YouTube has become a great place for indie musicians to get their work out to the public, and in a few cases, even make a little extra money with Google's automated Content ID music identifying and licensing service. That was all well and good, right up to the point where Google decided it would make its video site into a formal music service with YouTube Music Key. We heard of serious issues with the contract terms even before the service launched, but now one independent artist has spilled the beans on those terms, and how they've left her in a conundrum.

Meet Zoe Keating. She's a professional cellist who controls a laptop with a footpad while she plays to create unique digital mixes. She's had a YouTube account for seven years, only posting 19 videos herself, but she also uses the Content ID system to collect some advertising revenue when other users upload videos that feature her pieces. Recently a YouTube representative told her that in order to continue using Content ID, she would have to participate in the YouTube Music Key service, offering her songs as part of both the free, ad-supported model and the paid version without advertising. Presumably that would come with at least some kind of monetary compensation for Keating, though she's not allowed to mention how much YouTube videos earn for her. But several terms of the mandatory 5-year contract struck her as problematic:

  • All Music Key musicians' music is automatically part of both the free and paid Music Key tiers, even if that music is uploaded by another user
  • Music Key includes mandatory monetization of all uploaded and Content ID-flagged videos
  • New music released on ANY music service (even free services like SoundCloud or legal torrents) must also be uploaded to YouTube
  • All music must be uploaded at 320kbps quality

According to Keating's blog post, if she and other artists like her don't agree to the terms their official channel will be blocked and they will no longer be given access to the Content ID system that has been in place for years. Artists can create a new channel and upload videos there, but it won't be included in any of YouTube's music promotions, and those videos won't have access to Content ID either.

Keating resents the lack of control that the YouTube Music Key terms give her over her own work, which she says go above and beyond the contracts required by competing services like Pandora and Spotify. Her lengthy blog post on the subject (which goes into more of the details of her personal and professional life than we'll post here) doesn't demonize Google or YouTube, but it does illustrate just how heavy-handed the companies have become in trying to pressure artists onto a new system with restrictive terms. It's become clear why Google had such a long, hard time launching the service in the first place.

For independent musicians like Zoe Keating, it's essentially a choice between professional and artistic freedom and the exposure and potential monetary boost that YouTube represents. As of January 24th, she hasn't decided what to do.

Source: Zoe Keating via Ycombinator