YouTube multi-channel networks (MCNs) come in many shapes and strategies when it comes to music. Some, like Maker Studios, see music as one of several “core verticals”, while others, like Indmusic, see it as their whole focus.
New York-based Indmusic has been operating for a couple of years, and claims to be “YouTube’s largest music network” with 221 channel partners and more than 1.4bn views for the videos on its network. The most famous of those being Harlem Shake.
Yes, that Harlem Shake. Indmusic was the company responsible for ensuring that label Mad Decent – one of its clients – capitalised on the viral craze around artist Baauer’s track earlier this year.
The company works with labels and artists to plan and implement their YouTube strategies, ensuring their videos are tagged correctly, claiming user-generated clips featuring their music, and driving subscribers and views for their channels.
CEO Brandon Martinez founded the company in 2011 with colleague Jon Baltz; Allen Debevoise, the CEO of well-established MCN Machinima; and Guy Oseary, manager of a little-known artist named Madonna.
“We knew there had to be an opportunity for independent music like what Allen was doing in these other niche verticals,” Martinez tells Music Ally.
“I pitched him on the idea of doing a Machinima for music, and he liked it, then Guy Oseary came on board. One of the biggest names in YouTube and one of the biggest names in the music industry!”
YouTube meets music
Martinez says Indmusic’s USP is its understanding of both YouTube and the music industry, rather than being an expert in one of those areas and inexperienced in the other.
“Very few people have a holistic view of both sides,” he says. “Where we really found our niche is in taking some of the best practices that are out there to build up your YouTube channel, and making them specific to musicians.”
Harlem Shake really put Indmusic on the map – “everything we’d been saying to our artists and labels was practically proven overnight” – even if it was something of an outlier in terms of the day-to-day duties of working with artists and labels to grow their businesses organically on YouTube.
“We’re now getting a lot of calls from legacy artists, who are maybe getting some of their rights back or already own some of their rights,” says Martinez.
“It’s incredible for them to go out and be independent. There is still a value to what labels do, but if you have an audience, it’s exciting to go it alone. And that also includes maintaining more of your brand on YouTube.”
Indmusic isn’t inserting itself between artists and labels, mind. The Mad Decent partnership is more the model thus far, with other clients including Decon Records, Iamsound Records, Mixmash Records and LuckyMe Records, as well as management company TMWRK Management.
Martinez is keen for existing and potential clients to understand the differences between MCNs, drawing clear dividing lines between his own company and the bigger entertainment-focused MCNs, which often operate in comedy, lifestyle, gaming and other video genres.
“How can you really speak to a musician’s needs when you’re working in all of these other areas?” says Martinez. “That’s the delineation between an entertainment MCN and what we are, which is a music MCN. We can help our musicians more with their needs on the platform, right down to ensuring all the metadata is properly tagged, including ISRC codes.”
Very very few artists or labels can hope to have Harlem Shake-sized popularity on YouTube, but Martinez says there is no downside to being prepared for it anyway: the steps taken on Mad Decent’s behalf that made the song’s viral success so rewarding for the label can be just as useful for slow, sustainable growth in an artist’s fanbase.
“One philosophy we have is that every new view on a piece of new content should lead to 2-3 views on pieces of old content. If people come in and like this song, oh, they can love these other songs as well,” he says.
“The basic idea is: once you have someone’s attention, what do you do with them next? Where else are you going to point them? Buy the single? Ticket sales? Go to your website? Subscribe to the YouTube channel? You always need a plan to keep engaging with the audience.”
This is all obvious stuff, isn’t it? Perhaps not. Martinez says he’s still surprised that so many independent artists and labels aren’t making the most of YouTube.
“I’m amazed at how many artists and labels don’t even put in the name of the song or artist in their keywords, just through a lack of understanding,” he says.
“People are definitely getting it more, though. There have been a lot of articles about revenue and views and attention – all these things that are happening – and people have more understanding of what’s going on, and how they can benefit.”
Indmusic is currently raising money for a Series A round to fuel its ambitions to grow, and bring more of those benefits to more label and artist clients.
MCNs v the music industry
It’s also trying to swerve the arguments around licensing and MCNs, as voiced by SONGS Music Publishing CEO (and NMPA/ASCAP board member) Matt Pincus earlier in the year, when he criticised entertainment MCNs for raking in views (and funding) from content including unlicensed music use.
“That’s a big problem with entertainment MCNs: they’re working against the music industry, which has been around a lot longer than they have, and will outlast them,” says Martinez.
“Many are destined to fail, because they’re trying so hard to fight traditional entertainment. We’re trying to provide additive value: ‘You continue to do your thing, and let us handle this part for you’.”
What about the evolution of YouTube itself, with its emphasis on channels as much as videos, and its status as the world’s largest streaming music service?
Google has been tipped to launch a standalone YouTube-branded music subscription service later in the year, separate to the just-announced Google Play Music All Access. Martinez says the potential is considerable, for music MCNs like Indmusic and the music industry alike.
“We all know the YouTube music service is coming later this year, and we’ll be involved in that,” he says. “YouTube are finally stepping up and saying ‘We’ve got it! People love our service for music!’ I’m excited they’re taking a forward-stepping role in that.”