Sunday, July 16, 2017

Birth Wisdom

Until one experiences natural childbirth firsthand, there’s really no way to anticipate what it entails.  You can do all the reading, all the watching, and all the listening to those who previously went through the gauntlet, but none of it truly captures the one-of-a-kind nature that is untamed birth.  You have to simply go through it to really understand it.

Just shy of 3 years ago, my daughter Scarlet was born.  It was a planned unmedicated home birth, which ended up in a hospital transport due to maternal exhaustion.  Upon much reflection, there were a variety of lessons we drew from Scarlet’s birth (see here) - lessons we fully intended to implement when it came time to have our second child.  So when we conceived back in October of 2016, we felt like fighters training for a rematch.  It would be entirely different this time around, and we would be ready to go the distance and then some, if necessary.

As before, Heather was focused on “preparing her vessel” prior to conception.  This entailed optimal nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc, which continued throughout the entire pregnancy.  Her diet was clean the first time around, but it was cleaner this time.  She swam and aggressively walked while pregnant with Scarlet, but now she mixed in yoga and a whole lot of floor sitting, in order to maintain her hip flexibility and pelvic range of motion, which she knew would be critical during labor.  Once more, she continued regularly seeing an acupuncturist, but this time she also consistently saw an osteopath, who was vital in maintaining a robust musculoskeletal structure and tendon / joint health all throughout the pregnancy - this in turn allowed Heather to maintain a higher level of activity than she would otherwise have been able to, evidenced by her attending yoga classes all the way into her 41st week of pregnancy.

Of course, having to take care of a toddler during pregnancy makes physical and mental preparation of any kind considerably more difficult to accomplish.  But she did everything she could given the circumstances, which is all one can ever do.  Funnily enough, in contrast to our first pregnancy, where we read everything we could get our hands on, with the second pregnancy we read little to almost nothing, because ultimately there is no better preparation than having actually lived through birth before.  Plus, reading becomes untenable once tiny humans are running around and screeching all day long.

So we were ready to go, and on July 7th, 2017, four days past her “due date”, the time was upon us.  After days of intermittent mild contractions, 9 AM brought a new variety.  These required focus.  Active labor had begun.

Thankfully, we had both slept for 7-8 hours, and that morning Heather ate like a champ while she had the capacity to do so.  Both of these paid dividends down the line.

For the first 2-3 hours, we were on our own.  Heather had opened up the windows and patio door, allowing a cool breeze to flow through the house along with the sound of the morning rain, which she found soothing as she labored on the floor of our dining room.  During a contraction, I’d put extreme pressure on her sacrum which aided her ability to navigate the discomfort, while she vocalized and focused on her breathing.  

Labor vocalization is definitely a distinct sound - it’s somewhere between a Tibetan chant and a dying animal - and it’s a little strange when one’s exposure to this sound inevitably ceases to be odd.

Eventually our doula and midwives arrived, joined shortly thereafter by Heather’s osteopath.  Birth team fully assembled, the hard work continued.  Any time her vocalizations started to creep up in tone, she was hit with constant reminders: “keep it low Heather”, “don’t tense up”, “stay relaxed”, “let it resonate downwards”, “let it in”, etc.  

I moved the dining room table into the corner, and we set up a birthing pool in its place, allowing Heather to knock out the next couple of hours immersed in warm water, while the osteopath worked on Heather’s back and legs.

Then the party moved into our bedroom.  Squatting on a small birth stool, Heather’s vocalizations reached a new level of intensity, and she started saying affirmations at the onset of each new wave of contractions - “my body and baby know how to birth” - after which she would lean backwards into my arms and go limp, while I massaged her lower back.

Time has a habit of skewing in labor (even for birth partners), so I don’t really know how long it was before the midwife explained that she was almost fully dilated at 9 cm.  The caveat was that there was a small patch of cervix stubbornly hanging on, preventing the baby from moving downwards.  Feeling wiped out, Heather opted to move to the bed for a momentary reprieve.

FYI, this was not just any bed - it was an organic bed that sat atop a hi tech frame, capable of independently moving the head and feet sections upwards.  Put differently, it was a bed tailored for labor!  And that is exactly what went through our minds when bed shopping the previous year - all things being equal, always go with the bed that will best facilitate a birth!

After a few rounds of contractions lying down, the midwife explained she could attempt to manually push back that last bit of cervix during the next contraction, if Heather wanted; otherwise, Heather should get back to being upright so as to let gravity better assist with the remaining inch of dilation.  Unsure of how to proceed, and since she was already on the bed, Heather instructed the midwife to take a shot at the manual adjustment.  And then she let out a blood curdling scream when that adjustment was attempted.  Having failed to accomplish the goal, and feeling the sensation was entirely unnatural, Heather opted for plan B - back on the feet we would go, but not before her water finally broke in the midst of another contraction, an explosion that took everyone by surprise (as I suspect it probably often does).

Now on her feet, we made our way into the bathroom, where Heather sat on the toilet.  The toilet may strike some as an odd birthing location, but it’s where people habitually go to relax their sphincter, and actually makes for a good labor site.  At this point, Heather was beyond fatigued, and she was sort of swaying in front of me like a drunken sailor from utter exhaustion.  She kept repeating, “I don’t think I can do this” … and we kept repeating, “yes you can - you’re already doing it”.

Sensing we were at a crucial precipice, where her focus and willpower could potentially get carried away from her, I asked the doula to trade places with me.  Then I ran into the kitchen and grabbed an iPod off the counter that contained a playlist of music we had curated specifically for if / when we reached a point like this.  Ear buds secure, I hit play - then she went totally silent for the next 10-15 minutes, breathing through the contractions without vocalizing.  I could see her energy recharging, catching a second wind.  It was fascinating to watch.

The midwives and doula then suggested that she get into the shower.  After some initial protest, Heather begrudgingly relented.  Ear buds removed, I assisted her into the shower.  As soon as the water hit her body, she said it felt good and asked that we make it colder, which we obliged.  And cold it got … like really fucking cold … like the kind of water polar bears approve of cold … like a shower that could offset climate change cold.

I was standing directly in front of her, as a leaning post, and when she had a contraction she would drop into a squat while I supported her underneath her arms.  Cleverly, the midwives’ assistant gave me a towel to put around my neck for Heather to grab onto, and with which I could more efficiently support her.

After some amount of time in the shower, one of the midwives attempted to check her progress but was unable to get an accurate assessment, due to the confined space of the shower stall.  So ironically, now to Heather’s great dismay, she begrudgingly got out of the shower and back into the open space of our bedroom.

The towel remained around my neck and shoulders, and we kept the same stand-squat routine going.  As if in anticipation, the sun had by now reared its head outside, casting a beautiful shimmer over the trees, and it wasn’t long before the midwife proclaimed the cervix had fully receded and the head was descending.  On we went.  I suddenly realized that the midwife was directly behind me, on her hands and knees, in between my legs, checking the baby’s progress between Heather’s legs.  It was like a game of Birth Twister.

Midwife:  “Zack, please don’t sit on me”

Me:  ”Susan, I would never sit on you”.

Heather:  “Is that the head out?”  

