The next phase in YouTube’s growth is near, and it could spell doom not only for the popular video platform, but for independent artists. YouTube is entertaining a subscription-based service, rumored to be called the “YouTube Music Pass,” that will offer ad-free videos and downloadable songs to subscribers. However, the company will only feature videos from artists whose music labels have signed on to be a part of the service. Obviously, major label artists’ videos will be salvaged, but smaller, independent labels are already balking at the notion of this new “pay to play” service that YouTube is implementing. Unfortunately, artists and labels who are non-compliant to the new service might find their videos blocked from YouTube.
According to YouTube, their service has attracted roughly “90% of the music industry.” However, CEO Alison Wenham of Worldwide Independent Network, a group that acts in the name of all independent musicians, has made an official response to YouTube’s plans:
Put simply, by refusing to engage with and listen to the concerns of the independent music sector YouTube is making a grave error of commercial judgment in misreading the market. We have tried and will continue to try to help YouTube understand just how important independent music is to any streaming service and why it should be valued accordingly.
Music fans want a service that offers the complete range of music available. This is something that companies such as Spotify and Deezer do, both of whom have excellent relationships with the independent music sector. By not giving their subscribers access to independent music YouTube is setting itself up for failure.
Major labels like Sony and Universal can afford to ink deals with YouTube that will allow their artists to continue to be represented within the new YouTube subscription service. Independent labels, however, are rumored to have been offered less lucrative deals when compared to their richer counterparts. YouTube claims that the new service will create a new revenue stream for musicians to continue to monetize their videos, but blocking smaller labels who don’t sign onto the service runs counter to that very notion. While no official numbers or facts have been released, it’s rumored that the contract YouTube has offered independent labels have been near-insulting that undervalue independent music.
So what does this mean for pre-existing indie musicians’ videos? Everybody on the wide spectrum of “independent music,” ranging from well-known musicians like Jack White, Radiohead, and Adele to rising stars like Ruby Hornet fan favorite ShowYouSuck, will be facing a crossroads of sorts. Videos that have been distributed and licensed by VEVO will still be present on the VEVO channel. However, videos exclusively licensed by independent labels will be taken down. The reason for videos being taken down beyond the indie labels’ non-compliance is because YouTube doesn’t want to continue offering the videos to free, ad-supported non-subscribers that they can’t also offer to premium, paid subscribers.
Thus begs the question that affects artists who release music and videos directly: What happens to them? With amazing videos from independent directors like FD Films and Austin Vesely, their visibility and exposure will be severely limited if YouTube does, in fact, block all forms of independent music videos on their service. However, what’s more likely is that they’ll disallow monetization of music videos on their platform. Considering how rare it is for unsigned artists to even garner enough views to make money from their videos, this might not be that much of a hurdle for indie artists to cross. Then again, there are artists like Chance the Rapper who has found success without signing to a music label. Since his music and videos are unlicensed by any label, it would appear that his and other user-uploaded music videos would be exempt from YouTube’s ban. Another, more feasible alternative for indie label-signed artists would be to flock over to Vimeo, which already offers better video quality than YouTube, but doesn’t carry the same status or monetization opportunities that YouTube does outside of film audiences.
Could this be the rise of Vimeo in the wake of YouTube’s demise?
[via The Guardian]