5 Questions with YouTube Music’s Ruuben van den Heuvel
YouTube, the global juggernaut in video streaming, is about to flex its considerable muscle in the music subscription space.
After months of chatter and speculation, the Alphabet-owned streaming platform YouTube Music was announced last month and presented to Australian media and industry partners last week in Sydney, where the tech giant employs a team dedicated to curation. The new platform is still teased as “coming soon,” though a special “Night With YouTube Music” event next Tuesday suggests the launch is coming sooner than you think.
The multi-tiered YouTube Music promises a whole bunch of new tricks, from deep cuts, to an offline mixtape based on interests that updates daily and a feature which enables artists to upload music via the app. Oh, and video.
TIO caught up with YouTube’s Head of Music Content Partnerships (ANZ) Ruuben van den Heuvel for a closer look.
So where are we at with the new platform?
It’s rolling out as we speak. Australia and New Zealand will be some of the first markets in the world where that happens.
What we’ve been doing over the last few years but specifically in the last year-and-a-half since (global head of music) Lyor Cohen joined and really gave us musical focus, we’re been collaborating deeply with label partners and really starting to understand their priorities to see how we can help promote and, importantly, help break artists.
Lyor talks a lot about diversity and the twin engines of growth: the ad supported service and also the subscription service. We’re giving all the partners that we have, whether it’s the label, the artist or the management, the best route to consumer access that any music platform has out there available to them.
So they’re really starting to use us and see us as partners, not only promoting their artists but also making money. YouTube has been around for a little over 13 years. We’ve got so much data and analytics that we’re able to understand an audience in ways they can’t anywhere else.
Also, we’re seeing an abundance of Australian music. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when there is so much great Australian music.
We see YouTube’s role as getting that to a global audience. In amongst all the Australian music is the celebration of Australian female artists; you look at artists like Vera Blue and Amy Shark, Alison Wonderland, who is the No 1 female DJ in the world, Courtney Barnett and of course Tash Sultana.
It’s just an amazing group of Australian female artist who are now hitting the world stage. We’re really happy to be a part of it.
At the presentation last week in Sydney, it was revealed YouTube Music would work with many of those artists you just mentioned. How so?
In the latter part of last year we started the Official Artist Channels. We’ve created a program that pulls in all of their videos all of their content in one place on an artist’s owned and operated channel.
What that then does is it provides fans with a place on YouTube where they can find everything that Tash Sultana has done, and it’s constantly being updated by the artist.
With those Official Artist Channels, we’re creating an amazing amount of analytics, and providing those analytics back to the artist and management so they can do a lot with it, like planning for tours or understanding who their audience is.
Where they need to work hard with radio or other areas. We’ve also developed some social aspects to the YouTube channel.
We’ve got a community tap that we’ve started a few months ago, it’s a place where an artist can talk directly to their audience. They can post messages, photos and use emojis and that’s really starting to build a momentum of its own.
And as we continue to develop as well through the artist channel, we’ve done experiments with different forms of commerce. So in the U.S., we’re now making an artist’s YouTube channel available to sell tickets directly to their fanbase.
There’s an old expression, learn from your mistakes. I like to take it a step further and say, learn from other people’s mistakes. Apple Music made a mistake when it launched in 2015 with a free trial which generated no royalties for the artist. Taylor Swift called them on it. Did you learned from others’ mistakes?
We’ve learned, first and foremost, from our partners. Our partners are constantly telling us what we could do to be better to be more relevant to create an opportunity for artists. And we gravitate toward that.
From every conversation we have, there’s something to be learned. Importantly from our audience as well, we’re an open platform. We’re constantly being commented on, and through those comments we learn a lot.
You’ll see this platform evolve with YouTube Music and specifically what we doing with artists, you’d see a great deal of development as a result of the feedback we get.
So what’s different?
YouTube consumers and audience tell us they love our service but they also want music to be a standalone. We’ve unbundled that and it takes the YouTube experience and puts it in an app, and allows background play so you can use other apps on your phone while you’re listening to music.
You can also take it offline in instances where you’re out of range, out of connectivity or being frugal with your data demands. And we’re adding in a family plan so a family of up to six people can enjoy YouTube Music.
Spotify and Apple Music have had a massive head start in the subscription space. How will YouTube Music chase down the established players?
Our view is we want to be one of the leaders in these stakes, that we have a music service that is really, really dynamic. We’re not just about audio, we’re about video as well. And we’ve got a larger body of music than any other service out there.
We’re not just about the album but we’re going to go really deep into artists. If you love Tash Sultana, you can find everything there from the recordings she’s done and all of the amazing things she’s been doing with bedroom recordings.
We’re looking at all sorts of things, from cover songs, collaborations. If you want to get deep on an artist then YouTube Music is the place to be.
The other really cool thing with YouTube Music, the searchability is amazing. If you were to ask YouTube Music through text or through voice, “hey what’s that song with the ‘handbag’ in it,” it’d look at your situation and your history of listening to music on YouTube and surface the most obvious response.
Google knows a thing or two about search. The other thing we have in our service which is quite amazing is the algorithmic selection of music we’ve added to that curated music.
We’ve got 7,000 playlists worldwide. In Australia, we pride ourselves that almost every single playlist we create has a flavour of Australian music to it or an Australian angle. That way when we create those playlists it’s not just meaningful for the market but it helps to promote Australian music.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.