Midwife:  “Yes it is!”

Heather:  “Ok, is everyone ready?”

Birth Team:  “Yes!”

The fog of labor was instantaneously lifted as the baby was birthed, preceded only by the warmest gush of fluid across my legs I have ever felt … like wonderfully warm … like water befitting a tropical desert paradise warm … like the kind of water those Japanese snow monkeys submerge themselves in to escape a merciless winter warm.  Yes, I felt like a Japanese snow monkey on holiday.  

As the baby was caught by the midwife between my legs, and handed upward between myself and Heather, I was jolted back to reality as the baby screeched, and I was perplexed at the extreme pale white appearance.  “My God, she’s birthed a White Walker!” I thought to myself.  As it turns out, it was just the vernix (which apparently was unusually plentiful for a full term baby).  Soon thereafter, with vernix rubbed into the skin, the baby pinked up just fine.

And so it is with great delight that I introduce you to Willow Sky Hemsey:


In the aftermath of our first birth, I was surprised at some of the confusion (and borderline outrage) I received in response to what happened.  Some felt our attempted home birth was irresponsible and dangerous, despite no one actually being in danger of anything at any point.  Some felt it was masochistic to have an unmedicated birth and/or that we were trying to prove something (it wasn’t and we weren’t).  Some felt we were exhibiting an unnecessary disdain or disregard for western medicine and/or technology (again, we weren’t).  And some expressed incredulity that we would attempt another home birth after what had happened the first time, as if our birth with Scarlet was physically or mentally traumatic in nature (it wasn’t … it was crushing psychologically to not get the birth we had wanted, but it remained a positive experience on the whole, for both of us).

I found it bizarre (and still do) that so many completely miss the spirit of our actions.  The desire to birth at home stems from a desire to birth naturally, unmedicated, in a familiar, comfortable, and safe environment.  For us, that’s home.  For you, it may be a hospital.  In turn, the desire to birth naturally without medication stems from the physiological benefits of doing so, for both baby and mother (the reader can take it upon themselves to research this, or reference my response to the initial comment on Birth Lessons where I go into greater depth).  Importantly, being unmedicated prevents the natural birth process from being inadvertently undermined and short-circuited, for it maximizes the mother’s ability to coherently and effectively navigate birth, which then minimizes the potential need for interventions (and the domino effect of complications and further interventions that can often ensue as a result).

But there is an additional component to unmedicated natural childbirth that goes beyond the physiology, and it has nothing to do with pain or suffering.  It’s about embracing the enormity of what the human body is designed to do, completely unfiltered and raw.  It’s about surrendering to a process that evades our comprehension, without fear or anxiety.  And it’s about feeling the connection between mother, baby, and body, and tapping into the extraordinary potential of the human psyche.  It is uniquely transformative, capable of changing even those merely in proximity to it.

Of course, birth is not the only one-of-a-kind experience that exists.  I imagine there’s probably nothing like free falling through the sky after jumping off a plane or mountaintop, or being in outer space, or climbing Mt Everest, etc.  There is a diverse tapestry of rich and immensely powerful experiences humans are capable of encountering.  But birth in its purest form may very well be the most challenging and exhilarating human event there is.  It is riding a tidal wave toward the brink of your capacity, and then miraculously going beyond it.  And it is a rite of passage for anyone wishing to come into direct contact with the essence of life itself.

When it was all over and done, Heather said the birth was the single greatest experience of her life.  

My enduring thanks to the birth team: midwives Susan Schmidt and Cathy Gallagher; midwife assistant Nancy McDaid; doula Jen Pifer; and osteopath Karin Lipensky.






Sunday, May 7, 2017

The YouTube Red Checkmate

I’ve had many issues with YouTube’s Content ID System and the revenue (or lack thereof) that YouTube pays to content owners.  Without rehashing all the details (which you can find here, here, and here), the short story is that I was strong-armed into utilizing Content ID to monetize user-generated uploads containing my music, under what I perceive to be deplorably substandard deal terms (i.e. 55% of net revenue, with no clear understanding of what “net” constitutes).  

While this compromise was necessary to combat unauthorized uploads of my music (and their illegal monetization of my content), when it came to my personal YouTube channel I elected not to monetize my own uploads with ads, in protest of the revenue splits that I find so distasteful (and in defiance of the emerging ad culture).  So I wasn’t making money on my personal uploads, but neither was YouTube.

Then around the end of 2015, YouTube began unrolling something called YouTube Red.  This was a new subscription based service that would allow subscribers to watch unlimited YouTube content without any accompanying or intrusive advertisements, in exchange for a flat monthly fee.  It was touted as a new revenue stream for creators, who would be paid according to how much their content was watched by YouTube Red subscribers each month.  Sounds good … you know, apart from receiving only 55% of net earnings within this new revenue stream.

Fast forward, YouTube Red is fully up and running in all territories, and Red income begins being collected on my behalf within the Content ID System.  Then a realization eventually ensues.  Shouldn’t I be receiving YouTube Red income for my personal uploads?  After all, my YouTube channel is set up and approved for monetization (I simply disabled the ad option on all my videos).  Let’s go take a look.  Huh, I see there are YouTube Red views, but no YouTube Red money.  What gives?

Well, it turns out that in order to receive my share of Red income for any given video, I am required to enable ads on that video.  Even though these are two completely independent and unrelated revenue streams, YouTube holds Red earnings hostage until you agree to play the ad game.  Of course, YouTube has not volunteered or acknowledged this fact, but it has been unequivocally established in practice (at least in my case).  Basically, YouTube has designed an all or nothing monetization scheme - opt in and collect both ad and subscription revenue, or opt out and collect nothing.

Naturally, this introduces a new variable into the analysis.  While foregoing ad revenue results in a lose-lose scenario, foregoing Red revenue results in a win-lose scenario, whereby YouTube pockets their share of Red revenue regardless of the fact that I have not received mine - my share of Red income just gets distributed to other content owners.  So essentially, not participating in Red income equates to literally giving my money away to other people.  

Thus, I now find myself in a situation where, in order to receive my share of YouTube Red earnings, I must monetize my YouTube channel with ads.  Game, set, match.  Well played YouTube.  Well played.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Misunderstood Art Of Artistry

The term “artist” gets thrown around quite a lot.  Nowadays, every creator seems to be a self-proclaimed artist, or is otherwise referred to as such by others.  Well, appearances to the contrary, everyone is not an artist.  Some are.  Many aren’t.  Moreover, a sizable portion of us don’t even seem to have an accurate conception of what artistry entails.

The dictionary would have you believe that an artist is one who creates or performs art, or is habitually engaged or skilled in a creative practice.  This is complete nonsense.  I don’t know any genuine artist that would agree with this definition.  While there is a logical simplicity to concluding that anyone who makes art is an artist, in actuality, the term “artist" is reserved for a specific type of individual that creates art.  They are not simply writers, musicians, painters, dancers, etc…they are something that goes beyond the underlying mechanics involved, and beyond mere entertainment.

