YouTube Music Raises More Questions Than It Answerson November 18, 2014 at 5:10 pm
To paraphrase a familiar old adage ,”if you don’t like the music streaming solutions on offer wait a few minutes.”
While Mark Twain’s original observation was about the weather in New England, the music streaming space is developing rapidly enough to be a replacement for the digital age. Just a couple of weeks ago we looked at the plans of various music platforms attempting to distinguish themselves from competitors.
Then, just as things seemed to be settled for the rest of the year, last week Google finally unveiled details about the 800lb gorilla in the room: YouTube Music.
(Or YouTube Music Key, to respect Google’s inevitably more intangible title.)
Finally Mining the YouTube Billions
For years the music industry has known that YouTube is a prime destination for music listeners. Of the billions of viewers the site receives every month, a significant proportion are fans searching for their favorite artists and listeners looking for something new. With few boundaries to what users can upload and the constant creativity of musicians in setting their songs to video, YouTube is a natural fit for the new home of music videos.
Unfortunately that lack of boundaries has also proved to be the Achilles Heel for artists on YouTube. Just as they can upload whatever music they choose, so can other users.
While this free-for-all has thrown up regular complaints from the creative community and the site remains a revolving door for piracy, there have been promising initiatives to turn this around. The biggest of these is Vevo, a major label-backed music video channel within YouTube, which closed out last year with 5.5 billion views every month and upwards of 240 million unique viewers around the world. With ad-supported viewing factored in to such channels and Content ID at work to help music owners identify and make money from unauthorized use of their material, YouTube has started to give back some of what it has taken from copyright holders in the past.
Despite this, the potential to properly monetize the billions of monthly users has always remained just a little too far down the road. Where optional ads provided a first step on this path, a sizable base of regularly paying subscribers is one of its most attractive destinations for rights holders. Turning even a fraction of YouTube’s music fans into subscribers would represent a major step forward for Google, and could go some way towards repairing the damage the company has done to creators by dragging its heels for so long on the wider piracy search problem.
Questioning YouTube’s Answer to Music Streaming
Even with the promise of properly monetizing millions of new listeners, however, major names in the music industry remain wary of YouTube Music Key.
The service had barely been announced before industry icon Irving Azoff threatened to remove some 20,0000 songs by artists he manages, including Foreigner, Pharrell Williams, and John Lennon. He’s unlikely to be alone if artists of that magnitude are all set to lead the charge away from the service, and in light of Taylor Swift’s recent denunciation of Spotify’s payments, similar competitors like YouTube Music Key are presumably on her list as well.
At a more basic level, Google must deal with the fact that most viewers have become used to YouTube as a space where they can consume music and videos for free. Now a decade old, YouTube is rarely associated with making a payment and no amount of exclusive content or pay wall protected videos will change that for some. Where as Spotify, Beats Music and Deezer defined their service levels from the get-go
Finally, there’s the slightly bitter taste for some artists who have been burned by YouTube in the past, caused by the constant churn of DMCA takedown notices they’re forced to file, only to see the same content reappear days later from a different user account. Any sudden drive to enforce ownership rights because there’s now a financial stake at play for Google will undoubtedly raise some hackles, even if there is finally a reason for royalties to start flowing freely.
While we all want to see streaming solutions succeed and pay artists the amounts of money they deserve, the history of this particular provider raises more questions than it answers. It remains to be seen whether YouTube Music Key will unlock the potential revenue of billions of additional streams, or whether artists will simply change the locks on Google.