HomeStandard PeopleIs YouTube a significant source of revenue?

Is YouTube a significant source of revenue?

Sometime back, Keen Mushapaidze, Jah Prayzah’s manager, came to see me after their collaboration monster-hit with Diamond Platinumz of Tanzania, Watora Mari, received more than a million views on YouTube. He wanted to know how his artiste would benefit from this achievement. I gave him contact details of YouTube’s agent in South Africa. I can only assume that they got paid for their effort as Mushapaidze did not come back to me to give feedback on how the negotiations went.

in the groove:with Fred Zindi

However, from the way Jah Prayzah is dropping videos for almost all his releases lately, I can only assume that he is earning some money from YouTube. In short, if he can get lots of people to click on his stuff, and put out products consistently to keep that audience, there is a chance of earning enough money to live on. The magic figure is one million views. Without live performances due to Covid-19 restrictions, Jah Prayzah will remain a
mbinga (rich guy) through earnings from YouTube and other royalties.

We know that the Zimbabwe Music Rights Association (Zimura) receives royalties on behalf of music composers for airplay. They can even monitor radio and television stations to see which of their member artistes are receiving this airplay. However, if someone is using his or her phone or computer to access music, how can Zimura monitor this and who pays for this play?

This is where I begin to question the advantages and disadvantages of having one’s music on YouTube.

A lot of artistes, especially those who do not receive airplay from our local radio stations, believe that having their music videos on YouTube, although there may be no financial benefits to it, will give them plenty of publicity which they need. What most of them are not aware of is the fact that YouTube makes billions of dollars from these postings through advertisements which most artistes do not have control over. Only selected artistes are paid for their postings. Well, stardom is great and everything, but what about money? Surely getting tens of millions of YouTube plays must lead to riches, right? After all, don’t you get money every time someone clicks on your video? As it turns out, not exactly. As an artiste, one can make money off YouTube and a lot of people do. But it takes a lot of views to make real money. The reality is that YouTube’s payouts are incredibly complicated and, often, incredibly small.

The exact amount of money an artiste makes on a video depends on a number of factors. But several experts confirmed that, on average, the money works out to between US$1 000 and $2 000 per million views. Yes, one million. And one needs to go through a lot of processes to get it.

One of the main ways artistes make money on YouTube is by other people using their songs. For instance, if an artiste’s song is used at a birthday party and the party is posted on YouTube, the artiste is entitled to all the money from the use of his or her song. This is referred to in the trade as UGC, for “user-generated content”.

The catch is, it is up to the artiste to find the users first. Money starts flowing the artiste’s way once YouTube becomes aware that his/her song is being used. Any monetisation which occurs before that happens goes straight into the pockets of the person who originally posted the clip. Only very occasionally, if there’s enough money involved and the artiste has a good negotiator on his/her side, can they begin to get any of it back at that point. You can imagine how much money is being generated for the use of Master KG’s Jerusalema dance challenge if his management has got their heads screwed on.

I have asked several artistes in Zimbabwe, some of whom have boasted receiving more than a million views from their videos posted on YouTube, whether they are receiving any royalties from YouTube. Apart from two, out of the 10 or so musicians I have spoken to, no one in Zimbabwe has received a penny from YouTube.
YouTube, with more than one billion users, is the most popular source for music streaming on the internet. But it has become a source of frustration for many artistes. YouTube also hosts millions of unauthorised videos. The artiste has no choice — their music is on YouTube even if they don’t want it there. Some artistes have written letters to YouTube asking to have their material removed from the internet site, but YouTube does not seem to have the ability to efficiently remove content from the site.

The music business has less bargaining power than ever: As album sales have fallen about 60% in the past decade, YouTube has become increasingly important — 98% of American internet users ages 18 to 24 visit the site — and the company says its advertisement sales have delivered $3 billion to artistes and content creators. Given the $3 billion YouTube makes, we are not sure why artistes with more than a million views are not receiving royalties here in Zimbabwe.

“YouTube has become radio for kids,” says Ken Levitan, who manages Kings of Leon, Cheap Trick and many other pop groups in the United States.

But unlike radio, YouTube is a bad business partner. It allows leaked material and poor-quality live music to stay online. And it pays far less on average than streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

“YouTube revenue for a superstar artiste is a joke,” says one musician who has over 100 videos posted on YouTube.

“Their accountings are too complicated and opaque to give an accurate per-stream number. They’re acting like an old record company by making the accountings difficult so that the artiste remains in the dark.”

Like any site, YouTube can stream material without the artistes’ permission thanks to 1998’s Digital Millennium
Copyright Act (DMCA) which was promulgated in the US. The law allows companies to post copyrighted content online if they agree to take it down upon request.

But in the YouTube age, this means artistes’ representatives need to monitor hundreds of millions of new videos every day. YouTube says it has addressed the issue, spending $60 million to build a “content ID” programme, which uses digital “fingerprints” to identify pirated material.

Despite this declaration, a lot of uncensored videos, including pornographic material, go on the site.

George Sisimayi, a Zimbabwean artiste who recorded the song Ndapera Ne Cha Cha Cha Amai in the late 1960s, was surprised to find that song on iTunes and YouTube recently. The song is selling for 99 cents on iTunes and to listen to it on YouTube, one has to pay subscription service fees. Sisimayi says no one has ever contacted him about his song since the 1960s and he has not received a single coin from iTunes or YouTube. So, where is this money they are selling the record for going?

Steve Miller, a well-known artiste based in the US whose material, including full albums like Greatest Hits 1974-1978, can be found on YouTube, had this to say: “YouTube destroys my business and makes money by enabling theft worldwide.”

Some artistes hire private services to manage the flood of content.

YouTube should allow artistes to decide which of their songs should be available for free and which are part of a paid subscription. From what it charges, part of the money should go directly to the artistes. Unfortunately, for Zimbabwean artistes, they cannot lobby the US Congress to reform the DMCA. It looks like they have to put up with the terms and conditions of whatever is posted on YouTube as they are far removed from what takes place in the US where YouTube and its parent company, Google, are based. However, some musicians who fail to get airplay within Zimbabwe feel that it is better to have YouTube on board, without which no one would ever get to know them.

In a way, some artistes feel that YouTube, with or without any financial benefits, is still worth it.

l Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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