It was the Internet post heard around the world when the Financial Times broke the news that YouTube would begin removing certain music videos from their free streaming service "in a matter of days," according to Robert Kyncl, YouTube's head of content and business operations. The reason? YouTube will reportedly debut its own paid subscription streaming music service later this year, so any content by artists and labels that have not agreed to the new contractual terms will be removed, potentially including works by indie artists like Radiohead, Adele and The Arctic Monkeys.
The free, user-generated video-sharing website that made artists like Psy and Justin Bieber famous was founded in 2005 and bought by Google in late 2006. It allows users to view, upload and share all sorts of content, including songs, music videos, TV and video clips, instructional guides and vlogs, among others.
Google has not yet made the official announcement, but YouTube's premium music service is said to be similar to services like Spotify, Deezer and Beats Music, but with videos in addition to streaming music. The company has stated that the free version will remain, and a pay version will be offered, which would give users unlimited access to albums and artists without ads, online or offline.
Record labels representing "95 percent of the music industry" have agreed to the new terms, according to Kyncl, which includes the Big Three: Sony, Warner and Universal. Independent labels have been offered a different contract which was leaked this week, and its terms included language that would allow the company to lower pay rates to indie artists "following (30) days written notice ... to Provider." It also states that upon signing, Google will own the artists' entire catalogue and has the right to stream it for free on the day it is released on any platform, including iTunes.
Omar Rodriguez, the manager of communications at the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley and a guitarist in the local band Japanese to English, said he was not surprised by the news.
"It's all about volume," Rodriguez said. "Large labels have the volume to provide 'market-tested' artists and tracks that can almost guarantee millions of views. Indie labels can't compete with pop music. We see the disparity in radio, movie soundtracks and mass media. It's about making music and art knowing you're never going to be wealthy doing that. That's always been the nature and allure of Indie labels for singer-songwriters."
After the initial report, the online world erupted with blog posts, a flurry of follow-up articles from publications like Forbes, Digital Music News, and The Guardian among many others. Some cried foul.
"It's official: Google is about to ruin YouTube," wrote Gizmodo columnist Mario Aguilar.
The situation may not be as dire as some think, however, according to local music producer and recording engineer Charlie Vela, of Sound of Rain studios.
"My first reaction was that the story reeked of sensationalism," Vela wrote in an email. "And that there was likely a more nuanced discussion of what was truly going on which wasn't being represented in the blog posts and message board arguments."
Indeed, Digital Music News reported that users should not expect all videos from independent artists who had not signed with YouTube's forthcoming previous service to disappear. The online publication specified that in many cases, only monetization would be shut down for those videos which did not comply _ so artists will not be allowed to make money off of their content via YouTube unless they have agreed to its premium site's terms of service.
Forbes staff writer Ellen Huet wrote an article arguing that the announcement was being demonized by indie label trade groups, as opposed to the labels or the artists themselves _ and that the deal "sounds way worse than it actually is."
"The individual labels haven't actually said much," Huet wrote. "It's the independent label trade groups who are predicting doomsday, even though they are not directly involved in the deals. It's their job to advocate on behalf of their members, even if it's only a few. YouTube has said that hundreds of the labels that these groups represent have signed onto the agreement and are happy to have a new revenue stream."
However, the CEO and chairman of the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN), Alison Wenham, vehemently opposes the new development, Forbes reported. She said that the contracts for indie artists offer "unfavorable" and "non-negotiable" terms which undercut the rates of sites like Spotify and Rdio, among others.
"This is not a fair way to do business," Wenham said. "WIN questions any actions by any organization that would seek to injure and punish innocent labels and musicians _ and their innocent fans _ in order to pursue its ambitions."
For local musician and indie music promoter, Patrick Garcia, the news was disturbing, but not shocking.
"I guess it was a bit of a swift smack to the gut at first, but the weird swell that came with it faded quickly," Garcia said. "I guess I'm just not surprised with this sort of stuff anymore, having seen the internet slowly devolve from a sprawling monte to a bought out, subdivided space."
Though Vela said he is not very worried about the future of independent artists in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond, he said that the news does bring into stark relief the struggle of musicians trying to make a living making their art.
"In my opinion, this story sheds light on the greater issue of artists (and) labels not being compensated in any meaningful way for online streams of their music," he said. "YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, etc. are all guilty of building their entire businesses on the content of artists yet offering very little in the way of compensation. Compensating artists is what allows them to create the art we all appreciate and enjoy."
For his part, as an indie performer and promoter, Garcia said he will mourn the loss of an enormous avenue where the public could find hidden gems by unknowns.
"The beauty of YouTube is its member and search bar interface," he said. "Anyone can rip a track by a young band or an old '70s Swedish pop-punk band. Better, is any super fan _ or, even better, a total random from Mexico or McAllen _ can look this band or song up. That's gold for both the unknown artist and the unbeknownst fan."
"Or, God forbid, maybe people will start having to go to shows to discover music," Garcia said. "It sounds visionary, I'm aware, but then they'd have to pay for that too, and only leave with _ yuck _ memories, and who wants that?"
YouTube and Google still have not made every aspect of their plan public, so the outcomes for major and indie label artists remain to be seen. Garcia, Rodriguez and Vela, despite differing views, did agree upon one point: the future of indie music and musicians is anything but over.
"As for the artists I know and work with every day, they're doing what they have always done," Vela said. "Creating beautiful, interesting, fun and poignant music."
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