YouTube creators shocked by cost of music licensing tool for creators

  • YouTube launched a new music licensing feature for US creators in its partner program this month.
  • The tool allows influencers to buy a license to use a song or share revenue with rights holders.
  • Some creators were shocked by the cost of a single track, with song prices reaching $1,000.

YouTube is opening up access in February for US creators under its partnership program to use copyrighted music in their videos without being demonetized.

The new Creator Music feature the platform is testing allows influencers to pay upfront to use a track in a video or split future ad revenue with a song’s rights holders once the video starts receiving payments through the program. AdSense by Google.

Some creators who gained access to the tool in February said it showed promise as a new way to incorporate popular music into videos — a common pain point for users of the platform. But several stickers have expressed shock at the cost of licensing music, which, while often listed as free or as low as $29.99, in some cases went for more than $1,000, according to screenshots of the feature seen by Insider.

“I’ve seen things go up to $500,” said Daniel Sulzbach, a YouTube creator who posts commentary videos on the Repzion account, which has about 760,000 subscribers. “That’s astronomically too expensive in my opinion.”

Some Creator Music licenses have a set price, while others have custom prices based on channel size. Other licenses cost nothing, including YouTube Audio Library licenses and Creative Commons licenses.

Prices for a music license on Creator Music can vary greatly based on a creator’s subscriber count. Sulzbach noted this variance when comparing his main channel to a smaller gaming channel he operates with around 7,000 subscribers. The song “Seguimos Laborando” by Grupo 360 cost $0 on Sulzbach’s gaming channel and $149.99 on its main channel, for example. Insider verified the price difference through screenshots.

One song, “Feel It Too” by Cadmium and Timmy Commerford, was listed at $1,000.99 for a two-year license, according to David Altizer, a YouTube creator with about 7,000 subscribers who shared a screenshot of track license details screen with Insider. The song was also listed as eligible for revenue sharing for creators who don’t want to spend the flat fee. After the two-year period, a creator would need to renew their license on the track, either through a revenue-sharing agreement or another flat-fee purchase, depending on the rights holders’ terms, to ensure copyright compliance.

YouTube Creator Music screenshot

“Feel It Too” by Cadmium and Timmy Commerford cost $1,000.99 for a two-year one-creator video license.

David Altizer/YouTube.

For instances in Music for Creators where a song is available for revenue sharing rather than an upfront license, costs can still be high, particularly when a creator needs to split half (or more, depending on usage rights costs) of its 55% reduction in ad revenue, said technical YouTuber Vyyyper, who asked to be identified by his YouTube username.

“If you’re a smaller creator and just starting out, you probably won’t get much bang for your buck by licensing a track,” they said. “You’re probably not going to get the opinions that (will) justify this license paying for itself.”

Other creators rejected the idea that a Creator Music license only grants one influencer access to use a song in a single video on YouTube and cannot be used with YouTube Shorts, live streams or in reposts of the video on other social platforms. One pointed to competing music licensing tools like Epidemic Sound, which offers access to royalty-free music that can be used across different social platforms via a monthly subscription, as a more cost-effective alternative.

“Obviously, I create stuff on YouTube, but I create stuff everywhere,” said Altizer, who is also a content consultant and has worked with music licensing service Soundstripe. “Every dollar counts when you’re self-employed. If I’m going to spend $30 on a song for a use case that can only be used on YouTube versus a $15 a month subscription service (where) can I download an unlimited library and using them across a variety of channels, across a variety of platforms, obviously you can see the objective appeal of that.”

Thomas Johnston, managing director of influential talent management firm Shifted Digital, said his clients primarily use Epidemic Sound for campaigns because most brands only want royalty-free music used in videos.

The consequences for marketers who violate copyright terms can be severe. Music rights holders regularly crack down on brands that use music in social media posts without paying for a license.

Music is central to social media, and rights holders want to cash in

YouTube’s prices for music licenses can seem particularly shocking to creators who are used to accessing tracks for free on platforms like TikTok and Shorts. But as social media consumes more attention spans and becomes an increasingly important hub for artist discovery, labels and publishers are looking to renegotiate with major platforms for more revenue. And creators who make money from social media may need to help foot the bill.

TikTok, in particular, has solidified itself as one of the top platforms for music discovery. The company and its owner ByteDance are currently involved in contract talks with major labels as they look to leverage the app’s influence on music to secure favorable licensing deals.

Meta Platforms, which owns Facebook and Instagram, also introduced its own revenue sharing model last year to allow creators to use music in videos without losing monetization rights.

YouTube has gradually introduced features over the past decade and a half to compensate music rights holders on its platform. In 2009, he again launched the music video platform Vevo with Universal Music Group. In 2015, it created a standalone music streaming service called YouTube Music. The company is also earmarking revenue for music rights holders by introducing revenue sharing on Shorts this month.

In September, the company’s head of music wrote that YouTube paid the music industry $6 billion over a 12-month period.

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