Ballad of the New Troubadour

The new troubadour sits behind his computer clicking a mouse, angling a webcam and strumming a guitar, while he spills his heart out from a stage that could be anyone's bedroom. The digital age - in a record industry that's still indelibly fractured - has forced a swing of independent artists to become more clever and ambitious than ever before, and ultimately reliant upon no one but themselves to get their audiences.

It's a genuine scramble for most musicians to survive as they're required to be songwriter, manager, producer, distributor and also curator of their own content.

Enter YouTube, which at this year's SXSW launched its "Musicians Wanted" platform, a part of its Partnership Program that'll now offer musicians a fresh opportunity to monetize their music videos from YouTube's site via ad-generated revenue. The advertisements are overlaid at the bottom of each video, and according to Cliff Samaniego, YouTube's strategic partner development manager, each advertisement will be tailored to, "advertisers' needs, partners' interest, demographics, and the genres of content."

YouTube is encouraging bedroom-evangelists across the country to join up and get one step closer to the dream of quitting their day jobs. Step one: YouTube says you need to build up a dedicated audience by initially presenting quality content. Only then should artists present work to a panel of YouTubers and tastemakers who will hopefully select you based upon a set criteria: audience size, quality of content, frequency of updates, and location. And if you still don't qualify the first time around then you'll have to wait at least two months to reapply. 

Once selected as a partner, it's in the artist's best interest to generate consistent fresh content: new videos, alternate renditions of songs, vlogs, or anything that will inspire a steady crowd. Most of the content created so far has not been produced at traditional music industry standards, and is usually prepared with amateur recording and video equipment. However, in this deconstructed low-budget era, where artistically speaking anything is permissible, the only thing that really matters is that you get your fans to the site.  More content means more traffic, more money and in this one instance, fewer problems.  

But artists shouldn't expect to be dropped by YouTube if viewership happens to sink below a certain level because once the contract is established it will last as long as the artist operates within set YouTube guidelines. Samaniego also stresses, "Artists can choose how many videos and how they want to design their page. They have total flexibility as long as they work within the YouTube guidelines." 

YouTube would not disclose the exact amount of money an artist can receive per click, saying only that artists are entitled to "the lion's share" of the revenue generated from advertisements. Maybe today's troubadours have a chance after all?
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