Why “Follow For A Follow” On YouTube Isn’t Helping

A few thoughts on this YouTube subscriber swap thing that’s going around… (in case you’ve missed it a LOT of musicians have been promoting the idea that we should reciprocally follow one another to help reach the 1000 subscriber limit so we can start monetising YouTube channels, and then play each other’s videos on mute to gain revenue) 

FWIW, I’ve been on YouTube for 14 years, have just shy of 2K subscribers, have other videos on there posted by bass accounts that have generated hundreds of thousands of views, but IF I’d been monetising my account from the start (that wasn’t even possible back then – at least a third of my views on there were from before there was ANY money in YouTube), my total number of views would’ve made me significantly less than $500. In 14 years. Maybe a few bucks more if I could’ve persuaded people to watch ads on them.

See, you get paid almost nothing on YT for your music. Like, effectively nothing. You get paid for people watching ads. So you’re asking the people who are watching your videos to spend hours and hours collectively watching bullshit so you can make pennies. If that’s a byproduct of you doing what you do anyway, knock yourselves out. Go for it.

But making ‘content‘ so that you can somehow start from scratch while quarantined to make any money at all through YouTube views, AND trying to get that happening through a network of other people who are also trying to make content and aren’t even following anyone based on whether they actually like what they do??? Are you high? If your understanding of who you are is that you are an artist trying to sell your work, this is not your business.

I get that you’re trying to come up with strategies to make this work at a time when we’re REALLY struggling to stay afloat, but getting people to spend hours watching stuff they aren’t invested in so you can make pennies is not a good use of our time in quarantine. It’s not good economically and it’s not good spiritually, and it’s not even remotely likely to make any sensible money for anyone but Google.

If you already have stuff on YouTube and want to earn some scraps for it, sure get registered for ad revenue. But honestly, it’s not worth anything unless THAT’S YOUR BUSINESS. Like, a full time job. A quick google search suggests that 7 MILLION views a year (it’d be a hell of a production/marketing task to get 1% of that on content you own the copyright on – remember, you won’t get paid for videos of cover versions unless you license/register them, the writer will) will pay you LESS than I make a year from 260 Bandcamp subscribers.

I’ve said it god-knows how many times, the streaming economy has no response to this. The major labels and streaming companies COMBINED initially donated less to help musicians through this than Bandcamp earned for them in one day of waiving their fees and promoting it as a day to help. One day. Rihanna has donated more than her entire industry combined, just because she gives a shit. (Spotify have since announced $10M of matched funding donations to three music-focused charities )

An economic model designed to massively prioritise paying people for already-famous music that doesn’t require a marketing or production budget is never going to be a sustainable ecosystem for a mass of creatives to earn a living. Stop trying to make fetch happen. If you’ve had a viral hit on a playlist or two on Spotify and have made some money, that’s brilliant. I want my friends and colleagues to make money, but it’s not sustainable across the system, and trying to game YouTube with some ‘follow for a follow’ nonsense is not going to suddenly get you all the kind of resilient audience who are willing to watch ads to see your stuff that is needed to make money off this.

Last thing – every person I know who is making SERIOUS money off YouTube (or is using YouTube as a significant part of their marketing funnel to a business that makes money – not the same thing) has studied this stuff to a significant level. They aren’t just great musicians or teachers or gamers or whatever. They are deep into marketing techniques, into the kind of video they need to make to get views, they study click through rates and patterns, interpret YouTube stats about viewer retention, they are constantly tweaking that shit to make it work.

My advice? Make the best art you can. Focus on the art right now. YouTube aren’t throwing anyone a lifeline. Everyone’s at home watching video, and you’re competing with people who’ve been in this game for a decade, have teams and a strategy. Just make great art, and make a case for the people in your audience who REALLY CARE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO and have the means to pay for it to help support it.

Reciprocal follow-me-back strategies have been around since MySpace, and they always suck. They are never pro-art, and result in a bunch of pushy, aggressive people seeming way more popular than their art deserves because they chase the follow-backs, not because they have anything worthwhile to share.

In short, the massive problem with this is that it assumes the the number of followers that it says you have on your YouTube page is more significant than the community of interest that the number is supposed to represent. Follow for a follow is a low-grade simulacrum of an actual community that are invested in what you do and care about it. It represents how many people were needy enough for their own follower count to go up that they would also click yours. You and your art deserve much, much better.

Do your art
Shout about the stuff you love
Invite the people who can afford to to support art – not just your art.
Stay safe.
Wash your hands.

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