via AdSense and In-Video ads were putting millions of dollars into musicians’ pockets every month. (well, more accurately, into the record label exec’s pockets, but that’s a discussion for another article).

The more interesting debates seemed to happen on various music industry blogs who weighed in on the discussion with their own oped pieces.

This is not another one of those opinion pieces, this is a fact piece.

The Facts.

I am a musician. I am also a YouTuber. I upload and monetize all of my music and music videos on YouTube. I’m by no means a super star, but my videos have been viewed millions of times on YouTube, and I’ve earned thousands of dollars from YouTube against ads on those views. In fact, I’ve earned just as much from YouTube as I have from my music CD and download sales.

YouTube currently brings in half of my income from music. And as the owner of an online music label that works exclusively with YouTube musicians, I can tell you the same is true for everyone on my label.

YouTube is an amazing promotional tool when used properly. The sheer size of the site in content and visitors is astounding. Now before you trail off into a rant about cat videos and skateboarding dogs, know this: 8 out of the top 10 most viewed videos of all time on YouTube… are music videos. Music fans are there and they are gobbling up any videos they can find related to artists and genres they like.

5 Tips for Gaining Fans (and Money) on YouTube:

So here are a few tips for musicians looking to turn YouTube from a negative into a positive for their careers:

1) Don’t just sing, talk. Every music blog for the past decade has droned on about connecting with fans. What better way to do that than to sit down for a face-to-face conversation? Well, okay, face-to-screen conversation, but vlogging in between posting music videos is not only a fantastic way to engage your fans, but it means more content being uploaded to your channel, which means your name and face stay fresh in your fans’ subscription boxes.

2) Views equal dollars. The more videos you upload, the more repeat viewers you will have. If someone subscribes to your channel, every time you upload a new video, it shows up on their YouTube homepage. Don’t be annoying about it, but find creative ways to split up your content between multiple videos. For one example of how I personally did this, read my article here on Video LPs.

3) Collaborate with other musicians on YouTube. You might hear a lot of old time rockers reminiscing about the time their band opened for KISS or Led Zeppelin. Tapping into more popular bands’ fans is a great way to make a name for yourself. When I released my last album, I called in a few favors from some of my musician friends and had a different artist cover every single song on my album before release day. I was able to tap into the audience of ten different artists (some smaller, but most much bigger than myself) and their fans got to hear one of my songs being performed by an artist they already enjoyed. That kind of recommendation is priceless, and all it really cost me was a few emails.

4) Join, don’t just distribute. I see companies making this mistake all the time on YouTube. YouTube is a community. If you simply treat it as another distribution channel, you’ve already lost. Use the same practices on YouTube that you do on twitter and facebook; answer comments, reply to messages, watch other people’s videos and interact with them, blah blah blah. What starts off as a “marketing plan” will hopefully turn into more. Every musician I work with on YouTube has become my friend. We have conversations outside of sales stats and trends. And they’ve enriched my life beyond YouTube AdSense dollars.

5) And finally, include a Call to Action. If you’re going to bother building an audience and making videos, make sure that audience knows what you want from them. Include calls to action at the end of your videos, in video descriptions, and in the branding materials of which YouTube Partners get to take advantage.

Only YouTube.

Why should you listen to what I have to say?

In less than two years’ time, my record label sold over $1,000,000 of music using YouTube as our ONLY source of promotion. No radio, no music blogs, no nation-wide tours and no marketing department. Our artists simply made videos on YouTube.

Some about music, some not. And things aren’t slowing down, our latest release, “This Is Me” by Charlie McDonnell, sold over 3,000 physical CDs on preorder alone, and had iTunes sales to match.

Were it not for YouTube, we’d still be a bunch of kids playing ukeleles in our bedrooms, working day jobs.

Alan Lastufka is the President and co-founder of DFTBA Records. His label was named Best Online Music Label of the Year by Mashable in its first full year of operation.

DFTBA is an initialism for “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome”.

Lastufka can also be emailed ( or followed on twitter (@AlanDistro).

Reader Comments (12)

Well said, Alan. :) YouTube is an amazing tool for promoting music and there are many people such as myself that would never have discovered many of the incredible artists on your label without it. (Julia Nunes, Eddplant, etc.) While there will always be those who only watch the videos and don't support the artists in any other way, there are plenty that also follow up by purchasing their music on iTunes, bandcamp, or the physical copies of the albums. The success stories that you mentioned are proof that there is no reason to be pessimistic about the effect of YouTube on artist sales.

February 18 | Unregistered CommenterZirrah

First off, I liked this article & found it hopeful & interesting.

While I think the idea of YouTube could be helpful for musicians (& in Alan's case clearly has been) is sound, it is hard for indy bands to generate enough views to qualify to have advertisements on their videos (I think you need to have an average of 10,000 views a video) & as far as I can tell they have nothing in place to keep people from duplicating videos & uploading them themselves (it's happened with a couple of mine even though I've never had a video pass 10,000 views). I look at the success of some musicians on YouTube the same way I look at the success of some musicians based on MySpace or Facebook or Burnlounge; can it happen? Yes. Is it common? No.

To be honest I think that successful YouTubers might have better luck becoming successful musicians than struggling musicians figuring out all it takes to be a successful YouTubers. Which I suppose points to the idea that bands should look for local or like-minded successful YouTubers to use as collaborators.

