For all that the music industry likes to complain about YouTube, the two are irreversibly entwined. Indian music company T-Series has had the most popular YouTube channel for years now, recently crossing 100bn lifetime views on the platform, while music videos make up the lion’s share of YouTube’s top 10 clips. But that certainly doesn’t mean that the music industry has nothing to learn from other, hugely successful, YouTube channels.
With this in mind, Music Ally dug into Social Blade’s top YouTube channels in eight different categories to see where their success has come from and what music could learn from them. (The channels, incidentally, are sorted by Social Blade’s own SB Ranking system, which looks to measure a channel’s influence based on metrics, including average view counts.)
What it is: An Indian comedy channel with 14.9m subscribers and close to 5.2bn historic views. It promises pranks, gags and spoof movie trailers, all starring Chhotu Ki Masti (which roughly translates as Little Mischief).
Number of uploads per week: One. Jkk promises a new video every Thursday and that is what it delivers, with most of them quickly passing 10m views.
Average length of video: Between 11 and 13 minutes.
Why it works: India is both a vast YouTube market – it has around 265m active users there – and has a huge comedy scene, according to one local source, with the comedy market “picking up big time”. Combined, these make a potent mix. But Jkk also offers regular, quality content that wavers little from the slapstick comedy theme. It gives viewers precisely what they want, in other words, with impressive regularity.
What can the music industry learn from it? Maybe it was already pretty obvious, but the influence of the Anglosphere on YouTube is dropping rapidly, as other countries come on board in their millions. Jkk’s regularity and dependability are also important, with one video released every Thursday no matter what. Most musicians, by contrast, release one big video clip every few months to YouTube, with nothing in between to keep the momentum going – the kind of sporadic release that the platform’s algorithms dislike.
Obviously, musicians are not YouTubers and most would struggle with the constant demands for content that YouTubers face. But someone like Marshmello – possibly the best-known musician YouTuber – generally manages to upload at least one video a month to his channel, be it an official promo, behind-the-scenes clip or comedy scene.
“I think that the majority of musicians under-utilise YouTube by primarily using it as a platform for publishing infrequent, polished content, like music videos,” say Timo and Holly from popular YouTube channel Kawaii Kunicorn. “If musicians approached YouTube the way they approach other forms of social media, like Instagram, they might be able to increase their reach and their audience, develop a new income stream, and sell merchandise on platform. This might include uploading more often, say once or twice a month instead of every couple of months, including things like tour diaries/behind-the-scenes footage, talking head updates or live-streaming.
See also: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon; Brenda Bauer Education
COCOMELON – NURSERY RHYMES
What it is: An extremely popular YouTube channel for kids. It launched in 2006, making it one of the oldest YouTube channels. It claims to offer “entertaining and educational content that makes universally relatable preschool moments fun” and is perhaps best known for its animated nursery rhymes.
Number of uploads per week: Typically two videos a week.
Average length of video: Videos fall into two categories: those around three-and-a-half minutes long; and those around 35 minutes, with the odd video going past the 60-minute mark.
Why it works: Cocomelon is run by 55-year-old former commercial director Jay Jeon and his wife, a children’s author, who remains unnamed in the rare press they do. In a recent interview, Jeon said he pays little attention to algorithms. “I never look up the reason why something is popular or how I can please the YouTube algorithm. I know what matters. Stories matter,” he told Bloomberg. Cocomelon also has strong central characters in JJ and his siblings, who have appeared in most videos since 2017. Being so longstanding obviously helps too, especially in the world of children’s YouTube where parents like to have sources they can depend on.
What can the music industry learn from it? That stories matter and employing professionals to tell them can reap dividends. Again, Cocomelon is hugely reliable, with its two videos a week that don’t vary wildly from the theme. The channel has a strong aesthetic: you know when you are watching a Cocomelon video. Also children watch a lot of YouTube.
See also: Little Baby Bum, BabyBus
LIKE NASTYA VLOG
What it is: Anastasia Radzinskaya is a Russian-American YouTuber who, with her family, runs six YouTube channels: Like Nastya; Like Nastya Vlog; Stacy Toys/Like Nastya Show; Stacy Show; Funny Stacy/ Like Nastya ESP; and Show Da Stasy/Funny Stacy PRT. (Names, as you can see, are quite fluid here.) She’s also six years old.
Like Nastya Vlog (also pretty widely known as just Like Nastya) is her biggest channel with 49.7m subscribers and almost 28bn total views. (Don’t feel bad for the others, though, they all have upwards of 6m subscribers). The vlog specifically offers “the real life of our family and the brightest moments of life… new toys and games for children. And the most important thing is travel.”
Number of uploads per week: Typically between three and four on the vlog. The other channels follow a similar rhythm, with the exception of Like Nastya, which has been quieter of late.
Average length of video: Videos across the channels are typically between three and four minutes long
Why it works: The videos are funny and Anastasia is a cute kid. But behind the video empire lies a serious amount of work. Anastasia was born with cerebral palsy and her parents started making videos of her in 2016 to show relatives how she was getting on. When these started taking off, her parents decided to dedicate more time to developing her YouTube presence and in 2017 they agreed a deal with management company Yoola.
