As music streaming has grown in popularity with consumers, so has the criticism from artists of some of its main platforms.
At the top of the food chain, Spotify, Apple Music, and especially the rate-eroding force of Pandora have all come under attack.
At the other end of the spectrum, services without significant market share raise questions as to whether musicians should make their songs available on any and every platform that offers a free trial.
The upshot is that we’re moving into a more mature streaming market, in which creators are starting to assert more control over their music and speak out against services that don’t work in their best interests.
So why, in a world of increasingly vocal artists and labels standing up to some of the world’s biggest technology companies, is Google-owned YouTube given a free pass?
Piracy and Profit
There are plenty of critical voices to be heard about Google and YouTube, but far too few emanate from artists or those similarly respected by peers and consumers alike.
That’s a shame, as consumers are becoming used to using YouTube as their default search engine for free music streaming, as well as movies and TV shows, albeit indirectly in the case of video content.
By almost any standard, YouTube is a seedy destination. From the unregulated, often unpleasant comments to the unlicensed content, there’s a lot of ugly to avoid before finding the positive.
The tireless artist advocates at the Trichordist frequently report on how music and ads end up on videos supporting repugnant activities like sex trafficking and torture, which is a direct result of YouTube’s lack of manual content validation.
The core of the platform, much like Google itself, is about automated everything: set up a system, tag up all the content, and let ad revenue flow down the appropriate pipes. That’s great for YouTube and Google because it reduces administration but throws up enormous gaps for pirates and practitioners of other illicit activities to drive right through.
The most glaring example of this ineffective automation is played out every day by musicians and other content creators, as they flag unauthorized uploads of their work, file the required DMCA notice, then watch as the offending video gets pulled diown, only to appear via another account days later, or sometimes even hours. This continues in a Whac-a-mole style scenario and has been the primary system to fight piracy on the platform for years, largely because YouTube, like Google with its search results, hates the idea that it will have to dedicate significant human attention to the piracy problem.
And for anyone hoping that the company’s new service, YouTube Music Key, will help to improve the situation for artists, consider this conversation that independent musician Zoë Keating had to endure with one of its representatives earlier this year. Once again, Google wants to use YouTube to force artists down a path that it lays out, without any debate about what will make it work for artists.
When it comes to Google, unlike Apple or Spotify, it’s often a case of “take it or leave it, either way you probably won’t like it.”
At least Apple has the decency to listen to artist feedback and admit when it’s wrong.
Influence Runs Deep
Part of the reason for the broad pass that YouTube tends to receive could well come down to connections.
It’s no secret that Google has expanded its lobbying operation significantly in recent years, and those deep pockets ensure the company’s reach is both wide and deep when trouble comes calling.
Returning again to The Trichordist, the site this week observed a current example of this in a Berklee College of Music report, which took pot shots at almost every player in the music industry for its poor state of profitability, with the notable exception of YouTube.
Given that the service is the primary destination for music searches, partners with VEVO, and will launch the aforementioned Music Key service in the near future, it seems surprising that YouTube would escape scrutiny. That is until you note that the report is also backed by Kobalt Music, which is owned by Google Ventures. As we know that the technology giant has tentacles that reach into almost every aspect of the tech sector, it’s reasonable to believe that they can deflect criticism of their core platforms, when the need arises.
The most depressing element in all of this is not so much that YouTube gets overlooked when it comes to media criticism, but that most analysts believe the service generates something in the region of $6 billion every year from advertising and other sources.
With all of that money flowing through its pipes, and only pennies on the dollar flowing back to original creators, you’d think there would be some left over from lobbying to look for ways to keep unlicensed and objectionable content permanently off their platform. But, then, it all comes down to priorities, and we know how far down Google’s list piracy is placed.