YouTube Music’s launch week is already devolving into a war of words. And the central question is whether YouTube is making it impossible to survive as an artist — while undercutting better-paying platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.
Spotify is widely criticized for sub-par payments to artists and labels. But YouTube’s payouts are a tiny fraction of what Spotify delivers, thanks to clever loopholes in existing copyright law.
Just recently, Elon Musk blasted streaming music platforms for delivering ‘crazy low payouts,’ while presenting a depressing breakdown from Statista of what those payouts are. But on the ‘crazy low’ spectrum, perhaps YouTube would qualify as ‘psychotically bottom-scraping’.
Now, one of the most influential executives in the music industry is saying it out loud. And, slamming YouTube’s global head of music, Lyor Cohen, in the process.
Azoff took particular issue with a glowing Business Insider feature of Cohen (subscription required). In the piece, the YouTube executive characterized Spotify and Apple Music as ‘the real threats,’ based partly on their sub-par payouts. In the rest of the piece, Cohen pointed to YouTube as the real savior of the industry, while predicting that YouTube Music would bring everyone to a well-paid happy place.
That’s quite possible — that is, if enough people subscribe to a $9.99 YouTube Music Premium account. Currently, YouTube claims to have a billion music users, making a premium conversion of just 2-3 percent something worthwhile.
But back-of-the-envelope estimates sometimes get ruined by reality.
And if YouTube Music doesn’t take off, it’s probably more of the same, with artists forced to monetize their paltry advertising returns while praying for a premium spin. And one thing that few would dispute is that YouTube — right now — isn’t paying artists much at all. And the same is true for most labels and publishers.
“Apple and Spotify don’t threaten, they pay a fair wage. YouTube’s below market rates are a threat to artists’ livelihood,” Azoff tweeted.
Azoff has been a longtime critic of streaming platforms, with YouTube a particular focus. Others seem to be giving YouTube Music a chance, especially on day one. But Cohen himself remains an extremely controversial figure within the music industry, perhaps making it more difficult to properly launch a cooperative, growth-focused premium platform.