Friday, November 15, 2013

What About YouTube? - Essay

The essay below is a re-posting of my monthly column on the Welcome Page of the California Bluegrass Association web site, which appeared on Tuesday. As a content producer, I have found YouTube to be an increasingly important and demanding adjunct to this blog. In fact, it may be slowly but surely taking over. Here's the current state of my musings on this. Interested to read your responses.

I started making videos just to see if the new technology worked for me. Once I decided they were a pretty good way to share bluegrass music, it became inevitable that I would have to start a You Tube channel of my own. When I bought a low priced HD camcorder and began to learn to make titles, we started getting serious about including video as a part of our effort to communicate the part of the bluegrass world we live in. I say “we,” because my long suffering wife, Irene, has become an integral part of the effort to build our video channel and integrate it with our Facebook page, Ted and Irene's Most Excellent Bluegrass Adventure, and my blog. I got lucky back in 2011 when, at the Doyle Lawson bluegrass festival in Denton, NC, I asked Josh Williams to sing one of my favorite songs, Mordecai. I determined to record it. This song, whose content is quite unusual for a bluegrass song, tells of a Jewish peddlar coming to homes in the mountains with a backpack full of life's necessities. About half way through the song, a bird drops down from the rafters and lands on Josh's guitar. He continues to sing the entire song, to the bird, without missing a beat. The rest is history, as the song went viral around the world. To date it has had 1,872,300 plays. I've become hooked on trying to use video to illustrate what bluegrass means to us. To date, the channel displays 988 individual songs by performers from the very top of the bluegrass hierarchy to some songs of jammers having a good time. And I've learned a lot about media.

Here are some current statistics published by YouTube suggesting its current scope and, perhaps, influence:
  • More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month
  • Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—that's almost an hour for every person on Earth, and 50% more than last year
  • 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute
  • 70% of YouTube traffic comes from outside the US
What does all this mean to our little corner of the YouTube world? Incrasingly I find that people come up to me to introduce themselves telling me they keep running into my videos on YouTube. Since my blogs, my writing, are, to me, the more important part of what I do, commanding most of my energy, this has been a surprise. In the past I've said that my readers think of me as a photographer who intersperses his pictures with text, which they scan, at best, while I think of myself as a writer who takes pictures. Our friend Henri Deschamps was the first person I know of to call me a photo-journalist, a characterization I've now embraced. Strangely, if you look at my statistics, the video channel currently has roughly three times more viewers than the blog does. What a surprise to me, considering that we started taking videos really as a sideline
After becoming aware that YouTube was supporting its vast effort through placing advertising on the videos uploaded by millions of people, I examined the issues surrounding my becoming a YouTube Partner in order to participate in the income from advertising. For several years I had resisted this, believing that the performers and the copyright holders deserved the income. Before videoing any band, I always receive verbal permission from them to record and post. Through discussions with a number of people in the industry, I determined that I owned the videos themselves and was a legitimate stake holder in their revenue. Last summer I registered as a YouTube partner, and the videos have since contributed a modest (about $0.001 per view) return to supplement the, also modest, income from ads on the blog and purchases at Amazon generated through people entering from the portal on my blog. This all goes to contribute towards meeting the costs of attending events and traveling to them.

I have recently become aware that my posting videos we take of bands performing seems to be useful to the bands themselves. Several bands, including The Steep Canyon Rangers, IIIrd Tyme Out, and Donna Ulisse & the Poor Mountain Boys have featured videos I produced on their web sites or Facebook pages. Whenever this occurs, I can see the bump in viewership in my daily numbers and in increases in the number of subscribers to my YouTube channel. (YouTube provides extensive “analytics,” as does blogger, which help participants gauge their reach and, if they're so inclined, increase their market penetration and income. In no case am I able to identify the individual involved, although in some cases I can make a pretty good guess, based on location.) I can only believe this is mutually beneficial, and that more bands would benefit by making good use of quality videos posted of them on YouTube. While many bands are posting professionally created videos produced by their record companies or other entities, these are not necessarily what YouTube viewers are seeking out. Rather, I believe the typical YouTube viewer is interested in seeing a band in a more natural performance situation without the “benefit” of professional production values.

The videos we record and I produce represent raw performances, just the band playing the song in a festival setting. They are recorded through a microphone mounted on the camera and never from the festival's sound board. Recently, through changes in the technology available to me (or at least my awareness of it and ability to use it), I've been able to add a title screen with the name of the band, song, location, and date recorded as well as two credit pages at the end of the song identifying each performer in the band, who recorded the song, and the address of my blog, making a more professional look and better information about the song available to the viewer. I also try to include the name of the song writer, when I'm able to determine it, on the publication data section provided by YouTube. I'm always grateful to fans who correct errors that I've made as well as to viewers who flag objectionable comments. In only a very few instances have I been asked by artists or their representatives to remove videos. I've always done so as quickly as I can get to a computer.

In sum, I believe that YouTube represents a powerful and useful way to share bluegrass songs with a broad, international community. The data indicate that my YouTube videos have been seen in 216 counntries or territories generating nearly three million visits during the last four years. That's a lot of folks tuning in to bluegrass music. We live in such a rapidly changing media environment, no one can predict where the recording industry or the income streams available to artists are headed. I can only say I hope that those who perform the music and write it can consistenly be rewarded more generously.

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