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YouTube for Artists 101


by Jack McCarthy, contributing writer for SplashFlood.

Since its inception in 2005, YouTube has provided the online stage for artists of all kinds to distribute video content to their audiences on their own personal channels. YouTube puts the power in the hands of musicians to build a fanbase from their channels, engage that fanbase with content on a regular basis, and even earn a share in ad revenue through YouTube’s Partner Program and Content ID system.

For many musicians, journeying into the realm of video is a new and exciting venture. It can also be overwhelming or confusing trying to build a successful YouTube channel. For that very reason, YouTube for Artists was developed. YouTube for Artists is a data platform that is an extension of YouTube’s pre-existing Creator Hub, and both offer users the tools needed to understand practices and techniques that will make their channels as successful as possible. The subject matter of YouTube for Artists can seem a little dense at first glance, so here are some highlights of the platform to get you or your band started on optimizing your YouTube channel.

Some Ways To Do It…

Under the Master The Basics header on YouTube for Artists, the Optimization section leads to a Creator Hub page devoted to helping musicians use YouTube to its full potential. This page, dubbed the Creator Academy, not only offers expandable menus for each strategy, but also examples of “Some Ways To Do It,” showcasing the content and channels of musicians and companies that are successfully using YouTube. Examples include Portugal. The Man’s channel design, Katy Perry’s lyric video for her single “Roar,” Miley Cyrus’ Fan Hangout, and Fueled by Ramen’s optimized videos. Perhaps one of the most thought provoking examples is the album promotion timeline. In this strategy, YouTube for Artists suggests the best practices for releasing video content in tandem with the various stages of an album cycle, including the album announcement, single release, album releasing, and touring.

These examples, as well as the numerous others, offer insight into how musicians can creatively use YouTube’s strategies to impress their audiences. But don’t take my word for it, dive into the Creator Academy’s page for musicians and brainstorm how these strategies can help you get your music heard on YouTube.

How People Find Your Music, Even If They Aren’t Looking For It

The Master The Basics section of YouTube for Artists also explains how the YouTube’s algorithms deliver content that users are searching for. While not all users may be searching for your band’s new music video, music fans are certainly using YouTube to listen to and watch their favorite artists.

So let’s say, for example, that you decide to release an acoustic cover video of indie-rock band Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance,” to show your fans. With some proper planning, you can hopefully drive some traffic from Walk The Moon’s fans to your channel and your original content (your songs, album teasers, tour updates, etc). This is not a new concept by any means, and many musicians post cover videos on YouTube with varying degrees of success. If you were ever wondering why your cover videos don’t gather as much attention as you had hoped, YouTube for Artists offers some tips for optimizing your videos so that YouTube’s algorithms recommend them:

  • Titles - Rather than have “Your Band Name - ‘Shut Up and Dance’” as the title of your cover video, consider the using a format similar to “Walk The Moon - ‘Shut Up and Dance’ (cover by Your Band Name),” as this title will have a better chance of being recommended to users searching for both Walk The Moon and your band.

  • Thumbnails - The thumbnail is the first thing viewers see when they scroll through search results and notice your videos. Make sure that your videos’ thumbnails are high resolution, represent the title and the content of the video, and look great at both large and small sizes because viewers will see them at a different sizes on YouTube and when videos are embedded on other websites.

  • Video Descriptions and Annotations - Create a brief description of your video and place it at the beginning. You can use this description to tell new viewers about you or encourage them to visit your channel to watch other videos, to check out your online merch store, or to head over to iTunes or your website to purchase your music. Similarly, you can create text annotations throughout your video to explain parts of the video to your viewers, or point them to your channel for other content. Be careful not to distract the viewer from the actual video too much (do not block out the video), too soon, or for too long a period of time. YouTube offers a lot of different types of annotations. Take a look at their features.

  • Analytics: YouTube Analytics offer a variety of reports to help you monitor the activity on your videos and your channel. Using Analytics, you can see how your videos’ views have grown over time, how audiences are finding your videos, and the demographics of those audiences, including where they are located. You can also see where in your videos viewers tend to stop watching. All of these reports can serve you to create better future content. YouTube for Artists has a great introduction video (surprise, surprise!) to YouTube Analytics. Check it out!

New Wave Analytics

At SXSW, YouTube unveiled its Music Insights as the last tool to be added to the set provided by YouTube for Artists. While still unreleased, Music Insights is a special analytical tool that will allow artists to find the location of their fans, sorted by city, in order to plan specific efforts around that fanbase. Whether planning a tour or special event such as a pop-up shop or conference, or planning how and when to release a new music video, artists can use the reports to engage their audience in the best way possible. The kind of information that YouTube’s Music Insights will offer independent artists will be groundbreaking.   

Roll Cameras… Action!

YouTube offers a powerful service to musicians with unparalleled potential for social interaction with an online audience. However, with so many users and so many videos, narrowing down the best practices to increase your presence on YouTube is a daunting task. YouTube for Artists offers musicians fantastic resources and guides to help them optimize their videos, increase their fanbase, and apply their creativity in new and exciting ways.


By Jack McCarthy, contributing writer for SplashFlood.

Jack is a singer and songwriter living in Philadelphia, PA; though you may have more luck finding him in the studio or on the road. He has worked with many artists, producing and playing on a variety of tracks.


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