One of my pet peeves is when a judge on a show like American Idol asks a contestant, "What kind of artist do you want to be?”  To ask this question, and to answer it, is to fundamentally misunderstand the term in question.  You cannot choose what kind of artist you want to be.  You simply are an artist, or you're not.  This is to say, to be an artist is to have a specific mindset and psychology.  The real question being asked here is “what kind of entertainer do you want to be?”  This is an intelligible question, and one that can be answered.

The misunderstanding of what an artist is, and the routine conflation between an artist and an entertainer, is now ubiquitous throughout the music industry and the general public.  From a listener’s perspective, the distinction may be inconsequential, and using the terms synonymously provides a convenience within casual conversation.  However, there is a danger in allowing the boundary between these classes to remain blurred, for in so doing we risk forgetting that they actually are two separate things, the substance of which matters.  This is more than just semantics - because the motivation for why someone creates art influences the resulting art.  As a creator, it is important to know who you are, and why you’re doing what you’re doing.

An artist creates that which they are compelled to create.  Their creation may or may not resonate with you.  You may or may not enjoy it.  It may or may not be what you would like to hear or see.  But such is of no creative consequence to the artist.  They are seeking to capture a vision; to express something that demands expression; to translate feelings or ideas in a way that is inherently self-satisfying.

An entertainer, on the other hand, creates that which they think you will like.  They are creatively concerned with the opinions of others, and seek to mold their creation in accordance with outside expectations and/or predicted reactions.  This type of individual is often popularly referred to as a "commercial artist”, though this is an inadequate characterization, as will become clear.

Artists are human beings of course, and few enjoy having their work (or themselves) criticized or ridiculed.  But while an artist may hope their work resonates with you, and be intensely disappointed if it doesn’t, ultimately outside praise or lack thereof has no impact on the merits of their efforts.  The opposite holds true with entertainers, as their legitimacy lives or dies based on outside opinion - if the audience is not engaged, their efforts have been in vain.

One might be tempted to conclude from these descriptions that I am insinuating artists are superior to entertainers.  This is not so!  The world needs both artists and entertainers, as they serve different but equally important functions.  

One might also confuse a discussion about creators with that of their resulting creations.  To be clear, we’re discussing the former, not the latter.  So we don’t need to debate whether the byproduct of a creator is or isn’t art, or if it’s good or bad, etc.  Those are subjective determinations that will vary from person to person.  But whether the creator is an artist is not subjective.  That is a fact.  It may be a fact we are not privy to, or one that we suspect but can’t be certain of, but there is no debating that every creator has a set of intentions and motivations, whatever they may be.  And I contend there is merit to unpacking these, both as consumers and creators - for it fosters clearer conceptions of what artistry entails, which ultimately serves to enhance both the creation of art and our appreciation for it.

With all of that said, there is some additional nuance and confusion to the artist / entertainer analysis, which I will now address.

Let’s start with money.  Both artists and entertainers can seek to make money from their art.  However, money will not factor into the artistic process of the artist - if it is considered at all, it will be an afterthought, with no actual creative influence.  In contrast, the entertainer can be (and often is) motivated to create art specifically in order to make money, wherein creative decisions are designed to ensure and/or maximize appeal and profitability.  So the monetization of art in and of itself is not sufficiently revealing - it’s whether monetization plays a causal role within the art’s creation.  There is nothing wrong with creating art for the purpose of financial gain, but such a person is not an artist.

With respect to a “commercial artist”, this is an acceptable and coherent designation only if a genuine artist is making a living off of their art.  Culturally, it often involves a pejorative connotation, in which a commercial artist is not seen as a true artist, or one that has sold out, etc.  But this connotation is really a misplaced reaction to the common merging of artists and entertainers as being one and the same - once you parse out that confusion, there is a perfectly respectable place for a commercial artist to exist.  On the flip-side, it makes absolutely no sense to ever refer to an entertainer as a commercial artist - they are certainly commercial, but certainly not artists.

Next up, fans.  Artists and entertainers can both perform their music for fans, and take sincere pleasure, fulfillment, and inspiration from the impact their music has on other people.  However, if you’re making music for your fans, then you are not an artist…you’re an entertainer.  The same applies if you make creative decisions based on what your fans want to hear (or what you think they want to hear).  There is nothing wrong with catering one's art to meet with outside expectations…but such disqualifies you as being an artist.

Sometimes performers or musicians get referred to as artists (e.g. “he is a true artist with that violin”), but this is a different usage of the term.  While there certainly is an awe-inspiring mastery involved in compelling musicianship and performing, this is not the same thing as being an artist.  As breathtakingly skilled and uniquely expressive as they may be, performers and musicians are interpreting art; not creating it.  The world needs these people, without question - it’s simply inaccurate to label them artists.

Being an artist doesn’t mean you can’t be influenced by the art of others.  We live in an interconnected world, and nothing (including you) exists in pure isolation.  But an artist does not attempt to be or sound like anything other than who they are.  Artists take inspiration from others; entertainers imitate others.  While some say imitation is the greatest from of flattery, to an artist, such is a wasted opportunity for authentic self-expression.  Celebrate and revere your idols and influences…but if you’re trying to become them, you are not an artist.

Being an artist also doesn’t prevent you from taking the advice of others, or implementing outside suggestions…so long as you genuinely find such suggestions artistically compelling.  Of course, many an artist work in isolation, but plenty have sought input from others which they have taken into creative consideration.  Now, if you make changes based on the opinions of others, despite not artistically agreeing with them, well then you have quite obviously compromised your artistry.  This doesn’t make you a bad person, it’s just the fact of the matter.

Furthermore, being an artist doesn’t prevent you from enlisting the assistance of others (e.g. utilizing skilled experts, such as musicians, mixing or mastering engineers, etc)…so long as you remain in creative control and tied to the process.  That being said, if you’re outsourcing all of the composing and songwriting, there’s obviously nothing left in which your artistry can subsist - in that case, you are a performer, or possibly even an entertainment brand.  You might be popularly referred to as a “recording artist”, but as with “commercial artist” discussed above, such a designation can only be applied to an actual artist that records their own music - if you’re recording the music of others, you’re clearly not an artist.

Is being a true artist mutually exclusive with collaboration?  The answer depends on what the motivation is for collaborating.  If you’re doing it to gain new fans via cross-promotion, maintain relevancy, etc, then you’re functioning as a promoter and entertainer.  If you share a creative vision with someone, or are compelled to explore where a collaboration will lead, then you are functioning as an artist (despite potentially having to compromise on various creative decisions / executions therein).

In addition, an artist can experiment with methods, styles, instrumentation, collaboration, etc that might not deeply appeal to them, for the purposes of learning and discovery; but an artist would never release anything that was not truly representative of them.  So exploration in and of itself is not a disqualification of artistry.  I might be curious about jazz music and begin experimenting with the genre.  It might prove interesting in various ways; I might learn a lot; I might be creative in how I navigate the tonal landscape; but if my efforts to make a jazz album are not based on an authentic connection to the music, then I am not being an artist.  Having said that, I might ultimately stumble upon something that keeps me glued to the process; some aspect of jazz that surprisingly won’t let go, and which compels me to go further - in that case, such will have become an artistic endeavor.  

