In a crescendo of antagonism starting with the Sony Pictures hack that leaked confidential documents demonstrating that the film studios have had it with Google, Google’s lawsuit against a state attorney general seeking to stop his investigation of Google’s bad behavior and the leak by somebody of the Spotify agreement with Sony Music, the New York Post reports that YouTube (Google’s wholly-owned subsidiary) is going to the MIDEM conference this week for the purpose of attacking the record company/artist relationship.
I find this to be particularly bizarre given that Google has also formed a massive coalition fighting against artist rights in league with familiar faces like Pandora, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Digital Media Association (DiMA), the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and a host of others. After doing that, YouTube’s attack on labels at MIDEM is triangulation of the first water particularly because I think that YouTube is simply a data profiling honeypot disguised as a video service.
So here is the question: Is “YouTube for Artists” masking Google’s massive failure to innovate?
I asked two working artists and artist rights advocates Blake Morgan and David Lowery what they thought about YouTube’s campaign. Each answered the following questions. Yesterday I posted David Lowery’s answers, and today I’m posting Blake Morgan’s answers.
1. The New York Post has a recent story that YouTube is directing their billions against “record labels”:
“YouTube’s ambitious initiative to grow its influence in the music business — and lessen the power of record labels at the same time — is about to meet its first big test….The huge initiative from the video streamer could cut music labels out of a huge piece of their business, insiders said…. “We’re going to disrupt the music labels,” YouTube executives said during these briefings, sources said.”
Two questions: First, why do you think that YouTube wants to attack record labels?
Blake: Honestly, it feels like a simple and old bait and switch to me. Classic misdirection. YouTube paints the records labels as bad guys so that the spotlight will be taken off themselves. Hilariously, Spotify does the same thing by the way, but THEY point at YouTube. Each of these entities seems to think that saying “Well at least we’re better than them,” (even when they’re not) is going to work. Like a true race to the bottom. In my experience, music makers know the good labels from the bad (and there are both), the good people from the bad (and there are both) and they find this sort of tactic insulting. I know I do.
Why would YouTube think that that they can replace labels and if they did would that be good for artists?
Blake: The only reason I’ve ever encountered that artists sign record deals for is for capital. Up-front capital: advances, marketing and promotion, tour support. Is YouTube really going to be offering its capital to artists and songwriters? When pigs fly, I say. The day I see YouTube pay for and develop exclusive material (where’s their House of Cards show btw?) that puts money directly into the hands of the artists who make that material, I’ll eat my desk.
So if they don’t understand their own business, they really don’t understand the music business.
2. Apparently “YouTube for Artists includes providing direct marketing intelligence to artists that will help them better connect with their fans”. This is apparently data from YouTube, which means you have to be on YouTube to get it. Given Taylor Swift’s success with using blocking techniques to essentially “window” how much do artists being on YouTube benefit artists compared to benefiting YouTube?
Blake: Well, some part of me wants to say that “marketing intelligence” should be filed somewhere next to “jumbo shrimp” and “free gift” as terms that should never be used. But seriously and simply, the only way to get that “intelligence,” I’d imagine, is for an artist to submit to the very YouTube licensing agreement that’s the problem in the first place. So to me, it’s like a tobacco company saying, “We’ll help you analyze your cancer once you develop it from smoking our cigarettes. Deal?”
3. Assuming there’s a value in being on YouTube, how much does “direct marketing intelligence” from a free service like YouTube relate to artists who eventually have to sell something to somebody?
Blake: I just can’t suspend my disbelief for that long, honestly, or assume that there is any value––because there’s never been any value proven, ever, at all. I don’t know how the existence of mermaids or unicorns would help me sell merch at the gigs they’re not helping me get in the first place either. So, there’s that. Is the idea supposed to be something like, “Well, I got 3,254 spins in Omaha, Nebraska so I’d better book a gig there?” I can’t imagine calling a venue and that being my pitch, either as an artist or as a label owner. I feel I’d be laughed off the phone. Or the planet.
4. The Post says that:
“YouTube will offer ‘promotional programs to help’ fledgling artists “get discovered and grow.” The video streamer’s effort in the music industry also includes the YouTube Music Awards.
Aside from the fact that “get discovered” usually means “by a record company” that YouTube is trying to displace, let’s just assume that “get discovered” in this case means “find an audience”.
Two questions: First, does YouTube actually help artists find a new audience that will engage with the artist outside of the YouTube platform? Given that YouTube skews young and given that most venues for “fledgling artists” are bars with age limitations based on the drinking age, how meaningful can YouTube really be in developing an engaged local audience?
