A deep dive into YouTube’s competitive online stage

October 10, 2021
Header image with the names Samantha Dacany, Jian Camille and Unorthodox Beatz

By Emma Xerri

Since the first YouTube video was published in 2005, YouTube has woven itself into the fabric of our contemporary society. The capacity for the platform to host content of all styles, genres and purposes has allowed for a vast plethora of niche entertainment from cats playing the piano, to faceless figures unboxing toys, and increasingly specific and unasked for Watch Mojo countdowns. According to statistics from tesh.com, YouTube houses 720,000 hours of new content daily and 400 hours of content every minute. Within this expanse, YouTube accounts specialising in music creation have become commonplace. From covers to instrumental tutorials, and original pieces, the world of music on YouTube is seemingly limitless and incredibly competitive.

I wanted to better understand the experience of creating music-related content for this platform, and how the YouTube experience strays from that of other, now increasingly popular platforms such as TikTok. I spoke to the creators behind three very different YouTube accounts – Samantha Dacanay, Jian Camille and UnorthodoxBeatz – in an attempt to grasp the shared, and seemingly inevitable, challenges that come within establishing a name for yourself as a musician on YouTube. 

Before speaking with these wonderful creators, I undertook some of my own research. I used TikTok as my comparison, focusing on which songs performed best on either platform, and whether these songs were trending at the time or not, in an attempt to establish if creating long-form YouTube content, is indeed, worth it. As I’m writing this, the number one song on both Spotify and Apple Music’s global charts is Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘good 4 u’. I found that covers of the song on the first page of my search results were all above 50,000 views, with many even exceeding 200-300,000. I then proceeded to search for covers of less popular songs, to see how their view counts compared. I searched for covers for another new release, Bleachers ‘How Dare You Want More,’ a song that is also current, but perhaps not considered to be as successful or popular in the mainstream. Only two covers appeared on the first page of my search, and both had less than 1,000 views. This seems to indicate that the song’s popularity has marked impacts on the success, and even the number, of YouTube covers created. Greater effort does not appear to correlate with greater reward, as short, snippet-like covers on TikTok have yielded significantly greater success than the longer, more demanding covers seen on YouTube.

I wanted to see if my findings mirrored, or even slightly resembled, the experience of actual content creators posting music-related videos on YouTube. When asked how they think YouTube compares to other platforms as a space to share their music and establish a following, the musicians I spoke to seemed to present similar views.

Jian Camille stated “I think, generally, YouTube is a slower platform. Since the videos are longer and the site itself is older, it can be a lot more challenging to gain traction. My YouTube videos will generally get the number of views that my TikToks do in double the time.”

UnorthodoxBeatz shared in this perspective, saying that he believes “YouTube is a more competitive platform because many other musicians and YouTubers are providing [hip hop] content like ours, making it harder for our channel to get noticed.” 

Both creators in this instance stressed the competitive nature of the platform and the consequent difficulty that comes with achieving a significant view count. According to tesh.com, the competitivity of YouTube content can be seen in the platform’s performance statistics, in that only 2% of all videos on the platform get 1,000 views or more, and 0.3% of the videos got at least 500,000 views. 

To combat the overwhelming number of videos constantly being uploaded, and the seemingly impossible feat of attracting more than 1,000 views, I asked Samantha, Jian and Kaimon to weigh in on what factors influence their song choices, and whether they are more influenced by trends or their own tastes, as well as which songs tend to perform better: those that are popular or those that are refreshingly different and unique to their platform. 

Samantha proposed that “Trends get lots of views because they are trends. However, I see so many creators creating something new from those trends, that make them stand out. From a content creator’s standpoint, I think trends can be beneficial for any creator who is just starting out or is already experienced.” However, Samantha also stressed that in her experience, she has found more success through songs that are less mainstream, writing “the audience I was targeting was pretty small at the time. Because of that, not many creators were producing the same content that I did, and so my videos were some of the only ones available for people in that specific community to watch.”

