How YouTube has helped my music business

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I recently noticed that my channel on YouTube has gone over 5 million views. By some standards, that is not very many views but from a business standpoint, YouTube has been very good to me. This is going to be a business post about my history there.

For those of you that are professional musicians, listen up. YouTube is important for your exposure. Don’t worry if you don’t get as many views as Taylor Swift. Don’t worry if you don’t even get as many views as me. The truth is that every person that finds one of your videos on YouTube gets exposed to your music. Every person counts. From a purely business standpoint, let’s say you have a video that gets watched by 20,000 people and 1% of the people that see it end up buying something. That is 200 new customers for you and your advertising cost is $0. That is a great deal.

Here are some current stats about my channel:

Lifetime views: 5,042,000
Subscribers: 14,100
Videos: 225
Most watched video: It is Well With My Soul (850,000 views)
Average views per video: 22,000
Average views per month (currently): 150,000

Here is a chart that shows my views per month since I joined YouTube in 2007.

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Now let’s talk about this chart for a second. Notice the big peak in 2013 and the sudden drop. For about 2 years between 2011 and 2013, I was buying views on YouTube. Basically, I was paying $0.01 each for people to watch my videos in the hope that they would end up buying something from me. In fact, I ended up buying 1.4 million views at a cost of $14,000. However, when Google (who owns YouTube) started making some advertising changes in 2013, that kind of advertising stopped working and I dropped it. Initially, that was a big hit but as you can see, today I am back almost to the same level of views without having to pay anything.

Here is the chart without the advertising views included.

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A big question is whether I would be where I am today on YouTube if I had not originally spent that $14,000. I don’t know for sure but this chart strongly suggests that advertising helped. As you can see, my views until that point were literally under 100/month for more than 3 years. (I remember getting excited to hit 10,000 views.) Once I started advertising, I saw huge jumps in views NOT from advertising (through YouTube search and related videos). Don’t be discouraged by that if you don’t have money for advertising. The takeaway is this: you have to do something to get YouTube rolling for you rather than just expecting things to happen on their own. I don’t recommend buying views like I did because it doesn’t seem to work anymore but you need take the initiative to get people watching your videos. There are a lot of ways to do that but just simple things like posting your videos to Facebook can help.

Trust me when I say that 150,000 views representing maybe 100,000 unique people watching my videos every month is a big deal. That is in spite of the fact that I don’t even have one video over 1 million views. In fact, I have never had a real viral video. I just have a lot of solid performing videos. Here is a list of my top 10.

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As you guys know, I have not been traveling much doing concerts over the past few years because of health problems and other things. One of the things that makes that OK is the fact that every day on places like YouTube and Pandora (which is much bigger than YouTube by the way), I am able to play to tens of thousands of people a day. There is no way I could reach a tenth of that audience by doing concerts and I don’t even have to get out of bed.

I am sharing this for mostly for those of you that are professionals but have not gotten too excited about YouTube. I know there are different opinions about your music being available for free, etc., but in my opinion, the pros way outweigh the cons. My advice is to start getting videos out there. Don’t worry about videos going viral. You don’t need your videos to go viral. You just need solid videos that people want to watch.

One last tip: if you start getting views, you will be pressured to monetize (show ads) on your videos. That money is split between you and YouTube. I do not show ads because I don’t want to discourage people from watching my videos and I make money when they eventually buy something from my site. In general, I recommend you avoid ads too. You have to be getting a lot of views to make significant money that way. I suspect (but don’t know for sure) that if I ran ads on all my videos, I would earn between $100-$200/month. To me, that is not worth it.