Analysis

Tommy Boy president: ‘YouTube could become our number one DSP’


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Friday saw the first ever Music Ally TV weekly show, broadcast using video-conferencing platform Zoom. Our guests included Rosie Lopez, president of Tommy Boy, and the topic at hand was YouTube.

“We’re feeling very optimistic about YouTube. We’re projecting that YouTube could potentially become our number one DSP in the future,” said Lopez. “It’s a lot of work… but it is a platform where you literally get what you put in, back out, if you put time into it, [and] if you have a great team.”

Lopez went on to note that YouTube is more than just a “profit centre” for Tommy Boy: it’s also “a way to grow the family, the close-knit people that come in and check on us on a daily basis”. She added that its social features are key to that.

“On Spotify, we can’t comment back to people who love our music. On YouTube we can,” she said. “On YouTube you’re gonna hear what people like, you’re gonna hear what they don’t like, and if you learn to pay attention, you’re gonna learn a lot from your audience on YouTube!”

Lopez stressed that YouTube requires a lot of work: Tommy Boy has daily uploads going up across the five channels that it manages, including lyric videos and animated art tracks, while its team – disclosure, the company is a client of Music Ally’s marketing services division, so we’re part of that team – also puts in the time to respond to fans’ comments.

One example of that: when Tommy Boy started putting up vintage music videos from its catalogue in 2017, they were ‘clean’ edits originally made for MTV. Fans were not happy.

“We immediately got very negative comments: ‘I don’t wanna hear a Capone-N-Noreaga clean version!’,” said Lopez. “We went and redubbed all the clean versions with the explicit versions. It’s that kind of work that really needs to go into YouTube.”

Lopez also noted that putting effort into YouTube has helped Tommy Boy on other platforms too. “Now we’re seeing Spotify asking for Canvas videos, and you get a lift in engagement when you create Canvas videos. YouTube made us really good at this!” she said.

“Now as more and more people – Apple are asking for videos, Amazon is asking for videos – thank YouTube, really, for making us get that house in order.”

Our other guest on the first week of Music Ally TV was Henriette Heimdal, market development coordinator for Europe and the UK at distributor CD Baby. She agreed with Lopez that the community aspects of YouTube are key to music success.

“It’s such a valuable thing, and that especially applies to a younger artist starting to grow their community of fans,” she said. “Being able to upload a music video and have 10 fans commenting on it… and for you as an artist to be able to go in and comment and address those things, and make fans [feel] loved in a different way.”

Heimdal added that CD Baby is seeing “insane growth” in music submissions from artists at the moment, and an accompanying demand for video content.

“We encourage the artists to use YouTube more: to learn how the small intricate things [work] around how do you tag videos properly, or build your channel area to make it look like an inviting place for people to come?”

Music Ally’s SVP of digital strategy, Patrick Ross, described YouTube as “the streaming service that you can control”, and reinforced the message about its community features.

“The community tab is very important: because YouTube says it’s important! YouTube see themselves as a social network. That’s why there’s commenting, that’s why there’s the ability to respond back to people,” he said. “Don’t let your audience talk into a vacuum.”

Lopez talked about the importance of being authentic on YouTube: artists and labels can’t just copy what they see popular YouTubers doing. However, she also noted that there is plenty to learn about the little details from those other successful channels.

“The one thing you can learn from YouTube is really: try everything… You can sell your merch directly from your video, you can link back, you can get subscriptions direct. No other DSP gives us that amount of control, and that ability, now they’ve added ticketing, or it’s coming real soon… So there’s so much that you can do. And yes, artists are absolutely under-using it,” she said.

“Every single video should have subscribe links, everything should have links to listen or stream or to buy merch, and then in addition to creating those links you have to go an analyse how the links are responding… People never go and look at the analytics! ‘Well, this worked. Oh, well this I’m never doing again’. That’s the most important thing.”

“Out of everything, what YouTube gives you is not just the control to do what you want and to sell what you want. But it gives you the feedback immediately. I can see how many views I’m getting every minute… It’s absolutely the most valuable platform for us, and if we can get the CPMs up, we’re all going to be very happy about YouTube in the next few years.”

YouTube remains a controversial platform for many people within the music industry though: the ‘value gap’ debate continues to get an airing whenever industry bodies publish new figures, for example. Lopez suggested that patience may be the key though.

“I personally don’t think there’s a bad platform out there. It’s really old-school to think just because we’re not monetising it today, we’re not gonna monetise it tomorrow. We’re going to create a business around every model out there, including things like Twitch. It’s going to take a while, and we need to be patient, but if you’re an artist you have to be everywhere your audience is.”

Heimdal talked about some of the challenges for smaller artists, including the need for regular new content on YouTube.

“The mistake that I see very frequently with DIY and smaller artists is that they might produce one music video every four months, put it out, promote it around the release, leave it dead in the water and then – not like Rosie was saying – going in and looking at the data and doing all the other work around it,” she said.

“I think it’s important that people think about the frequency and the type of content to enable growing that community, which again, is going to grow your income stream… You should be expecting to see a gradual build up.”

“The more time and effort you dedicate to that as a channel, and the more you nurture it, the more you’re gonna reap the rewards of it. Your first music video is probably not going to get more than a couple of hundred views, but the goal is to keep growing that!”

Heimdal noted that YouTube is a “continual storytelling piece – not dropping a video, then going silent and dropping another four months down the line”. That can present challenges, but Ross reinforced the point: “You need a piece of content for everything you upload. Every time you release a piece of music and it comes out on Spotify, put something up [on YouTube]… sometimes it’s just a bit of animated album artwork, but don’t leave it to the system to do it all by itself.”

That’s a key point: YouTube will create ‘static art’ videos for tracks uploaded to its YouTube Music platform if the artist/label does not – but you don’t control those videos (for example the description, with all those links and tags).

“YouTube is a streaming platform, and YouTube expects you to use it like a streaming platform. If you deliver an EP or an album to Spotify, you’ve got to deliver the same exact item to YouTube in its entirety. You can’t pick and chose and only put up the lead singles. That’s a mistake,” said Lopez.

“Google [Play] and YouTube Music are now merging, and most of the content is going to start being consumed on the artist channels – OACs as we call them. It’s great that Tommy Boy has almost a million followers on YouTube, but all these videos are going to end up inside the artist channel,” she added. This is why labels need to be working with artists and managers closely on YouTube.

“Put everything up on YouTube. Yes, create art tracks if possible. For most of us, you make more money actually, slightly more, if you create your own animated art track. YouTube considers it higher-quality content.”

You can watch the full first episode of Music Ally TV here on YouTube. Stand by for another episode this Friday.

Stuart Dredge

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