YouTube’s new Creator Music feature launched this month. In a nutshell, it essentially allows for US creators to use copyrighted music in their videos without being demonetized. Influencers can either pay upfront to use a track in a video or split future ad revenue with a song’s rights holders once the video starts earning payouts through Google’s AdSense program.

Where some creators feel the programme shows promise as a new way to incorporate popular music in videos, a common pain point for the platform’s users, others expressed sticker shock at the cost of licensing songs, which, while often listed as free or as low as $29.99, were in some instances priced at over $1,000.

Prices for a song licence in Creator Music can vary widely based on a creator’s subscriber count. For example, the song “Seguimos Laborando” by Grupo 360 cost $0 on creator Daniel Sulzbach’s gaming channel and $149.99 on his main channel.

A two-year licence for the song “Feel It Too” by Cadmium and Timmy Commerford ranged from $1,000.99 to $18,014.99, according to two creators, David Altizer and Justin Watkins, had 7,000 subscribers and 8.9 million subscribers, respectively.

Shockingly, a Creator Music licence only grants an influencer access to use a song in a single video on YouTube, and cannot be used with YouTube Shorts, live streams, or in reposts of the video on other social platforms. When you consider competing music-licensing tools like Epidemic Sound, which offers access to royalty-free music that can be used across different social platforms via a monthly subscription, as a more cost-effective alternative, the shock develops. 

“Obviously I create stuff on YouTube, but I create stuff everywhere,” said Altizer, who is also a content consultant who has worked with the music-licensing service Soundstripe. “Every dollar counts when you’re self-employed. If I’m going to spend $30 on one song for one use case that can only be used on YouTube versus a subscription service that’s $15 a month [where] I can download an unlimited library and use them on a variety of channels, on a variety of platforms, obviously you can see the objective appeal to that.”

The consequences for marketers who violate copyright terms can be severe. Music rights holders regularly crack down on brands that use songs in social-media posts without paying for a licence.

If there is anything the program shows us is how music is integral to content creation. TikTok in particular has solidified itself as a top platform for music discovery. The company and its owner ByteDance are currently embroiled in contract negotiations with the major labels as they look to leverage the app’s influence in music to garner favourable licensing deals.

Meta Platforms, which owns Facebook and Instagram, also introduced its own revenue-sharing model last year to enable creators to use music in videos without losing monetization rights. 

YouTube has gradually introduced features over the past decade-and-a-half to compensate music rights’ holders on its platform. In 2009, it co-launched the music-video platform Vevo with Universal Music Group. In 2015, it built a standalone music-streaming service called YouTube Music. The company is also setting aside revenue for music rights holders as it introduces revenue-sharing on Shorts this month. 

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