YouTube is the biggest music service in the world. Despite all the fame and massive marketing budgets behind Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Drake, YouTube’s biggest star, PewDiePie (photo), has twice as many subscribers as each of the world’s biggest pop acts.

PewDiePie is no anomaly. There are many other DIY stars with bigger audiences than many of the world’s most famous pop stars. According to music industry analyst Mark Mulligan: “of the 330 million subscriptions in the top 50 YouTube channels, YouTubers account for 34%. Compare and contrast with the measly 15% music and artist channels have.” So why is the music industry failing to engage their YouTube audiences?

Video has, until recently, primarily been a promotional tool for the music industry. The common strategy has been to produce videos for your singles and place the video in your artist or label account on YouTube. Then some purchase links and links to your social media profiles in the description get thrown in… and that’s where it stops. It’s such a waste, because YouTube IS social media; and it’s the only social media platform that actually pays you for the traffic you generate.

YouTube is a great case-study for the ‘attention economy’, where free users are monetised through ads instead of through purchases. In other words, if you can get their attention, you’re making money. Just putting up a new music video every month or two is not exactly competing for attention. Especially compared to the engagement YouTubers demand by releasing a couple of videos per week, or even per day. While the money paid by YouTube for ad-supported streaming is low, having a strategy which consistently keeps people connected and engaged can certainly pay off.

So, what do YouTubers have that music channels don’t (yet)?

Personality brands
YouTube is about personality. People will tune in when they like your character, delivery, and what you have to say. This means YouTubers develop a persona similar to how musicians and bands develop a type of personality to portray. Since it’s personality-driven, it means you can stay engaged with your audience on a relatively low-budget. Instead of spending big bucks on music videos, a steady flow of DIY-quality content stands a great chance to create more engagement and revenue.

Snapchat has been an excellent source of artists building personality brands by being engaged with their fanbase, DJ Khaled being the prime example.


You have to understand the behaviour and expectations of your audience. They’re likely to head over to YouTube’s frontpage daily, or every couple of days, and see if there’s anything good in their recommendations or from channels they subscribe to. You need to plan your video schedule carefully and stick to it, so people know what to expect when they log in on a Thursday evening or a Tuesday morning.


Assign themes to certain days to maintain quality and make it easy for yourself to come up with new stuff to talk or sing about. Practice session Sundays, a weekly talk about what inspires you, a monthly compilation of the best moments during your shows, bi-weekly Q&A where you answer questions asked in YouTube or Facebook comments, or tweets, etc. Themes make it convenient to keep a certain frequency, whilst making it clear for your audience to know what to expect when they subscribe to you.


Be part of your target audience
If you’re going to be producing a lot of content aimed at engaging your audience, you need to keep it as simple as you can. You cannot be spending ample amounts of time figuring out how to talk to your fans and trying to understand them. You need to be a part of your own fanbase. Instead of being the person or group of people who stand at the top of the pyramid and broadcast down, you need to be the connecting spill in the middle of the base; the host of your party. It’s something I talked about at Midem before when presenting my thesis about this topic and I call the concept Someone Else’s Party.


Music business examples to follow
That said, there are many useful examples of YouTube strategies by music companies & artists. One of the most popular music channels on YouTube is run by Spinnin’ Records, an EDM label with an excellent overall social media strategy, in which YouTube plays a big role. They have large amounts of music to release and upload multiple videos of full tracks, previews or music videos each day. While this strategy doesn’t work for everyone, if you’re running a label with a clear identity and rapidly growing catalogue, you can learn a thing or two from Spinnin’.

Pomplamoose’s channel is a great example of how to produce lots of great quality content on a DIY budget. Unfortunately the channel has gone inactive, which is probably because one of the members founded Patreon in order to better monetise his following.

In the current generation of YouTube artists, Hannah Trigwell and Tyler Ward provide excellent examples of how to be a YouTube personality & musician at the same time.

The music business is also taking note, resulting in collaborations of well-known artists with YouTubers, such as the song Keep Up, by UK YouTuber KSI and grime legend Jme:


Multi-channel strategy
While this article focuses on monetising YouTube, which means building up a following through frequently and consistently posting new videos that engage your audience, it’s the last part that’s the most important. YouTube should not be your only source of income and you should not be doing anything solely for the ad revenue. Your audience’s engagement and relationship with you is much more valuable.

You need to maintain a presence on multiple social media platforms. At the very least Facebook and Instagram, and depending on your audience also on Snapchat and Twitter. Figure out exciting ways to create more value in the relation, whether that’s by designing awesome apparel for your fanbase like Yellow Claw’s Blood For Mercy brand which is shown all over their Instagram, or by uniting your following on Patreon like Amanda Palmer and having them pledge their support to you in cash.What YouTubers can teach the music biz about success

Money certainly shouldn’t come last, but it definitely shouldn’t come first. Whether you’re a YouTuber or musician, you can only succeed by having some fun with it. Fun captures people’s attention, which you can then sustain by providing fans with a valuable experience. The money flows from the relation; from capturing people’s attention, again, and again, and again.


In the immortal words of DJ Khaled:




Top photo: via PewDiePie’s Facebook page

About Author

Bas Grasmayer is a digital strategist & founder of The Music Tech Network and the weekly MUSIC x TECH x FUTURE newsletter. He previously led product for Russian music streaming service Zvooq and was a headline speaker at Midem 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @basgras

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  1. Pingback: The Direct-to-Fan Moment for YouTubers - The Coyle Report

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