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.
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.
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”.