Some time last fall, I began to notice a strange phenomenon on Youtube. Videos were cropping up all over the place with high quality songs from a variety of artists, both secular and sacred. They featured exactly the same thumbnail image (the cover reflected against a dark background), and they were all tagged as “auto-generated by Youtube.” Essentially, if an album was being sold in digital markets, it was made available for free streaming this way. I did some googling, and at first all I found was a page about auto-generated playlists, where Youtube would collect already uploaded videos on a particular subject and create playlists automatically. This was obviously different. It was as if Youtube itself was providing new content. All that distinguishes these music videos from other user uploads is that popular web conversion services like youtube to mp3 will not work with them, making it difficult to download copies onto your own computer.
After more digging, I found out that yes indeed, Youtube is automatically putting artists’ full digital albums out there for free. With the integration of Youtube and all things Google, some have speculated that it’s tied in with Google Play. As far as I’ve been able to find, neither Google nor Youtube itself has released any official statement on the matter. But I’m not the only one who’s noticed. Here is a reddit thread, and here is an article describing the phenomenon.
This extends to southern gospel artists with work in the digital market as well, including people like Gerald Wolfe who have been very vocal about piracy concerns in the past. I hate to break it to Gerald, but for whatever reason, it looks like Google and/or Youtube is now making piracy official. (You can find hours’ worth of Greater Vision albums here, all automatically generated.)
However, given southern gospel music’s particular demographic, I’m not sure how much of a concern this should be to southern gospel artists. Southern gospel fans like to have music in their hands, and unless you have a mobile phone, you can’t listen to Youtube playlists on the go. My advice to southern gospel artists would be that it’s still worth it to put their music on the digital market, even though this automatic process now seems unstoppable. And if anything, it’s such a small niche in the music business that even more Youtube exposure is probably going to help more than it hurts.
What are your thoughts on this trend, as it affects southern gospel music or just music in general? I think it raises some interesting questions and concerns. I think the people who will be hardest hit are independent artists with a younger demographic.