YouTube marketing strategy

Developing your YouTube marketing strategy

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I want to get into the most common conceptual mistake that just about all indie music artists make when thinking about a YouTube marketing strategy.

YouTube is one of the most valuable assets you have as an independent music artist. It’s your gateway to one billion people, a majority of whom use it to search for and enjoy music. Plus. it’s free. But most of you are completely ignoring it.

Why? Because it’s foreign and you’re lazy.

It doesn’t seem foreign – you experience it just about every day – but that doesn’t mean you know anything about harnessing the real power of YouTube.

Remove your artist hat and put on a marketing hat

There is artistic satisfaction in a solid YouTube marketing strategy, but it isn’t where you think it is.

If you’re like most artists, you want to put up videos of your original material or cover songs that mean something to you. This is where you think artistic satisfaction comes from.

Both of these approaches are flawed (not to mention self-indulgent.)

You put up videos of your original material, but no one in the marketplace is aware of you, so you get zero views from new possible fans; just views from friends and family.

You make videos of you covering your favorite obscure songs, but again, the only views you get are from people who already know you because nobody is searching for the original version of the curiosity you decided to cover in the quest to satisfy your artist soul.

Neither of these tactics work because they don’t create traffic in any real way. There is no new business happening.

When approaching YouTube, think like a marketer who wants to expose your talents to as many new people as possible and expand your audience.

Where can you find new people? How can you drive traffic to your video?

Cover current releases

Sometimes these newly-released songs are beneficial to you because they drive traffic from well-known artist videos, and sometimes they’re beneficial because the original artists aren’t so well-known, so there is less competition.

As long as the original video gets a ton of views, you’re going to get some too, unless your video is terrible… but I digress.

Every Friday check for the songs that have just dropped, and pick two to four songs. This is where the cathartic artistic satisfaction comes from, putting your stamp on another artist’s original song. The more distant the original artist’s style is from yours, the more compelling your version can be. Take artistic license and go as crazy as you want to.

Traffic will be generated to your version of that song because people will be searching for the original artist’s brand-new video and stumble across yours. If your version is compelling in the first 10-15 seconds, you’re going to start racking up completely organic views – and lots of them.

Don’t worry about how many, just worry about being consistent. Some will do OK, some will do amazing.

Know that it’s not about the quality of the video, it’s about a compelling performance. Some of your covers will fare better than others because of competition and when they were posted in relation to the drop date.

The key is to be as early as possible in the life cycle of the new single because there is less traffic at the beginning. And sometimes, the lesser-known artists have fewer people trying to cover the song, so again: less competition means more potential traffic to your video.

For example, check out Bailey James’ video channel. Her Taylor Swift covers are brilliant; she slays the vocals on these.

Most of Taylor’s original videos rack up a mind-boggling 600 million to over one billion views, so there is no doubt about the traffic. The trouble is, every girl and her mother are posting their version of the latest Taylor Swift single.

Consequently, the three Taylor Swift covers on Bailey’s channel only garnered between 4-5,000 views each (which is probably more views than most of you have ever received, but again, I digress).

On the other hand, she a did a cover of Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” that has over 120,000 views, largely because of low competition related to the controversy surrounding the song before it was released. Little Big Town’s original version has over 62 million views, which is astounding, but is a paltry 10 percent of anything from Swift.

So what is the goal here? The goal is get you, the compelling artist, in front of new people every day. Every day, people are searching for their favorite artists’ NEW videos. This is real, legitimate, digital foot traffic that spills over into your channel.

As you build an audience, you can add an original video or two, but if you’re annotating your cover videos, the viewers will be able to download a full, kick-ass recording of one of your originals for free in exchange for their email address. Over time you’ll have a channel filled with covers, other content that your community finds relevant and personal to them, and a couple of videos of your original music, which will stick out and call plenty of attention to themselves.

The packaging makes sense aesthetically, and the traffic is real. To date, while we have paid YouTube to promote Bailey’s original music videos, we have well over 350,000 views that are completely organic.

YouTube makes money via advertising

Since YouTube makes money through advertising, they are constantly (algorithmically) scrubbing every video to search for the early-stage popular videos. Once your video hits a certain number of views within a certain time of posting, you ring that first bell, and they press a multiplier button that exposes your video to more people.

If the trend continues, another multiplier button is hit, and then another, and so on. They want you to go viral because it’s better for business. Make sense?

A properly annotated cover video that offers a free download and requests the viewer to subscribe at the end is money. As you build your subscribers, more and more people are exposed to your new cover videos on the day you post, thus, increasing your chances of ringing that first bell.

Artists like Noah Guthrie, Karmin, and Justin Bieber broke on YouTube. Not all of them are huge stars, but all of them make their living creating and performing music.

You just have to understand the method behind the madness and put the work in. The rest will happen organically if you’re compelling. It takes time. Do you have the patience to play the long game?

I have a blog article and a 2-part episode on my podcast (episodes 14 and 16) about the steps you need to take to build a potentially viral YouTube channel.

[Editor’s note: The Disc Makers Blog also has numerous posts about YouTube and optimizing your use of it.]

