How to Destroy YouTube & Save the Music Industry

Is YouTube fair use a fairytale?
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Some of the most powerful people in the music industry hate YouTube.  Now, they have a way to destroy it — without destroying fan relationships or feeding piracy.

It’s not that YouTube can’t be stopped.  It’s that the music industry doesn’t have the balls to stop it.  Because if Taylor Swift can figure out how to remove her content from YouTube, then so can everyone else.


It’s called Content ID, for starters.  And it’s a simple system for identifying, removing, or otherwise managing copyright content.  It’s how you get your videos off of YouTube, and get some control over their use.

But Content ID doesn’t work!

That’s a constant complaint, especially from smaller content owners.  And for the bigger content owners, there are the endless workarounds designed to sidestep Content ID.  Like slowing down a track to evade fingerprint detection.

But if major labels (like Universal Music Group) and high-profile managers like Irving Azoff are really serious about removing their content, then it’s time to declare war on the workarounds.  And put some serious heat on YouTube to clean every copyrighted version, period.

War is ugly.

I often wonder what the IFPI and RIAA are doing to really combat YouTube.  Maybe they’ve gotten too comfortable, too used to their lofty salaries and family dinners at 5:30 pm every night.  We get a lot of useless press releases from these organizations decrying the ‘value gap,’ screaming that YouTube isn’t being fair.  But YouTube clearly doesn’t give a shit.

So why doesn’t the music industry make them give a shit?

The reason is that YouTube has called the music industry’s bluff.  They’ve outsmarted the music industry at every turn.  And they pay a pittance on music videos because they can.  YouTube is not only the largest platform for consuming music, it’s a major defense wall against piracy.  Shut down YouTube tomorrow, and watch streaming and download piracy explode.  It’s really that simple.

Which is where Spotify comes into the picture.  Check this out:

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We’ve been hearing about music videos in streaming services for years.  Now, it’s happening.  And Spotify is leading the charge.  So, if I can check out this Big Sean video on Spotify, what about checking out ALL of his videos on Spotify?

Bandwidth isn’t a problem anymore.  Smartphone storage isn’t a problem anymore.  The licensing issues are getting ironed out.  Spotify just settled its last copyright battle.  So what if every track on Spotify had a video attached (if there’s a video)?  Not to mention endless artist videos and vignettes?  What then?

The answer is that YouTube becomes a lot less important.  And they suddenly have a lot less leverage in this war.

Spotify has a funnel from ad-supported to paid that’s working.  YouTube has a joke called YouTube Red.  Which one should the music industry support?

The answer is obvious.  Spotify has 50 million paying subscribers right now.  Red isn’t even on the premium radar.  It doesn’t fit Google’s business model.

The major labels have an ownership stake in Spotify.  They don’t have a stake in YouTube.

CEOs are taught to starve problems and feed opportunities.  So again: which one should get the support here?

Now, let’s examine the terrain in a few years.  It’s not hard to imagine Spotify with 100 million paying subscribers, maybe 150 million, with a complete collection of music videos.  Not all of them, but 99% of the ones that matter.  So, if a big percentage of those videos aren’t available on YouTube, guess what happens?

The answer: YouTube either renegotiates, or loses a major amount of traffic, revenue, and relevance.

It’s brutal, but it’s the only way the music industry can win.

Oh, and for all the smaller content owners that aren’t even eligible for Content ID?  If you’re too small, you need the publicity.  Your war is against obscurity, and little else.  And if you’re a bigger indie, then Merlin should be fighting just as hard as the majors.  That’s because indies are collectively just as big.  So they get the same terms, period.

As far as bickering between the different strata?  Unite, or die.

So stop complaining about the ‘value gap’.  Stop bitching to the EU.  And force YouTube to pay a reasonable price or lose your content to a competitor.  That’s how the music industry wins and builds long-term prosperity.


