Who’s Really Managing Your YouTube Relationship? You Might Want to Check

Last week, we published stats that demonstrated the utter dominance that YouTube wields over streaming music, not to mention music consumption overall.

But who’s actually managing your YouTube collection?  In this guest post, BFM Digital cofounder Steven Corn discusses the pitfalls of complicated, outsourced distribution arrangements, especially when they mask the actual company overseeing your collection.  In the end, you may have no idea who’s really managing your precious video collection.


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Do you know who’s handling your music?  You sign up with a digital distributor like CD Baby…


Perhaps you are an artist that selected all the services and options (e.g., YouTube, streaming, etc.).  Hopefully, next thing you know, your content is everywhere.  All is good.  Right?  Not always.  

A recent article at Techdirt highlights a growing problem in the digital distribution community: Transparency.  It details a situation in which an artist was flagged for infringing upon his own music, thanks to an unfortunate crossed-wire between CD Baby, his digital distributor, and Rumblefish, the company outsourced the handle the YouTube distribution.

The main issue with this story is the trend for digital distributors to outsource a key revenue stream, YouTube’s content matching system.  In this case, CD Baby utilized Rumblefish to manage their YouTube monetization process.  This system is a fingerprinting technology that can automatically recognize when a video has a certain sound recording in it.  Then the administrator of this content – in this case, it was Rumblefish and not CD Baby – can decide to monetize the video by placing ads or issuing a takedown or do nothing.

I don’t blame companies for trying to maximize their revenue streams.  That is what artists and labels want from their distributors (physical or digital).  But the process has become layered and opaque.  It needs to be more transparent.

With Rumblefish, CD Baby fostered a typical channel conflict between YouTube and the original artist.  The artist received a notice that Rumblefish was claiming rights to the artist’s song and that there would be ads placed on the video.  Ordinarily, this would not necessarily be a bad thing.  After all, YouTube’s ad revenues are providing significant income for a lot of indie artists.

In this situation, however, the artist had no idea why Rumblefish was making the claim.  The band actually held the copyright to the song themselves and had signed on to do business with CD Baby, not Rumblefish.

The automatic email notification from YouTube did not even have an email contact for Rumblefish.

The transparency issue gets even cloudier when the artist visited Rumblefish’s home page.  At first glance, it looks like all they do is sync placement for film, TV, and ads.  Only the truly persistent and inquisitive artist would find the FAQ page and the proper email to voice any objections.  Unfortunately, a less than sympathetic employee responded to the artist and reasserted Rumblefish’s authority to monetize the artist’s video .

Clearly, CD Baby and RumbleFish had not anticipated this conflict.  Nor had they developed a plan on how to respectfully deal with the artist’s reasonable complaints.

The problem in this scenario is not related to outsourcing or sub-distribution.  Every distributor uses third-party resources to one degree or another.  There are always situations where it may be better, faster, and/or cheaper to subcontract versus doing it in-house.  The challenge for distributers is to allow transparency without giving up their primary responsibility of customer service.

Some distributors might want to hide the man behind the curtain.  That can be fine if the distributor takes responsibility for any conflict resolution.  Unfortunately, secrecy usually wins and the client (the artist or label) is left wondering who to contact.  When a non-transparent situation arises, it is further compounded by the immense size of most distributors.  CD Baby handles tens of thousands of artists and labels.   YouTube claims from this large of a catalog can exceed hundreds of thousands per month.  It is no wonder that CD Baby decided to allow a third party to manage their YouTube account and deal with all of the disputed claims.  It was a simple calculation of resource allocation versus ROI.

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As with most complaints about the digital marketplace, it all falls down to customer service.  The digital landscape is rife with channels.  This is the nature of the beast and cannot be fully avoided.  Outsourced customer service is another inherent flaw that seems to be the result of scalability and cost cutting.

The artists’ music is their single greatest asset.  When they

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choose a company to distribute it, they are placing an immense amount of trust in that company.

