Seven Ways Musicians Make Money From YouTube - Rolling Stone
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Seven Ways Musicians Make Money Off YouTube

Here’s how the video streaming site is profitable … for those who find an audience



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You’d think because “The Internet” equals “music piracy,” your favorite pop stars would never make any money from those millions and millions of clicks on their YouTube videos. But YouTube is fast becoming a place — certainly more so than MTV (which rarely paid artists a cent ) — where fans can boost the budgets of singers and songwriters. “Once you have an audience, you can make money,” says Courtney Holt, a former Myspace Music executive and head of Maker, founded by top YouTube filmmakers. “Generating an audience is really hard.” Psy proved this last year when “Gangnam Style” reached more than 1 billion hits and he made an estimated $800,000 to $2 million in revenue, depending on what source you believe. It’s not fund-a-British-vacation-castle cash, but it beats piracy. Through the act of watching YouTube (and occasionally clicking on a few additional things, some involving credit cards), here’s the seven different musicians who have profited in their own unique ways off the video streaming site. 

VIDEO: Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”

METHOD: Monetization


Videos festooned with ads make roughly $2 per 1,000 YouTube views — which is a crude but useful formula, as the revenue depends on a ton of factors, such as what country the clip is viewed in. So “Blurred Lines,” the clean version of which was at almost 76 million views as of early August, made about $250,000 in profit, not counting the money Thicke had to share with Universal Music Group according to his record-contract terms.

VIDEO: Baauer’s “Harlem Shake”

METHOD: Content ID


YouTube isn’t Napster — if somebody owns the copyright to a song within a video, and demands that the service take it down, it comes down. But first, YouTube offers a different approach: “Content ID.” That means if your wacky wedding video is set to Chris Brown’s “Forever,” Brown and his record label can agree to cover the thing with ads and take a cut of the royalties. This happened with Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” when it broke in February, with 400 million overall cover versions generating cash for the dance-music DJ’s indie label Mad Decent Records (and, presumably, Baauer himself).

VIDEO: Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop”



Vevo, a partnership between YouTube and major record labels that is designed to share the wealth between the online-video and music industries, has paid $200 million to video owners since the service’s 2009 debut. It’s impossible to say how Cyrus or any other artist makes without paging through her record contract. But generally, the biggest hits generate the most cash — “We Can’t Stop” is up to more than 211 million views.

VIDEO: Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason”

METHOD: Music sales as of mid-year

MONEY MADE ESTIMATE: $4.5 million (this year)

YouTube music pages often contain links to iTunes, Amazon MP3 or Google Play, where fans can easily click to buy the track as a digital download. “Just Give Me a Reason” sold more than 3.5 million copies at $1.29 apiece and, while the online retailers take a cut, most of this money is profit for Pink and her record label. (It’s not nearly as much as selling a CD for an old-school $18, but it certainly doesn’t hurt Pink’s bank account.)

VIDEO: OK Go’s “Needing/Getting”

METHOD: Sponsorship


You know those dudes in colorful helmets inside the car in fun.’s “We Are Young” TV commercial? They’re OK Go, and they’ve made some of the most revolutionary online music videos of this decade — to the point that sponsors from Samsung to Chevy have ponied up hundreds of thousands to sponsor the band’s videos. According to industry sources, the carmaker spent $1 million funding last year’s “Needing/Getting,” which is up to 26 million views.

VIDEO: Jason Mraz’ “The Woman I Love”

METHOD: Merch annotations


When singer-songwriter Mraz released his new single on Valentine’s Day, he included annotations within the video so fans could link to a merchandise page. Among other things, he sold a $40 “love bundle” including a T-shirt, water bottle, sticker, magnet set and tote bag. YouTube has been promising full-fledged band merch-store pages since late 2011, but artists still must embed e-commerce links within videos or homepages.

VIDEO: Angie Johnson’s “Rolling in the Deep”

METHOD: KickStarter


In 2011, Air Force Staff Sgt. Johnson’s killer cover of Adele’s smash went viral and she generated so much YouTube buzz that she landed on “Ellen.” Subsquently, the producers of NBC’s “The Voice” invited her to audition and Cee Lo picked her for his team; she didn’t win, but she activated her video-driven fanbase to raise cash for an upcoming album.

Money estimates based on information from music-business sources, Kickstarter, Nielsen SoundScan, and news reports.



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