Since its inception, YouTube has been one of the top platforms for musicians. With over 2.5 billion users in total and over 122 million viewers watching YouTube daily, the potential to grow as an artist is infinite.
YouTube has evolved since it was launched in 2005 by 3 former PayPal employees, who built the platform based on the idea “that ordinary people would enjoy sharing their home videos.” They were right, but YouTube is no longer just a platform to watch and share videos; it’s a vibrant and powerful music community, a marketing tool, and one of the world’s most influential social media platforms.
The way artists become successful on YouTube has changed over the years, and strategies that worked 10 years ago may not help you attract your audience in 2023. Short forms, like TikTok videos and YouTube Shorts, are revolutionizing how viewers interact with online content. The algorithm is changing, adjusting to what people want to see, and your strategy needs to change, too, if you aim to stay afloat.
Sounds scary? It doesn’t have to be. It’s not magic but pure knowledge that can get you thousands of views in a matter of days or even hours. Unpopular opinion says that good music doesn’t sell itself. As much as you may not like to hear it, there is a lot of truth in it. Commercial success requires constant effort and, most of all, the know-how of marketing tools and strategies. In this article, I’ll break down the main features that can help you understand and use YouTube to your advantage in 2023.
Let’s jump in.
Starting a YouTube channel and posting music videos sounds like an obvious thing to do, but posting regular, high-quality content is one of the key things you need to build your profile. Funnily enough, most of us struggle with creating consistently, week-by-week, month-by-month. Once you figure this out, there are just a number of features and tools you need to understand to market your content in the right way. Posting more frequently allows you to learn along the way and make small improvements with every new release.
Of course, there are examples of musicians going viral overnight, as it happened to Cairo, an American lo-fi artist who 6 years ago published the song “Pretty Girl,” which, at the time of writing, reached 94 million views. I wrote about the top 10 musicians (including Cairo) on YouTube earlier this year. Head over to the article to draw some inspiration or find out who the top YouTube musicians are and how they achieved these results.
Nonetheless, it rarely works out that way for most musicians. Be prepared for a long journey, but if you do it right, you will see a steady growth. Stay motivated, be consistent, and regularly revise your strategy. If your 101st video doesn’t get more views than your 10th one, you probably are doing something wrong.
Before you even start publishing new content, you should personalize your channel to say who you are and what you do. YouTube has various channel types depending on your activity, and as an indie artist, you should opt for the Official Artist Channel (it’s not available for labels or non-artists). It acts as a form of credential, confirming your status as a creator. It also gathers the subscriber count and content from your various channels in one place.
On top of that, you get access to detailed Analytics for Artists and other YouTube tools designed to help you navigate and grow your presence on the platform. OAC is recognized by a music note displayed next to your username. Labels and non-artists can get their channel verified after reaching 100K subscribers.
Personalizing your channel is crucial, as you want your audience to connect with you on a more personal level and recognize you for the unique style and features that will make you stand out amongst other musicians. Put some effort into optimizing your profile icon/ avatar and banner. Go for a clear and distinctive design. Use the banner to display information and links (up to 5 links can be shown in the profile overview) related to your professional presence, like the artist’s website, social media channels, etc.
This year, YouTube introduced a new channel view, which is now divided into sections that are supposed to help viewers navigate through your content. Make their experience fluid and hassle-free. Take advantage of the Chanel Trailer, Thumbnails, and Featured Video to attract new visitors. A small design change: YouTube introduced rounded corners in Thumbnails this year. Although it’s not a massive alteration, it’s worth considering it in your design planning.
The next step should be organizing the content into sections or shelves. Playlists are an excellent resource to extend viewers’ time spent on your channel and boost the profile by providing more valuable content. To create a playlist, you can use videos from the channel or combine the content from other channels. You can find plenty of instructional videos on how to create a playlist in 2023, such as this one.
YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine (just after Google), and since Google also owns YouTube, it basically dominates the digital space. You know where I’m going with it – SEO algorithm. If you want your content to appear in the search results, you need to pay attention to the metadata; well-optimized titles, tags, and descriptions will help correctly categorize your videos and ultimately make them more accessible. The same goes for the channel descriptions. If you use the OAC channel, make sure to include the description in the Artists Tab as well as the About section.
If we are to believe the news popularized by the YouTube gurus, gone are the days when it was all about the subscribers, and you had to spend years growing your fanbase and getting more views. Today, YouTube prioritizes quality content, which for artists can be good and bad at the same time. It does make it easier for beginners to snowball, but it also means you need to bring real value to your audience to become successful.