Jian wrote “I have tried posting popular songs and posting my own personal taste, and the popular songs always do much better. Since the hashtags and titles are trending, it is easier for people to find my content. I still really enjoy making covers with my own music taste, so I post them for fun and sometimes they do surprisingly well regardless of their popularity. I also noticed a much larger audience interaction with my videos once I started editing the videos in the kind of “indie” style.”

I then wanted to hear from these artists on whether they found the effort required in producing long-form YouTube videos to be worth it, and if they felt their effort was recognised and rewarded. Moreover, did they feel as though short-form videos such as Instagram reels and TikToks were going to attract more viewers than YouTube in the coming years?

Samantha wrote “I do think my work in producing content is recognized and rewarded. While I try not to rely all of my creative being on the validation of others, I have to be honest when I say it felt really good and comforting to see so many people enjoy the work that I put out. One memory I will never forget was when a Wallows fan came up to me at a concert and told me she recognized me from YouTube. She learned how to play a Wallows song on the guitar because of my videos. That was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been told regarding my content. And while I try to make my content for myself and my own interests, I always have [my audience] in mind which is why it’s so hard for me to post things nowadays.”

As a much newer channel that began only last year, UnorthodoxBeatz has found that “most of the time… [they] don’t gain enough recognition.” However, Kaimon assured that “this never creates negativity in our production. We continue to provide unique music for our audience, and if we don’t gain much notice in the beginning, we still strive for our goals with the same amount of effort.”

Jian’s channel, on the other hand, dates back to 8 years ago, yet her experience reflects that of Kaimon’s, as she stated that “for the first year of posting videos the growth was slow, as was the motivation to create new videos. I was posting weekly and was not getting the views or following I felt like I deserved. However, with time I realized that slow build was worth it. My efforts were not immediately rewarded but when it did come it was huge and awesome.”

Surprisingly, I found that the responses regarding short-form content replacing YouTube content varied much more than I expected them to. Jian proposed that although she sees these shorter videos becoming increasingly popular, she wants to continue posting longer content and take her “sweet time with [her] passions.” And Samantha mentioned that she believes she will transition to these platforms as her primary platform, with the view that “shorter covers = less room for making mistakes.” But what I found most interesting was Kaimon’s perspective on the way his channel UnorthodoxBeatz could utilise the popularity of TikTok to advertise their YouTube channel. Kaimon wrote that “we would most likely use those platforms to provide insight on what content we provide to our audience and how we produce the music, such as through quick beat-making videos. Short videos like these will assist us in gaining a larger audience as the more platforms we are active on, the better.”

As well as the questions that I put forward to each of these channels, I also wanted to better understand the nuances of running a music account that is anonymous, given that the creators of UnorthodoxBeatz are absent from their videos and instead accompany their hip hop tracks with vibrant artwork and graphics. 

Kaimon responded by saying “producing content for the music industry all comes down to competition, and the only way to make yourself known in the world of music is to stand out in the crowd and to produce tracks that are unique, possibly containing a mixture of musical genres and building your own style of music. Thinking outside the box will hopefully catch the eyes of many different people, in the hope of attracting record labels that need unique and talented producers.”

“We believe that establishing a relationship with our audience is a rather important part of gaining a solid listening base because this can lead to links in the music industry and possibly collaborating with other musician/s. This can also lead to more shout-outs from our audience, which will assist in the growth of our following, as well as allowing us to develop a base of faithful, regular listeners.

With the generous insight from these powerhouse musicians, I have been able to better navigate the challenges associated with establishing and maintaining a successful music-centric YouTube channel. Whether you’re producing minimalist covers, aesthetically pleasing indie bedroom concerts or catchy RnB rhythms, YouTube appears to have the capacity to catapult any musician into stardom, and for these artists, the many gruelling tests and challenges of this competitive online stage are definitely worth it.

Emma Xerri hosts crushcrushcrush, streaming every Friday at 12pm on Radio Fodder.