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Tunecore Exclusivity And Youtube Ad Revenue
Please note that Cameron is neither an employee nor sponsor of any of the companies referenced below. He has not received any compensation from anyone for writing this article. As a vocal artist and music producer, Cameron writes articles and independent reviews of music and technology related products and services. The information below is merely his opinion, provided as a matter of potential interest to fellow musicians, composers and producers.
This discussion is about digital music distributors who are also publishers. I decided to post this in case some artists may not be aware of the exclusive nature of the agreements surrounding some of these services, particularly with respect to ad revenue on YouTube.
Let's first take a look at some stats. Tunecore
) and CD Baby
) are the top 2 music distribution services that also offer publishing services. Here is a quick rundown of their market share.
As of this summer (2014):
o Tunecore has roughly 20,000 songwriters signed up with their service. Their catalog contains roughly 250,000 songs.
o CD Baby has over 31,000 songwriters signed up for their "Pro" service. Their catalog contains roughly 145,000 songs.
These two services easily represent most of the market share--more than all others combined. We’ll stick with Tunecore as our primary example in this article, although many of the issues described here apply to both.
What is the difference between publishing and distribution?
Distribution, in the context of this discussion simply means distributing your music to retail outlets like iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and many other online retail outlets, or even brick and mortar stores for that matter. This has nothing to do with publishing.
Publishing means to actively promote your music to target markets. Publishing (in this independent musician context) includes all aspects of marketing, branding and promoting your music, in many ways similar to book publishing.
Publishing includes placing ads in various online venues on your behalf, and/or providing you with tools that enable you to do so. Publishing services may also include synch licensing, which means promoting your music for use within program content on TV and in film, such as scenes, themes and credit rolls, scores and underscores, TV commercials, video games and any other such placements where your music is "synchronized" to video, motion pictures or other visual imagery. Sync licensing placements may or may not utilize your entire song--many placements in which original music is licensed only utilize a few seconds of the given music composition. I’ll post a more in-depth article on synch licensing. For now, we’ll leave it at that.
Down to the brass tacks:
The purpose of publishing is generally to create a market for your music, to make the public aware of your music and to promote your music to your chosen target audience.
The purpose of distribution is simply to establish a pipeline through which your audience can access and purchase your music.
More generally, you could say:
Publishing is how people find out about your music.
Distribution is how you get your music to the outlets where people can buy it.
The rest of this article is specific to the use of your original music in videos posted on YouTube--whether it's your own videos, or videos posted by others.
Now, let’s get back to our Tunecore example and the real reason for this article.
Tunecore offers YouTube publishing as part of its Tunecore Publishing Administration service. On YouTube, this becomes an exclusive representation agreement in the context of collecting royalties and disbursing ad revenue.
This means when you sign up for Tunecore's "YouTube Publishing Service", Tunecore becomes the exclusive publisher for your music on YouTube. Many songwriters do not realize this when they sign up for the service. Later, when a Tunecore artist tries to post videos on YouTube that contain his own songs, only then does he find out that his songs are under an exclusive agreement.
Because Tunecore takes exclusive ownership of the Youtube publishing of your music, Tunecore registers your music under their name in YouTube’s Content ID system.
Artists uploading and attempting to monetize their own videos containing their own songs on YouTube have been seeing YouTube Content ID notices. In most cases, YouTube will still allow them to monetize those videos, but when they do, Tunecore gets the ad revenue generated by those videos. In other, worse cases, YouTube may completely disallow monetization of the video.
Let’s take a look at both cases, one at a time:
Case #1: YouTube shows a Content ID message when you try to monetize your own video containing only your own music.
The Content ID message says you are attempting to monetize material in conflict with an existing copyright. The message also says you may go ahead and monetize the video, and that the copyright holder has agreed to allow this.
This happened because you signed up for Tunecore publishing, and you submitted that song to Tunecore. When you did that, Tunecore registered your song with YouTube. In the registration, Tunecore stated that they own all YouTube publishing rights for your material.
Sometimes, when an artist sees the above YouTube Content ID message pop up, telling them that they are attempting to monetize copyrighted material, they get pretty annoyed--because it is, after all, their own material! And because an artist may not realize they signed an exclusive agreement for YouTube publishing when they signed up for Tunecore publishing, they naturally file a Content ID dispute with YouTube, which is the only recourse they are given.