When you post a new video on YouTube, the algorithm pushes it to a small number of your subscribers at first. If the CRT (Click Through Rate) and AVD (Average View Duration) are high, it will show it to a larger audience. If the new group of viewers also click on and watch the entire video, YouTube will promote it to more people again.
Some super-useful channels, including the updates from Think Media, provide up-to-date and relevant information on how to make an impact with your YouTube content. The authority follows quality; although you can only establish your position as an expert after some time, consistently promoting valuable and resourceful content will bring results over time. A great example is Rick Beato, an American multi-instrumentalist, music producer, educator, and YouTube personality, who, over the years, established his position as an expert in the industry by posting over 1200 informative, well-researched videos and interviews.
Connecting with your community is one of the fundamental aspects of growing your online presence. YouTube offers you a range of tools to do it, including a dedicated Community Tab. To qualify for Community Tab in 2023, you need to have at least 500 subscribers and pass the verification process.
The Community Tab has 3 main features to help you connect with your fans. You can upload a video, go live, or share a community post. Posting offers several content variations, like carousels, Q&A, open questions, text pools, or recently added image pools. You want to build a genuine relationship with your viewers, and using these features allows you to connect on multiple levels. Getting feedback on your content and understanding what your community wants is also easier than ever.
Furthermore, posting and responding to comments is a great way to keep the channel alive when you’re not uploading new content. You shouldn’t also forget about the YouTube Premiere, especially before releasing new material on the platform. As the name indicates, you can use it to schedule the debut of your video and create hype around it by taking advantage of the shareable event’s URL. YouTube Premiere helps you bring together, interact in real-time, and share experiences with the community members.
The audience is changing, and social media platforms are evolving to meet the needs and desires of the new type of viewers. Short forms are frequently prioritized over more elaborate setups. In June this year, YouTube removed Stories to focus on YouTube shorts and community posts as primary features that can enhance community building and drive new audiences to valuable content delivered through long-forms and live videos. YouTube Shorts are short, mobile-friendly videos launched on the platform in July 2021.
Starting this year, you can combine multiple 15-second clips with up to 60 seconds of music or sound in a video (up from a 15-second maximum length, which is a massive increase if you think of it.) Another useful new feature is the possibility to include a narrative over your Shorts video, giving you even more tools to create a hook.
Not everyone might be a fan of short videos, but there is no doubt that this content format is gaining a lot of attention and helping creators bring more audience to their channels. As of January 2023, YouTube Shorts has 1.5 billion monthly active users and over 30 billion daily views. Stats released this year by Google show that artists using short-form videos observe most of their fanbase growth and Unique Views coming from the Shorts. So, even if that’s not your cup of tea, I suggest you give it a try if you haven’t yet included it in your strategy.
Shorts are intended as the main feature competing with going out of the roof popularity of TikTok. Still, the way you should use these is not the same. The Shorts videos are not meant to be the endpoint in itself but rather an intro into more developed content like music videos, live sessions, etc. They are also aimed at keeping your audience active between the releases. You should treat them as such and use them as a tool to attract the audience and retain their attention for long enough so they will want to explore your channel.
YouTube Shorts are a fantastic tool for artists and can contribute to the fans’ input in popularizing the most appreciated content. Artists like singer-songwriter Oliver Tree, known for his eccentric lifestyle, saw an increase from 6 to over 75 million views in a matter of months following his strategy to share Shorts videos related to the song “Miss You.”
According to the global head of Music for YouTube and Google, Lyor Cohen, as quoted by Forbes, Shorts from Tree’s fans featuring the song generated an extra 1.8 billion views.
Shorts can also contribute to your income gained from the platform. This year, YouTube introduced a new way to monetize Shorts, sharing the revenue generated from the ads based on the total views of eligible videos in each country.
YouTube is constantly changing, and so is the whole music industry. Keeping up with all the new features and most recent developments requires time and resources. Continually improving your online presence and staying on top of each new addition while creating quality content might not always be feasible, especially when you’re at the dawn of your YouTube journey. Impressive overnight success stories can be inspiring, but don’t let them create an illusion that you can reach millions of views in no time. Jon wrote about his experience growing a YouTube channel almost from zero (precisely a couple of subscribers), so if you’re just at the kick-off and need some encouragement, be sure to check out his story.
Starting out with too high of expectations can throw you off balance as soon as you encounter the first obstacle. If you want to grow your presence on YouTube, be prepared for a long and often bumpy road. Personalization, consistency, and connecting with your community are the key areas you should focus on to build and sustain your desired career and achieve your music goals.