YouTube creators are shocked at the cost of music licensing tool Creator Music

  • YouTube released a new music licensing feature for US creators in its Affiliate Program this month.
  • The tool allows influencers to buy a license to use a song or share revenue with rights holders.
  • Some creators were shocked by the cost of a single track, with song prices reaching as high as $1,000.

YouTube will open February for US creators in its affiliate program to use copyrighted music in their videos with no monetization demonstration.

The platform’s new Creator Music feature is in beta testing and will allow influencers to either pay upfront to use a track in a video or split future advertising revenue with a song’s rightsholders once the video starts making payouts through the Earn from Google’s Adsense program.

Some developers who gained access to the tool in February said it showed promise as a new way to incorporate popular music into videos — a common pain point for users of the platform. However, some expressed shock at the cost of licensing songs, which while often listed as free or as low as $29.99, in some cases were priced in excess of $1,000, according to screenshots of the feature Insider displayed .

“I’ve seen stuff go up to $500,” said Daniel Sulzbach, a YouTube creator who posts commentary videos on the Repzion account, which has about 760,000 subscribers. “That’s astronomically too expensive, in my opinion.”

Some Creator Music licenses have a fixed price, while others have custom pricing based on a channel’s size. Other licenses are free, including YouTube Audio Library licenses and Creative Commons licenses.

Song license prices in Creator Music can vary widely depending on the number of subscribers a creator has. Sulzbach noticed this divergence when comparing his main channel to a smaller gaming channel he runs, which has around 7,000 subscribers. For example, Grupo 360’s song “Seguimos Laborando” cost $0 on Sulzbach’s gaming channel and $149.99 on his main channel. Insider verified the price difference via screenshot.

One song, Cadmium and Timmy Commerford’s “Feel It Too,” cost $1,000.99 for a two-year license, according to David Altizer, a YouTube creator with around 7,000 subscribers, who shared a screenshot of the track’s license details with Insider. The song was also listed as eligible for revenue share from creators unwilling to spend the flat fee. After the two-year period, an author would need to renew their license to the track, either through a revenue-sharing arrangement or some other lump-sum purchase, depending on the terms of the rightsholders to ensure copyright compliance.

YouTube Creator Music screenshot

Cadmium and Timmy Commerford’s “Feel It Too” cost $1,000.99 for a two-year video license to one creator.

David Altizer/YouTube.

In Creator Music cases where a song is available for a revenue share rather than an upfront license, the cost can still be high, especially when a creator is paying half (or more, depending on usage rights costs) of their 55% share % must split ad revenue, said tech YouTuber Vyyyper, who asked to be identified by his YouTube username.

“If you’re a smaller YouTuber and you’re just starting out, you’re probably not going to get a huge return on licensing a track,” they said. “You probably won’t get the views that will justify the license paying for itself.”

Other YouTubers dismissed the idea that a Creator Music license only grants an influencer access to use a song in a single video on YouTube and cannot be used with YouTube shorts, live streams, or reposts of the video on other social platforms. One pointed to competing music licensing tools like Epidemic Sound, which offer access to royalty-free music to use on various social platforms via a monthly subscription as a cheaper alternative.

“Of course I make stuff on YouTube, but I make stuff everywhere,” said Altizer, who has also worked as a content consultant with music licensing service Soundstripe. “Every dollar counts when you’re self-employed. If I’m going to spend $30 on a song for a use case that can only be used on YouTube versus a subscription service that costs $15 a month (whereby), I can download an unlimited library and use it on a variety of channels, on a variety of platforms, obviously you can see the objective appeal of that.”

Thomas Johnston, chief executive of influencer talent management firm Shifted Digital, said his clients mainly use Epidemic Sound for campaigns because most brands only want royalty-free music in videos.

The consequences for marketers who violate copyright regulations can be severe. Music rightsholders regularly crack down on brands that use songs in social media posts without paying for a license.

Music is at the heart of social media and rights holders want to capitalize on it

YouTube’s price tags for song licenses may seem particularly shocking to creators used to accessing tracks for free on platforms like TikTok and Shorts. But as social media eats up attention time and becomes an increasingly important hub for artist discovery, labels and publishers are trying to renegotiate with major platforms to generate more revenue. And creators who monetize social media may need to help foot the bill.

TikTok in particular has established itself as a top platform for discovering music. The company and its owner ByteDance are currently locked in deal negotiations with the major labels to leverage the app’s influence on music to secure favorable licensing deals.

Meta Platforms, which owns Facebook and Instagram, also rolled out its own revenue-sharing model last year to allow creators to use music in videos without losing monetization rights.

YouTube has gradually rolled out features over the past decade and a half to compensate music rights holders on its platform. In 2009, it founded the music video platform Vevo with Universal Music Group. In 2015, it built a standalone music streaming service called YouTube Music. The company is also providing revenue for music rights holders as it introduces revenue sharing for shorts this month.

In September, the company’s head of music wrote that YouTube paid $6 billion to the music industry over a 12-month period.

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