Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My YouTube Hit Parade - Essay

The essay below is a lightly edited version of the essay that appeared yesterday as my monthly column on the Welcome Page of the California Bluegrass Association web page. I hope you find it interesting and worth some discussion.

I've been wondering whether my YouTube Channel ( represents an accurate picture of what kinds of music people prefer to hear and see. Does it function more or less like an Internet visual jukebox, or is it merely an anomolous collection of songs I've posted as a part of our media effort? I thought I'd take a look at it this month as the total accumulation of page views approaches two million and the monthly views seem to hover in the range of fifty thousand.

Of course it's all taken out of proportion by the remarkable success of the Josh Williams video (, taken at the Doyle Lawson Bluegrass Festival in Denton, NC on May of 2011. A fledgling bird fluttered out of the rafters and lodged itself on Josh's guitar strap, moved to the rim of his instrument, and perched their while Josh sang Mordecai without losing a beat. I first posted this video on June 7, 2011 along with several others. For months the video had unremarkable viewership of a few a day and then a few dozen. On January 20, 2012 it garnered nearly 1500 views. The next day 101,080 and on the 22nd, 204,476. I only became aware of this as the number of comments landing in my mailbox increased geometrically. Some were a little on the salacious side, so I closed the comments function. Within a few hours I received an email which cryptically said, “Call me!” along with a domestic phone number. The person talked to me about his own video, which had gone viral, and advised me to re-open the comment section, telling me that other readers would take care of spammers and people who posted unacceptable material. With some reservations, I re-opened the comment section, and sure enough, whenever a post that wouldn't pass muster appeared, self-appointed censors marked it for removal, and it was gone. I still don't know how the video was taken viral, but over its lifetime there have been more than 1.6 million views of Josh singing the song. In order to look at the utility for gauging popularity on my channel. I must discount the viral video.

So, I'll take a look at a couple of metrics. First, lets see the picture of my video hit parade over its entire history on YouTube. Here it is:

The problem with this graphic is that songs which have been on my channel the longest have the most views while popular groups and songs that have emerged in the period I've been serious about posting videos may not appear, yet. Nevertheless, notice that last year's IBMA song of the year by Balsam Range, stands at number two, the Gibson Brothers have two songs on the list (perhaps reflecting our preference for them) and Grasstowne, a relatively inactive touring band has one of the all time high songs. Paul Williams' song “Satisfied,” Darin & Brooke Aldridge's “I'll Wear a White Robe,” and Dailey & Vincent's “After a While” signal a strong preference for gospel music among people who find themselves on my YouTube Channel, either by roving around in it, or by searching song or artist and arriving there. The appearance of so many gospel songs suggests a strong desire to see and hear gospel music on the Internet. There are newcomers and old-timers on the list, but no great playing of what are called progressive bands, although they don't predominate on my list, either.

Some people have asked my whether I make any money from the YouTube channel in general or the Josh Williams video in particular. The answer is “No!” I don't accept advertising or advertising revenue on YouTube, mostly for ethical reasons since I don't own the underlying copyrighted material. All my videos are, however, taken with verbal permission from the performer, and I make a good faith effort to identify and acknowledge the authors and composers whose songs they sing. I have only been asked to take down one video for copyright purposes, although one person has asked me to take down a video for artistic ones.

I wanted to take a look at the list over a shorter period and chose the last thirty days as representative. When I count for myself, I discout the Josh Williams video because it tends to bias the results. For the thirty day period referenced below, 50,195 videos were viewed with 23,037 accounted for by Moredecai. Subtracting those, I count 27,158 views if videos we have produced. 

My wife Irene records many of the videos, when she has time. Notice that two Gibson Brothers songs are on the hit parade as well as the Balsam Range award winner. But notice, too, in third place a gospel song by a little known Nashville band from Texas called The Purple Hulls. We've seen them only once, at Newell Lodge in Folkston, GA, but there song has over 1000 views during the last 30 days and 2897 since I uploaded it in March. People are seeking out this group. I wonder whether this interest is also reflected in their bookings, because, after all, if these videos are bringing pleasure to viewers without generating bookings or CD sales, then the effort may prove futile. Notice, too, that Monroeville and Blue Highway both show up in this list. The Hinson Girls are a family band from North Carolina which won the band contest at RenoFest this year. They have a certain appeal and it's something of a surprise to me that they appear on the list. Dailey & Vincent and Paul Williams continue to draw very well.

One more graphic seems to me to be particularly interesting. Many of us tend to think of bluegrass music as being particularly American music of somewhat local appeal. The metric below shows only the top ten throughout the history of the video channel, but further digging suggests that my videos, and by extension all bluegrass videos on YouTube are much more widely viewed than we might expect.

YouTube provides a kind of information that my not exactly track air plays from submitting stations or reporters. It reaches out to a vast world of music consumers of whom the ones watching bluegrass represents only a small part. The songs or performances played can now be viewed by attaching your computer to a television set watching them in high definition. What the long term effect of such distribution and consumption will be is still to be understood, but it strikes me as being quite powerful, particularly as quality improves.