YouTube's quick wick of fame

Good songs may often become hits online, but can artists afford to upload them for free viewing?

Chris Pizzello/AP
Rebecca Black became a YouTube sensation with her song 'Friday.'

Want to be a pop star? The line forms at YouTube, and wraps around the world.

From the Elvis-era 1950s to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" explosion, it was possible to make millions from a hit record. Land an arresting video in heavy rotation on MTV and your sales would compound daily. That formula worked like a charm for decades, for both artists and record companies.

Then, about the dawn of the new millennium, a perfect storm of a rapidly dwindling MTV audience, the rise (and quality) of online digital downloads, and the sudden obsolescence of the CD format struck the music business in one massive wave. Digital sampling and listening sites YouTube, Pandora, and Spotify were left standing in the wake. Now these new kingmakers of pop music have become the place where stars are hatched with astounding speed. Any aspiring musician wanting to jump-start a music career must master the secrets and intricacies of these sites to have a fighting chance against millions of other would-be instant stars.

It would have been unheard of for an obscure pop singer from South Korea to be embraced by the old record company structure, but this is the brave new world into which Psy's "Gangnam Style" was born – a Korean dance music video that has taken the world by storm, garnering 760 million YouTube views to date (and counting) and is headed for a record-shattering billion. "Gangnam Style" was originally posted on K-pop, an Asian dance music and electronica fan site, before one enchanted viewer posted it on YouTube, where it exploded into a worldwide phenomenon practically overnight.

What "exposure sites" like YouTube and fast-growing Spotify – which allows listeners to sample entire songs and store them in folders for repeat listens free of charge – offer is unprecedented, but where's the money?

Many disgruntled artists and songwriters are asking the same question. A well-known songwriter recently received a check for just $80 from YouTube for a song that had more than 9 million viewings. Schoolgirl Rebecca Black, one of the original "viral stars" of "Friday" fame, made about $20,000 in partnered ad revenues from YouTube from 160 million views and $26,000 for 43,000 iTunes downloads. Not a fortune, by any measure, but priceless exposure for someone with talent and staying power. Unfortunately, Ms. Black didn't have enough of either and disappeared nearly as fast as she appeared.

In the digital Wild West, the cream will always Google to the top, but can artists afford to keep giving it away?

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to YouTube's quick wick of fame
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Arts/2012/1129/YouTube-s-quick-wick-of-fame
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe