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YouTube vs. The Indies

The YouTube streaming service train was always going to change onto a new track eventually. With the Spotify, Deezer, Rdio And Beats carriages having already left the station, the worlds favourite source of video orientated frivolity should have started accepting passengers moons ago. But while the well known and well backed first class passengers (Universal, Warner and Sony) have got their tickets, parked their luggage in the roof rack and have the champagne ready and waiting to be corked, the economy class folk seem to have found themselves, to put it crudely, well and truly shafted.

You see, While the aforesaid ‘Big 3’ have all licensed YouTube’s next phase with virtually no bumps in the road at all (if there were the conference calls weren’t conducted within earshot of any whistle-blowers), the Indies are the subject of what seems to be some kind of white collar protection racket. Not only have Google offered terms that seem draconian to an awful lot of them, they have made it abundantly clear that those terms are non-negotiable. To top it all off, if the terms are refused the Indies will more than likely have any existing and future content blocked or removed altogether.

This is the very definition of being backed into a corner but such a precedent has already been set, approximately 10 years ago….. by MTV. They also let the big guns go mad at the shooting range while initially denying the average Joes full memberships. Eventually however common sense prevailed and all parties were left with an amicable glow about their person. An amicability that lasts to this day. Logic says that things are headed towards the same conclusion with Google/YouTube’s bluster simply being a ‘we will be calling the shots not you’ warning burst across the industry’s digital Bowes.

But what if logic, like in so many situations the world over, didn’t poke its head out above the parapet? What if all members of the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN) decided not to agree terms? What if Google carried out their ultimatum? Although some labels will simply carry on regardless and run the gauntlet of life without YouTube, others will consider the ultimate sacrifice, absorption into the cesspit of the major label.

Nothing is going to convince me that the big three had absolutely nothing to do with YouTube’s faceless impersonation of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. If negotiation really is the last thing on its master’s mind running to the big dogs is the surest way to survive as long as they are willing to accept the consequences. Indies could be forming metaphorical queues round the block showing off their ‘wares’ to all the local johns hoping that if they show enough talented cleavage, they’ll be well kept by their potential sugar daddies. But being pimped comes with its own monetary and contractual pitfalls so the question then is ‘which set of terms leave the indies in a better state. If Google refuses to budge then the answer is a no brainer for some.

This could be what the majors wanted all along. A way to kill two birds with one stone. That through varying degrees of legal obtuseness something as humongous as the music industry is run almost entirely by just three major players is ridiculous in itself. But if I am right surely the ‘acquisition’ of the best indies cannot be allowed to happen. But that’s the thing about power, those that have it in spades have it for a reason and that reason is why they almost always want more. Having near enough 90% of the industry in their hands is not enough while the other ten is still up for grabs.

Yes their are many viable alternatives for independent labels to show us what they’ve got but none of those are as viable as YouTube is (although in years to come that might change). None of those have the global reach and social awareness that YouTube has. None of those have the viewing numbers that YouTube has. And none of those are backed by the biggest and most valuable brand in the world (Google has just overtaken Apple) like YouTube is. To save their self-sustaining lives the right people simply have to be coaxed to the negotiating table.

YouTube is thee beacon of discovery in a digital age. I’ve lost count of the amount of new artists that were unknown to me until YouTube became a substantial shareholder in my media consciousness. Record labels have YouTube to thank for much of their heralded roster. The artists included in that list can also thank their lucky video uploading stars for their fame and wealth. But isn’t discovery what YouTube is all about? Yes it is a business but it is a business founded on human curiosity and its appetite for ‘newness’. Surely there is a way for the current situation to be resolved for the betterment of both sides, and possibly the sustenance of YouTube’s global image. Anything else can only result in the slow deterioration of a substantial chunk of music’s originality and eccentricity.

Irony: a company with such a ridiculously dismal record for tackling online piracy choosing to take such a hardline stance against those worst equipped to financially handle its effects.

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