Making money from the
most popular music search
engine in the world
|Fig. 1. Nyan Cat is one of the most popular videos on YouTube, with more than 100 million views.
Could your song be the next viral hit?
YOUTUBE HAS become the world’s largest music
search engine. Despite its less-than-stellar
audio quality, it also has become one of the
primary ways people share music, since the
platform makes it so simple. This simplicity
has made it a critical channel to get your
music passed around and introduced to new
Every musician should have music on
YouTube. Many people may only know you by
your videos, even if they never see you live or
visit your website. But YouTube is more than
a promotional platform—it’s also a sales- and
revenue-generating opportunity. YouTube can
drive music and merch sales as well as give you
a share of advertising revenue. Use these five simple
tips to make money from your YouTube videos.
1. Make the first or second line of the
video description a link to purchase
your song. Many musicians will write
dozens of lines about the song—who wrote it,
the lyrics, backstory—and bury the “buy the
song” link deep inside the description. The
problem is, most fans only read what’s “above
the fold,” which is the first few lines of the
description. Put an iTunes or music store link
in the first or second sentence so that they can
click on it if they like the song.
Also, there’s no need to offer a free
download of the song: The video is the free
sample. All you have to do is capture that
impulse to buy immediately after they’ve
heard the music.
2. Add extra audio and video footage
at the end of the video and include
annotation links to buy the music. Put
extra material in your video to encourage music sales. If the audio for your YouTube
video is exactly the same as your song, people
can rip the video to an MP3 file and skip
buying it. Although some listeners are savvy
enough to cut out the extra material, most
people will just buy it if you provide the link
and a reason why (supporting the artist!).
One easy way to do this is to add a
voiceover within the video to encourage them
to buy the track. You can also use YouTube’s
video annotation feature which allows you to
make parts of your video linkable—you can add
clickable messages to “buy the song now” right
in the video. For an example of this feature,
see The Gregory Brothers’ incredibly popular
“Bed Intruder Song” at http://bit.ly/1bgq8yH.
3. Sign up for ContentID. YouTube allows
you, as a content creator, to make advertising
revenue when other people use your
copyrighted video or audio material in their
videos. YouTube created this so the original
owner can get compensated when your videos
are mirrored on other channels or if your
copyrighted material is used in other people’s
videos. To ensure you are compensated,
participate in ContentID (youtube.com/t/contentid). Just upload all of your video and
audio content (even for songs that don’t have
videos—remember other people might use
your songs in their videos), and choose the
4. Become a YouTube Partner. Sign
up to be a YouTube Partner (youtube.com/yt/partners/). If you’re accepted, you’ll be
eligible to personalize your channel pages,
add links to music and merch stores on
your channel page, post longer videos,
and collect advertising revenue from your
viewers. The advertising is very flexible,
allowing you to add pop-up ads or video
commercials that roll before your video.
Be smart about which of these options you
choose—no one wants to watch a thirty-second
ad for a one-minute video—but if
done right, it’s a solid way to make income
out of your video views.
5. Go direct to sponsors. If you have a
popular channel, don’t forget that you can
go directly to sponsors looking for exposure.
Product placements and co-branded ads are
within your reach if you have a reasonably
sized audience. For example, once one of his
videos went viral, the dancer Marquese Scott
(youtube.com/user/WHZGUD2) started to
make ads with Pepsi, Peugeot, and others. Your
subscriber count is a compelling reason to
sponsor you to get exposure for products.
Because YouTube is global, you never know
when a video that you upload could go viral
and reach the entire world. And, don’t forget
that with ContentID you can still collect revenue
even if you’re not the one that made the video.
One of the biggest YouTube hits, Nyan Cat
video from one source and audio from another.
It’s now at more than 100 million views (see
Figure 1). The next one to hit this mark might
have one of your songs.
Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan are
authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide (St.
Martin’s Griffin), now in its second edition.