Yoola had been exploring multilingual strategies with its creators and decided to do the same with Nastya, who already spoke Russian and English and was learning Spanish. Her vlog and the Like Nastya channel are largely in English with a dash of Russian; Stacy Toys is largely in English; Funny Stacy/Like Nastya ESP is in Spanish; Show Da Stasy/Funny Stacy PRT is in Portuguese; and Stacy Show is in Arabic. She has also done the occasional video in Mandarin. That’s serious global reach.
What can the music industry learn from it? The music industry has reacted pretty well to the rise of global pop trends, from K-pop to urbano. But, particularly in the West, it could do a lot more to adapt its YouTube content to other languages. Song lyrics, for example, could be translated to use as subtitles for an easy win. Fans could even contribute to the process. And this could also apply to other hero content: Justin Bieber’s recent YouTube docuseries Seasons was only released in English, limiting the appeal of a series about a global star in a way that seems shortsighted (although hardly atypical). BTS are now teaching their fans to speak Korean (see Campaigns) and this polyglot approach can only grow in importance. See also: Kids Diana Show, Ryan’s World
What it is: Allegedly the largest collection of licensed movie clips on the web, courtesy of streaming service/ticket seller Fandango (which also owns Rotten Tomatoes). It promises “the best moments, scenes and famous lines from all of your favourite films”. Sister channels include Movieclips Trailers, Movieclips Indie and Movieclips Coming Soon.
Number of uploads per week: Around 30. Movieclips typically uploads 10 clips a day, for three days of the week.
Average length of video: Typically between one and three minutes, with the odd outlier. Few clips are over four minutes, though.
Why it works: Everyone loves movie highlights. But film studios are notoriously protective of their IP. Movieclips was founded in 2009 with the goal of making interesting film moments available to fans, while helping studio partners monetise them. It has since partnered with six big Hollywood studios, giving it an impressive range of content. It’s a win-win-win for consumers, Fandango and Hollywood alike. Movieclips also uses YouTube’s Community feature well – posting regular and relevant content – and its playlists are well organised into lists of actors, directors, bugs, fights and so on.
What can the music industry learn from it? How about the art of working together for the common good? Being slightly more relaxed about partnerships? Realising that people like to consume your content in their own way?
Movieclips’ presentation is also impressive, with videos grouped into easily digestible playlists that make it simpler for fans to consume them. Many musicians, by contrast, throw their clips onto YouTube with little concern for how fans will navigate it all. Lindsey Stirling is a notable exception to this: her videos are arranged into well thought-out playlists from “live stream” to “Tour time”, which make it easy to find what you want. Sensible playlists also encourage the viewer to binge watch – something the YouTube algorithms adore – rather than sending them off to streaming services and ticket sellers, as many musicians do.
See also: Nick Jr, Mr Spoiler
What it is: the official YouTube channel of World Wrestling Entertainment. It offers “videos from all of your favourite WWE Superstars, backstage fallout from live shows including Raw and SmackDown, and original shows such as Top 10, Game Night, Superstar Ink.” In March 2020 it passed 40bn total views.
Number of uploads per week: Around 115. WWE is a YouTube machine, uploading about 16 videos a day, seven days a week (albeit some days – notably Mondays, when they air Monday Night Raw and Fridays, thanks to Friday Night SmackDown – are far busier than others.)
Average length of video: Videos on WWE tend to last as long as they need to. Full matches can go on for 20 minutes or more; highlights can last as little as a minute.
Why it works: WWE is, perhaps surprisingly, something of a digital pioneer. In 2014, it launched its own WWE Network, streaming WWE shows directly to consumers for $9.99 a month. The decision proved a success both financially – it is said to have around 1.5m subscribers – but also in terms of understanding WWE consumers, with WWE Network giving its parent company billions of data points around consumption to chew over.
You can see this in WWE’s embrace of YouTube: the company uses carefully curated playlists to create excitement about coming events, to expand its coverage of recent matches, to promote its flagship shows and to tell individual stories (Women’s History Month, British Bulldog and so on), without ever giving away the crown jewels: to see the actual events in full, you have to go to WWE Network. WWE also offers a dedicated Spanish thread, WWE Ahora, and runs its own WWE Music channel.
What can the music industry learn from it? The music industry is already very much aware of how important data is in understanding its customers’ wants and needs. But it could learn a lot from WWE in terms of how to create narrative and excitement around distinct moments, teasing them in advance, then expanding on them afterwards.
The music industry could also learn from the WWE’s use of the Community feature on YouTube – something many musicians frankly ignore – posting a winning combination of GIFs, photos and videos to keep lively conversation going.
See also: ESPN, Taraz Football
What it is: Social Blade’s SB Ranking system is generally accurate in surfacing the most important YouTube channels in different sectors. But for gaming it gives us Pac Pac Gaming, a Polish channel that had vast success (between 250m and 440m views apiece) with three Pac Man videos a year ago, which seems to have skewed its influence. So we turn instead to Markiplier, the wildly successful gaming channel from Hawaii’s Mark Fischbach. It promises “hilarious gaming videos, original comedy sketches, animated parodies and other bits of entertainment”.