28 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Great story, except for this:

    “Oh, and for all the smaller content owners that aren’t even eligible for Content ID? If you’re too small, you need the publicity.”

    Today, Content ID is for labels. Not for independent artists.

    So you can easily be a full-time professional artist, with no need for free YouTube exposure, and still not be eligble for Content ID.

    A lot of indie artists are in that situation, and they all have to pay anti-piracy services to remove the stolen files from YouTube (or do it manually, but that is extremely time consuming).

    • An Adaptable Indie Artist

      That is not entirely accurate. ContentID is for paying customers. Go check out CD Baby or my personal favorite: DistroKid. You can buy your way into ContentID per-song or per-album. I agree that the landscape is morphing– but it doesn’t even seem to be settling down anytime soon.

      No matter what industry your belong to or what dead-end career you have, you must be adaptable or you will be left behind. Shift or get shit on. This truth goes well-beyond the music industry, but in this case– it’s so obvious.

      Hell, people get paid thousands.

    • SF

      It’s not extremely time-consuming at all. It takes about 15 minutes to issue takedowns against 10 uploads at a time. So if you spend more than an hour on that, it means 40 other users have uploaded your content. If 40 other users have uploaded your content, you’ve made a popular piece of content and should consider formalizing a relationship with a label or starting your own.

      That said, Content ID is great for waveform analysis and finding illegal use in a way that only a computer can achieve. But it’s far from perfect. And fans don’t discover content through waveform analysis, they discover content through organic search. Regular manual oversight of keyword-based search results is an absolute necessity if you want weed out user uploads that conflict with the marketing of official content.

  2. Gregg

    You must work for spotify smh I’m tired of your biased articles

    • Tyler

      I was gonna say the exact same thing lol someone is mad at YouTube. Please dont use your anger to misinform folks.

    • Calista

      right?! how would moving from YouTube to spotify be better for artists? Spotify pays artists literally *hundredths of a cent* per track play. if spotify wants to be the next big thing in video it needs to pay artists considerably more than any other platform.

  3. Chris

    I don’t think you get it… YouTube is great for artists, artists love YouTube… it’s the middle men, label execs, etc that don’t like it and it’s those very people that are screwing the artists, songwriters, and producers… not YouTube.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the 2005 talking points memo Chris… but that’s just not true.

    • Jim

      I don’t think that the artists dislike Youtube. But the artists could be getting a lot more money from videos without Youtube.

      most videos should be “click here to pay a dime to watch this video”
      or, most really new videos should be “click here to pay a quarter to watch this video”

      Smaller acts appreciate youtubes ability to get you seen, a platform to display content. Bigger acts would probably want to turn the fans they have into more money that youtube can get them.

    • Antinet

      I’m a creator and I don’t love Youtube. Get real. Any indie artist knows Youtube is a ripoff, and it’s top down from Google, who have actually gone into world libraries, and started photographing documents without permission. Larry Page is the most arrogant of all the tech douchebags as well, although Zuck gives him a run for his money and Facebook is a giant ripoff as well. Google has a lot of cool services, but they don’t give a rats about society, let alone poor independent creators in ALL media, from visual art to music to movies. They are all about maximizing their bottom line – tech engineer and google MBA wins, everyone else loses. That’s Google.

  4. Jim

    Here is what should happen.

    Prepaid, micropayments, points system.

    There’s a website with a nifty widget that bands can use to get paid for their content. The bands embed the widget whereever they want to, they’d push that widget to facebook, and they’ll be telling their fans to give them a nickel to stream the new video.

    This could be spotify. Spotify has an embedded player where, if you’re not signed in, they’ll play 30 seconds of the song. They could modify that widget to “view the video for a nickel” Think about how much more money they’d make if they did this over the subscription model. With the subscription model, everyone pays the same. The people who are using spotify all the time are getting a good deal, those who don’t use spotify all that much aren’t.

    So, maybe you buy $50 worth of points. And maybe there’s 1000 points for a dollar, 50,000 points for $50 bucks.

    Spotify has started to limit access to new to premium subscribers. Spotify can take all their best, newest content and restrict it to those who have payasyougo plans. It’s similar to a cell phone plan.

    If acts are getting paid, that really motivates the acts to create more content. Live streaming at a penny a minute is something that many acts might start to do.

    All spotify really needs to do is to add the pay as you go tier of pricing. Tier 1 – ad supported, free, containing the least premium stuff they have. Tier 2 – paid subscriptions, with everything that tier 1 has, and more. Tier 3 – pay as you go. This will allow you to see everything at a price. The first hour a video is out, it should cost something to see, if the act has fans. And the acts can get that money. And Spotify can sell more than just audio, video, live streams. Sell anything music.

    Just first make that widget, people buy points, spotify subtracts points when you take certain actions, like buying things.

    The problem has always been credit card payments or paypal or whatever, you can’t charge a dime for a video and paypal take a quarter or whatever their minimum charge is. You make a one time payment, buying points, paypal or the credit card company takes their money there, but they don’t take anything when the customer is using their points.

    The music industry needs to figure out how to get that money, that is there. And this buy points / use points to make micropayments would definitely work.

    You take the new Taylor Swift video, and the only place you can watch it is on spotify, and only if you buy points and use points to see it.

    This points / micropayments system could end up getting a lot more money than streaming audio, spotify free or premium.

    Live video streaming is where I think the action will be. There are top stars who people will pay to watch sitting around doing nothing, or doing something interesting. or naked. If Taylor Swift was planning on being topless, the price per minute would go way up. Real money could be made by doing this. At point, acts don’t have an easy way to get paid by providing a lot of fresh quality content. If they can make a little interesting video about their day, or a simple live stream (the technology, with facebook live, is there, and can be duplicated by spotify) bands will get a little money. That’s $10 that the band wouldn’t have had otherwise, or $1000 or $1 Million. A compelling event could bring in a whole lot of money. Probably would involve nudity. But something like Coachella should be paid for. There is a lot of really good content on youtube live streamed for free. When bands are getting money, they have a really good incentive to hammer their facebook people with the message about the great content they can watch for a penny a minute. Labels should be able to be creative with all the acts they have at their disposal, and they’ll put those acts together in the same place and have them create content that people will pay to watch. Labels should do this next to where they have great high speed internet, so the quality will be great. I recommend Maine – underutilized properties at low cost that can be used to house people and create content – old motels old schools, huge tracts of land thousands of acres, available for cheap, beautiful views and a decent place to park a tour bus. Bring in fiber optic from the 3 ring binder. There are a lot of ways to get a studio/venue/living arrangement in Maine, cheap. An entire town could be purchased, there are a lot of decent houses in Millinocket for sale for $30K. A pretty big town that used to have jobs and now doesn’t. It’s fairly remote.

    I’m not worried at all, once the music industry figures out how to get paid for content, there will be lots of money there. the points/micropayments system will work.

    • Mark

      Great idea Jim. But good luck getting the labels to license content to a service that interferes with their current plans. It is the light user that allows them to make money on the $10 a month model.

  5. Johnny

    I think you are all ignoring a much bigger problem. More and more people are struggling finically and couldn’t afford to pay for things they want even if they wanted them.. I think if someone was genius enough. (hopefully me one day) Will figure out how to pay fans to pay artists. It’s highly complicated math but none more complicated than huge problem of having more content people want paid for than people willing to collectively support it.