Blake: Right, so to me, two nonsensical traps here. First, do they want artists to “get discovered and grow” by signing with the very record labels they themselves are excoriating? What other from of “big” discovery leads elsewhere, permanently, exactly? That’s some sort of tautological vortex I can’t make sense of. And then second, to me they should be saying “We’ll help you find an audience outside of YouTube,” which in the end I can’t believe they’re really serious about. Why would they be? And…if they were, I’m supposed to believe that the legions of pajama people they’ve connected me with are going to turn into real and sustainable monetization for me because those people are going to be so compelled (and allowed, because of age restrictions) to exit the pajama universe and come out to my show? If that’s the plan, then I’ve got a unicorn-saddle business I’m dying to sell to you.
5. The YouTube Video Awards have had a mixed success but have largely traded on at least some established stars that became successful without YouTube. Unlike the “Grammy bounce” or the “SNL bounce” we’ve seen no YouTube Awards bounce in sales. Do you think that independent artists are competing to be on the YouTube Awards?
Blake: Um. No. I don’t. At worst––or no, how about this––at best, I’ve got to be at least a mid-level information holder when it comes to such things, and I’ve seriously never met anyone, anywhere, who’s even mentioned this award. Thinking YouTube is going to move the needle or “break” you as an artist is like thinking buying lottery tickets is a solid business plan. I’ve never met an indie artist, or heard of any indie rock artist who’s accomplished this through YouTube. Maybe some baby-pop acts have, but that’s it from what I’ve seen and heard.
6. You can’t really speak of YouTube without also talking about its support of brand sponsored piracy and serving advertising against sex tourist videos. Do you think that YouTube has an obligation to clean up their advertising operation if they want to engage with artists?
Blake: Well of course they do. They have that obligation as a business, they have that obligation in their engagement with artists, and most importantly, the people at YouTube themselves have a moral obligation to do what’s right. Why do they get to suspend their moral obligations? Where else do we so readily accept this kind of behavior? They have no moral credibility, in my opinion, whatsoever.
7. According to the Post, “The YouTube for Artists project is being managed by TJay Fowler, a former Beats Music product-management executive, sources said.” I don’t know that name, do either of you? Or what we did to offend him?
Blake: No idea who he is. But then again, I have no idea what a “product-management executive” does either, so it’s a clean sweep.
8. Let’s take the Post’s list of features for YouTube’s attack on record labels and maybe you guys can comment on your views of the value of each of them.
“YouTube is telling artists that the data it is willing to share can ‘help you get a song added to radio by showing a programmer how big your local fan base is.’”
Blake: (Facepalm) Dude. If you think calling a venue touting your YouTube spins is a bad idea (and it is), now try doing the same thing with a radio programming director. I know several of them, and some of them are friends of mine who, in fact, really like my music. If I called any of them and said, “Hey! So listen…my new song is really doing well on YouTube and I wanted to let you know ‘cause you should play it now because YouTube!”…well, it’d be the end of my friendship with them (and rightly so), and the end of any respect they may have for what I do (and rightly so). You know what the equivalent would be? Going into a bank and saying, “Hey man! So listen, you’re really gonna want to bankroll me because I have been KILLING it playing Monopoly! Seriously…hotels on Park Place and everything. KILLING it, dude! So where’s the vault here, again? Let’s open it up, man! I’ll get my wheelbarrow.”
“Analytics showing the biggest concentrations of fans across the world to help plan tour dates.”
Blake: Yeah, ‘cause those spins I’m getting in Indonesia are really gonna cover the flight. Even from neighboring countries. Thanks for the tour routing, jackasses.
“Fan funding buttons for bands to gain the money they need to produce music and videos.”
Blake: Yeah…or…YouTube could just PAY the artists and songwriters the money they’re owed and deserve which is needed to produce music and videos. Let’s cut out the middle man, YouTube, how about that?
“Help locating fans’ concert videos and use of artists’ music in user-generated content.”
Blake: Wait a second…all of a sudden YouTube IS able to locate, supervise, and guard what’s on their site? I thought the whole issue was that they couldn’t. Well this is great news! Problem solved about all that illegal music and video on YouTube! Wait another second…they want US to tell THEM what’s there? WTF?
9. It seems to me that the Post (and possibly YouTube) are using terms without an understanding of how the music business actually works. “Added” to radio, for example, implies added to a station’s playlist. If a band is based in Austin, just to pick a city, how much does it mean to them that they have some fans in Paris or Taipai? Or even Chicago? I’ve yet to meet the program director or local talent buyer who really wants to know what your YouTube views are because most of them don’t trust it at all or don’t trust it enough to give you a Friday night. Is that just me, am I being too harsh?
Blake: Well I don’t regularly read the New York Post, mostly because my eyes are attached to my brain. But if somehow I did read it regularly, I’d love to actually read the expert opinion of––you know––a music expert? A smattering of fans in Paris doesn’t help a band in Austin, unless it’s maybe Paris, Texas. Truly, I wonder if some of these pseudo-pundits (or pseudo-journalists) really do understand anything about the music world. I don’t know if Walter Cronkite did either, but I guarantee he’d have learned a lot about it before doing an editorial or interview about it.