The recorded music business is rejoicing at the fact that after more than a decade, it finally has some strong revenue growth. The best part is that the growth looks like it will continue, as paying for streaming has finally gone mass market and listeners have seem the light of the benefit of paying at least a little every month to enjoy their favorite songs. That said, all this growth comes with little help from YouTube, which still pays artists at a lower rate than every other streaming service.
According to the RIAA and just about everyone else who’s done a survey, YouTube pays around $1 per thousand plays, while Spotify may pay as much as $7 for the same number. That’s a huge disparity and it’s something that all record labels have been wrestling with for some time. YouTube hasn’t been terribly cooperative in these discussions, giving a “This is all we have. Take it or leave it,” response in just about any licensing negotiation.
How does it get away with it when other streaming networks can’t? The key here is that YouTube is primarily a user generated service. If a label was to refuse a license to to the company, its songs would still appear thanks to user uploads. The label can ask for a take down, but as soon as that happens, another one, or 10, pop up. This puts YouTube in a strong position to low-ball on any licensing agreement.
Of course every other streaming service plays by different rules. Their lifeblood are the songs that they’re only able to play thanks to the licensing agreements with the labels. No license, no songs to play. Users can’t upload their own content (legal or otherwise), so the user generated nature of the way YouTube works just doesn’t exist elsewhere.
All this means that YouTube probably won’t be paying much more than it already is in the future, much to the dismay of labels and artists alike. The only good thing in all of this is that there’s some evidence that we’re reached “peak YouTube” and more and more people now prefer to get their music on a dedicated service. That probably won’t have much of an impact on your bottom line if you’re an artist though. It’s still way too little, with no sign of getting better.