Amid all the tension between music rightsholders and YouTube, it’s easy to forget that a new generation of artists see Google’s video platform as a creative medium in its own right, not just a marketing channel.
Debates around YouTube’s payouts, takedown procedures and the ‘value gap’ are not going to disappear any time soon. Yet as rightsholders continue to lobby for reform of safe-harbour legislation, some artists see the service’s value in reach rather than revenues – at least initially.
Midlands singer-songwriter Mahalia was signed to Atlantic five years ago when she was just 13, after being spotted on SoundCloud and extolled by Ed Sheeran. She has been quietly developing ever since.
Ahead of her debut album – possibly next year, although nothing is confirmed yet – she is midway through a 10-track YouTube-centric project called Diary Of Me, where she is releasing a new track every fortnight with an accompanying video that will form “an audio-meets-music mixtape” when it reaches its end just before Christmas.
“When I first brainstormed it, I didn’t even know what it was,” she tells Music Ally. “I have written a lot of songs in the past five years as I have been developing. I had done all these gigs and people had seen me live, but no one had the songs – they had only heard them live. I was getting messages on Facebook and Instagram asking when they could get the music they knew. I wanted to put that out for people to have. Diary Of Me was my way of doing that. I wanted it to be a chronological thing.”
Every second Tuesday at 5pm, a new song and video are released on YouTube and Facebook simultaneously, then the track appears on streaming services the following day.
“It wasn’t a set ‘This is a YouTube thing rather than a SoundCloud thing’,” says Mahalia of why it was structured this way. “That’s how it happened. Because it was visual, it made sense to go straight to YouTube.”
Having discovered the hard way that a YouTube channel, much like a shark, has to keep moving otherwise it dies, she understands that routine and appointed dates for new videos are the best ways to build a YouTube following.
“When I first went on YouTube, there were three videos [up there],” she says. “After that I released my first EP and two more videos went up. From that it took about seven months. It was about that appointment every other week. I wanted people to feel like it was rolling. I know that every other Tuesday at 5pm a track and a video are going to drop. That’s really exciting and it keeps you going as an artist.”
Labels may complain about how little YouTube pays them per stream, but Facebook (for now) still does not pay any royalties for native videos; yet it is heavily pushing creators to upload videos with the promise of giving them greater prominence in its algorithms.
“Facebook has my biggest following and I tend to get a lot of really great interaction there,” says Mahalia of why it is being given the same priority during Diary Of Me as YouTube is. “YouTube is great, but Facebook is also really important because that’s where a lot of people are getting to my stuff. This project is specifically for my existing audience and anybody who wants to come in new. That’s the whole reason I’m putting it all out.”
For now, building an audience and getting to grips with the analytics from video plays and subscriber numbers are the main focus.
“It is interesting to see which videos are getting most views and which aren’t,” she says. “There are two in particular that spiked amazingly for me. One called ‘Silly Girl’ and another called ‘I Remember’ that had over 1,000 views each in the first 24 hours. My videos weren’t really doing that for quite a while so it was interesting to see what people were sharing and talking about.”
The trick, she says, next year will be finding ways to feed her YouTube channel with new content until the debut album proper is released.
“The thing that was clearest for me was that you cannot stop interacting on YouTube,” she says. “For a long time, I didn’t have anything going up on my YouTube channel and that really affected it. With this biweekly and episodic thing, it’s really working. If after this, it loses momentum, that would be a shame.”