There are times in the great streaming debate you can’t see the wood for the trees. For all the concentration on Spotify this and Apple Music that, there’s one other extremely large dog in this fight who has managed to stay above this fray.
YouTube, which turns 12 on St Valentine’s Day, may argue that it’s not a music streaming service per se, but a huge number of its billion users a month are clearly on the site in search of a particular tune or track. That’s 10 times more users than what Spotify were reporting in 2016, with Apple Music users coming in at 20 million by comparison.
Yet despite the fact that Google-owned service is a big player, YouTube is kind of ignored when talk turns to the current state of streaming or what comes next. The record industry regards YouTube in much the same way as its execs once used to look at Napster. To them, YouTube is an anti-copyright scourge and is not contributing a lot of cash to the pot.
Music fans certainly don’t run with this logic. They’re the ones who have made YouTube’s repository of videos the go-to destination for everything from extracts of acts on TV shows and the new single from pop megastars to shakily filmed live footage and old archive material. It is the real home for music TV.
You can see this writ large in the 40 videos which have accumulated the most views on the service over the past 12 years. Most of us have forgotten about Psy’s Gangnam Style, yet it’s still the most popular video on the site with 2.7 billion views. Wiz Khalifa’s See You Again is half-a-billion back followed by such A-list names as Justin Bieber, Mark Ronson, Adele, Taylor Swift and Major Lazer in the Top 10.
You could extract plenty of takes from this list, especially about where people are going to check out their favourite pop tunes. After all, where else would they go? Most TV channels have abandoned music videos like they’re last season’s denim jeans in favour of live music on the kind of chat shows no-one in their right mind would watch out of choice. Add in the fact that most people under the age of 40 now stay well clear of music radio stations and you can see why YouTube has succeeded like gangbusters with videos.
While the labels continue to regard YouTube’s hotpotch of videos with disdain, artists have a different take on things. They know that their fans are YouTube-friendly and so they must retain a presence there to keep these folks happy. It’s noticeable too that fans are heading to YouTube rather than any of the alternatives presented over the years. You have to wonder how much this is down to the brand recognition factor around the service, where YouTube equals music videos.
Moreover, new acts have copped that YouTube is an invaluable asset when it comes to the task of building a fanbase. It also means you can get your songs out there much faster than was the case before the service came along. Dublin singer-songwriter Bry and Cork video game music composer Gavin Miracle Of Sound Dunne are examples of how to turn YouTube popularity into successful ventures.
There’s no doubt that the record industry will continue to huff and puff about YouTube as it enters its teenage years. Yet it should also take time off from the fuming to note the power of the service when it comes to making and shaping hits. That’s something which won’t be disappearing anytime soon.