Then there is the matter of work-for-hire composers and writers.  Are these individuals artists?  If you are creating, modifying, or tempering your work in order to satisfy someone else (e.g. director, producer, etc), or for the benefit of your resume, or to expand your network, or for the paycheck, etc, then obviously you are not an artist (you’re essentially a craftsman).  However, to the extent that a work-for-hire creator is genuinely collaborating with their employer(s), or is given free reign to do as they see fit, and the nature of the content truly resonates with them, then they are absolutely functioning as an artist.  Even though many work-for-hire endeavors are in response to someone else’s vision (e.g. a brief, film, screenplay, etc), such doesn’t automatically negate legitimate artistry, for it is really no different than responding to any other outside stimulus, event, or experience in one’s life, and it doesn’t matter where artistic inspiration originates.  That being said, if you’re working on something that you honestly don’t give a shit about, then regardless of how creative you may be, your efforts have nothing to do with artistry.

Lastly, there is the question of whether it’s possible to be both an artist and an entertainer.  With respect to the creation of art, the answer is NO!  Having said that, an artist can certainly parallel the behavior of an entertainer after the creative process concludes (e.g. touring / performing for fans and money, engaging in promotion, etc).  An artist might also consciously step into the role of an entertainer or craftsman, in order to make ends meet financially.  Similarly, an entertainer might stumble upon a song that really speaks to them, and which they pursue artistically, in contrast to their normal affairs.  In other words, a person might travel back and forth between both domains, but at any given creative point, you can only exist in one or the other.  There is no artist-entertainer continuum, and there are no degrees of artistry - you’re all in, or all out.

In summary, one’s identity as an artist fundamentally turns on the nature of their creative process - what are they seeking to accomplish, and why?  If you are creating art as a means to an end, you are not an artist.  If you are creating art because you are compelled to do so, solely as an end unto itself, then you are.  This principle can be broadly applied to any activity or enterprise.  It is what separates a chef from a cook; a martial artist from a prizefighter; etc.  It’s also worth reiterating that every facet of the arts has its place.  Artists, entertainers, craftsman, musicians, performers - they all play a role in enriching the human experience.  Being an artist doesn’t make you more important - but the importance of artistry cannot be overstated.  So if you happen to be among those infused with artistic spirit, I implore you to stay true to that spirit.  You can’t choose to be an artist - artistry chooses you - but you can choose whether or not to honor it.  For those in the position to do so, I sincerely hope you will.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

When It Comes to YouTube, Google Is Only Half The Problem…The Other Half Is Major Labels And Publishers

It is common knowledge that the creative community has been discontent with YouTube for some time.  In recent weeks, a variety of articles have surfaced featuring various members of the music industry as they decry the paltry payouts issued by the streaming giant.1-5  This outrage is not without merit, for despite YouTube being the largest music streaming platform (in terms of both content and users), it is also the lowest paying.6-9  These substandard payouts stem from the price of YouTube ad space, along with the revenue splits employed by YouTube in distributing ad revenue.  Indeed, the latter is the bigger issue, as YouTube pays content providers a mere 55% of net earnings.10-12

It is unclear exactly how much YouTube takes off the top before splitting the remaining ad revenue, but it has been reported that this figure is 10%.13  Of course, without the ability to audit the company, it’s impossible to verify this with certainty, but if true, it means that YouTube is paying artists (and all content owners) 49.5% of the gross ad revenue.14  Importantly, when it comes to monetizing user-generated content, this percentage gets further reduced for the many artists who are dependent upon intermediary Content ID service provides that take commission on the content owner’s side of the earnings - for this group, payouts drop even further, typically between 37-42% of the total pie.15

Now, depending on the artist, there may or may not be labels, publishers, managers, etc with their hands in the pot on the artist side of earnings; but the literal amount that ends up in an artist's pocket is irrelevant from the standpoint of how big (or small) the artist pot is to begin with.  It’s one thing to assess a platform in terms of the revenue it generates, and another thing to assess the fairness of how that revenue gets divided.  Consider that iTunes, which has become the unofficial benchmark of revenue splits, pays 70% of gross earnings to the artist.16  Spotify does the same.17  Apple Music pays 71.5-73% of gross.18  And other services, such as Bandcamp, pay as much as 90% of gross to the artist.19  That is a substantial difference in comparison to YouTube, with important financial consequences.  

Google asserts that such comparisons are misguided,20 as download services and paid subscription streaming services are structurally different than a free ad-supported framework - instead, they argue YouTube is more akin to traditional radio.  Well, last time I checked you couldn’t turn on the radio and choose the songs you want to hear.  In contrast, YouTube is an interactive on-demand service…it may be different from other on-demand streaming platforms, but not in a way that justifies paying 55% of net revenues to creators.

So, how has YouTube managed to successfully implement an obviously unfair and exploitative system?  There are a few variables involved, three of which I will briefly summarize.

First, YouTube is able to facilitate the uploading of unauthorized user-generated content, while being legally protected under the “safe harbor” provision of copyright law.  In short, anyone can upload anything they want, and YouTube is not liable for their actions.

Second, the DMCA process, whereby a copyright owner can notify YouTube of an unauthorized video containing their work, with instructions for it to be taken down, is severely flawed in a variety of ways, ultimately making it useless as a method of keeping content off of the platform.21

Third, access to YouTube’s audio recognition Content ID System, which thoroughly addresses the above by identifying user-generated content on an automated and ongoing basis, is granted by YouTube only at their discretion.13,21  Accordingly, they have elected to grant access to just a subset of content owners, access which is conditioned upon consenting to the terms of Google’s label and/or publishing agreement.4,21,22  Essentially, Google leverages the value of Content ID to strong-arm parties into accepting what are widely held to be substandard deal terms.  For those denied access to Content ID (a substantial portion of applicants), and for those that refuse to consent to Google’s label / publishing deal, the only recourse is to engage one of a variety of independent services that will broker Content ID access in exchange for their ability to monetize your work.12,21

The upshot of these 3 variables is that it is impossible for copyright owners without direct access to Content ID to remove their content from YouTube.  And for those with direct access, they have begrudgingly accepted YouTube’s monetization terms in order to gain that access.  Consequently, the music industry has been stripped of negotiating power with respect to securing more equitable compensation from the platform.  It is a strategy part divide and conquer, and part blackmail - you can accept YouTube’s payout rates and make some money from user-generated content with Content ID access…or you can reject them and earn nothing, with no access to Content ID (in which case your content will often end up being monetized by others without your consent or participation).21

But there is a 4th variable, one which is just as important as the others, but which rarely (if ever) gets discussed.  While only a subset of content owners have direct access to Content ID, that subset is inclusive of the largest media companies - companies that include major record labels and publishers.  Even though YouTube succeeded in leveraging Content ID and the inefficiencies of DMCA to compel these companies into entering unfavorable licensing deals, those deals do not obligate said parties to monetize the content in question.  In fact, the “majors” are free to utilize Content ID in whatever manner they wish - monetize, track without monetization, or block all user-generated content.  Thus the majors, whose catalogs presumably account for the majority of music streaming on YouTube, possess the ability to effectively pull their catalogs from YouTube with the click of a mouse.  And make no mistake, a system wide Content ID block by the majors would create sizable ripples, changing the landscape of music streaming for all parties, major and non-major alike.  So why haven’t they?  Because they are pussies.  No seriously, they really are pussies.

Many of the music industry representatives complaining about YouTube’s low payouts in the press are the same people that are in a position to cut their ties - but instead of actually doing that, they choose to continue taking it up the ass from Google.  Now, don’t get me wrong, if someone wants to take it up the ass, that’s their prerogative.  But you can’t choose to take it up the ass and then start complaining about how your ass is all sore.

If you’re like me, you are perplexed by this behavior.  Surely the labels / publishers are comprised of intelligent individuals that see the absurdity of the current situation.  Even Google has publicly pointed out the obvious, stating in response to claims that YouTube unfairly devalues music: “Thanks to Content ID, record labels…can remove any or all user-uploads of their works from the platform on an automated and ongoing basis”.1  While this conveniently leaves out the fact that not all content owners have direct access to Content ID, their statement is 100% accurate as it pertains to major labels and publishers.  Moreover, the failure of labels / publishers to utilize Content ID to remove all of their material, or to at least cease all YouTube monetization of both direct uploads and user-generated content, renders them complicit in the exploitation that transpires, and it serves to reinforce and reward such behavior by Google.

So, why is the music industry continuing to monetize their content on YouTube when they object to what they’re being paid?  I can only speculate.  Maybe they are afraid of making Google angry.  Or maybe the people calling the shots at these labels / publishers have hidden loyalties to Google, while everyone else is unaware or powerless to stop the coup.  More than likely though, I suspect the real reason is that although they are unhappy with the revenue splits in principle, the amount of money being made is still substantial, despite being a fraction of what it should be…I think they simply can’t bring themselves to leave the money on the table and walk away.  But of course, that is precisely what’s required to get Google to the negotiating table.  You have to be prepared to endure financial sacrifice.  You have to have a spine.  You have to be willing to not be the bitch of a corporate behemoth.

Easier said than done, it would seem.  To be clear, I acknowledge that it can be difficult to walk away from sizable sums of money.  How much would you be willing to walk away from, for the sake of principle?  $10,000?  $100,000?  $1,000,000?  Many probably wouldn’t be willing to walk from any of these sums.  I get it.  After all, I am currently receiving YouTube monetization income, via indirect Content ID access.12  As much as I detest the conditions and circumstances that led to me receiving this supplemental income stream, I don’t detest having more money in and of itself.  Who can’t use extra money?

But at the end of the day, if you don’t want to be exploited and taken advantage of, you need to stop allowing yourself to be exploited and taken advantage of.  It’s pretty straightforward.  And the reality is that we’re not talking about a poverty stricken class facing a financial dilemma…we’re talking about major label artists and bands.  If Taylor Swift is making 5 million dollars in YouTube ad revenue, she’s making hundreds of millions elsewhere.  This is to say, it’s all relative and any potential ad income from YouTube is indicative of much greater revenue outside of YouTube.  They can afford to leave the money on the table.  And remember, for every dollar paid out to the music industry (reportedly $2-3 billion to date),1,23 YouTube retains an equal or greater sum; if there’s one thing that corporations deplore, it’s losing billions of dollars of revenue.

Now, I will grant you that it is convenient for me, one who does not have direct access to Content ID and therefore can’t lead by example, to argue that other people should cease YouTube monetization for the greater good.  But note that not one of the 34 million views to date on my personal YouTube channel is or has been monetized by me.  I assure you, if tomorrow I were granted direct access to Content ID, I would not hesitate to cease monetization of the now 209,000 user-generated videos that have been identified and their resulting 33 million average monthly Content ID views.  Why?  Not because I don’t want or can’t use the money, but because fuck you if you think I’m accepting 55% of net proceeds.

It’s worth considering too that in all likelihood, a system wide Content ID block by the majors would lead to increased traffic on other paid streaming platforms, all of which pay more than YouTube.  Of course, Google claims2,4 that YouTube is monetizing a substantial portion of music consumers who otherwise would not be willing to pay for music…but even if this is true, it just means that many of these consumers will find a different free streaming service, such as Spotify, whose free ad-supported tier payouts, while also controversial, are still higher than YouTube.  And sure, perhaps some of these consumers will end up resorting to piracy, or utilizing a non-paying streaming service, or simply consuming less music - so what?  What’s the alternative, to continue getting exploited indefinitely while lining the pockets of Google?  But let’s not forget the other possibility, that a system wide Content ID block ends up leading to a renegotiated and more equitable distribution of YouTube ad revenue…imagine that.

Of course, even if YouTube were to increase revenue splits comparable to its competitors, giving a minimum of 70% of gross earnings to artists, it may still remain the lowest paying music company with respect to the actual payments it disperses.  But that, in and of itself, is not the real issue at hand - after all, any comparison of this kind will always yield a hierarchy - someone has to be on the bottom.  Drawing conclusions based on total or individual payouts is highly misleading.  It’s about how revenue gets distributed, and the freedom (or lack thereof) on the part of creators to participate.  Thus, artists and music reps pointing to per stream rates, or earnings per X number of views, is a misguided approach.  Similarly, Google praising itself for having paid $3 billion to the music industry to date completely misses the point.  The exploitative nature of the exchange that led to that $3 billion is the issue at hand.  And while the overall amount that YouTube pays may be growing with every year,20 unless you fix the underlying inequity inherent in the formulation of those payments, you will only be compounding that exploitation.  So a more equitable revenue split will not only narrow the gap between YouTube and competing services, but it will also shift focus to the proper value of YouTube as a promotional and advertising space.

To that end, one could argue that user videos that contain music in the background (e.g. cat videos, sports videos, etc) constitute a partially new and unique revenue source.  At the same time, one could argue that music-specific YouTube videos cannibalize income from higher paying competing services.  Then there are the myriad variables that go into how ad payments are calculated per view, one of which is geography (e.g. a view in the United States is worth more than a view in Spain).  All of this complicates straightforward comparisons between YouTube and other platforms, but the bottom line is that if creators choose to participate in the service, they should reap a fair percentage of revenue from that participation.  I’m not, and I don’t think anyone is, anti-YouTube in principle…I’m simply against being forced to participate while being monetarily exploited.

I do concede that it’s within the realm of possibility that Google could react to a music industry revolt by revoking all direct Content ID access.  But such an action by Google would escalate the conflict, serving to greatly strengthen the legal argument and current lobbying efforts to rework the existing DMCA and safe harbor provisions.  The fact is that Content ID is the best defense that Google has in maintaining the status quo - to take that away from the majors would be to potentially shoot themselves in the foot, and it goes without saying that a successful DMCA “take down and stay down” revision would take considerable wind out of YouTube’s sails.

I will also concede that perhaps major labels and publishers began their partnership with YouTube in good faith that initial unfavorable terms would improve over time.  But even if that was the case, the ship has long since sailed.  What you have now is not going to change, for there is no incentive on Google’s part to do so…at the end of the day, despite stamping their feet in protest, the music industry is complying with what Google wants it to do.

