In the age of TikTok, YouTube is an easily overlooked and underutilized site in the music industry. We see viral musicians playing heartbreaking songs in their cars skyrocketing to the top of the charts all over the For You page on TikTok, but YouTube has given rise to other platforms to do just that. It transformed the music industry from an era of physical music, where we had to listen to music on CD, cassette or floppy disk, to suddenly have music at our fingertips.
But how? This is partly due to the meteoric rise of cover art. Budding artists and songwriters could suddenly get out there and stream their music at a fraction of the price they used to pay – if at all! This led to the insurgency of using the work of others, interpreting it in their own style, and attracting mass audiences. Fans already knew these songs and were eager to hear the cover artists’ version of them. Then, with the attention of the masses captured, artists could promote their own music. It was a huge success. Artists spent the first 4/5 years of YouTube understanding this strategy and gaining their audience; then they formed bands, signed deals and released music. This is the case of artists such as Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, The Vamps, 5SOS, Sabrina Carpenter and many other artists who have come into the spotlight in recent years. Their success is due to YouTube and the ease of transmission it has given them.
For this reason, YouTube has become the new scouting ground. Where before, management companies like Prestige recruited their 2000s rockstars like Busted and McFly through open auditions, YouTube has allowed that same company to find the founding members of the next big online superstar. It just made it easier to find the kind of talent they needed for their labels and rosters.
YouTube has also allowed for much more creativity in the visual representation of music. The platform spawned lyric videos, visualizers, karaoke videos and songs, as well as traditional-style music video support in conjunction with Vevo from 2009 – all of which helped to lengthen the promotion of a single. It used to be that a single would get a music video on MTV, a show on Top of the Pops, if it did, and that was usually about it. Now, a single can be accompanied by a simple visualizer first, then followed by a music video a few weeks later, a karaoke and a lyric video a few weeks later, and finally content from BTS-vlog style (which YouTube LOVES). This gives a single far more life than a quick release, preventing it from being forced to be followed by another single within months. Now it’s normal for there to be more time between singles because the content is there. Monetization has undeniably helped with this; artists and labels could be creative, have additional marketing, and get paid for each video.
The music industry may have almost left YouTube in the dust for the faster and easier promotional value of TikTok, but we must always remember how YouTube became the founding father of the modern music industry.