Transparency is the only way to maintain the trust and confidence to permit distributors to maintain their client relationships.  In the case with CD Baby and Rumblefish, a little transparency would have gone a long way to avoid the anger and frustration that that artist must have felt.

13 Responses

  1. kevin

    Unfortunately, the writers of the original article referrenced above did not do their due diligence before writing on the subject. CD Baby makes it very clear to the artists how sync licensing is handled. Artists are told that they will get notification in their YouTube account that Rumblefish is collecting on their behalf.

    See this for all the details with screen shots –

    There are some obvious points on the content ID issue that seem to get overlooked.

    1. YouTube does not know that the owner of the song and the owner of the video are the same. Meaning, just because I upload my own song into my YouTube account does not mean YouTube won’t give content ID notice. They don’t know I’m the song owner. How would they? The song could be owned by a publisher, label, or just the artist themselves. All they know is someone uploaded a video that triggered the ID.

    2. The content ID message YouTube gives is very threatening sounding and does not adequately represent what is really happening. It makes an ownership claim instead of a representation claim. It’s really based on the early days when it was their vehicle to pull label content. I’m hoping they will soften the language in the near future so it better represents all the scenarios that trigger the ID claim.

    3. The sensational discussion around content ID (like the TechDirt article) typically looks at the issue backwards. YouTube does not allow artists to moentize their music directly, so if you sign up through CD Baby, you WANT to see Rumblefish making a claim next to your video. That means the musical content is being monetized. It does matter if you uploaded it or one of your fans. YouTube doesn’t know the difference and it doesn’t matter. In fact, you as an artist should be uploading as many videos as possible using your music so Rumblefish can collect rev share money on your behalf.

    I know as this revenue stream becomes more common, there will be less confusion around the issue.

    • Steven Corn (BFM Digital)

      First of all, the sync opportunity mentioned in your link should not apply to an artist who posts their own music video. That’s not a sync deal that Rumblefish did on behalf of the artist. Secondly, the artist may not want ads on their own video. The artist mentioned in this story did not want an ad on their video.

      Nothing on your DIY page or Rumblefish’s FAQ adequately addresses the situation where the artist does not want ads. Your reponse seems to be insensitive to the fact that not every artist wants ads on their own music videos: “…You want to make a claim…”

      Rumblefish is equally insensitive. Go to their FAQ: and read question #4:

      “4. I don’t want advertising next to my video, I don’t like it.: YouTube provides a free video sharing service for hundreds of millions of users. The way that YouTube generates revenue to pay for the service is via advertising on pages where content has been identified. Supporting the Content ID system helps keep YouTube free for everyone and it’s a small price to pay.”

      Neither of you are addressing the artist’s preferences. It’s not a complicated matter to make their own artist channel exempt from automatic claims generated from the content ID system. All you have to do is to whitelist them instead of trying to convince them that the ads are worthwhile. That would leave them the option of earning on other YT videos while leaving their own channel ad-free (if that’s what they want).

      The solution for this artist was an easy one if someone cared to listen and if the artist knew more about the situation. That’s my point.

      • kevin

        I disagree. An artist posting their own music is one of the best ways they can monetize it on YouTube. But the fact remians, YouTube does not know it’s their music. It’s obviuosly not a perfect process yet, but artists are seeing revenue where there was none. I’m confident some good refinements will happening in the near future that will make all parties happier.

        Also, the sync/YouTube program at CD Baby is completely optional. Artists have to go through a separate opt-in process to be included. If they are not happy with how it works, they can opt out at any time, as they are under no contractual obigation to continue. That’s very rare for this type of program.

        • Steven Corn (BFM Digital)

          Youtube’s system is absolutely a great way to generate revenue for the artist. But if the artist wants the claims everywhere but their own music videos, why not support the artist’s wishes instead of trying to change their mind? The Youtube system is remarkable pliable if you know how to work it.

