If you had high hopes for YouTube’s forthcoming streaming service, Music Key, be prepared to have Google dash those dreams.
(If you’re a creator of any kind, this may already be a familiar feeling.)
Although it depends very much on the agreements the company has signed with labels if you’re signed up to a record deal, recent reports suggest that indie artists will face a ‘take it or leave it’ deal that leaves them with few options to control their creative rights. Worse still, Google is leveraging the unique dominance of its platform to refuse negotiation and threatening to pull the rug from under artists who have built up a fan base on YouTube over the past decade.
The unappealing nature of Google’s latest stampede into the creative industries – having already alienated authors and frustrated photographers – was documented in painstaking detail by prominent independent musician Zoë Keating. In an admirably restrained Tumblr post entitled What Should I Do About YouTube?, the cellist explained that she must essentially sign up for YouTube Music Key under the standard terms and conditions or risk her channel, which gives her access to thousands of subscribers and millions of views, being blocked.
Those terms are heavy-handed, to say the least. Among them are clauses that appear to restrict the artist’s ability to release exclusive music on other platforms, a stipulation that all of her music must not only be uploaded to YouTube, but offered for free and with adverts attached,
The move is a backward step from Google, who had at last been getting some slight appreciation for blocking more popular piracy site and, with YouTube, had shown signs that they could bring in more revenue through the Content ID system. Though far from perfect the latter had at least given artists a way to identify and make money from unlicensed use of their music. Now Google is using that carrot as a stick to beat independent artists like Keating into submission, threatening the withdrawal of a valuable revenue stream if they fail to sign their creative control away to an out-of-touch technology giant that believes it always knows best.
A negotiation process to listen to and understand what works best for individual artists, or at the very least a tiered approach to introducing its new service, would have helped bring musicians on board with YouTube Music Key.
As it appears now, they will either be dragged along with the masses or shut out of the YouTube ecosystem entirely, reducing to rubble years of effort to build fan outposts on the platform.
If this is the way that Google intends to “support” indie artists on YouTube in future, perhaps a more appropriate tag line would be “Get inside Music Key or we’ll change the locks.”