Next, YouTube promptly sends Tunecore a notice that their Content ID claim has been disputed. Tunecore investigates the claim, and determines that in fact (because you signed up for Tunecore Publishing) Tunecore does own the rights to YouTube publishing for your song. Tunecore cites evidence of this to YouTube, and they win.
YouTube doesn’t know you, and they don’t really want to get in the middle of this. All they know is, Tunecore is the publisher on record in YouTube’s Content ID system, and they have validated their claim. So YouTube sides with Tunecore.
Instead of filing a Content ID dispute, what happens if you (the artist) just go ahead and monetize the video?
If you monetize the video under these circumstances, then going forward, YouTube (via Google Adsense) will pay Tunecore all the ad revenue ever generated by the video, since they are the registered publisher entity on record for the song.
This is where most artists start to see red...
Case #2: YouTube does not allow you to monetize your video at all.
The YouTube Content ID message indicates that the video cannot be monetized due to multiple conflicting claims against the copyright. This happens when multiple parties (probably only you and Tunecore) have filed disputes over Content ID claims to the music contained in your video. You will start seeing this message a few days after you submit your claim dispute when Case #1 above happens to you.
YouTube will only ever allow one entity to monetize and collect ad revenue from a video. So when more than one party claims copyright, YouTube’s de facto policy is to throw their hands up, and disable monetization for that video until God or somebody sorts it out.
Bottom line: Caveat Emptor when it comes to Tunecore’s publishing administration service.
One might argue that regardless of exclusivity, Tunecore can get you more ad revenue and more synch licensing placements than you could ever get on your own. My answer is, I doubt that.
All these services--Tunecore/INDMusic, CD Baby/Rumblefish and many others distribute to the same "outlets". Some of the smaller services claim to distribute to more stores, but I question whether those extra stores matter much, since the 80 or so top online retail outlets cover more than 99% of online sales.
I'm also not sure Tunecore can get your music placed any better than anyone else, nor am I convinced that they actively promote your music to music supervisors for synch licensing placements, as they claim to do. I can't prove this, but I would bet that just as they are exploiting YouTube’s INDMusic network capabilities to grab all the ad revenue from all uses of your music in videos, they are likely just adding your music to their so-called "Exclusive Sync & Licensing Database", rather than actively pitching your music to anyone. Note the word "Exclusive" there. They mean it.
Please consider this just my opinion. I have no data to back it up, other than a ton of complaints all over the music blogs and music industry discussion groups wherein artists have been getting YouTube Content ID notices on their own videos, and didn't realize that signing up for the Tunecore Publishing Administration service resulted in an exclusive agreement.
Note that Tunecore's exclusive agreement only applies to music used on Youtube or in sync licensing placements that come through their library or (supposedly) their active pitching efforts. You are still free to pitch those songs to other opportunities, but be aware many libraries and publishers will need to know about your exclusive arrangement on YouTube with Tunecore, and it might affect their desire to do business with you.
You can "whitelist" your own channel when you sign up for Tunecore Publishing. If you do that, Tunecore says they won't claim the revenue generated by your own YouTube channel. But they will still take the ad revenue from other people’s videos that contain any piece of your music. So that doesn't solve the over-arching problem of exclusivity, which is not prominently covered when you sign up for Tunecore publishing--meaning you have to dig deep in the TOS to discover it.
Worse yet, some artists that only used Tunecore distribution to get their music on iTunes, etc. are getting their YouTube videos flagged by Content ID. This is happening because INDMusic (the YouTube partner network that provides the capability of scanning YouTube for copyrighted Music) discovers that your songs are on both iTunes and in Tunecore’s database. Apparently the distinction between Tunecore artists that only signed up for iTunes distribution and those who actually agreed to the Tunecore Publishing Administration service for YouTube is not all that clear to the INDMusic algorithms.
If you’re not confused by now, you’re in the minority. Is that their intention? Maybe.
There is so much more to this than I can write here. If you have specific questions, send me an e-mail or post them on my Facecbook or Youtube channel, and I will try to answer them.