At SXSW last week, YouTube unveiled a new opportunity for indie bands called Musicians Wanted. According to a recent YouTube post that provides some details about this program (the pitch is made by the members of Pomplamoose), "If you're a musician, and you want to make a living and do nothing but play music. . . either get signed or stick with YouTube."
So what, exactly, is Musicians Wanted?
Here's the deal: if you are in an indie band (no signed bands allowed), make a video of one of your songs (and it has to be a video, as opposed to "static images"). Then, as Eliot Van Buskirk mentions in a recent WIRED article, verify that your product "[meets] YouTube's quality standards for inclusion in the program."
At this point, when you send the video in, you are an applicant, and a YouTube employee will decide whether or not you cut the proverbial mustard. Unfortunately, we can offer no tips on how to impress the gatekeepers other than to make a great video for your already popular and awesome song.
Now, you might be wondering: if I am accepted into the Musicians Wanted program, how will I generate revenue from my videos? Will I, in fact, be able to quit my job? Will I have to take a night job?
You may (and may is the operative word here) will be able to quit your day job if, as Buskirk states, "[your] music videos and live performances draw enough viewsâ€¦." How many is that, exactly? Again, no one is offering hard numbers.
One thing seems true for the moment: if you're gonna rely on video (or other streaming plays) as a means to lining your coffers, you be counting pennies for some time. Consider this: according to a November 2009 report, one of the most popular tracks on Europe's Spotify — Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" — was played more than a million times, and the artist supposedly netted a whopping $167 (or just under two ten-thousandths of a dollar per play). The veracity of these numbers has been challenged, but they do highlight the difficulties of monetizing on-demand streams at a significant level.
There's probably no arguing that those numbers plain stink (to put it in perspective, according to the possibly-not-incorrect stats quoted above, "Poker Face" would have to be played precisely 59,880,239 times to net Lady Gaga $10,000). Maybe this is why Warner Music chief Edgar Bronfman Jr. is lukewarm on so-called "freemium" streaming services.
Of course, YouTube's venture is designed for indie acts, not Lady Gaga. One important thing to remember is that a major label takes a big bite of the revenue pie for streaming video, but indie acts stand to take home their entire share. Also, there are peripheral revenue streams that could be tapped into: "accepted" bands can list tour dates along with the video, add links to their merchandise, etc. Furthermore bands will profit when people embed their videos on external websites — one of the main drivers of exposure for online music.
Our pals in OK Go know this all too well. Remember the little embedding kerfuffle with their ex-label EMI from a few weeks back? Well, the newly-independent band sounds pretty psyched about the YouTube arrangement. Frontman Damian Kulash has this to say to WIRED:
What's tremendously freeing about starting our own label is that we can now distribute our work however we want to, and we can look for new and interesting ways to make a living off of it without constantly chafing against the constraints of a big label with a rat's nest of conflicting agendas.
The YouTube Partners Program, and specifically the Musicians Wanted division of it, is a great example. We can distribute our videos the way we want to (embeddable!), and actually make some money off it, to boot. A couple months ago our hands were tied by the embedding restrictions at our label, and the money that was generated from our streams wasn't winding up in our pocket. Now we're enabling embedding and we'll collect a check every month. It's a pretty obvious win/win.
So, feel like quitting your day job? With a killer song, a great video and a heaping pile o' luck. . . you might be able to. But you might wanna wait to put in your two weeks notice. . .