What is YouTube Content ID and how artists can make money out of it.

Yes, you read it right. “YouTube” and “make money” in the same sentence.

This post is a response to this, and also this. Plus many many more BS we can regularly read all over the internet about YouTube and what it means for music artists.

A little bit of context and background first:

(everything can be found with much more details on wikipedia)

When you give access to technology and tools such as Personal Computers, “the Internet”, P2P networks, YouTube, SoundCloud, etc. to common people, one of the first side-effect will be that they’ll infringe various copyrights, was it voluntarily (let’s f*$! the Major labels, yeah!) or simply by ignorance of the numerous laws and regulations on that matter (and yes they will also look for free porn, but let’s focus on our issue here).

And this is exactly what happened with YouTube.

Shortly after the public launch, people started uploading tons of copyrighted material (since it was technically possible, what would have stopped them doing this?).

Right holders such as Viacom and others were not happy.

So they went to court and filed several lawsuits against YouTube.

One of the consequences of these trials was the implementation by YouTube of a technology called Content ID, consisting in the automatic detection of uploaded content that infringe copyright.

When it comes to music / audio, the way it works is that content owners (right holders) such as labels or artists (via their digital distributor) deliver audio files and any associated metadata to YouTube who then generate fingerprints and store it in a giant database.

Every time a new piece of content is uploaded to YouTube (approx. 450,000 hours of video are uploaded per day), it is checked against that database, and Content ID flags it if a match is found. When this occurs, there are various possible scenarii* based on the settings applied by the content owner to its content, main ones being : block (which is the equivalent of a take down since the video will become unviewable) or monetize (advertisements are placed on the video).

*You can get more in-depth description of what can potentially happen with Content ID copyright claims here in the YouTube FAQ.

And this is where it becomes interesting for artists.

With Content ID, you can activate the placement of ads and start collecting your share of revenues on all videos containing your music.

All of them. Was it on your own channel or on other channels.

Depending on how people are keen on using your songs on their videos (this type of content is referred as UGC = User Generated Content), it can be dozens, hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands of videos where your tracks are on.

Given the number of YouTube users, the amount of new content uploaded on a daily basis, and the fact that more than 40% of all music listening in the world happens on YouTube, this represents some non-negligible monetization potential, right?

How to get access to Content ID

If you are signed with a label, they will most likely take care of this on your behalf, since they will have access to the appropriate tools to achieve this (some artists also have direct Content ID agreements with YouTube, but this is quite rare).

If you are an indie artist or small label, you will need to go through your digital distributor/aggregator for delivering your tracks to YouTube.

The process will be as follows:

  • Select tracks you want to monetize with Content ID and trigger the distribution
  • Your service provider will send the audio and metadata to YouTube for fingerprinting
  • Content ID algorithm will start matching your recordings against any existing or new content uploaded to YouTube.
  • The ad revenue will be deposited by your distributor in your sales balance, along with other revenues such as downloads or streams.

And now here is a quick hack you may want to try (it can work very well if you have a significant fan-base):

One of our artists has been encouraging his fans to download his tracks for free on SoundCloud, create fan-made video content using his songs, then upload it to YouTube (after activating Content ID for all these tracks of course). This resulted in hundreds of user-generated videos with his music on it being uploaded to YouTube, which drastically increased the discovery and revenue potential for these tracks.

Then, once you’re happy with the number of videos using your songs on YouTube, remove the free download option on your SoundCloud tracks, and start monetizing your content there as well.

You end up with two new long-tail income sources for your music. Easy.

(and as you gain more fans, they will most likely keep on uploading user-generated content including your songs to YouTube anyway, but the above method is a way to initiate this process in a somehow controlled manner)

A lesser evil

This is what Content ID is, really.

It’s a system, an algorithm, and like all systems and machine-driven processes, it’s not perfect. It can happen some tracks are not properly identified, or not matched at all. But it’s getting better over time, and it is now very unlikely that videos using your songs will not get caught.

And the payout could be better also, yes. Things could always be better in an ideal world. But it’s just ad revenue after all. Are freemium streaming payouts great? Not really. And it’s way better than nothing.

Artists need to understand one thing: people won’t stop infringing their copyrights. Never. You can pass any laws or implement any anti-piracy measures, it’s not going to change.

Common people don’t care about music, creators, artists, copyrights, etc.

They just want to use the song they downloaded somewhere on their homemade video, upload it to YouTube and show it to their friends. And watch other people’s similar content as well. And listen to all the music they want, for free, anywhere, anytime. This is a recreational activity, this is entertainment / fun stuff. And yes, this is “illegal”, in theory. Content ID is a way to take advantage of these “illegal activities” and make money out of it. Small money most of the times. But still. Think about it.


If you are interested in JTV Digital and our digital music distribution and artist services, please check out our website and we’ll be happy to work with you!

For one-to-one consultations or personalized digital strategy plan, please feel free to get in touch with me directly.