    The true issue there is the fact that we have a bunch low level talent being pushed by record companies and supported by fans that gives far too many artists the feeling they are initialed to the same payment or backing for the same low level mediocrity. Poor fans and poor talent don’t mix like two….. I’m even tired of drakes pop rap formula. I’m worried that we as a country are digressing to a point of a substantial stale mate. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

    • pschase

      That’s a great point Johnny. As a fan and an independent artist, my biggest gripe with all of this is the literal “nickle and diming” of people. Paying $10 or more a month without the guarantee of quality in content is a real thing. Over time, if music at the pop level ( which is the bulk of what is being streamed ) continues to suck or even become too “samey”, user retention may become an issue. Record companies, more than ever, are businesses that have to focus on the bottom line, and within that process, A&R departments are neutered creatively. This extends as far as the artist and what they create in a bid to be heard.

  6. Stephen

    Just going to put this out there: Merlin Content ID’s a lot of videos that they actually don’t have any rights to. These videos range from vlogs to game play. Merlin needs to be either reorganised big-time, or scrapped all together, to allow smaller YouTubers in general to make some of the money that they deserve, no matter the type of content.

    • Another Voice

      I got caught up once by a claim that appeared to come from Merlin. I contacted Merlin who explained it is not them but their individual members who manage their own claims and that Merlin’s name is associated by YouTube because it is the Merlin license under which the individual member is operating. The Merlin guy got in touch with the member and the claim was released.

      Here’s info about this from Merlin’s website –

      Merlin is the entity that holds the licences that enable our independent music partners to work with YouTube.

      Please note that Merlin does not manage or operate any YouTube channels via YouTube’s content management system (the “CMS”). These channels are managed by Merlin’s individual member companies.

      Details of the relevant content owner for each YouTube asset appear on the YouTube CMS alongside Merlin’s name as follows: e.g. ABCD Records channel would appear as [Merlin] ABCD Records

      We are happy to help to direct any of your content related questions to the relevant Merlin member.

      For enquiries relating to YouTube please contact

  7. Keal

    The old model is dead. Napster changed everything and the music business as we knew it in 1977 is no more. Independent artists are the new trailblazers and they have to adjust their model to what works now. That includes advertising revenue from YouTube. It’s 2017 and you’re on your own now!

    • Faza (TCM)

      Yeah… doesn’t work.

      There is no new model. There never was a new model. If people aren’t buying your product, you don’t have a business.

      Since Napster et consortes have made buying optional, demand doesn’t translate into revenue and, therefore, no business.

      This is by no means inevitable. However, it is a law enforcement issue, not a business issue.

    • gailstorm

      So only the wealthy can afford the practice time and recording quality? Not much of a model. And you ignore the talents behinds the scenes that helped make the greatest bands work. No one to pay them now either.

  8. Brigid

    I feel like the guy who wrote this article has never on youtube.

  9. Michael

    Are you bashing YouTube or promoting YouTube?
    Reality time, YouTube is the leading platform for distribution of music. It has provided artists with a means to develop an indie career, and it has produced progress in the Arts. Ironically, it is the competitive alternative that you are extolling.
    On Content ID, which we use extensively, it is by far the best platform in the industry available to rights holders to manage content. In particular, neither Apple or Facebook have anything even remotely comparable.
    Label revenues have declined by maybe $10B over the past 15 years. It didn’t just vanish, a huge portion migrated to technology platforms that disintermediated the labels AND to the artists that recognized the opportunity to be gained from such platforms.

    • gailstorm

      You are correct about YouTube being a distribution platform but the rest is a load of crap. YouTube cares about Google profits and nothing else. They never built a platform to write checks so they don’t do it at all. And unlike labels (small indies particularly included here) YouTube has never donated money or invested in or taken a single risk on a music act.

  10. Blockedyouontwitter

    Digital Music News is basically an online tabloid. For entertainment only.

  11. Anonymous

    Thousands of my songs up on Youtube put there by fans – how has this ever helped my music career? Google ends up making more money than me from my music and the fans all stream rip my music from there. What a wonderful business model! Maybe the fans should start focussing on the 99%+ of musicians who are now making no money from their music instead of the very few artists who are still in business (strongly promoted and marketed by the record companies)