YouTube Knows Using Music in Its Videos is a Pain. It May Have Found a Solution

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For years, YouTube has had a pain point in serving its thousands of content creators: Licensing music in videos is a headache.

For the largest video-sharing platform on Earth — particularly as it’s fending off competition from TikTok and Instagram for the loyalty of a creator economy that heavily uses music for content — that’s a problem.

But now YouTube is looking to change that. At its Made on YouTube event in Los Angeles on Tuesday — which also unveiled new revenue models for content creators on YouTube’s Shorts platform — the company announced that it’s launching Creator Music, a new music licensing shop intended for creators to get commercial music in their videos more easily. 

“Music is the soundtrack of YouTube, and finding that perfect song can make all the difference in how creators set the tone of their videos. Creators have told us time and time again that finding that right song isn’t the hard part, it’s figuring out how to license it,” YouTube’s vice president of creator product Amjad Hanif said during the event. “That’s why we’re announcing Creator Music, a new destination for creators to find songs they want to use in their videos without giving up the revenue that fuels their business.”

Music is a significant aspect of video production – and videos themselves are often a driver in marketing potential hit songs – but using popular tracks in YouTube videos is complicated. Given the way monetization works for music on YouTube, creators can’t make money off a video if they use copyrighted music but don’t have a license for it. Instead, any of that potential revenue will go to a song’s rights holder (assuming they allow the video to stay up instead of block it).

And even if a creator sought out a license, it’s not an easy process for those who aren’t familiar with it, and creators with less money or resources may not be able to afford it. That dynamic causes creators to choose between forgoing ad revenue, finding royalty-free music they can use instead, or just ignoring using music altogether. It’s a big enough inconvenience that it’s created an entire industry dedicated to offering royalty-free music. 

By launching Creator Music, YouTube is hoping to offer a solution that allows for creators to use music in videos and get paid, and for artists and record labels to still be compensated fairly. Music rights holders have two options if they put music on the Creator Music platform: They can either charge a specific upfront fee of their choosing for the use of a song, or they can engage in a revenue split with a content creator, which means the rights holder gets paid on the back end depending on how much a video is earning. 

Creator Music has launched in beta in the U.S. and will officially launch in the country later this fall before arriving in other international markets next year, the company said. YouTube has set up initial deals on that beta with indie music companies Empire, Downtown, Believe and Merlin. YouTube’s Global Head of Music Lyor Cohen said during the event that the major record labels (which hold the rights to most of the hits creators will likely want to use) are “quite intrigued and inclined to join” the Creator Music platform, though Cohen didn’t specify how far along any potential deals with the majors are, nor when their music could arrive on the service. 

Music licensing has long been a thorn in the side of YouTube, the music business and the creators, and in such early days, it isn’t clear if Creator Music will be the answer everyone’s looking for. YouTube, for its part, seems to be putting its weight and confidence behind the platform; as Cohen said in a statement, “Creator Music is the future.”

At the Made on Youtube showcase, Cohen brought out pop star/content creator Jason Derulo alongside choreographer and YouTuber Kyle Hanagami to talk more about the new platform and its potential.

“The problem has always been how difficult it is for the two of you to come together to make beautiful music,” Cohen quipped about the challenges of getting music on creators’ videos. 

Hanagami, whose clients have included Jennifer Lopez, Nick Jonas and Blackpink, has nearly 5 million YouTube subscribers and called the current logistics of licensing music for YouTube creators “kind of a pain in the butt.” 

“There’s so many problems creators face, monetization [being] the biggest one,” Hanagami said. “If you’re a creator using copyrighted music, you can’t even recoup your costs of making that video.”

Derulo, who’s seen a resurgence in his career by posting viral videos on TikTok, recalled the days earlier in his career when he spent time schmoozing with radio program directors when they held the power to make songs hits, and he said social media stars are now the ones with that power. “I’ve been in the industry a long time and watched a lot of changes in the last 13 years. Slowly, creators have become more and more popular and have become the premier idols people are looking up to.” 

The fact that they’re disincentivized to use commercial music and look elsewhere, he said, “compromises the integrity of the video.”

“These social media stars are the people deciding the pulse in successful songs are the kids coming up in social media, so my attention has shifted,” Derulo said. “I want my music to be heard, as an artist I want to go to the Kyles of the world and say, ‘Hey, does this work for your video? Because I want to be seen and heard by more people.’”