Taylor Swift fired the first shot, but Adele went to war. While Swift pulled her album "1989" from every streaming service but Apple Music, Adele’s latest, “25” is only available to those who pay up front.
These two A-list musicians have made it clear that they don’t need exposure from streaming services like Spotify and Google Music to move product.
And yet, listeners are able to try out their music via YouTube and other video services.
YouTube’s status as the prime vehicle for streaming music hasn’t yet caught the ire of musicians like Swift, who allows songs from “1989” to be streamed freely on the service. The video for Adele’s first single from 25, “Hello,” was released on Oct. 22 and is now well over 650 million views, a happenstance that must make PSY nervous. If Adele’s concern with Spotify is that her music will be streamed for free, why create an official “Hello” stream on YouTube?
The reality is that video presents many unique opportunities over audio streaming. Here are three of the biggest:
1. YouTube Offers Unprecedented Promotional Power.
In a recent survey, music analytics firm Next Big Sound found that about two-thirds of the estimated 1 trillion songs streamed globally in the first half of 2015 were streamed via YouTube and other video sites.
Though radio remains remarkably strong – some 66.6 million millennials continue to listen to terrestrial radio each week according to Nielsen – YouTube accounts for 40% of all music listening, according to Apple exec Jimmy Iovine. Since YouTube skews young, performers with strong millennial followings, like Swift and Adele, can’t afford to ignore YouTube.
2. Social Video Encourages Fan Participation.
How can artists maximize the opportunities with online music video? One way is exemplified by Drake’s “Hotline Bling”, which shows how savvy artists create a direct relationship with fans. Drake merely uploaded the song to his Soundcloud account without fanfare and then let fans take over. They did, by both watching the video for “Hotline Bling” (which is over 188 million views and counting at this writing) and by parodying the video on Vine, among other places.
For artists like Drake, the Internet allows for a one-on-one relationship with fans in which musicians can distribute directly without worrying about the labels’ marketing strategies. The fact that fans can customize the songs (which usually means parody them), is another facet of this relationship.
3. They Allow for Branding and Partnership Opportunities.
Another big opportunity for musicians is through partnering with brands. The most viral ad of 2014 was essentially an ad for Activia yogurt featuring Shakira. Or maybe it was merely a Shakira music video that featured Activia branding. Either way, it was a win for the brand. Samsung has made a similar splash lately with Ariana Grande, whose latest video, “Focus,” shows her cavorting with a Galaxy Note 5.
The bottom line? With artists like Adele leading the way, video may have killed the radio star, but it’s putting something new in its wake: Super-empowered artists who can take or leave Spotify, but could never forsake YouTube.