YouTube Partner Program Updates: Is It Time To Panic?
NEWS | By Alandra Peabody
On January 16th, YouTube announced changes to its Partner Program, raising the requirements for monetizing videos in what many are heralding as another blow to already-struggling indie artists searching for solid footing and secure revenue. While the previous requirement was to have a total of 10,000 views on your channel, creators must now rack up 4,000 hours of watchtime within the past 12 months and 1,000 subscribers. Adding to that the fact that many small creators who were previously able to monetize their content will be removed from the program, it paints a seemingly grim picture of YouTube’s resistance to up-and-coming creators using their platform to earn revenue.
YouTube isn’t doing much to help the indie artist, but let’s not hit the panic button and grab our pitchforks just yet. Instead, we should be mindful of the incredibly rapid pace at which the industry is reshaping and stop trying to use old frameworks to solve new problems. New artists should see this shuttering of opportunities less as a great job site closing down, and more like what it is - windows being boarded up in an already condemned building.
There was a time when the game was about demo tapes and getting your song on the radio, hoping to get signed by a major label and earning a sizable chunk of your money from selling the music itself. This method has fallen by the wayside as piracy skyrockets and streaming platforms and promotion via various social media platforms become the norm. It’s become crystal clear that whether or not you sell your music, it can be found online for free with ease.
Just as this outdated model would no longer be recommended to an artist just starting out today, it is a lofty goal to seek fame and riches on YouTube in this current technological climate. Are people still making money on YouTube? Absolutely. But the top earners aren’t musicians. Is it distantly possible to get “discovered” there? Sure. But don’t upload to YouTube expecting to reap in the benefits of a bountiful ad revenue stream. As a platform to gain visibility and get yourself out there, YouTube is still one of the best places to start. The issue at hand arose from a mistaken idea that YouTube was still viable as a sole source of income to up-and-coming artists before this change.
To get an idea of where artists do make money, let’s look at some of the top earners for last year: Topping the list is Diddy, who made the bulk of his $130 million in 2017 off of three things: touring, his deal with Ciroc Vodka, and selling off part of his clothing line for an estimated $70 million - over half of his total earnings for the year. Beyonce is the second highest earner with $105 million, largely from her Formation World Tour that grossed a quarter of a billion dollars over 2016 and fell partly within Forbes’ scoring period. Drake is the world’s most-streamed artist in recent years, but still earned over half of his $94 million for 2017 off of his Boy Meets World Tour. For mainstream artists the money is clearly in touring first and foremost, with many artists also opting to dabble in unrelated business ventures for additional revenue streams.
For independent artists the money is in merchandising, touring, and licensing - in other words, diversifying income streams beyond simply digital album sales and ad revenue from hosting sites.
While the knee-jerk reaction is to be angry at YouTube for these changes, indie artists just starting out probably shouldn’t be attempting to immediately monetize their videos anyway. Most new creators don’t put ads on their videos until they’ve built up a solid subscriber base - and even then, many still choose to use Patreon and Twitch Streaming (a more gaming-focused platform) as their “money-makers”, leaving YouTube as a free pathway to get consumers paying for their art. You still need to have a solid presence on YouTube these days in order to promote successfully, just don’t count any chickens from that particular egg basket when it comes to revenue.