Last week a client related an anecdote that made me laugh and shake my head in disbelief. It went along these lines: traveling with a group of vastly-wealthy business folks, she listened as they spoke about taking advantage of YouTube’s popularity to make money. Lacking a creative bone in their bodies, these folks spoke about YouTube as if it were a stock market. It was all about buying and trading assets seemingly predicated on what they’d heard about the success of PSY.
It would be a disservice to say that what happened with PSY was easy. It involved a lot of planning, thought, and effort to see success. Certainly no one involved in the project knew they’d have the most popular video ever once they were done. I’d wager that wasn’t even the goal! Still, creating one fantastic and successful Pop music video isn’t terribly difficult on YouTube. The top 30 videos of all time are all Pop music videos. The VEVO service built over YouTube is also built over the mass-market musical machine. Making these videos successful is easy in the sense that how to do it is widely known and accounted for in the music industry. This is not helpful to the vast majority of artists, labels, and music business being done out there that isn’t Pop music.
While the basic fundamentals of YouTube are easy to understand, being a continuing YouTube success story is work. Work that’s largely unknown in the existing music system. It’s the execution of those fundamentals where you get bitten in the ass if you’re not careful. Days of video and miles of type have been created to explain video SEO (search engine optimization) and channel optimization. Advice on creating and executing ideas is centuries old. Being part of a scene, well, that should be in the DNA of any artist or record label, so what I’m about to walk you through should only be foreign in detail, not concept.
The scene aspect is where the music industry often falls short on YouTube, much like our millionaires above looking to make a buck on the latest thing will fail. One industry acquaintance of mine dismissively referred to “those YouTube people” during a discussion we were having about the service recently. While I didn’t have time in that particular discussion to make this point, I certainly can here. Those YouTube people are the future. They are the future of how the platform is used and ultimately how music will be successful there. It’s time to pay attention.
A good and relevant first stop for exploration is musician Jake Coco:
The era of the MTV-style music video is largely over. While they are still being produced, their ineffectiveness is obvious and no longer are marketing budgets willing to shell out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce yet another performance video. They don’t work on YouTube! YouTube is not television. Enter the lyric video. The trajectory of these videos has largely been influenced by the fact that they work well on YouTube, they are relatively inexpensive, and you can even see a couple of years into their wider adoption by the music industry that they are becoming more clever; more creative.
This is a fantastic acknowledgement of the medium. After all lyric videos were once the province of Sally Q. Public who created and uploaded running lyrics over a coloured background for her favourite radio Rock songs. What else do YouTubers do now that can be borrowed? They take advantage of the medium. For instance, take a look at a recent video from YouTube channel AVbyte.
They take advantage of the annotations feature. Right around the 12 second mark they add an annotation asking the viewer to subscribe (if you can’t see it, make sure your annotations are on by clicking on the speech bubble button below the video). This has a demonstrable, positive effect on their subscriber numbers. More subscribers tends to translate to more views and more frequent views of a channel’s videos. More engagement of that type leads to higher-paying ads being served to a video or channel because YouTube is rewarding the building of audiences. That’s not really why AVbyte does this though.
The AVbyte brothers recognize that the video will be played on YouTube and the editing and visuals have taken advantage of this. Right around the 1:37 mark the actual video ends. The next 20 seconds show links to previous videos, encourage the user to download the song via a link in the description, and most importantly interact with their viewers. Pay attention to the inset at the right. Of course it’s placed within a “subscribe” border, but the creators of the video, Vijay and Antonius, talk directly to the viewers and ask them questions, encourage them to download the song, and again to subscribe. Actually asking viewers to subscribe in the video itself has an even more demonstrable effect on uptake.
It’s really this second part that evinces being part of the YouTube culture. It’s not about the video encoding or using some rad YouTube feature (though those have their place). These guys make a musical. Every week. It’s posted on Monday and their subscribers know that (it’s even in their channel design). On Wednesday they post a behind-the-scenes video. Now that one piece of content has become two. After all everyone’s rolling extra footage these days. On Friday they post a response video. They’ve now used the responses to their question in the inset from Monday’s video to generate a third video.
In these ways the AVbyte crew engages their audience and thus builds their audience along with their video catalog. They also collaborate with other YouTubers and go to YouTube events. This is the distilled YouTube culture; one of authenticity and engagement. This is a hard shift for labels in particular and many artists to make. The whole system is geared toward budgeting for and creating MTV-style music videos. After all that kind of video is a known quantity and the folks responsible for creating them have a portfolio of video directors to go to, artist managers to account to, and a bottom line to engage.
Still, I am of the firm belief that a music video should never be made unless there is a great idea behind it. The new standard should be a small budget for a lyric video and additional budget for creating video that becomes a participatory part of the YouTube culture. Being a part of that takes some study, but as long as you actively use YouTube it becomes easier to internalize that culture. Because of that I’m not surprised that it is currently difficult to find folks in the music industry creating video for YouTube in this manner. If you know of any YouTube channels from musicians or labels that do this, please let me know in comments below.
Make sure to visit The Orchard on YouTube!
Some other great examples of videos produced with YouTube culture in mind: