24 / 7 YouTube Channels Are Music's Future...Well Sort Of
Hello, I hope y’all are doing well in a post-Spotify going public world. My thoughts still go out to everyone at YouTube after last week’s shooting, as I write about a YouTube music trend that’s actually fairly exciting and interesting to me. If you have any concerns, questions, or thoughts always send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
The post-public story of Spotify isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so while that continues to play out I wanted to return back to YouTube. Last year the Google owned company introduced the ability for channels first with over 10000 subscribers then only 1000 to livestream, after initially making this a feature in their gaming push. The initial assumption was that this would be to compete with Amazon’s own live streaming platform Twitch. While YouTube might be the king of short-sized video content, Twitch’s hours long streams can keep people on the platform for far long and could represent a potential threat to their video dominance.
Twitch was created for video game live streaming, but as the format matured streamers sought out music to play in the background of their hours long gaming sessions, which is where labels like Monstercat, Dim Mak, OWSLA, and others stepped up to provide music for these gamers that wouldn’t get their videos in copyright issues. Once they were engrained within Twitch, a number of these labels started to created their own Twitch channels that would just play music from their catalogs on 24 hour loops—another term might be radio. Even though these labels curated playlists, podcasts, and often their own YouTube channels; Twitch offered a way for one to check out this music with no friction of choice. There was no need to find the right playlist or even son, a fan could just jump into an endless stream of agreeable music until they grew tired of it.
Monstercat, an originator in this video game music space, on Twitch averaged a few hundred concurrent listeners throughout the day. When YouTube introduced live streaming a precedent already was established for their to be an audience for this musical format, but not quite at the same scale. YouTube, no matter how reluctantly they might act sometimes, is still the world’s largest music portal and introducing the ability to create endless music streams of course opened up a space for new genres and styles to emerge.
Last year For Vice’s now defunct electronic music site Thump, I interviewed a number of YouTube EDM channels (Proximity, MrSuicideSheep, UKF) about how they created their channels of millions of followers. These curators might lack the profile of Spotify’s Austin Kramer, who heads their electronic music curation, these YouTube channels are the unofficial gatekeepers of this genre on YouTube. It was through their channels I first saw live stream videos that were getting around 500-600 concurrent viewers. I even noticed that one of the channels MrSuicideSheep would offer prizes and gifts for those who were in this chat. My mind started racing about questions over monetization, are these plays being counted in Billboard, etc. I was told that the format was still really new and that it was mostly used by these channels as a form of promotion. Then that started to shift.
The channel that stood out among the rest last year was titled “lofi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to” by the creator Chilled Cow. Except it wasn’t online that the channel really grabbed me. Nope, I was at bakery back in North Carolina for a friend’s wedding and I noticed the music playing in the shop was this YouTube channel running off a phone. I didn’t even really take in the music, but instead was fixated that this bakery wasn’t playing radio, Spotify, or even Pandora, but simply a YouTube channel. An online niche was now offline.
(Music nerd aside: “Lofi Hip-Hop” as a style is by no means new. It’s effectively just an update on the golden era rap production (RZA, DJ Premier, etc.) and of the 2000s instrumental hip-hop from the likes of Madlib, J Dilla, Nujabes, and whatever used to play on Cartoon Network’s Toonami breaks. If you wanna deeper read check out Clint Choi’s Medium blog about the genre and how it’s found success beyond YouTube.)
This isn’t an MTV-like channel with original programming, music videos, and fun personalities; it’s an animated anime loop with chill songs playing in the background. Yet it’s finding a real audience. Often the channel peaks at around 9000-11000 concurrent viewers and that along with an 400,000 follower Spotify playlist shows there is a real appetite for this music and format. A few other ones that can hit between 1,000-5,000 concurrent viewers are: ChillYourMindRadio, Relaxing Jazz & Bossa Nova Music Radio - 24/7 Chill Out Piano & Guitar Music Live Stream, and numerous lo-fi hip hop knock off channels.
The major theme across the most popular channels is “chill” an that these channels can provide excellent background listening. A trend that was seen a few years ago with tropical house and and the rise of Spotify’s chill playlist, which Choi observed in the piece I mentioned earlier. If playlist encourage passive listening then an endless livestream push an extreme passivity, where music simply is an endless audio wallpaper.
What also strikes me about many of these channels is that because there don’t seem to be really great easily monetizable options for these kinds of videos creators are getting crafty. A number of these channels are connected through YouTube’s gaming service so they’re using services like Streamlabs to set-up additional payment options. Others added paypal links, there are YouTube’s own Superchats that people give money to creators through, and every channels even the ones that don’t seek out money include flood of SoundCloud and Spotify links. These creators are attempting to find any way to increase engagement with their fan base even if it means pushing them away from YouTube the original platform.
A topic that the reporter Julia Alexander at Polygon over the last couple months keeps discussing is how YouTubers are looking at Twitch and other spaces for them to make a living not off YouTube. The audience that YouTubers can reach might be large, but ultimately for many it isn’t providing them with enough income to maintain their channel outside of the upper 1%. This sentiment is one that’s increasingly being seen with Spotify as it’s gone public. The system is working for the major labels and those who sit in New York and Los Angeles record label offices, but it’s one that doesn’t serve artists who can’t reach a massive scale. Instead the rest are now more reliant on finding new paths towards success.
I’ll get into it next week more deeply, but this is what I meant by “Post-Playlist” not that playlists cease to be a format of music consumption. No, but that modes of music consumption will continue shift and take turns that are unexpected. That coffee shop that was playing the “lofi hip hop” channel could’ve been playing a Spotify playlist, but if a YouTube channel can provide the same experience for free with ads, then why not just do that. Music is too ephemeral and hops trends too much for there always not be something new to arrive just when the industry gets too comfortable with its current mode.
6 Links 2 Read
Spotify’s First Hardware Device Might be This Music Player for Your Car - The Verge
Here is a list of things my phone can do: Send texts, take photos, digitally send my friends money, offer a full catalog of digitized books, hold days worth of music, any number of video games from 80s arcade games to new hits like Fortnite, tell time, play the radio, access my bank account. I’ll stop right here. This isn’t to say that Spotify creating an in car device for music playlisting could be interesting, but also I think I’d rather just use my phone.
Here’s What Major Labels Are Paying Women Compared to Men in the UK - Music Business Worldwide
Last week Music Business Worldwide wrote a number of pieces about the gender pay gap within the British music industry. Certainly good this information is out in the public and hopefully change and efforts can take place, but still goddamn goddamn.
Amazon Music Says Number of Subscriptions Doubled In the Past Six Months - Billboard
I honestly should just wait for the official “Amazon Music Scores TK Millions Subscribers,” but I enjoy the vagueness of this headline to pass this up. Even though Amazon is behind it’s peers don’t forget about em.
Ad Buyers Expect Spotify to Focus More on Ad Business Post-IPO - Digiday
I found this article fairly interesting as it attempts to look at Spotify’s ad business and the potential and challenges it’ll face. Honestly this piece reminded of a previous Digiday store on Spotify’s video effects where it appears to be a company that knows it must do certain things to appeal to advertisers, but advertising, like video, doesn’t appear baked quite into their DNA. Maybe that’ll change, certainly their investors hope so.
Why Have We Soured on the ‘Devil’s Advocate’? - The New York Times
I know this has nothing to do with music streaming, but Nitsuh Abebe is one of my favorite writers and is one of the reasons I got into writing about music, so like I can’t help but include him here.
The Interface - Casey Newton
This isn’t a specific piece to recommend, but rather another newsletter. Casey Newton an editor at the Verge does an amazing daily newsletter about Facebook and the other social media giants that’s become essential reading as the world increasingly grapples with the effects of these platforms.
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