new color = #031c9b, old color =

YouTube 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Picture of Seth Lorinczi
5 minute read

Savvy musicians know that YouTube is a great way to locate current and potential fans around the world. If you’ve started your own YouTube channel, you’re well on your way towards developing those crucial relationships, but there’s much more to the picture. Are you sure you’re taking all the right steps to earn royalties from the use of your songs on YouTube?

Additionally, did you know that you can earn money not only from uploading videos containing your music on your own channel, but also when other YouTube users use your music in videos on their own channels (known as user-generated content or UGC)?

Every time someone uses one of your songs in a video that they’ve posted on YouTube and monetized (monetized being the keyword here, we’ll explain further soon), you earn publishing royalties -- also known as “micro-sync” royalties -- as the rights owner of that song. Whether it’s a recording of a live gig or a funny cat video with your song as the backing track, you can earn a share of the video’s advertising revenue. If that sounds like small change, think again: In the last 12 months, YouTube claims it’s paid out over $1 billion in revenue to rights holders from this type of royalty.

(T) UGC Video Breakdown

What Type of Royalties Do I Earn From YouTube?

As we mentioned earlier, YouTube generates micro-sync royalties. Micro-sync comes from the term 'synchronization (sync) license', which is when music is 'synchronized' to a moving image, such as a TV show or advertisement. Micro-sync refers to the same kind of use (music + moving image) on a larger, bulk scale - instead of licensing a single use of the song, you’re licensing your song to potentially thousands of uses on a platform like YouTube. Micro-sync uses generate both mechanical and performance royalties for songwriters.

Important: Remember that the royalties you receive and see on your royalty statements, for example with Songtrust, are a collective amount for any use of your music, not by individual videos. 

Typically, performance royalties are tracked, collected, and paid through your affiliated collection society such as a PRO like ASCAP or BMI in the US or a CMO such as GEMA in Germany or SACEM in France, and mechanical royalties are paid out by your publisher or by a publishing administrator like Songtrust. 

On occasion, you might come across a video that isn’t yours and is using your song. While technically this isn’t legal and that person should get permission from you or your publisher first, it does happen. If the video meets YouTube's eligibility requirements (explained below), a claim by your publisher will not only put an advertisement on the video, which then can be monetized on your behalf, but it also prevents the uploader from monetizing the video themselves. If you would like the video to come down, reach out directly to YouTube to discuss next steps. A great way to ensure that a video using your song doesn’t go unnoticed or provides royalties to someone other than yourself is to make sure you register your song and all relevant metadata connected to the song as soon as it’s distributed. Also make sure that your publisher works directly with platforms such as YouTube or a third party to help claim uses of your song.

How Songwriters Monetize Their Work on YouTube

YouTube uses a fingerprinting system called Content ID to identify content using your song data (song title, ISRC, writer share information, etc) on their platform. Videos that are added to the platform are scanned against a database of submitted files by content owners. Using this system, copyright owners, such as yourself, can claim videos that are using content that matches your works. 

Two of the best ways songwriters can earn publishing royalties for their songs are through ads and Youtube’s Partner Program. 

YouTube Ad Monetization

Advertisers pay YouTube to target viewers with their ads—something YouTube’s parent company Google is exceptionally good at—and then YouTube shares a portion of that ad revenue with the rights holders, or the original songwriters or publishers (as well as labels and distributors), who own the content of the video uploaded. 

In order for YouTube to place ads on and monetize a video, as of February 2018, the video must be on a channel that has at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time over the past 12 months.

YouTube’s Partner Program

Signing up for YouTube’s Partner Program is another step toward monetization. It’s important for us to reiterate that if you upload original content, such as your own songs, onto your own channel, you can earn money both from that content and from any monetized videos that other people upload that include your music (there’s that UGC we mentioned earlier!). While there’s a threshold to joining, you can apply to join the program and have your content propagated through advertisements, paid subscriptions, and merchandising opportunities. Below are YouTube’s Partner Program eligibility requirements:

  • Follow all the YouTube monetization policies: The YouTube monetization policies are a collection of policies that allow you to monetize on YouTube. If you're a YouTube partner, your agreement including the YouTube partner program policies requires compliance with these monetization policies in order to potentially earn money on YouTube.

  • Live in a country or region where the YouTube Partner Program is available

  • Have more than 4,000 valid public watch hours in the last 12 months

  • Have more than 1,000 subscribers

  • Have a linked AdSense account

Once videos are monetized, your song begins to earn royalties any time that video is viewed. Publishers may either have direct agreements with YouTube, as Songtrust does, or will use third-party companies, like AdRev, to help with YouTube content claims. For example, YouTube uses a Content Management System to allow content owners to provide their metadata and details of their ownership of different content types: videos, sound recordings, and compositions. In other words, CMS is the system Songtrust uses to register, monitor, and protect your compositions on YouTube. However, it’s also important to note that Songtrust clients do not have to be a YouTube partner in order for us to monetize their content. Generally, if you are a partner and are able to monetize your own channel, Songtrust will whitelist that channel so that we do not make any claims on their videos. Once we place a claim, they can no longer monetize it themselves.

Doing It Alone Or Getting Help?

As a company founded by and for independent music creators, we want you to be aware of all the opportunities for up-and-coming songwriters to monetize their music. While it’s well within your reach to use YouTube’s native tools and programs or an additional third-party platform, we want you to know that we can help. If you’re an indie artist, you can work with a publisher or publishing administrator, like Songtrust, to help you manage the process more efficiently.

Music publishers have access to YouTube’s Content ID feature and may have other proprietary tools to help them locate all the places your music has been uploaded. Some publishers can help you identify who is using your songs, ensure that ads are enabled on each video, and help get your share of revenue to you. While any YouTube account that meets the requirements to monetize their own channel can do this themselves, only a publisher, or third-party like AdRev, can monetize your songs on other channels, or in user-generated content. Additionally, remember that this is only for your composition -- Your label or distributor will be responsible for monetizing your sound recordings.

Whichever way you want to go—whether you’re already signed to a label or an indie artist just starting out—it’s time to start getting your monetizing act together!

If you have any questions about how to monetize your work through YouTube or any other platform, don’t hesitate to ask for guidance. We’re here to help!


Protect Your Rights With Songtrust's Music Publishing Split Sheet.

Download Resource