Five Ways to Make Money on YouTube

Making money from the most popular music search engine in the world
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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? Making money from the most popular music search engine in the world

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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 listeners

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

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 ( 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 advertising options.

4. Become a YouTube Partner. Sign up to be a YouTube Partner ( 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 ( 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 (, had 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.