Is music important to YouTube, given that many of the popular creators on its platform are playing games or unboxing toys or vlogging? Jeroen Bouwman, manager of content partnerships for YouTube Music in the Benelux and Nordics region, addressed the question in his appearance at By:Larm conference in Oslo today.
“Nine out of 10 of our most-watched videos are music videos,” he said. “Music is a type of content that people engage with on a very strong emotional level. Undoubtedly music is very important to YouTube, but it’s not the only content on YouTube.”
Bouwman also gave his thoughts on what musicians can learn from the people creating those other kind of videos on YouTube, suggesting that traditional album and music-video release cycles aren’t a neat fit for the platform.
“To be successful on YouTubea you need to create a lot of content. That’s at odds with how the traditional music industry works,” said Bouwman, who before YouTube worked at a major label for 12 years.
“If an artist had an album that had 12 tracks, it would come out, have one, two or if you were lucky three singles come out over five to six months, then the artist would go quiet for 12 to 18 months until their next album came out. But to be successful on YouTube, going quiet for 12 to 18 months doesn’t really work. Those labels or artists that are successful on YouTube? They’re posting a lot of content.”
He suggested that this is a challenge to traditional industry economics when it comes to video. “From a traditional label point of view, a lot of time the content was the music video – the content equalled the music video. ‘We need a script, a director, we need casting, crew, catering, makeup. We need 20,000 bucks!’ But if you have to do that every week, or twice a day like [YouTube gamer] PewDiePie, that’s not a sustainable business model… Society as a whole has gone from an ‘I’m happy to wait 18 months to see what you’re up to’ to ‘I want to see what you’re up to now’ attitude.”
Bouwman’s role at YouTube means he works with partners like dance labels Spinnin’ Records and Armada, with the former in particular one of the biggest channels on the service with 1.96bn views in 2014 alone. Spinnin’ Records also now has more than 8.5m subscribers.
“These guys are putting out a lot of content,” he said, while admitting that this is easier for dance labels – whose rosters are most likely to fit well into a single channel – than for more generalist labels, who might have a mixture of rock, pop, indie and/or dance artists.
Bouwman batted back a question suggesting that average revenues for partners on YouTube from advertising are around $1 per thousand views, suggesting it can be anywhere between $1 and $10. “That varies greatly: it depends on the type of content, the territories you’re popular in, and it depends on the auction – a large part of Google’s advertising model is an auction model – so in January when advertisers are taking a break, there’s less pressure on the market.”
He talked about dance labels’ strategies to make more money on YouTube by creating more content, citing the example of a track that might get an initial teaser trailer, then a full-length audio-only version with a static image, and ultimately a proper video. “You’ll have a piece of music that spans four or five pieces of content that run on YouTube,” said Bouwman.
Although he talked about YouTube’s Music Key service, Bouwman declined to say how YouTube is approaching the prospect of some artists – Taylor Swift for example – preferring to withhold their music as they have done from Spotify. “We are still a beta, so that situation hasn’t presented itself,” he said.
Bouwman was also asked about a recent report by industry consultant Mark Mulligan, which claimed that YouTube Music Key could have a damaging effect on the music industry if its free tier attracts paying subscribers away from Spotify and other subscription services. Mulligan put the potential shortfall at $2.3bn, but Bouwman criticised the speculation.
“There are a couple of big assumptions there, I’m assuming, which is also an assumption. I’d rather not stack assumption on assumption on assumption and make a fool of myself,” he said.
However, Bouwman was keen for musicians and labels to think of YouTube as more than simply a promotional platform, but as one they will be able to make money on. “You should look at it as both. It might start out – and it started out for a lot of partners and creators – as a promotional platform. Or for non-music creators, as a platform to share their thoughts with the world. And it grew into a commercial proposition,” he said.
“I don’t think PewDiePie thought two years ago he’d be making what he’s making now playing games and swearing at a camera. There are labels who a couple of years ago hadn’t expected to be making what they’re making now on YouTube. YouTube kinda grows on you, but you have to invest the time. It might not start out as something where you are making thousands or tens of thousands or millions. But it’s something it grows into for some people, and not for others. But the promotional value is always there.”