And just to be clear, DMCA and safe harbor are most certainly in need of a serious overhaul - they can, and should, immediately be revised to properly apply within the current context of digital consumption.  This is particularly all the more pressing if YouTube is going to continue withholding direct Content ID access to so many content owners, therein stripping away their ability to abstain from the platform.  But this has no bearing on the fact that the largest sectors of the music industry already have the capacity to effectively and efficiently withdraw their catalogs via direct Content ID access - and there is no greater negotiating power than that.

So majors, you have a choice to make.  You can continue to do what daddy Google tells you to do, or you can grow a pair and have some dignity.  If you choose the former, so be it, but please shut the fuck up about your discontent moving forward…you have become the battered wife that refuses to leave her abusive husband, and it’s depressing to witness.  So right after you finish chastising Google for being evil, do us all a favor and stop being a bunch of pussies.



1 "Here's why the music labels are furious at YouTube. Again." Re/Code. April 11, 2016.
2 "Europe's divi-boss tells YouTube to cough up proper music royalties". The Register. April 19, 2016.
3 "Debbie Harry: "Music matters. YouTube should pay musicians fairly". The Guardian. April 26, 2016.
4 "Nikki Sixx launches campaign to get YouTube to 'do the right thing' over music royalties". The Guardian. April 24, 2016.
5 "Nelly Furtado: "YouTube pays more than nothing. That doesn't make it fair". The Guardian. May 2, 2016.
6 "What Major Music Streaming Services Pay Artists, Visualized". Co.Design. July 15, 2015.
7 "YouTube Music Is Growing 60% Faster Than All Other Streaming Music Services Combined". Digital Music News. September 14, 2015.
8 "How Much Do the Most Popular Streaming Services Pay Per Stream". Sonicbids Blog. July 20, 2015.
9 "YouTube - Not Spotify, Pandora Or Apple Music - Is The Number One Music Streaming Service Worldwide: Here's Why". Tech Times. July 8, 2015.
10 "YouTube to Tv Networks: No More 'Sweetheart' Ad Deals for You!" Ad Age. October 31, 2013.
11 "How YouTube Pays Artists by East Bay Ray". Janky Smooth. December 3, 2015.
12 "Shining Some Light On The Dark Side Of YouTube". Zack Hemsey Official Blog. January 28, 2016.
13 "YouTube Revenue Explainer". Music Tech Solutions. March 10, 2016.
14 10% off the top means content owners would be getting 55% of the remaining 90% of revenue, which equates as follows: .55 X .9 = .495 (49.5%).
15 Assuming a commission of between 15-25% on the artist portion of earnings (49.5% in this scenario), this would leave the artist with 75-85% of their original share: .85 X .495 = .42075 (42%) / .75 X .495 = .37125 (37%).
16 "Sell Your Music on iTunes". Tunecore Official Website.
17 "How we pay royalties: an overview". Spotify Official Website.
18 "Here's how much Apple Music is going to pay artists". Business Insider. June 22, 2015.
19 "Pricing". Bandcamp Official Website.
20 "No other platform gives as much money back to creators". The Guardian. April 28, 2016.
21 "The Dark Side Of YouTube". Zack Hemsey Official Blog. January 28, 2015.
22 "What should I do about YouTube?" Official Zoe Keating Blog. January 22, 2015.
23 "YOUTUBE SAYS IT'S PAID $2BN TO MUSIC RIGHTSHOLDERS. BUT WHAT DOES THAT REALLY MEAN?" Music Business Worldwide. October 26, 2015.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Prim’s Cat: The Real Mockingjay?

Last night I watched The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1.  Am I the only one who was scratching their head at the sheer ridiculousness that was exhibited?  Not with respect to the dystopian future portrayed.  Not with respect to blowing up planes with exploding arrows, while the archer remains unscathed despite standing directly in the path of the aircraft’s machine gun fire.  I’m fine with all of that.  What I cannot get on board with is the behavior exhibited by Prim’s cat.  Let’s walk through the events that unfolded.

Katniss visits what remains of District 12, where she discovers her sister’s cat within the family’s former residence.  She then picks up and places the cat inside her satchel bag, as she peruses the house for other items to salvage, at one point opening the bag and tossing a picture frame in alongside the cat.  All things (and cat) in bag, she returns to District 13 (presumably by air since that is how she got to District 12 in the first place), makes her way through the compound to find her mother and sister, opens up the bag, and out comes the cat…a cat who has been shockingly indifferent to hanging out in a bag during the tumultuous journey over land and air.

At this point I turned to my wife and said, “this movie has lost all credibility”.

Ok, well maybe this cat hangs out in satchel bags devoid of breathable mesh screens all the time.  Maybe he spent his adolescent years at a military base where he was a frequent flyer.  And maybe he’s got an extremely serene disposition to top it all off.

But alas, the plot thickened.  Later in the film, residents of District 13 are rushed into an underground bunker to take shelter from an impending airstrike from the Capitol.  However, the bombing commences before Prim makes it into the bunker - you see, she had gone to retrieve her cat and is now racing down the stairs with the animal in her arms, in the midst of explosions, falling debris, and cascading water spewing from what I assume was a sprinkler system set off by the bombing.  At the last moment, they make it into the bunker in one piece, as the cat continues to hang out in Prim’s arms without ever having squirmed an inch; wet and seemingly content with the entire ordeal.

Now, I ask you, what kind of mystical fucking cat is this?  Unless the cat’s actually a robot, this is either the most relaxed cat in the history of the feline species, or the movie decided to cut out the part where the cat gets injected with Valium.  Or the movie was produced by dog owners who have no experience with cats and are strangely under the assumption that they are meditative beings capable of achieving extraordinary levels of zen.  

Regardless of how the cat came to be portrayed in this manner, rest assured - I don’t care how awesome that cat is (and I’ve known some pretty awesome cats in my day), Prim’s arms, body, and/or face should have been cut up and bleeding from the clawing that would have transpired as that cat lost its fucking nerve.  Merely managing to hold onto the cat at all during that fiasco would have been miraculous.  To do so and remain unscathed…perhaps the single greatest feat of all time.  To have the cat stay as calm as a summer afternoon nap throughout it all…fucking impossible.  The movie should have just made Prim a sorceress, as a magic spell would have been more believable than what was depicted.

But in case you thought that was the last of the cat, fear not, for at the end of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, he makes one more appearance.  By now, days or weeks have elapsed since the bombing of District 13, a war has been waged, and many have perished.  Katniss is now back in District 12, trying to make sense of the chaos that has led her to this point, when lo and behold, the cat appears in the window.  He has traveled untold miles, through battlefields and ruins, persevered against bombings and starvation, and has finally made it back home.  In response to the cat’s truly heroic efforts, Katniss goes completely psychotic, unleashing all of her pent up anger onto the cat who has unknowingly become the symbol of everything she lost.  The screams escalate into attempted battery, as Katniss throws a glass across the kitchen with the intention of stoning the cat, all in a furiously loud and violent rage as she aggressively moves closer toward the cat…a cat who remains stoically silent and still in response.  He doesn’t run away; he doesn’t hiss; he doesn’t even flinch when the glass flies within inches of his face, smashing into shards upon contact with the countertop and backsplash…he just looks at Katniss, as if to say, “Katniss - I know - it’s not your fault”.

