Game of pawns: musician accuses YouTube of strong-arm tactics with Music Key

26 Jan 2015

Artist Zoë Keating (via Flickr)

Musician Zoë Keating has revealed she was told to sign on to YouTube’s new Music Key service otherwise her channel would be blocked and she would lose all YouTube’s monetisation options.

Keating, a rock and roll cello player whose work has been used in movies and TV shows, with one of her most popular online tunes being a version of the theme tune to Game of Thrones, was told she needed to sign on to the new YouTube Music Key service or have her channel blocked.

A former computer programmer, Keating combines technology with her cello playing, has over 1.1m followers on Twitter and sells her music directly to her fanbase.

Music Key is a new subscription service being launched by Google aimed to compete with services like Spotify and Pandora.

She said that among the terms she feels onerous is the inclusion of all her catalogue in the free and premium music service, all songs will be set to “monetise” which means there will be ads on them and that she would be required to release new music on YouTube at the same time as any where else.

The contract with YouTube stands for up to five years.

A YouTube rep told her that all music content has to be licensed under the new agreement.

Failure to join the Music Key platform would mean Keating would be unable to derive income from the Content ID system, which includes fan edits of her work.

Keating, who was a software developer before her music career took off, has an insight into the tech industry and sells music directly to fans via a page on Bandcamp.

Algorithmic cruelty

She said she had played twice at Google’s headquarters in San Francisco and met chairman Eric Schmidt on at least two occasions.

“The YouTube music service was introduced to me as a win-win and they don’t understand why I don’t see it that way,” Keating wrote on a lengthy Tumblr post.“‘We are trying to create a new revenue stream on top of the platform that exists today.

“A lot of people in the music industry talk about Google as evil. I don’t think they are evil. I think they, like other tech companies, are just idealistic in a way that works best for them. I think this because I used to be one of them.

“The people who work at Google, Facebook, etc can’t imagine how everything they make is not, like, totally awesome. If it’s not awesome for you it’s because you just don’t understand it yet and you’ll come around. They can’t imagine scenarios outside their reality and that is how they inadvertently unleash things like the algorithmic cruelty of Facebook’s yearly review (which showed me a picture I had posted after a doctor told me my husband had 6-8 weeks to live).”

Keating has 19 videos with a total of just under 520,000 views.

She said that via the Content ID system she gets a share of ad revenues from 10,000 videos uploaded by other people that feature her music.

These videos were watched 250,000 times in the last month alone.

“I told the rep I’m happy with Content ID as it is. Can’t I just continue to participate in Content ID and not be a part of Music Key?

“No. The rep said they can’t have music in the free version that is not in the paid version, it would be bad for their users. All music content has to be licensed under this new agreement.

“How many 3rd party videos are there? As of today there are 9,696 videos and last month those videos had 250,000 monthly views. The Content ID robot sucks up more videos every day,” Keating pointed out.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years