Last week, musician Mike Lombardo posted a video on YouTube discussing the current state of the website, and the nature of the original-content community. LeakyNews got the chance to talk to Mike about his ideas.
LeakyNews: You addressed not only some of the changes that have occurred on YouTube, but also how this affects what we see. Could you elaborate on what you expressed in your video?
Mike Lombardo: Well, a lot of people seem to be misunderstanding what I’m saying. Yes, the site has gone through a ton of changes, as a site and as a company. But I’m really addressing the community, and a very specific one. If you look at the BILLIONS of videos that YouTube streams out every day, only a tiny sliver of it are people like Michael Buckley or Julia Nunes, people just turning on their camera and doing their thing. Since that’s such a tiny slice of the pie, obviously that’s not a hugh profit sector for YouTube Inc. as a company, they need to be doing whatever will keep them in business. That’s how the model works – Lady Gaga will always drive more search traffic than Mike Lombardo, and so if you’re looking for views, one is an obvious choice more than the other
I’m basically talking to the people who enjoy this little homegrown original content slice of the pie: we are the ones who have to nurture and lead this content, and support it, and grow it, because it won’t happen on its own.
LN: Do you think that this specific community has gotten even smaller, or have the artists changed, or both?
ML: Well, I don’t think the community has gotten smaller, I think it has gotten larger. The difference is that you used to be able to click “Music” or “Most Discussed,” and see brookers or thehill88 or renetto or Julia Nunes. And now it’s ALL major label stuff, heavy hitter stuff. You’re not going to be able to go in and discover new channels the way you used to. Because, like I said, the majority of site traffic is people who are not going on, subscribing, they’re just looking for an Usher music video or something. So it’s in YouTube’s best interest to cater to that stuff, and that’s what’s going to rise to the top on its own.
LN: How do you propose to solve this problem?
ML: I don’t know how to solve it. Part of it is that people need to stop feeling like a number. I think people go: “Oh Mike has X number of subscribers, he doesn’t read everything, or he won’t care if I comment, or he won’t read this email.” That’s not true at all. I read everything and it all matters. It’s like voting or recycling – if everyone says, “Well, I’m just one person, I can’t make a difference,” that turns out to be true.
So, the people who really dig original songs and artists need to make an effort to really push them – watch, rate, comment, share their videos, buy their albums, go to their shows, etc. I’m just talking about music, but it holds true for other forms of content – we can really grow that and let it blossom. It doesn’t have to be a competition of little Suzie who just opened her account vs. Ray William Johnson – she’s not going to win that.
LN: When you talk about YouTube as a commercial business, do think that the company itself contributes to the original content problem by trying to bring in the hits and money with people like Lady Gaga? Would another platform be better, or is that unrealistic?
ML: There is no other online video platform that’s even in the same neighborhood as YouTube as far as success and if it happens, it won’t be for a long time. I don’t think the “commercial” aspect of YouTube is a problem. It’s a business and must behave accordingly. I think the danger is in the lack of contrast, shall we say – the risk of burying the girls talking into their webcams, which is what made and grew the site in the first place. ALL kinds of stuff should be represented on the site. It’s just so big that it is harder and harder for people to find that stuff – 48 hours of video uploaded every minute – so searching, indexing, directories, and tagging becomes integral. The “related videos” code, for example, has a huge effect on people discovering new channels or clicking through to really popular videos. Small changes to that code could tip the balance too far one way or the other.
LN: So this aspect of the community is just getting lost in the sea of content?
ML: Well, to a degree. Yes, I suppose you could say that. The communities are very easy to find if you know about them.
LN: Right, but if you don’t?
ML: I think it’s the discovery – it’s you opening an account and never having heard of VlogBrothers or wizard rock or David Choi or theamazingatheist. Back in 2008 it was only a matter of time before you stumbled across them. Now that’s much more unlikely. That’s my point basically.
LN: Well, what we can hope comes out of this is people keep doing what they like, continuing to pass on the torch, and share as much as possible?
ML: Yeah. I just talked to Michael Buckley on the phone. He said, “Look, it’s down. Everyone’s down. Do it because you enjoy it, that’s what I do. The people that enjoy will, the people who don’t, don’t. And that’s it.” That’s exactly what I needed to hear.
Obviously the reality is that people like him are to the point where that’s their livelihood and numbers are gravely important – you have to know you’re going to be able to pay the bills – so you have to pay attention to it a little bit in that situation. But the bottom line is that we’re out there putting up content because that’s what we love to do, and as long as we love doing it, we’ll be doing it.
LN: Haha, an artist’s words – you don’t start creating for the money, and you certainly don’t stay in it for the money. You stay in it because you love it and it makes you happy.
ML: Exactly. And you obviously always have to make compromises if it’s your job. Pop radio: under 4 minutes, chorus before minute 1, and then you have projects like my EP, The Alchemist, which is a little more relaxed in terms of those ‘rules’. And you have to find a happy medium between staying true to yourself and putting out a product that’s realistic. But that’s always been a huge discussion since professional music has existed, and that’s an entirely other article for you.
LN: Completely! And another issue that will never go away in music, that’s for sure.
ML: Here’s one that riles people: back in the day, the first big consumers of professional art were the Catholic church and royalty. Those were really the only two groups of people who had enough disposable income to pay the artists. So you had a lot of artists who either hated the current political climate, or the king, or were not even religious, and would take these commissions just to eat. The early popes would roll in their graves to know that some of the most influential pieces in history of the church were conceivably written by atheists. But that’s the beauty of it. You had artists taking the gig for the money, and still making absolutely incredible stuff.
My point is that that debate is nothing new. And the “you can’t be artistically truthful if you’re getting paid” is and has always been bullshit. Not to say that there are not greedy people out there.
LN: Yes. True. But you do have to eat. And just because you try to make some money to eat doesn’t mean you aren’t creating something that you’re proud of.