February 18 | Unregistered CommenterBrian John Mitchell

your writing is getting better alan =)

February 18 | Unregistered Commentermike skehan

What do you think of implementing some type of system that fans could give money to the makers of videos on youtube? A guy I know tried to set up a site called "tip it" that you could pay money into your account and "tip" the videos you like, but it seems someone else beat them to the punch so we should be seeing it sometime. This could make all those views musicians get worth something, so youtube will not be killing the music industry then.

February 19 | Unregistered CommenterSecondhand Serenade


my nephew is 15. his mom bought him an iPhone. he has a flat rate for 40.-€.
result: no money for records, books, cinema anymore. only for the flat rate.

music source: youtube.

thats it. a young music freak stopped buying music.

greetings wolfgang

February 19 | Unregistered Commenterwolfgang This is a link to my video I am a singer,song writer, pianist and I find youtube is not always the best thing. But you gotta do it to get yourself out their however it becomes a popularity contest.

February 21 | Unregistered CommenterColleen

Very enjoyable and positive article and the idea of using youtube as a social network and not just a place to upload your latest live video is great, especially as Facebook is getting less and less effective (see my little article here -

However I think your case is certainly a rarity and the idea of using only Youtube to promote your music is not a good idea for most musicians. There is of course a tendency to spread yourself too thin, I am certainly guilty of that and I don't think either extreme is particularly helpful for the average independent musician. I think the ideal is to find the balance, a few services that really help you get your music out there. I'm still experimenting.

That said, congratulations on your success and determination.

February 21 | Registered CommenterDavid Philips

Excellent detailed article. I also make money on YouTube with my guitar lessons as a partner (ads) as well as my lesson products and services. One thing not to do IMO is send emails via youtube saying 'check out my video'. I depend on people subscribing and youtube's ability to display my videos in search results.

February 21 | Unregistered CommenterWill

Time to get my photocopier out - maybe this does make sense for a music label.

February 22 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan McMillan

Without a doubt. Free access to all types of videos has cheapened its value, and also warped the concept of entertainment, fame and historical or cultural significance.

Youtube views do not amount to much on the world stage. However, many people seem to think so. so they book terrible bands who have day jobs in marketing. This didn't happen in the 1950's, 1960's which is why music was about 500% better. The gatekeepers were human.

But nothing has wrought as much destruction of the music culture as Myspace. Musicians who might have been great, or authentic troubadours of our time were never seen. They didn't get enough 'plays' on their little counter, or profile views. So they gave up and became accountants.

In the old days, the music business was controlled by peculiar old men. They were from the old world, and they looked for something with lasting quality and then they presented it on television, or Dick Clark presented it, or even later, MTV and VH1 presented it.

Now everyone is presenting themselves. Nobody has any concept of what is valuable, significant or worthwhile anymore.

The third thing which has destroyed music is computers. Digital processing, pitch and rhythm correction, programmed flourish and fluff, shiny, beats in a box, enabling any moron to appear as though they have access to an entire recording studio. Once computers start making the decisions, the humanity is cut out. Computer decides when beat starts, what pitch, it makes impossible things possible.

And now this terrible wave of digitized indie-rock, stuffed with 'cool sounds' and sang by rich kids who 'sort of have problems' is the result. Hip-hop is still good, in my mind, but people need to take a step back before they turn around, humanity will be completely camouflaged.

June 23 | Unregistered CommenterJack

I'm mainly a classical music fan--tho I like other kinds , too. Last night, in the middle of a Bach piece played by Glenn Gould came came a loud clangy guitar advertising something.
this approach makes all classical music on YouTube worthless to me.

I mean you don't listen to the Rolling Stones, then in the middle of it have to listen to loud Wagnerian Opera.

TED talks has a very sensible advertising. I respectfully turn off ADBlock for them. At the beginning and end of their show they pay ads. And these ads are intelligent and discreet.

Once at the beginning of classical music piece, there was a car ad - a really loud one. I don't even drive a car.

I used to praise YouTube for bringing so much great classical music into my life
Now YouTube classical music is becoming worthless.
What can they do instead?

We should pay a monthly amount --at least $5 -if we don't want ads on a YouTube vidieo.
We should send Google personal information about what ads we could accept: for me, it's nature, all the arts. (No Cars!)

November 18 | Unregistered CommenterPaula Shevick

Some interesting opinions back there. Its now 2015, 4 years later than the start of this discussion by the op. So Lets Check out YouTube in 2015. You still want to listen to Hotel California by the Eagles? - YES YOU CAN - cause some fan, lets call him Jeff, has posted the lyrics and a high quality of the MP3 on the site cause he wants to share it with you! Jeff has nothing at all to do with the Eagles intellectual property, but because he is a fan he thinks he is doing them a favor. Several thousand visits to "download an MP3 off" by those wanting the track on their ipod/ phone etc later and the Eagles are several thousand pounds down on potential downloads from a legit site such as iTunes. Lets face it, YouTube doesn't give a crap about what is (mostly illegally) uploaded to it or what people can take away from it, as long as YouTube profits.Other than our most present music industry garbage, (I'll win the X factor whilst riding a wrecking ball wearing a dress made of beef) I would guarantee the majority of past, and some present, musicians, producers, and recording artists etc are losing royalties from their back catalogs because of YouTubes slack copyright laws. I watched a film called Guardians of the Galaxy last week - great track on there by a 70s band called Redbone - I wanted to listen to it again - I thought about buying the album - I went on youtube - Jeff had uploaded it . . . with lyrics!

And they all said that Napster and the file sharing of torrent sites years ago was bad for music! Welcome to YouTube!

March 3 | Unregistered CommenterJT

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