          • kevin

            Agreed. We actually do help artists that don’t want ads to show. It’s really more about ongoing education and communication to the artist community of how all this works. Some parts of it we can control (our site and info), and others we can’t (What YouTube does). It’ll get there. The point for us is to just help artists make all the money they can as the music world becomes more diversified.

    • Steven Corn (BFM Digital)


      1) “The content ID message YouTube gives is very threatening sounding and does not adequately represent what is really happening.” – Youtube has recently (two weeks ago) toned down this email greatly. It is still not perfectly clear. But I have already noticed a significant change in the tone of the emails that we receive from people who get this automated email. It’s not perfect and still has a long way to go. But it’s no longer “threatening.”

      2) “YouTube doesn’t know the difference and it doesn’t matter.” That’s not true. As I mentioned above, any youtube user’s channel can be white listed and exempted from automatic claims. It only requires updating the Youtube CMS. It takes 5 seconds and is very effective.

  2. robbiefields

    Thank you, Kevin (presumably from CD Baby) and Steven.

    I am opted in to monetize my YouTube (recorded) music income through IODA. There have been just 2 irregular accountings so far. 100% increase, from $ .01 to $ $.02! We have thousands of paid downloads every month on the major e-tailers, so our catalog is hardly obscurantist.

    Even Spotify comes in 1000 times bigger!

    Strangely, Google Music is almost at 3 figures. I had thought the youtube income was wrapped up in that accounting.

    Taking a leaf from Jeff Price’s manual on d.i.y. auditing, I checked my latest BMI Statement for corresponding youtube performance royalties. Only 1 % of my copyrights were surveyed but of those each one typically earned a net royalty of $ 0.25 from BMI based on thousands of youtube plays.

    Now to be fair, youtube has only taken delivery so far of 24 of my 43 albums for content i.d. processing, most of them recently. But my 3 biggest titles were ingested by youtube as long ago as October, 2011.

    Anyone lurking from The Orchard?

    • Steven Corn (BFM Digital)

      I don’t know what your deal is with IODA. But you should know that the performance royalty rate is very different from the ad revenue rates on Youtube. Still, if you care to contact me and share with me the view count on the top videos with your content, I’ll be able to give you a reality check.

      But just for persepctive, even a video with 100,000 views is not going to be much more than lunch money.


      • Ignacio

        How much does an artist make off 100 YouTube plays?

        1,000 plays?

        1,000,000 plays?

        • Steven Corn (BFM Digital)

          it can vary wildly since the ad rates depend on not only the views but the context. You can figure anywhere from $0.0002 to $0.001 per view. Yes, you have it right. That’s 2/1000th to 1/100th of a cent per view.

          Note, this is the net rate after Youtube deducts their share of ad revenue. So, using the low end (just to be realistic):

          100 plays is less than nothing.

          100,000 plays = a lunch

          1,000,000 plays = a cheap weekend away or a very nice dinner for two

          Before this gets too depressing, the key to making Youtube a decent revenue stream is to encourage your fans to upload as much as they can. the more videos with your content that’s being uploaded and viewed, the higher the aggregate numbers will be.

          A million views used to be the golden ring. It’s still very respectable. But as Sean Parker is reputed to say in “The Social Network”: “A million isn’t cool. You know what’s cool…a billion is cool.”

          Don’t dispair. If you expect Youtube income to be your major revenue stream, it won’t be. But it can be a nice supplemental income. I’ve seen that happen for a lot of BFM’s labels.

  3. MisterSoftee

    This is exactly why artists are burning out! You get bogged down in details like these and forget how to play the guitar!

  4. Reality Check

    It is sad to see artists fighting like dogs for scraps from the table. Meanwhile youtube and Nora the piano playing cat get the cream.

    • Visitor

      What is Nora’s ad revenue? Her royalties? What kind of lunch is she buying with her check from youtube?