Google Plays Hardball with Indie Musicians

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YouTube has become the way most of us first encounter new music – so much so that plays now count towards Billboard rankings. So it’s no surprise that Google, which owns YouTube, wants to capitalize on this. It’s launching a streaming service called Music Key. Like Spotify and Pandora, Music Key will be a subscription service, and will share some small portion of the revenue with artists.

But at least one musician has raised a flag about what Google wants her to give up in exchange for having her music available on YouTube. Zoe Keating is a cellist and composer who writes film and TV scores, and has had a #1 classical record on iTunes. She has been blogging about her issues with the agreement Google has sent to artists. According to Keating, Google demanded that she include her entire catalogue on the service, and to give YouTube first access to any new music she releases. “It was the internet and companies like YouTube that allowed artists like me to actually have a career,” Keating says. “And then suddenly they were dictating these terms that I thought were the kind of terms I would get from a record label -- which is why I never went down the path of having a record label.”

For Keating, a particular problem was that YouTube wanted first access to her recordings. Artists who successfully use crowd funding often release music to paying customers before making it available anywhere else (Keating uses the online music store Bandcamp). “The bulk of my income comes from my core fans who pay what they want on Bandcamp,” she says. “That is a model that works for a niche artist like me.”

Keating says she asked Google if she could continue selling her music before making it available on Music Key. Google said no, and told her that if she doesn’t sign the new agreement to participate in Music Key, she would no longer be able to make money from the 10,000 or videos on YouTube that use her music. “It really rubs me the wrong way that they are linking up my participation in Content ID with my mandatory participation in Music Key,” she tells Kurt Andersen.

Keating has made a name for herself talking about artists’ rights on digital platforms – she once released the figures of all of her streaming revenues. Google has called Keating’s claims about the Music Key contract “patently false,” but Keating has released her transcript of a phone call with Google on her blog. It’s not that Keating is anti-YouTube; she wants to keep her work there, revenue or no revenue. “But I’m not going to do it at the expense of that control over releasing my music.”

Music Playlist

  1. Optimist

    Artist: Zoe Keating
    Album: Into the Trees