YouTube's dominant position in the industry has long allowed it take a "my way or the highway" approach with artists, but there are some signs the service may lose its iron grip on the music industry, as it starts to see increasing competition from other platforms, and should make an effort to step up its game.
Guest Post by Cortney Harding on Medium
For many years now, YouTube has been in a power position when it came to dealing with artists. After all, it’s one of the most popular sites on the web and easily the biggest music destination, dwarfing any other platform as a means of consuming music on demand. A few artists here and there try to fight it (Prince comes to mind) and every so often the industry fires shots (as Cary Sherman, the head of the RIAA did last week, complaining about low payouts), but generally the music business knows that pulling songs and videos off YouTube is a losing proposition overall.
No other site offers as much music as YouTube, and much of it is live footage and bootleg content — stuff that fans, until recently, couldn’t find anywhere else. YouTube also offers the stickiness of video and the ability to engage two senses if you want, while also letting users click to another tab and just let music run in the background.
But there are signs YouTube’s domination in music might finally be coming to an end. Other streaming sites are are starting to engage with video, and given Spotify’s recent massive raise, it’s fairly likely they’ll spend at least some of that cool billion beefing up video offerings. Plus, with SoundCloud’s launch of its long-awaited streaming service Go and Apple Music’s deal with Dubset to license mixes, YouTube’s ownership of the UGC and unofficial content space might finally be disrupted.
YouTube won’t lose artists tomorrow, and they frankly might never cease to be the place where the vast majority of the world comes to listen. But their lock isn’t as tight as it once was — and they need to start stepping up to prevent any further losses.
The first thing YouTube could do is market itself as a destination for music, and create its own class of music stars within its ecosystem. When the New York City subway was wrapped with YouTube ads a while back, all the ads were for YouTube stars, but none were for recording artists — odd, considering how much traffic music drives to the site. And while YouTube has invested heavily in developing those stars—who make videos about makeup application, cooking, and video games, among other topics—they’ve yet to put much muscle behind making a pop or hip-hop star. There’s no reason YouTube couldn’t start its own record label, or something similar — it certainly has the means to do so. YouTubers are often the first to find the next Taylor Swift — so why not just keep her in house?
Next, YouTube could help artists solve one of their biggest challenges — monetization. Last year, they rolled out more e-commerce options, but they need to step it up and allow artists to make money on everything in their videos. Any time Beyoncé wears a dress in a video, I need to be able to hover over it and see a link where I could theoretically buy it, once I won the lottery. More realistically, any time an indie artist wear a cool piece of clothing from an up-and-coming designer, I could hover, buy it with one click, and the artist would get a cut, along with YouTube. Everyone would win.
This would need to be done with care — the last thing anyone wants is a hellish new version of “Pop Up Video” when all they wanted to do was check out a track. Still, designed and implemented well, this could be a game-changing solution and create a whole new revenue stream. It could also push other platforms to do that same, allowing artists to monetize no matter where they post images.
Finally, YouTube needs to harness the power of its parent company, Google. While providing self-driving tour buses sounds pretty cool, that’s a ways off — but there are plenty of other resources Google could provide artists with today. Some of the smartest data scientists on earth work there, and could surely help artists comb through all their information and route the most effective tours or plan great marketing campaigns, and some of those AdWords gurus could assist artists in figuring out how to get in front of casual listeners who just want to hear something that sounds like their favorite band.
Google is also investing time and money in virtual reality, a development that will change the way we interact with music forever. Allowing artists access to that technology puts YouTube light years ahead of any of its music competitors, who are just now getting started with regular old video. If YouTube could incorporate 3D video as an offering for artists and help them stream concerts or create experiences for fans, it would set them apart and create artist loyalty.
Again, YouTube isn’t going anywhere soon, and even if all artists pulled their content tomorrow, it wouldn’t be the end of the world (and honestly, artists would get most of the blowback, anyway). But the last recession saw hundred year old banks collapse overnight, and nothing is safe in this ever-disruptable economy. YouTube needs to start iterating now, otherwise they might find other services passing them by — and artists and audiences following.