What Musicians Can Learn from YouTube Millionaires

Musicians can learn from YouTube millionaires.A few years ago, I saw a video kicking around Facebook called “How to Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking.”

It was a standard YouTube video: a webcam photoshoot of some person, doing something. This video was pretty funny, and featured a monologue by someone named Jenna Marbles.

Today, Jenna Marbles’ YouTube earnings are valued at over $4 million. “How to Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking” has over 55,000,000 views. The channel for Jenna Marbles videos has over a billion views.

Where’s all this money coming from? YouTube. How? Ads.

Laughing all the way to the bank

YouTube isn’t generous, at least not to musicians whose stuff is pirated and thrown onto the video sharing site. The Dead Kennedys have said that they’ve been paid a few hundred dollars for their legally uploaded stuff, when it has hundreds of millions of views. And that doesn’t count the videos that weren’t officially uploaded.

Keep in mind “unofficial” uploading is actually piracy in everything but name, because someone who uploads a full album to YouTube and doesn’t own the rights is essentially making it available to everyone and profiting from the advertising revenue targeting the entitled listeners who are too lazy to buy the album because all people in bands and who play instruments and are on in the Internet are millionaires anyway.

But I talked about that already.

Luckily, YouTube is actually starting to try now. There are whispers of a music subscription service. Something premium. You can bet that if people are “unofficially” uploading premium content, it will be deleted instantly. This will almost force all artists into a partnership with YouTube.

But those partnerships can be profitable. According to one articleYouTube pays out $7 for every 1,000 views if you’re a YouTube Partner. At least twenty-five people, including Jenna Marbles, are now earning millions.

So let the popularity contest begin.

Will Advertise for Food

There’s a question, of course, of whether advertisers will be willing to pay for ads on some videos. Offensive death metal comes to mind. Blatant political ones from unexpected champions are a close second. Granted, there are ads there already. Maybe we can trust in the continuing separation of business and politics, as long as profit is involved.

Or maybe nonprofits or partisan think tanks will sponsor some. The thing about YouTube ads is that they’re a lot cheaper than TV ads. Otherwise, it might be a little disorienting to be listening to Pink Floyd’s “Money,” for example, after watching a thirty second clip for a new car.

Currently, the YouTube stars who have become millionaires from their videos are comedians and video gamers. But that’s a million dollars. What if musicians could create compelling video content to represent each and every one of their songs? What if they used different online marketing strategies to get those videos to people, to make them go viral?

That’s what I think music will become: a full experience. If someone is indifferent to the music, they may still like the video, or vice versa. As data plans get cheaper – or Google subsidizes them to encourage more video watching – video will become the immersive medium of choice.

Musicians might complain that they don’t want to be videographers, they want to play music. Writers might complain that they just want to write. You can do that, but get a team behind you.

Editing video isn’t hard anymore. If you have a smartphone, you’re a videographer. YouTube stars like Jenna Marbles show us that it’s the content that matters most, not the production value, not the special effects, not the budget.

As album sales continue to decline and Spotify & Pandora squeeze out the mid-market listeners who used to buoy artists to the top, it’s time to actually reimagine how music can be crafted, delivered, and experienced.

Creativity still wins today. But the bar is much, much higher and the floor much, much lower.

Want to learn more? Check out For Bands.

Photo Credit: sachman75 via Compfight cc
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