Wow.

My wife turned to me and said, “that cat would never have sat there like that”.  To which I replied, “are you kidding me, if that cat did anything other than sit there, the movie would have been totally inconsistent”.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Shining Some Light On The Dark Side Of YouTube

Not too long ago, I wrote about my frustrations with YouTube - a platform that enables unauthorized uploads of copyrighted content (commonly referred to as “user generated content”, or UGC) - uploads that are often illegally monetized, as facilitated by YouTube, and the revenue of which YouTube shares and participates in.

There is also the matter of YouTube’s Content ID System - a digital audio fingerprinting system that is a necessary tool for copyright owners to police UGC, but a system that YouTube selectively allows access to (access which I was denied for reasons unknown), thus creating the ability of those with access to fraudulently utilize Content ID to illegally claim and monetize the content of those without access (with no mechanism in place for the rightful copyright owner to notify YouTube of the fraudulence in question or properly dispute it).

And then of course there’s the matter of YouTube, along with uploaders of illegally monetized UGC and parties misusing Content ID, keeping all the money that was earned as a result of the illegal monetization of copyrighted content.

I was repeatedly falling victim to the above (as detailed here), so I had a decision to make.  I could do nothing and let the anarchy continue.  Or I could engage an intermediary service to gain indirect access to the Content ID System.  While YouTube is extremely selective in granting copyright owners direct access to Content ID, there are a variety of independent companies with direct access, which broker indirect access to the common man.  As far as YouTube is concerned, anyone is free to deal with such “Content ID brokers”.

It is important to note that intermediary Content ID brokers all require monetization of UGC, for which they take a commission on the resulting ad revenue.  In this way, YouTube basically forces the hand of a copyright owner - join us (indirectly) and monetize, or otherwise let us get back to monetizing your shit without your involvement.

After considerable internal debate, I decided that as much as I dislike the online ad culture, I hate people hijacking and illegally monetizing my content far more.  Plus, I reasoned I could keep my official YouTube channel ad free, while only monetizing UGC - this would maintain an ad free user experience for fans that come to my channel, while also allowing me to earn money from the use of my music in unauthorized non-official videos - this seemed like an acceptable balance and appropriate compromise.

Ok, so what are the deal terms?  YouTube takes a flat 45% of ad revenue across the board.1  Already, I hate the deal.  There is no justification for YouTube’s cut to be that large.  None.  Yes, YouTube has bandwidth and server costs,2 and yes they are the ones selling the ad space - but they are also monetizing millions of videos, the content of which they don’t own and the creation of which they had no involvement in (at least for the vast majority of cases) - if the sheer volume of videos that YouTube is monetizing doesn’t sufficiently offset their costs (as is reportedly the case),3 they should raise the price of the ad space instead of taking a higher % from content owners.  Let’s all keep in mind that nobody petitioned for the creation of the service - it shouldn’t be the burden of content owners to keep YouTube afloat financially (especially since it is the unauthorized appropriation of their content that forms the foundation of the service). 

But it gets worse, because YouTube’s 45% cut is apparently of net profits, not gross.4,5  If you have a YouTube channel, try searching for the phrase “55% of net revenues recognized by YouTube” in your agreement…you might be surprised to discover that’s your share.  In other words, YouTube recoups its costs (whatever they are deemed to be by YouTube) from the gross ad earnings, after which it keeps 45% of what’s left.  I think we can all agree that is definitively monstrous.  To be clear, these revenue splits are in connection with direct monetization of a YouTube channel’s content by the channel itself - and so in theory may not apply to Content ID revenue distribution, where content owners monetize other people’s unauthorized uploads of their content - however, I have been told by more than one source that Content ID splits are identical.

So out of the remaining 55% that goes to the content owner, the intermediary service would then take their commission, the amount of which varies depending on the company and the negotiating power of the content owner.  Suffice it to say, there is a lot of bullshit when it comes to intermediary services, with some taking large percentages because they can, or because their clients simply don’t know any better.  So unfortunately, this can be an area where a copyright owner gets an additional layer of exploitation.  That being said, not all intermediary services are villainous, and some will agree to reasonable commissions.  

I should also point out that a commission is warranted in virtue of the fact that someone has to manually monitor and respond to claim disputes that arise when uploaders contest the validity of various Content ID matches - occasionally Content ID does get it wrong, but most of the time uploaders of UGC either don’t understand what is happening and ignorantly dispute a legitimate copyright claim, or mistakenly invoke the “fair use” provision of copyright law, or intentionally try to game the system by disputing what they know is a legitimate claim in the hope that the content owner won’t respond in time (if a claimant fails to respond to a dispute within 30 days, YouTube automatically releases the claim).  So there is certainly some labor involved, which is in direct relationship to the volume of copyright claims a given content owner has (the more claims, the more time required).

What I do object to however, is the principle that a content owner should be forced to engage an intermediary company to provide this service, and therein be forced to give up an additional % of revenue (whatever that % may be), especially when YouTube is taking 45% of net earnings.  For that amount, YouTube should be assigning their own staff to monitor and resolve claim disputes, without forcing content owners to finance the process - after all, it is YouTube that created the platform in which such a process is necessary in the first place!  And if YouTube doesn’t want to deal with the headache, preferring instead to outsource the task to intermediary services, so be it - but those service commissions should come out of YouTube’s share, not the content owners.  This much should be obvious to anyone with any semblance of ethics, but to the extent corporations are people, they be bitches…

So here I was, caught between a rock and a hard place.  On the one hand, I do not want to participate in an exploitative system.  On the other, there is no alternative to stop my ongoing exploitation at the hands of 3rd parties.  In the end, I can protest YouTube’s outrageous deal terms with respect to the videos I personally upload to my own channel by boycotting monetization - YouTube gets nothing, and I get nothing - fair enough.  But boycotting Content ID affords me no benefits whatsoever - if I’m not monetizing UGC, someone else is (or will be), so I can either ensure those earnings come to me or I can let them go elsewhere (YouTube gets its cut either way).  

Some might be tempted to think that perhaps there is still a moral victory in boycotting Content ID, but I would disagree - it’s simply a choice between letting one party exploit me (YouTube), and letting multiple parties exploit me (YouTube + UGC uploaders and Content ID abusers).  Generally, I think it’s wise to minimize the number of people exploiting you to the greatest degree possible.  And so, I have now joined the trend of monetizing UGC by enlisting an intermediary service.

Onwards and upwards…

After uploading my assets, Content ID got to work scanning YouTube for matches, a process that doesn’t finish overnight.  After 4 months of searching, as of this writing Content ID has identified 191,735 videos that use my music (all without authorization).  Some of these videos have millions of views, and some have less than a hundred.  All together, the collective views during the 4 months that Content ID has been tracking them amount to 128,370,896…and accordingly, we can deduce that the total combined views since the respective upload date of each of these videos probably exceeds 1 billion.  I have no way of knowing how many of these videos were monetizing my music beforehand, nor any way of determining how much money has been illegally made from my content to date.  However, I am now making money from these videos, and no one can illegally claim and monetize my music ever again moving forward.

