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We already know that YouTube Shorts are racking up 50bn daily views, with 1.5 billion logged-in viewers a month. But now YouTube has announced three new stats focused on the musical impact of its short-video feature.

They’re big numbers too. First, the company says that the top 1,000 songs on Shorts saw more than 280bn combined views in January 2023 alone.

Second, YouTube says that fan-created Shorts increased the average music artist’s audience of unique viewers by more than 80% that month.

Third, also in January, artists who were ‘active’ on Shorts – defined as posting weekly – saw more than 50% of their new channel subscribers coming from Shorts on average.

To summarise this: music-soundtracked Shorts are being watched a LOT; it’s the fan-made Shorts that are really boosting artists’ reach; and Shorts aren’t just leading to streams for those artists, they’re building followings.

The stats were announced in a blog post, email newsletter and guitar riff (no, really) this afternoon by YouTube’s music boss Lyor Cohen. The company has also offered a couple of case studies showing these trends at work for spcific artists.

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Nigerian artist Rema is the first. The official music videos for his ‘Calm Down’ collaboration with Selena Gomez reached 60 million viewers, but YouTube says that Shorts created by fans reached 350 million unique viewers in January alone.

The second is US artist Oliver Tree, whose ‘Miss You’ track with Robin Schulz went viral in late 2022. Tree uploaded 20 Shorts using the track himself, as well as four long-form videos, and saw his YouTube channel’s monthly viewers grow from six million to 75 million in four months.

YouTube also says Shorts created by fans using the track were viewed 1.8bn times in January.

‘Shorts are the appetizer to the entrée’

Trumpeting these numbers is part of YouTube’s continued, energetic pitch to the music industry and to musicians, of course.

It wants to ensure that Shorts has their attention alongside TikTok, Instagram Reels and other short-video platforms – including the newest kid on the block, Spotify’s Clips.

This isn’t just about Shorts though. YouTube’s pitch is broader than that, stressing the connections between the different parts of its service.

It wants artists to think of Shorts as something that spikes streams on YouTube Music, views of longer-form videos on their channels, and viewers for their livestreams if they’re using that feature too.

It’s too simplistic (and slightly mischievous) to label this simply as YouTube’s anti-TikTok pitch. And yet…

Well, it IS YouTube’s anti-TikTok pitch, as trailed by Cohen’s “short-form video that doesn’t lead anywhere is the most dangerous thing I’ve seen the music business face in a long time” soundbite last year.

TikTok is (for now) a standalone app, and while the music industry knows very well that TikTok virality leads to listening spikes on other music services, TikTok can’t quantify that as easily as YouTube – which has both in one service – can.

“Shorts are the appetizer to the entrée. They are the entry point, leading fans to discover the depth of an artist’s catalog, including music videos, interviews, live performances, lyric videos, and more,” wrote Cohen today.

YouTube is doubling down on this with another announcement. From today, it is adding fan-uploaded Shorts to the existing ‘Total Reach’ metric in its analytics for artists.

Which means that number will suddenly be a lot larger for many musicians, judging by that ’80% increase’ stat in the blog post. “The most comprehensive snapshot of the size of an artist’s audience on YouTube,” is how Cohen described it.

‘The most engaged fan is the fan that is participating’

Ahead of the announcement, Music Ally spoke to YouTube’s global head of artists Vivien Lewit to find out more.

“It’s become a really integral part of artists’ campaign strategies,” she said of Shorts. “The impact is really meaningful, and that impact is reflected in the updates we’re making to our analytics features.”

She also talked about the importance of fan-created videos on Shorts, a trend that mirrors the role played by longer-from user-made videos on YouTube itself.

“To me, the most engaged fan is the fan that is participating, and who is creating with an artist’s music. That’s been a longstanding principle when it comes to YouTube insofar as longer-form UGC is concerned, but now we’re seeing it really in an increasing way on Shorts also,” said Lewit.

“The creators that are making Shorts, using artists’ music and videos are indicative of the more engaged fan.”

The last year has seen a growing debate about short-video and the risks of artists burning out as they try to serve the different platforms. YouTube talking about the reach of fan-created videos is also a response to that.

“The fans are the street team. The artist ignites a flame, or a release in and of itself can ignite a flame, and then the fans can literally take over and do the work for the artist,” said Lewit.

“You may have heard a lot about artist fatigue: being bogged down, burned out by demands of the industry in social media. We’re laser-focused on helping artists forge paths on YouTube to success, creating content strategies that work for them. Not to add to the pressure, but to alleviate the pressure.”

When artists and their teams are creating short videos, one challenge is deciding whether to try to make one clip and put it on all the platforms – TikTok, Shorts and Reels – or to make original video for each, which means more work. We asked Lewit what she’s seeing on this front.

“We are definitely seeing both things happen: content being repurposed across multiple platforms or not. I am increasingly hearing that artists teams’ are looking for differentiation: which means posting different content on [different] platforms,” she said.

“There is probably a best practice in, if you’re posting widely and using short-form to make some sort of announcement – a tour date announcement – it’s certainly wise to repurpose on every platform.”

But there can definitely be strategic ways to utilise the format where you have unique content across platforms. I am hearing more and more that artists are looking to differentiate.”

Music Ally’s next Learn Live webinar will help you understand what’s required for artists to thrive in new international markets!

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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