If you want to be discovered as a new music artist today, you had better be online — on YouTube, specifically. According to Nielsen, which monitors media engagement, YouTube is where teenagers turn to discover new music. For teens, YouTube beats iTunes, CDs, and the radio as the place to hear their favorite music.
It’s the latest development in a music marketing revolution. Within a decade the industry has gone from record companies marketing CDs via retail outlets to digital download and mass piracy to the latest twist, uploading music to free sites like YouTube.
It’s an industry in flux; that much is clear, according to Gil Blumenfeld of new Israeli start-up Zazoo. And with Zazoo, Blumenfeld believes, he may be able to help artists once again make money from their music — and even get their lucky break.
The problem with YouTube for both new and established artists, Blumenfeld said, is that there is no real way to engage fans and to get the benefit of buzz among viewers of their videos. “The videos on YouTube all have the same format. Other than a single link and a description, which many people don’t even read, there is nothing to distinguish one video from another.”
As a result, once a viewer watches a video, or even an artist’s playlist — several videos on a single page — he tends to move on to the next listening experience, with the artist thus losing the fan (and potential customer) to the competition.
The fact that free YouTube is becoming one of the top sources of fan engagement is also wreaking havoc with artists’ bottom lines. Last year, YouTube signed a licensing agreement with music publishers, giving artists a fee when their music is streamed on the site. YouTube runs ads in front of the video to recoup the fee payment, but that only applies to the “official” version of a music video, not to a version uploaded by a fan or to any alternative version.
There are, for example, thousands of cover versions of songs by British Grammy winner Adele on YouTube, said Blumenfeld. “Those videos are out of Adele’s universe, and she gets nothing out of these alternative versions.”
The official licensed version of Adele’s “Someone Like You” with YouTube ads has about 200 million views. But a pirate version (one of many), with just the lyrics instead of the official video, has over 131 million views. And, to top it off, there are dozens of “Someone Like You” covers with hundreds of thousands or millions of views each. Some have in the millions, and one hit over 10 million. Those covers are all legal; nowadays, all it takes is a $15 filing fee to legally distribute a cover song in the US, along with royalties based on sales (a non-issue on YouTube). Needless to say, Adele doesn’t get paid when those legal covers are streamed.
“By posting your music on YouTube, you are essentially giving it away,” Blumenfeld told The Times of Israel. “And because of YouTube’s format and terms of service, you cannot directly sell users albums, concert tickets, merchandise, or any of the other things artists count on to make a living.”
The trick, said Blumenfeld, is to get YouTube fans to visit the places where the artists promote themselves – their websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and other social media efforts. “When fans see a video on YouTube they tend to remain on YouTube, and the artist has lost their engagement with them, as they are most likely to go check out other artists’ videos. With Zazoo we hope to bring fans from YouTube back to the artists’ universe, so they have an opportunity to develop their connection with fans.”
Zazoo does this by “implanting” itself into YouTube via a plug-in for the Chrome browser (plug-ins for other browsers, as well as a standalone program and an app for tablets, including the iPad, are on the way). With Zazoo installed, video viewers get an automatic lyric feed, with the lyrics highlighted as they are sung, karaoke style (the singing in some videos can be turned off, leaving just the music and thus turning YouTube into a karaoke machine). In addition to links to the artist’s site or sites, viewers can access photos, a bio of the singer or group, and the artist’s official Twitter feed (Facebook to follow soon).
There’s also a news feed with stories that mention the artists, as well as a concert calendar. Zazoo’s presentation box (which appears on the right side of the screen as the video plays) also has a list of other videos and albums by the artist, which in a future version will link to an online sales site for purchase. That, as well as other services and opportunities for artists to monetize Zazoo engagement (such as links to purchase concert tickets), is one way Blumenfeld plans to make money from Zazoo, which is free.
The strategy works as well for pirate or cover versions as for official artist videos, said Blumenfeld. “Even though the YouTube algorithm doesn’t necessarily recognize a nonofficial or cover video as being one associated with the artist, Zazoo does, and it displays appropriate information on all videos with the artist’s name or keyword. Thus, artists have the opportunity to engage even with fans who stumble on the wrong version of their video.”
Laziness is one of the things Blumenfeld is counting on for Zazoo’s success. “Right now, the information we offer with the Zazoo plug-in comes from about 35 different sources (all free, except for the lyrics database, which Zazoo licenses). But the kids who rely on YouTube as their primary music source aren’t interested in going to 35 different sites. By aggregating all the information about the artist in one spot, the chances of fan engagement outside of YouTube rise significantly,” Blumenfeld said.
Zazoo is still in beta, Blumenfeld said, and it clearly shows; for example, the information in the artist’s bio box is very small, and clicking on it does not open a new tab or window, as occurs when you click on the Twitter or news feeds, for example. The karaoke feature hasn’t been fully implemented yet, and the Zazoo library is not very big at the moment, with many of the songs in it from artists who are not recording or performing anymore and thus have no news or concert dates.
All that will be fixed in upcoming versions of Zazoo; after all, it’s only been online for a couple of weeks, and you have to start somewhere, said Blumenfeld, who believes that Zazoo could be a game-changer for the music business. With the major changes in music retailing, musicians — especially new ones who do not have a following — are desperate to get their name and work out in front of the public, and eagerly post their music on video sites like YouTube in order to pick up fans. And it works, too; without YouTube, Justin Bieber would still be an unknown high school student, instead one of the world’s richest teenagers.
For the others, Zazoo just might be their ticket, said Blumenfeld. “The big artists all have social media managers, but unknown artists have to do all the promoting themselves. With Zazoo, they have an opportunity to maximize their engagement with new fans, introducing them to their universe and drawing them to their websites and social media feeds. Zazoo, I believe, is a tool that could help many artists solidify their web presence and engage with more fans,” said Blumenfeld.
“And the more fans, the more opportunity they have to sell concert tickets and merchandise, and — with wider exposure — to get discovered, too.”