Music Blogger Banters is a new team-up between Pop of Colour Music and Unknown Whisper. Today, the two of them are discussing YouTube as a tool for independent artists. Before launching into the full play-by-play, here is a little bit about them.
Clara Charron is a music industry writer from Ottawa, ON, Canada. Her thought pieces and artist interviews have been featured in various blogs, including ones in Canada, the UK, Italy, and Australia. You can read her work here: www.popofcolourmusic.com
Unknown Whisper is a writer, music reviewer and filmmaker from Philadelphia, PA, USA. He has written articles that have appeared on the front page of newspapers in his local area and has had a film recently featured in The Women’s Film Festival. You can watch and read his work here: https://unknownwhisper.myportfolio.com
Clara: What’s your definition of a YouTube Musician?
Unknown Whisper: I would say that YouTube musicians are ones who start out making music by posting on [the platform], or young up-and-comers who are looking to hit mainstream.
Unknown Whisper: What opportunity do you think YouTube presents musicians? Like, business-wise.
Clara: It’s a free way to get your music out there. You don’t need a record deal to shoot a webcam cover in your bedroom and rake up a million views. That poses a problem when it comes to standing out in 2017 on YouTube, though.
Unknown Whisper: I agree with you. Just to go off of what you are saying, it makes it harder for an artist to truly stand out with so many people doing the same thing. Like, it pushes artists to think more creatively.
Clara: What helps someone stand out, especially when singing cover songs? Is there a secret formula to getting views?
Unknown Whisper: I would say either the artist’s voice or performance of the cover helps them stand out. You look at Maggie Baugh for example. She did a cover of “Million Reasons” [by Lady Gaga]. So many artists have covered that song but what makes her version stands out is the way that she gets so invested in the performance of it. Or look at Kelsey Shaw. The videos that she does aren’t different from anyone else. But her voice stands out from everyone and is so unique. I think that people these days want something that feels genuine. You look at the mainstream, and while they are making money, they aren’t captivating new audiences.
Clara: I’ve noticed a pattern of how to get loads of views off cover songs: either you cover the song before anyone else does, you have the best production, or you do something completely new (and good) with it.
Unknown Whisper: I’ve have noticed the same pattern too. I feel like this both helps and [hinders] the process for musicians. It creates [a lot] more pressure for them.
Clara: do you think YouTube is a good place to post original songs? What do you think it takes to make an original songs almost as popular as an artist’s cover tunes?
Unknown Whisper: I think that posting original songs on YouTube is great for an artist. There are so many covers that are on YouTube. I know that I have reviewed a ton of them myself. It’s refreshing to see artists post original songs because it’s different then what you see on YouTube. Posting original songs on there also helps because it allows for an artist to be completely themselves and allows them to hear what listeners think of their work.
I think for original songs to be more popular than an artist’s cover tune, you have to be original and give people something different to listen to. You look at the mainstream, and while some music is good, most is repetitive. You look around and see most people wearing artists from 20 years ago like Nirvana or Tupac. If an artist take a risk on a song then that makes things interesting and could make them popular.
Unknown Whisper: You look at the YouTube comments, and female artists wrongly face stronger and more sexist comments compare to men do. What role do you think that looks and a person’s gender plays in an artist’s success?
Clara: If there’s no VEVO in the name of the channel, the thumbnail of a youtube video is everything. Every YouTuber, musician or not, will tell you how a good quality, honest thumbnail draws more viewers, who stay for longer (i.e. don’t just click away, feeling deceived).
So, looks play a big part of it. If a teenaged girl does her makeup and shoots the acoustic guitar + webcam video in natural lighting, she’s going to get more views than the scruffy guy in a grainy, dark-lit room.
It’s the talent after that makes people stay. In other words, no matter how much skin anyone is showing, if they can’t sing, the vast majority of viewers won’t subscribe. We all need to look past the superficial – but I’ll admit if I see a grainy thumbnail, I’ll assume the sound quality won’t be very good, and just scroll past.
Unknown Whisper: Ok, so me, personally I don’t think that looks should matter at least. If that was the case in music then it would open the door for other talented voices to shine. But, if you look at the music industry, no one can’t deny that looks help to give artists an opportunity and become a star. You look at Madonna, for example. She is a talented singer and is one of the most influential musicians in history. She used her looks and sex appeal successfully to gain a wider audience around the world. While she is a talented musician in her own right, looks helped to push her to greater heights musically.
It’s like, Susan Boyle is an amazing singer. You could argue that she has better vocals than Lady Gaga; but because of looks and appearances, Lady Gaga is on a different level than her.
Clara: When you watch a couple videos from an artist you think is really talented, do you go and look up their channel bio/description? Is there anything in there that would make you like them more or less?
Unknown Whisper: I usually do. I like knowing about an artist. I would say that knowing an artist is passionate about other things than music: is an activist or helps out their communities makes me like them more. What would make me not like an artist is seeing them promoting hate or not being inclusive with everyone who likes their music.