Johnny Dwinell is a veteran Los Angeles artist/producer/businessman who created Daredevil Production in 2011 to provide innovative artist development in the new music business. In mid 2013 Daredevil Production started a weekly blog as a free resource for artists and songwriters to use for inspiration, advice, support, and knowledge. In late 2013 Johnny Dwinell wrote the bestselling Music Marketing On Twitter book. Thousands of artists and songwriters have improved their understanding and execution of social media with the help of this free book!

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About Johnny Dwinell

Johnny Dwinell (Daredevil Production) helps artists increase their streams, blow up their video views, sell more live show tickets, and get discovered by fans and industry pros.

5 thoughts on “Developing your YouTube marketing strategy

  1. Pingback: Marketing Music? Where is the Traffic Coming From? Disc Makers Blog
    1. Kerry, cover songs have always been an incredibly effective marketing and creative tool for artists.

      Don’t forget the first Beatles record was all covers. The first TWO Rolling Stones records were all covers.

      From a marketing standpoint, it’s a supreme way to showcase talent because consumers focus on the interpretation of a piece of work they are already familiar with. If you’re an amazing vocalist or arranger, the consumer will hone in on your talents by comparing the differences from the previous work.

      From a creative standpoint, we ALL begin emulating our artistic heroes until a mental synthesis happens where we organically begin infusing our own perspective into the same patterns.

      So I respectfully disagree. I believe the world is a better place artistically speaking BECAUSE of covers.


  2. Can’t argue that this would be an effective strategy – but what about the copyright issues? In order to legally create a video cover of another writer/artist’s song, one has to first obtain a synch license from the copyright holder. Failure to do so can be a copyright violation. And YouTube uses the same algorithms you mention for advertising, to locate copyright-infringing videos – particularly songs – and (a) notify the copyright owner, who can monetize your video; and/or (b) cite you for copyright infringement (or get you to agree to allow YT to monetize the video). Multiple copyright notices from YT can result in your suspension or termination from the service. And more to the point – as musicians, do we want to deny fellow musicians the benefits of their intellectual creativity by using their songs without their permission?

    1. Hi Mike,

      All valid and important concerns.

      1. You don’t need an artist’s permission to cover their song. Even if you’re big-time and you choose to put it on a record. As long as the publishing is administered and the writers get paid you’re fine. An artist doesn’t have to like your interpretation of their song but there has never been a law against anyone covering a song after it has been released. Nor has there ever been any legal requirement to get advance permission (other than to ensure the copyright holder gets paid).

      2. YouTube does monitor that closely. By clicking the box that says it’s cover material YouTube finds the copyright holders and ensures that IF the video generates revenue, they will be paid for the writing and YOU, the new artist get paid as well for the performance. YouTube has paid out over $1 Billion last year alone. They are quite adept at this.

      3. Proof is in the pudding. Search for any random Taylor Swift song and you’ll find there are THOUSANDS of little girls who put their versions up on YouTube. They are not getting sued, they are not getting reprimanded, they are not getting terminated.

      So, you won’t be infringing on any copyright holders, Mike. There are TONS of artists we call “YouTubers” who make very comfortable livings by covering songs and creating videos that go up on YouTube. These YouTubers have massive followings and therefore create TRAFFIC to their cover videos which, in turn, creates revenue for YouTube and the copyright holder.

      Not only is this practice legal and ethical, it’s also ENCOURAGED. Artists like Noah Guthrie and Karmin have broken on YouTube and I assure you they didn’t go through any publishing companies to obtain synch licenses or permission because YouTube has that all taken care of.

      Karmin’s biggie (Look at Me Now) has over 105 million views. Noah’s biggie (Sexy And I Know It) has over 24 million views. None of these videos would have achieved the astounding numbers they did without YouTube playing a huge role of hitting the “multiplier” buttons on content that shows promise or “possible virality”. The multiplier buttons expose the “hot” video to other users who might like that kind of music. This is in fact how YouTube generates revenue. They are constantly scrubbing all new posts for potential. When your video gets a certain amount of views within a certain amount of time after being posted, YouTube amplifies the reach and continues to do so based on algorithmic thresholds until the video “runs out of gas”. This is to optimize potential revenue for YouTube first (I promise, LOL) and of course, the copyright holder(s)

      When you account for the fact that a light or somewhat naively monetized video can generate $1,400-$3,000 of revenue per million views (just for the performance) from YouTube, that means the copyright holder participated in revenue and YT did as well. THEN you account for the fact that once you create regular, consistent demand, you can up the stakes with specific sponsors (because they know you’ll create massive traffic) and the revenue can shoot up to $30,000-$50,000 per million views on the video. There is a lot money to be made when traffic is really created. Think about how much money those 2 biggies generated for all involved!

      Everyone wins and everyone is happy.

      The only thing a fellow artist may not be happy about is another artist’s interpretation but there is nothing they can ever do about that. Annie Lennox was not contacted by Marilyn Manson for permission to cut “Sweet Dreams”. They secured the publishing license on a major label release and put it out.

      Hey Mike, I really appreciate your questions AND your honor towards copyright holders revenue.

      I hope this explanation helps.

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