The Global Leader in Music Streaming You’re Ignoring

by | Dec 5, 2022 | Music Promotion

It’s not Spotify, it’s not Amazon, and it’s not Apple. It’s not web3 and it doesn’t run on a blockchain. It’s not TikTok. It’s available in every country which has the internet. There’s a premium and ad-based tier. There’s a playlist culture. It’s desktop and mobile friendly.

Have you guessed it yet?

It is YouTube.

While Spotify has more pure premium subscribers (183 million), and TikTok is gaining on users (1 billion), it’s almost impossible to measure YouTube’s reach. But the number you need to know is 2 billion. 2 billion active users who listen to music.

Full disclosure: I pay for YouTube Premium (no ads anywhere), and it is by far the most valuable $12 I spend monthly.

You might be thinking, “but wait, I have to spend thousands of dollars to create cool videos for my music!” Not completely true. I recently worked with an artist who released an “Official Video,” meaning a storyline, editing, and color grading in 4k. It is a gorgeous piece of film. The video ran up 15k views in the first weekend. Pretty good.

But, here’s the important thing: their “Album Cover” video (which cost zero dollars) and the “Lyric” video (which cost some time and maybe $20 in graphics), both ran up 100k views each, so far. The point being, you do not have to invest tons of money in the video side of YouTube to harness it for your music career. Users are listening to YouTube without even watching.

Music makers tend to follow the public in (wrongly) putting all of these apps and sites into a nice little box. People dismiss TikTok as a “kids doing crazy dances” app — not true. If anything, it’s a lip-syncing app.

People think Spotify is a music app — not true. Don’t believe me? Spotify invested over 1 billion dollars in the last 2-3 years on podcasts, not on music.

Speaking of podcasts, Apple has always been thought of as the leader in that space. Not true. In fact, according to a recent Music Ally survey, “ 24.2% say YouTube is the platform they use the most for podcasts, ahead of Spotify (23.8%) and Apple Podcasts (16%).”

How does YouTube compare to these others for your music career? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Robust demographics and metrics? Yep, Creator Studio has it.

Subscribers and community building? Of course.

What about influencers and playlisters? Millions more and they are easy to message.

Aren’t YouTube music stream rates low? Sort of, but all of them are. This rate is hard to break out unless you just look at the YouTube Music app. The difference is once you get your channel monetized, you get paid for the video view (with ad revenue sharing) and the music on it through your PRO.

Just like other DSPs, you can add merch directly to your page, have a pre-save (premiere a video), as well as integrated live concert listings.

But here’s what you can do on YouTube that you can’t do on others:

  • A livestream with revenue (superthanks, tips) built-in.
  • Offer your music channel for a premium subscription.
  • SEO terms and hashtags for organic growth.
  • Affiliate links, brand integrations, chat.
  • Launch a podcast, entertainment series, learning module and music videos all on your own channel.
  • Make your full song available as an embed outside of the platform.

There is no shortage of people who will teach you all about how to use FB/IG through Business Manager ads to build your followers and streaming numbers for a latest single. Most of you have probably lost a lot of money on this because it is technically difficult to do correctly, and it takes time to find your audience. As some of you definitely know, it doesn’t work that well if your audience aren’t premium subscribers on Spotify due to the limitation of shuffle.

One of the most amazing things I like about YouTube for music is by using Google Ads you can do a true ad campaign on your latest music “video.” It’s simple and very effective. A short example: we just did a campaign for a total of $40 which netted 8,000 views, 100 subscribers. Real people, new fans, all above board.

Did you forget about YouTube? They have not forgotten about musicians. Crucially, you need to understand that there is a long-standing conflict with YouTube and the major labels. What this means is that many of the features YouTube launches are designed to be used by the independent music community first, whereas their competitors often roll out to the majors first—such as Marquee on Spotify.

Here is a short list of features they are rolling out in the U.S., and why you should pay attention and make YouTube a larger part of your music business mix.

  1. In a few months, YouTube is going to start paying creators revenue for Shorts – their rival offering to TikTok for short form videos. Creators will earn 45% of the money generated from ads that run between Shorts videos. Again, just you and your phone with your music underneath can earn you real revenue, in addition to gaining subscribers and promoting your music. Side note: a recent artist we worked with released three Shorts, all of them had more than 1000 views in one day with no advertising, and resulted in 100 more subscribers.
  2. YouTube user handles (@Artistname) to use across the platform and a simple hook in Shorts.
  3. I am most excited by Creator Music, which is a “a new destination that gives creators easy access to an ever-growing catalog of music for use in their videos, while offering artists and music rights owners a new revenue stream for their music on YouTube while retaining the same revenue share they would normally make from non-music videos.” This means you can offer your music for others to use and get paid for it.

Of course, Spotify (and the others) are still important to your music business mix. However, I absolutely think you should invest (more) time and effort in developing your YouTube Artist channel, becoming a partner to become monetized, and taking full advantage of the opportunities unique to the global leader in music streaming.


Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.