YouTube is still one of the biggest sources of music discovery in the known universe and the biggest streamer anywhere. If your music isn’t on YouTube, you don’t exist. Bottom line is that you need a presence on the platform. But how much can you expect to earn from exposing your music this way?
Not much, really. Unless you reach “Despacito”/”Gangnam Style” heights, you’ll be lucky to earn $1,000 for every million streams. And the news gets even bleaker. From Complex.com:
This being the music business, that’s not the end of the story. If you’re signed, your record label gets a cut. Got a manager and a lawyer? Them too. Is there a featured artist? An additional songwriter? A producer who made the beat? Did you hire a company to help you get all the money YouTube owes you in the first place? All of them get a fraction of your fraction of a cent. So of the $1-2K, an artist will likely have a few hundred bucks left over at the end of it all.
If you’re lucky enough to get signed to a major label, hold onto your hats. Majors will insist that their acts post videos to Vevo—which means higher ad rates and thus a little bit more money. But Vevo is owned by the labels, which means if you leave, they’ll still control your Vevo channel.
Discouraging? Maybe. But it’s important to keep things in perspective. Streams should never, ever be part of an apples-to-apples comparison with sales. Streaming has much more in common with radio play.
When a song gets played once on a radio station, it may be heard by tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people at once. That’s mass listening. With each bit of airplay, the composer (and in some countries like Canada, the artist and the other musicians associated with the song), gets a tiny payout as a result of the performing rights fees radio stations pay for the privilege of playing music.
With streaming, the song is heard is heard tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands or many millions of times) one listen at a time. That’s individual listening. Each stream pays out a tiny fraction of a cent which, theoretically, should be mathematically equal to what a radio spin plays if you divide the number of simultaneous listers by the airplay royalty fee. The net result (theoretically) is about the same.
Where people get hung up is comparing the per-stream payout to the payout for a radio spin. Neither a radio spin or a stream of a song is equivalent to (or a substitute for) a sale of that song when it comes to financial return. That’s where the inequalities really start grinding artists’ gears. But that’s an argument for another time.