Harlem Shake Shakes Up The YouTube Monetization Model

Have you wondered why the "Harlem Shake" meme became such a world-class phenomenon in such a short time? To say it shook up the music industry is an understatement. But why? It doesn't have the innovative dance moves of a "Gangnam Style," and the actual song is only 30-seconds long. By all rights, the folks that should be seeing a monetary return from today's multi-million dollar hit is the family of a Harlem resident who went by the name of "Al B," since he was the first to introduce the dance back in 1981.

By that's not the case. Why? Because the music industry has morphed into something new with the introduction of the Internet, and of recent date, YouTube. Royalties of the past are no longer what they used to be, replaced by a new model that the video uploading social network helped devise.

The techno-track created by a DJ-producer who goes by the name of Baauer was probably just as amazed as the rest of us, when his his version of Harlem Shake went viral with an avalanche of YouTube fans uploading thousands of copycat vids. The "unofficial" videos that used "official" audio became the secret sauce that moved the craze from a meme to a viral dance craze, that's only been on the scene since early February.

When reaching the top of Billboard's Top 100 chart, Harlem Shake made an 'historic' showing - historic because the "venerable pop-music chart only just began to include U.S. YouTube streams in its formula," noted Lily Rothman at Time.com. But even more unique was the fact it was only a 30-seconds long.

The Billboards milestone however was not the driver of monetization at the onset. The four-person Brooklyn-based record label named INDmusic were responsible for carving out a deal on YouTube that surely every aspiring songwriter/performer will be adapting in the weeks and months ahead. This creative team, differing from the legacy labels of the past saw the value in allowing the music to be absorbed organically by YouTube users.

This came about when Baauer and the song's owner, Mad Decent inked an agreement with INDMusic to help monetize its YouTube channels at a higher CPM (or cost per thousand viewer rate). The key here was to access YouTube's new "Content ID" - an online management tool that allows rights holders to find and claim content they own, while being able to analyze metadata as to how the content is viewed, and then finally to monetize it versus blocking it (a tactic still used by legacy music labels).

Within days of accessing Content ID, the Harlem Shake clips multiplied exponentially on YouTube, from the University of Georgia's Men's Swim & Dive Team video, to the Maker Studios office spoof, to the Norwegian army edition, the Greenpeace Polar Bears elevator sketch -- with even cartoon versions surfacing, the likes of Peanuts and The Simpsons.

The math behind how this monetization adds up quickly is a little fuzzy but was explained in depth by Andrew Hampp at Billboard.com, as such:

Note the 10% delineated above, that goes directly to the "person who uploaded the video." This in my mind became the motivator for the thousands that chose to upload their own version - because prior to -- any uploads using proprietary music were unable to set up a monetization deal with YouTube.

In an interview with the Washington Post, INDMusic's monetization model was described as the "Holy Grail" of the Internet. Here, INDMusic CEO Brendon Martinez relates in layman's terms how his music company has used YouTube views to not only make a profit, but to share proceeds with uploaders.

So perhaps Readers, you've got an idea for a meme that you feel has viral-potential and know just the right type of music you can use as a springboard? I'm sure the next Internet sensation is just ready to be hatched  -- out there, somewhere! However, whether it's a million to one long shot or something that has already "jumped the shark" is another story!  Best of luck in tubing your way to success!



Mar 4, 2013
by Anonymous

I didn't know how all that

I didn't know how all that worked. Thanks for explaining.