A YouTube-only record label? You just gotta love those blurred lines

With the video-sharing site now more powerful than radio or record labels, everyone wants to upload the next Gangnam Style or Thrift Shop

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s Thrift Shop: Seven million US sales for $15,000 – a bargain

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s Thrift Shop: Seven million US sales for $15,000 – a bargain


More teenagers listen to music on YouTube than on any other source. They buy more music than anyone else. Billboard now counts YouTube hits when compiling its weekly US charts. The site has become more important than radio in finding, breaking and selling musical acts.

YouTube is reshaping the musical landscape. The song is just one component; the visuals now really matter. You only have to look at some of the most recent big break-through singles to see that the music directors are going for narrative-driven storylines, comic ideas, novelty dance moves and a type of sexual titillation that Benny Hill would have found tacky.

Hit the “gone viral” jackpot with your YouTube music video and you don’t need to bother with a big marketing spend in the traditional media. It’s arguable whether Harlem Shake, Gangnam Style, Blurred Lines or Thrift Shop (above) would have sold in their gazillions without their visual accompaniment.

Sure, you can spend a small fortune and summon up some arty director type, as Justin Timberlake did with his Mirrors video. But Macklemore and Ryan Lewis spent just $15,000 on their Thrift Shop video. The promotional budget was zero, but once the video went viral, the song was added on to almost every radio playlist.

Thrift Shop clocked up in excess of 400 million views on YouTube, helping the song sell more than seven million copies in the US. It also went to No 1 around the world. All for $15,000, which wouldn’t even have covered the make-up costs on Timberlake’s ghastly Mirrors.

Appropriate, then, that music mogul Russell Simmons – the man behind Def Jam and a prime mover in positioning hip-hop in the media mainstream – has just launched the first YouTube record label. All Def Music will promote and develop artists solely via YouTube. The site is the new gatekeeper, replacing both radio and the record labels.

It can be very much needle-in-a-haystack working your way through YouTube in search of anything half-decent that has a bit of a potential. So to this end All Def Music will use the most advanced analytic/data-mining tools available to see what’s getting heat. With digital you can essentially monitor or track everything. And with data-mining being the new keyword for the music industry, Simmons is, yet again, right on top of breaking trends.

“When I looked at YouTube and music videos, I saw a big, giant white space,” he says. “There’s a lot happening online that’s just not being managed properly. These artists are in separate worlds, and not everything bubbles to the top. That will be my job.”

In a supremely ironic twist, All Def Music is partnering with Universal Music. The idea is that if an act gets Blurred Lines or Thrift Shop-scale viewing figures, Universal can take over from there and do the global penetration thing with them. It was only a few years ago that Universal regarded YouTube as the anti-Christ and threatened to sue it out of existence for alleged copyright infringement. Universal and YouTube are now Best Friends Forever.

Moral of the story: if you can’t sue ’em, business-partner ’em.

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