Clara: A lot of them will write their mini bios in the first person (I’m, My), even if they’re relatively established and have a professional website bio. I like that. Being relatable is a big factor on Youtube. You WANT to be a cute, quirky, best-friend-next-door type. Being aloof and cold doesn’t go over well if you aren’t a superstar.
Unknown Whisper: I agree with being relatable on YouTube but I don’t think that you need to be like the girl-next-door. You look at society and many artists are trying to be the best-friend-next-door. When you look at the music industry and their are many people with the same look and style. But I believe that a person with a different look and style can succeed even more than the girl who is the best-friend-next-door. A girl who has blue hair and a rebellious style can also have success in the industry. This is because she is different than the normal right now and can speak to an big audience who could find her more reliable and real.
Unknown Whisper: So what role do you think that YouTube plays in how a record company goes after talent today?
Clara: They say that Justin Bieber was the first and likely the last big star to be “discovered” via YouTube. No one should sign up for an account with the sole goal of obtaining a record deal.
These days, hiding in your bedroom and recording videos that reach 30 views isn’t going to earn you an honest offer from a reputable record label. It doesn’t matter if you have talent, it doesn’t matter if you’re cute.
The YouTube musicians who make it to, say, radio with a record deal are ones who have worked for years to cultivate a loyal fanbase. Labels see those subscribers and views of their original content and think “hey, look at all these people who will buy his first professional single we record with him. Look at all these people around the world who will go see him tour.”
YouTube cover musicians, especially those who have very few original songs, are really in their own ecosystem. You can be famous on YouTube, and it never translates to fame on the Billboard charts. I’ve never heard Madilyn Bailey on pop radio, for example.
On the other hand, if you’re an honest artist who writes your own material and uses YouTube as a social media platform to display your work and connect with fans, you’re going to be a lot happier overall with that viewpoint.
Unknown Whisper: I believe that record companies are looking for the future and for artists that they can help record and have success under their label. Record companies may be willing to ignore a person’s following and take a chance on them if they have potential and are talented. In the right environment, a thirteen year old artist could develop under their brand and become the next Taylor Swift and have major success.
Clara: But then they’ll probably put you in a “development deal” or not give you as much creative freedom, or give you as big of an advance. Also, if a performer is a minor, the parents need to sign the record deal for them.
Unknown Whisper: Fair point, and from what I have heard in the past that is the case which isn’t fair. But look at Iggy Azalea. She made a conversational video that blew up on YouTube which got her a record deal and into the mainstream scene.
Clara: …And where is she now? A label’s best bet is “evergreen talent” – so they’re beautiful (charting) now, and will gather up a loyal fanbase who will follow them until they retire from music. Controversy won’t sell tickets to a tour when an artist is seventy, the way years of quality music and relationships with fans will.
Unknown Whisper: Fair point and I agree with most. But look at David Bowie: the music that he was making at the time was controversial but he kept changing his style and music overtime and became a legend.
Clara: Okay, Madonna too; and I don’t hate Iggy Azalea, by the way.
Unknown Whisper: Prince and Michael Jackson too.
Clara: What does a musician on YouTube need to have/do to convert viewers into subscribers, then into fans, then into customers who buy merchandise, CDs, concert tickets?
Unknown Whisper: If I had to answer, then I would say time and also for an artist to be able to adapt and change as their audiences mature and grows and as time goes.
Clara: Not be dependent on Youtube. Like, cover videos get struck by the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) every day, fairly and unfairly. Putting ads on your YouTube videos doesn’t seem like a steady source of income unless you’re a Pewdiepie or Jenna Marbles. So use YouTube to have those potential fans discover you, and then convert them into super fans who will come to your shows on tour. The one thing with YouTube, is that you can have fans from all over the world. Is your song exploding in Germany? Get your butt over to Germany and play there!
Clara: Who are your favourite YouTube musicians?
Unknown Whisper: I would say, from what I have reviewed, Molly Rae because she is only twelve years old yet has the best voice that I have heard here. As long as her original [songs are] good, then she will have a long career. Kelsey Shaw. She is a great writer, her voice is so unique and her originals are better than her covers
Unknown Whisper: I would say my final thoughts are that: YouTube opens the doors for musicians to push themselves and allows them to gain audiences. When used right, it can create stars and push musicians to greater highs.
Clara: YouTube, for all its many downsides, is a valuable way to put oneself out there and develop a demographically trackable fanbase. I firmly believe that the key to having a successful music career is to use YouTube as a platform to demonstrate a musician’s work, but never be dependent on it. YouTube webcam covers usually stay in their ecosystem (if they don’t get struck down by copyright laws). Build your fanbase, and then convert them into actual buying customers by guiding them towards your website, mailing list, crowdfunding, shows. Most of all, have fun on YouTube!