The Future Is Here
We may earn a commission from links on this page

​Why Google Is Strong-Arming Artists Into Signing With YouTube Music Key

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Cello rock n' roller Zoë Keating is really upset that Google is trying to force her to sign over the rights to her music for its new streaming service, YouTube Music Key. If she won't play ball, she'll lose all of YouTube's monetization options, and her account will be demoted to a third-party account just like any other jerk on YouTube. In other words, YouTube will no longer treat her like a musician.

In a long post on her Tumblr, Keating explains that her YouTube rep contacted her and explained that she would need to sign on to YouTube Music Key or her channel would be "blocked." According to her, these are the stipulations of continuing to use her YouTube account as she has now.

1) All of my catalog must be included in both the free and premium music service. Even if I don't deliver all my music, because I'm a music partner, anything that a 3rd party uploads with my info in the description will be automatically included in the music service too.

2) All songs will be set to "montetize", meaning there will be ads on them.

3) I will be required to release new music on Youtube at the same time I release it anywhere else. So no more releasing to my core fans first on Bandcamp and then on iTunes.

4) All my catalog must be uploaded at high resolution, according to Google's standard which is currently 320 kbps.

5) The contract lasts for 5 years.

Ultimately for Keating it's not a question of whether she wants to participate in a streaming service or not—her music is on Spotify, and she's even leaked torrents of her tunes herself. For her, the issue is about choice. She doesn't see why she should have to participate in the system, she explains:

Is such control too much for an artist to ask for in 2015? It's one thing for individuals to upload all my music for free listening (it doesn't bother me). It's another thing entirely for a major corporation to force me to. I was encouraged to participate and now, after I'm invested, I'm being pressured into something I don't want to do.


In other words, Keating sees it as something of a bait and switch. She signed up for one service by which she can make money from advertising on the videos she uploads, and now that she bought into that, she's concerned that she is being forced into a relationship. The change has a predatory flavor to it that should make any body squirm.

Independent labels and artists have been protesting Google's strong-arm approach to getting them to sign on, and over the summer I blasted Google for squeezing artists who didn't want to be squeezed. I understand this perspective. What made YouTube amazing was that it was an open platform that allowed creators of all kinds to share their work. By forcing certain new arrangements, YouTube is killing some of that initial magic.


A Google spokesman was frankly surprised that Keating was so upset by the new term, given that they simply provide another avenue for artists to make money. The spokesman denied that Keating would removed from YouTube or that her videos would be blocked, however, they did say that if Keating was going to monetize her music, she would need to go all in. The spokesman also noted that if Keating still wanted to manage who was using her music in videos using ContentID, she would still be allowed to.

Generally, I'm sympathetic to artists who don't want to play ball with big companies that are trying to force the little guy into unfortunate arrangements, but in this particular case, I'm growing increasingly inclined to side with Google and YouTube. As a service hosting millions upon millions of songs, there is just no way for them to go through and work out individualized terms with each artist. What's more, the fact is that if you're an artist on the free side of YouTube's music program, it doesn't make any sense for them to remove you from the paid subscription.

No one is forcing Keating to take Google's money, and if she chooses to take it, she can't really complain that it's an all or nothing deal. As an artist, it's shitty to hear that your only other option is not to play ball with YouTube at all, and maybe it's a little unfair that all artists are forced to play by the same rules. I can't personally believe I am taking Google's side over the side of an independent artist. But if you want to put your music on YouTube's expansive platform and get paid, you've got to pay the price, too.