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Decoding Content ID: How Artists Make Money on YouTube


One billion active monthly users make YouTube a force of nature across multiple industries, music chief among them. It’s far from confidential that Google’s video powerhouse can generate revenue for independent artists. How those dollars find their way to your pockets, however, isn’t always clearcut. AWAL has decoded the platform’s Content ID system to facilitate proper digital rights management. Dive into our breakdown for best practices concerning IP protection and monetization.

What is Content ID?

YouTube created Content ID to combat widespread rights infringement. The automated system helps copyright owners identify user-generated video content that, without permission, includes music submitted to the Content ID database. To date, this repository contains more than 50 million active reference files, translating to $2 billion in payouts from YouTube to rights holders since 2008. AWAL partners with YouTube to deliver our members’ work to Content ID, ensuring independent artists don’t leave money on the table.

How does the Content ID system work?

Content ID registers an audiovisual fingerprint every time a copyright holder delivers their music to the system, matching that reference to audio embedded in third-party videos. Matches then trigger claims that notify channel owners and activate your desired response. (You must opt in and request monetization. The process automates once you do.) So, if an 11-year-old Kansas resident shares a clip of their dog running into a glass door and your song soundtracks the calamity, Content ID detects the use, flags that content, notifies the video’s owner, and monetizes it in your favor. A portion of ad revenue from that clip’s future views diverts to your account. While claiming and monetizing is nine times out of ten the best course of action for an artist, there are a few others YouTube provides you can learn more about below.

Who can use Content ID?

In order to qualify for Content ID, you must prove you control the exclusive rights to the audio tracks you submit. If you’re looking to share mashups, compilations, remixes, or other audiovisual works that have additional authors, you likely won’t qualify. YouTube might also reject your Content ID application if another tool, such as the copyright notification web form or the Content Verification Program, better suits your needs. These alternatives help when you’re looking to take down a specific video rather than track and manage all of your content.

Although you can submit your own Content ID application, YouTube doesn’t guarantee acceptance. Resultantly, many indie creators choose to go through an official YouTube Partner. AWAL, a YouTube Certified company, handles the legal and technical necessities for our members. Our team delivers audio to YouTube on behalf of our artists, collecting worldwide royalties from user-generated content that features their work.  

Artists must have at least 1000 subscribers and 4000 aggregate watch-time hours over the previous year to enable monetization across your own channel. YouTube enacted this change to increase sales value for current and prospective advertisers.

How do artists make money using Content ID?

Subscriptions aside, artists receive a bulk of their YouTube earnings from ads. Anyone with money to spend—companies, politicians, humble-brag life coaches—can purchase digital real estate in the form of display ads, overlay ads, or pre-roll video ads. A portion of those earnings then redirect to the rights holders who have enabled monetization in the YouTube system to allow advertising to run against their music.

Artists can monetize more than their own videos: The Content ID system allows you to monetize any upload on YouTube that features your music, no matter the channel. Whether it’s a fan lip-syncing to your song or background music in a tutorial, the corresponding ad revenue can get paid to you instead of the video creator.

Content ID rewards those who adhere to best practices. Domain familiarity is nothing if not additive to know, even for those who already use AWAL to track down royalties and distribute music around the world.

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