I can’t help but be perplexed at the fact that YouTube previously denied my Content ID application, when it turns out there are literally thousands of unauthorized uploads containing my music.  I had no way of knowing this in advance, of course, but neither did YouTube…so what exactly was their evaluation based on?  Whatever the criteria, it appears woefully insufficient, as 192 thousand copyright claims and millions of UGC views per month certainly warrants direct access to the service (access that should not be conditioned upon signing an unrelated Google Publishing Agreement6,7).  It seems to me that assessing a creator’s need for Content ID requires knowing how many of YouTube’s videos contain that creator’s content, something which can only be determined using Content ID itself, and therefore, that YouTube should not prejudicially withhold access to Content ID on account of mere guesswork and assumptions.

Importantly, it turns out that the advertising revenue being generated is significant.  There are a variety of factors that determine how much money a given video earns, making it impossible to predict with any certainty what future earnings, or the earnings of others, will amount to; but the potential as a source of sustained income is clear.  Of course, not every content owner will have 192 thousand claims - many will have much less (and some will have much more), but with a more equitable distribution of ad revenue, it could make a measurable difference in the life of a struggling artist.  This is ultimately good news for an industry that is grappling with its transition into modernity, and for independent musicians hoping to make a living off of their craft.  YouTube has created a system that has the ability to positively contribute to the music ecosystem, and this should be embraced and encouraged - at the same time, YouTube is currently exploiting content owners by taking an unfair share of the pie, and strong-arming creators into take-it-or-leave-it deals while tacitly leveraging piracy as a consequence of not conforming.  

This should be decried at every turn, but too often, we’re instead exposed to claims of this or that creator making boat loads of money from YouTube revenue.  Yes, that’s true - you can make boat loads of money.  But what are the other players making as part of the deal?  That should matter to you.  You made 6 figures from YouTube, and I can potentially do the same?  Wow, that’s fantastic.  But think about it this way: if for every $1 you made, your “partner” was making $3, would you still feel good about that?  I’d hope not, at least not when it’s your content that is the bedrock of the earnings, and not when you were bullied and essentially blackmailed into being a partner.

So the question is, can anything be done to improve this state of affairs?  The short answer is, not really (at least not without changes to current copyright law).  Even if I remove all of my personal uploads from YouTube, it won’t have any impact on the 192 thousand unauthorized uploads containing my music.  It also won’t stop any of those users - and YouTube - from illegally monetizing my music.  For clarity, let’s review:

1.  Anyone can upload anything they want - if they upload copyrighted content without consent, YouTube is protected by safe harbor (i.e. “We said they needed to possess the necessary rights - we had no way of knowing the uploader didn’t own the copyright or have permission”).

2.  If the user monetizes their unauthorized upload, YouTube is (apparently) still protected by safe harbor, despite directly participating in and sharing the profits generated (a fact that continues to baffle me).

3.  Even if you’re willing to devote all of your time to finding unauthorized videos and sending YouTube DMCA notices to have them removed, not only is there not enough time in the day to complete this task, and not only will you have to indefinitely perform this task for the duration of YouTube’s lifespan, but in the best case scenario you will have only succeeded in taking down a small fraction of unauthorized videos, because the vast majority of UGC use copyrighted content anonymously (i.e. without crediting or listing the content in the video or video description).  So the exploitation and illegal monetization will continue in the shadows.

4.  The only way to locate all (or most) unauthorized content is by utilizing Content ID, presumably created expressly to solve the above problem.  However, YouTube won’t issue you a Content ID account - they will force you to go to an intermediary company.  And that intermediary company will require that you allow them to monetize the unauthorized uploads (otherwise there is no point in them being in business).  And either way, you have absolutely no control over the deal terms of that monetization.

The genius of YouTube’s methodology is that all paths lead to monetization.  In every scenario, YouTube earns money off of your content.  I can loudly proclaim from the hilltops that I want no part in their advertising monetization system, but I am absolutely powerless to prevent YouTube (through the actions of its users) from monetizing my content - it will either happen legitimately with my consent, or illegitimately without my consent.

There is only one solution that can address this, and it requires having your own Content ID account.  Armed with direct access, you could set the policy to “track only” - this would still place copyright claims on all unauthorized videos (preventing the uploader from being able to monetize the content), but it would also mean that no ads are placed on the videos…so you as a copyright owner wouldn’t make any money, but neither would YouTube.  Consequently, if every label / publisher / intermediary service / creator that has direct access changed their settings from monetize to track, then the lost revenue to YouTube just might be enough to get them to the negotiating table.  

Then again, Google earns unfathomable amounts of money overall, and might be content to simply wait out such a protest.  In response, all said parties would have to be prepared to switch from “track” to “block” (effectively pulling the content off of YouTube).  Consider that a very large percentage of YouTube traffic is music driven (it is apparently the largest music on-demand streaming service around),8-12 and the fact that music is used within an exorbitant amount of non-music-specific YouTube videos (e.g. home videos) - if you remove the music, you remove much of the incentive to go to YouTube, which undermines the YouTube culture, which lowers the value of the service to advertisers and weakens the brand overall … at that point, you stand a pretty good chance of motivating YouTube to resolve the issue, as they are likely too invested in the platform to let it wither away.

Of course, the above strategy requires coordination between multitudes of disparate companies and persons, in order to be effectively implemented en masse, and admittedly that is not likely to occur - but it remains possible nonetheless.  If it were to happen, there is also the risk that independent artists unaffiliated with a label / publisher might get left out in the cold, with YouTube negotiating non-standard deals for major players exclusively (and for all I know, maybe this is already secretly the case).  Regardless, the larger point remains - the entire YouTube edifice is built on a foundation of copyright owners’ creations, and to that end, is forever vulnerable to being dismantled at any moment - it just takes the will of creators to effect change.  While I enjoy making money as much as the next person, I would be more than willing to leave it all on the table.  What says you?



1 "YouTube to Tv Networks: No More 'Sweetheart' Ad Deals for You!" Ad Age. October 31, 2013.
2 "YouTube Standardizes Ad-Revenue Split for All Partners, But Offers Upside". Variety. November 1, 2013.
3 "YouTube still doesn't make Google any money". Business Insider. February 25, 2015.
4 "YouTube Revenue Explainer". Music Tech Solutions. March 10, 2016.
5 "How YouTube Pays Artists by East Bay Ray". Janky Smooth. December 3, 2015.
6 "The Dark Side Of YouTube". Zack Hemsey Official Blog. January 28, 2015.
7 "What should I do about YouTube?" Official Zoe Keating Blog. January 22, 2015.
8 "Forget CDS. Teens Are Tuning Into YouTube". The Wall Street Journal. August 14, 2012.
9 "YouTube as you know it is about to change dramatically". The Verge. August 28, 2015.
10 "YouTube boosted by music videos to pull behind Facebook". BBC. October 26, 2011.
11 "YOUTUBE IS THE NO.1 MUSIC STREAMING PLATFORM - AND GETTING BIGGER". Music Business Worldwide. July 6, 2015.
12 "YouTube Music Is Growing 60% Faster Than All Other Streaming Music Services Combined". Digital Music News. September 14, 2015.