Number of uploads per week: Around five.
Average length of video: Markiplier is another YouTuber who appears to subscribe to the how-long-is-a-piece-ofstring? school of thought regarding the length of his videos: they can last anything from 90 seconds to 50-odd minutes, although the most common length is around the 35-minute mark.
Why it works: Fischbach started his YouTube channel relatively early, in 2012, and he quickly established a niche, becoming known for his Let’s Play videos of horror games whose thrills and chills lend themselves to video. Fischbach has shown his personality on screen, swearing and even crying in videos, and is said to care greatly for his fans. For all that, when people talk about Fischbach’s success, conversation often comes back to his voice: Fischbach has a pleasingly deep voice that is smooth and dynamic. That may be a quirk of nature but Fischbach knows what to do with it, putting a subtle emphasis on his voice in his videos that works particularly well when talking about horror.
What can the music industry learn from it? Most pop stars these days are media trained to within an inch of their lives, programmed to give nothing but the blandest of platitudes. But Markiplier’s success shows that a relatable, open personality often comes across best online.
Also, could singers be making more of their fabulous, distinctive voices? Who wouldn’t watch, say, Björk telling kids’ stories?
Marshmello, again, is a good example of a musician with a distinct personality on YouTube, regularly uploading cooking, gaming and how-to videos to his channel in a way that shows character beyond that of your standard EDM producer.
See also: Fernanfloo, Vanoss Gaming
What it is: An anonymous YouTuber from Japan, known for their incredibly soothing videos about food and – occasionally – artefacts and craft. “I like taking videos of food, food themed stuff and creepy things,” RR explains in their bio.
Number of uploads per week: It varies, from zero to around four. In 2016 an imposter started to impersonate RRcherrypie on Twitter, leading the YouTuber to temporarily change their name to “Nameless”. Since then, videos have appeared with less frequency.
Why it works: The crinkle factor. In the age of ASMR, viewers love the fact that RRcherrypie’s videos heavily feature the crinkling sound of RRcherrypie opening packs of instant noodles and other vacuum-packed goods. So much so that, when RRcherrypie temporarily went AWOL in 2016, one commenter on Reddit asked, “Who will make my crinkle videos!?”
It’s not just the crinkle, though: RRcherrypie’s whole set up – wordless videos with background sounds turned well up and some very esoteric choices of products – feeds into the whispering world of ASMR. And RRcherrypie knows it – several of their videos are labelled “ASMR” in case there was any doubt. Plus, there’s something weirdly, deliciously niche about RRcherrypie.
What can the music industry learn from it? World building. For an anonymous person, RRcherrypie has shown an incredible amount of personality in their videos, effectively building a universe around slightly kitsch Japanese foods (canned ramen, cake-shaped chocolate) and unlikely ornaments (food-themed erasers, wicker Hampton-style tea caddies). It’s the kind of world building Kraftwerk would be proud of. It also helps people to feel connected to the YouTuber’s world, in turn driving them to subscribe to the channel.
See also: Gentle Whispering ASMR; ASMR Darling
What it is: A phenomenon. T-Series is India’s largest record label and film studio; its YouTube channel has been the most popular channel on the platform for some time now.
Number of uploads per week: About 20, spread fairly evenly throughout the week.
Why it works: Since T-Series began its meteoric rise, there have been numerous wild theories about why this company (that many in the West were unaware of) could have become so big: all new YouTube users in India get automatically subscribed to T-Series! (They don’t). T-Series uses bots! (They almost certainly don’t – it would be far too risky for such a big channel.)
The truth is more mundane: India has a vast, youthful online population and hundreds of millions of YouTube users; T-Series was relatively early to YouTube, joining in 2011; and the company uploads a large amount of high-quality videos, exactly what the YouTube algorithm is looking for. Music in India is also a very visual medium, thanks to the popularity of Bollywood.
T-Series also offers an interesting mix of music clips on its channel, including making ofs, lyric videos, full albums, official clips and so on, while its well-ordered playlists and 29 (!) sister channels give consumers exactly what they are looking for. “They are the largest premier destination of new, hot and hip Bollywood movie music by size, quality etc,” says Time Music COO Mandar Thakur. “Bollywood and Cricket are India’s two obsessions. Besides that they are very good at managing their channels (but that’s not the big USP).”
What can the music industry learn from it? Interestingly, T-Series’ story with YouTube started with a court case. In 2009, it noticed that many of its videos were on the site and took YouTube to court, eventually getting an injunction in 2010.
At the same time, though, it started informal talks with YouTube, culminating in a 2010 licensing agreement. A fairly pertinent lesson, then, might be that your enemy can soon become your friend, so think first before you go too far down the route to litigation.
Beyond uploading a steady stream of new videos, T-Series also constantly updates most aspects of its YouTube channel, from the top banner to their playlists, around its new content, making the most of the features YouTube offers in a way few musicians do.
See also: Zee Music Company, Wave Music.
Cover by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash