Video Makes a Radio Star: Elliot Walker on YouTube's Music Partnerships and Monetization

How to create a following and make money on YouTube. There is no get-rich-quick secret.

Credit: Debby Wong / ShutterstockCredit: Debby Wong / ShutterstockYouTube is responsible for plucking Justin Bieber out of Canadian obscurity, getting Rebecca Black’s “Friday” stuck in your head, and teaching the world Psy’s Gangnam Style dance moves, but don’t hold that against them. With more than 6 billion hours of video watched each month—more than 100 hours are uploaded every minute—the video mega-platform can be a fast ticket to getting your work viewed across the globe. The huge audience brings in equally huge advertisers, currently more than one million and counting, which means even greater opportunities for undiscovered artists to carve out an audience base, monetize the hell out of their work, and hopefully get a sizable slice of the estimated $5 billion ad revenue pie without the backing of a major studio or record label.

Since the site revamped its ad revenue sharing process last year, millions have signed on to monetize their content and heated criticism has sprung up regarding the site’s semi-mysterious earnings algorithm and whether it’s truly fair to content creators. For those who sit at YouTube’s most popular lunch table, it’s undoubtedly a game changer. Even after the site’s 45 percent cut, users like Benny and Rafi Fine, a sibling team best known for their React video series, rake in anywhere from $71,900 to $575,500 per month, according to the YouTube analytics site SocialBlade. With more than 28 million subscribers, YouTube’s top creator, video game commentator Felix Arvid Ulf Kjelberg who posts under the name PewDiePie, brings home a cool $4 million annually thanks to an extremely devoted viewing audience, reports The Wall Street Journal.

It takes work. A lot of work, regardless of whether you’re trying to break out as a performer or an online personality, says Elliott Walker, YouTube’s Music Partnerships Manager. Moving over to YouTube after spending years at record labels, Walker works on the site’s business development side and helps both current and new large music partners—those that are pulling in millions, sometimes billions, of views—maintain an effective presence on the platform. That means sometimes walking a fine line between the business interests of the site and the artistic interests of the creators who supply the content.

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Get In Media: YouTube has gone through some pretty major changes in terms of monetization in the past couple of years. How is that landscape changing?

Elliott Walker: I think we’ve really democratized monetization on the platform. For a long time, not just anybody could monetize a video. There were definitely some hoops to jump through. We didn’t have nearly the number of partners that we do today. In the last few years, we’ve really lowered the barrier to entry. It’s as simple now as uploading a video and clicking “monetize” in your video manager. I think that’s pretty awesome. It gives anybody, no matter their size, the ability to monetize their works on YouTube.

GIM: For young artists who are looking to monetize their video content, particularly in light of record sales being so down, what do they need to know before they put up their materials?

EW: The more people that are viewing your video, and the longer they’re watching it, the more money you can potentially generate. That means you want to make sure that you’re monetizing for the platform. We have all sorts of resources available. There’s something called the Creator Hub. We’ve got a bunch of awesome resources there, one of which is the YouTube [Creator] Playbook. That is kind of a best practices guide for our creators.

YouTube is different. It’s not like an iTunes where you get the song on iTunes and you kind of forget about it. You may do promotion around it, but as far as the platform goes, once the content is there you’re kind of done with it. YouTube is nothing like that. YouTube is not only an option for revenue generation, but it’s also a huge promotional platform. The biggest promotional platform in the world. It’s making sure that you’re maximizing those opportunities, you’re reaching fans, you’re engaging them, and that you’re using YouTube not only to generate money directly from the platform, but to drive whatever other goals you might have. We have really deep analytics available, which I found when I was at a label was super useful for touring. You could really understand who your fans were, which is not something that was really possible before YouTube and before all this data that is now being made available to artists. You can understand who your fan is and that helps you connect with them even more. 

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GIM: For new video creators, whether those are musicians or personalities who are launching their own YouTube channels, what do you recommend they do to really build their audience?

EW: You want to have a regular programming schedule. You want to make sure that your viewers, hopefully your subscribers, they know when to expect new content from you and that they’re going to get it regularly. Have a published schedule of when new content is coming up. Make sure that schedule is regular. You want to be uploading something once a week if not several times a week, so make sure there’s regular fresh content. You want to speak to your audience. You want to be able to talk directly to your fans with an authentic voice. That’s really important. I think also [have] a clear value proposition. You want them to understand what they’re getting every time, so not only is that schedule regular, but they understand what kind of content they’re getting on a Monday versus a Friday versus a Sunday. Making sure that it’s very focused and that it speaks to who you are.

GIM: What do artists need to know in terms of music licensing? If someone makes a video and then uses music to back it up, what do they need to know about making sure that music is clear?

EW: Copyright can be pretty complicated. You want to make sure that you’re being really diligent about clearing any music content that’s in your video. That may mean that you can’t use that Lady Gaga song in your video if you want to monetize. Instead, you need to create music; you need to find some sort of source where you can license music. There are lots of different sources, whether it’s from royalty-free music libraries or paid-for music libraries or the YouTube Audio Library. There’s no license required there. We’ve already cleared it for your use. It’s not just music, it’s any kind of third party content in your video, you want to make sure is properly licensed.

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GIM: What’s your biggest challenge in your current job?

EW: One of my biggest challenges is the change of pace here. Things change so quickly on the platform that you really have to adapt quickly. It can be tough to keep up with all the changes happening and parse out what’s important. Not only do I have to make sure I’m aware of everything that’s going on, but I’ve got to make sure I can distill that into something my partners can understand and they can act on quickly.

GIM: What goes into developing a strategic partnership on the music side of YouTube?

EW: First is identifying potential partners. That’s kind of the first step. We have to use our industry knowledge and some research to assess the potential for a partner. We’re a very limited group of us [who] manage a lot of partners. We have to pick and choose carefully. We have to make sure they’re big enough to justify our individual time spent. We want to support all our partners, but we have to do so in a scalable fashion and there’s only a handful of us that have that direct contact, so we’ve got to kind of ration ourselves appropriately. First is identifying potential for a partner. From there it’s making sure that they can quickly get up to speed, they’re giving us all their content, and they’re doing that correctly. Things like metadata. Boring things like that are super important to be able to monetize and do so efficiently. Making sure we’ve got all the details down and then once we have the content and they’re using the platform appropriately to grow their audience and grow that revenue for their business.

GIM: What’s coming up next for YouTube?

EW: We’re continuing to launch in more and more countries. Although YouTube is viewable almost everywhere, we haven’t launched localized sites everywhere. Continuing to roll out localized versions of YouTube is a huge priority and continuing to roll out more music monetization. We monetize music in a select number of markets depending on our licenses with the rights holders. We’re continuously looking to expand that territory so that we’re monetizing music. Those are kind of continuous big goals for us: Launch YouTube in more territories and monetize music in more territories because that gives all of our partners more opportunity to generate revenue.

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