A Game Composer’s Guide to Content ID and Making Money on YouTube
Hello, friends! For those who don’t know me, my name is Jeremy Lim and I write music for video games. I’ve also had a career in online marketing, so when I was asked to speak at GameSoundCon about monetizing YouTube as a game composer, I jumped at the chance.
Alongside industry stalwarts Noah Becker (CEO of AdRev), Jody Friedman (CEO of HD Music Now), and Jim Charne (Counsel at Gerard Fox Law), we covered a lot of ground, but for game composers, Content ID can be a murky subject. The topic is ever evolving, but I’m going to do my best to explain the basics and the issues we might face.
Before we talk process, we should cover a few terms:
YouTube, owned by Google, is the world’s largest video sharing website. It’s also the second largest search engine, and with its massive user base, it shouldn’t be ignored as a marketing vehicle.
Copyright is a form of intellectual property that grants creators of original works exclusive rights for its use and distribution. These rights can be transferred. *Not legal advice, nor is this description exhaustive; please see a lawyer for counsel.
AdSense is Google’s ad network. Companies pay Google to display their ads on relevant content (e.g. blog posts, YouTube videos, etc.). When an ad is engaged with (e.g. clicked on, watched to a certain duration, etc.), Google charges the advertising company a predetermined amount. That amount is then split between Google and the host of the content (e.g. website owner, YouTube partnered channel, etc.).
User-Generated Content (UGC)
User-generated content (UGC) is any content created by a user on a website (e.g. videos on YouTube, music on Soundcloud, photos on Instagram, etc.). For our purposes, gameplay (or Let’s Play) videos are a major point of concern with Content ID.
Content ID (CID)
Content ID (CID) is a tool that allows copyright owners of visual and audio content (e.g. films, songs, etc.) to track their assets on YouTube. It works by “fingerprinting” content and matching that fingerprint against all existing and future uploads to YouTube. When a match is found, the copyright owner is notified and is offered four options (depending on their Content ID provider):
- Mute the matched audio
- Block the video from being viewed
- Monetize the video by running AdSense ads
- Track the video’s viewer stats.
Content ID Provider
There’s a lot of creativity in this world, and that means a lot of Content ID submissions. Google enlists external companies to help copyright owners submit and administrate their assets in the CID system. In exchange for their services, many of them charge fees or take a percentage of Content ID revenues.
A partnered channel is a YouTube channel that is eligible and accepted to the YouTube Partner Program, allowing it to run AdSense ads on its content.
Okay, I know all of the terms. How do I start making money on YouTube?
Before you begin, you have to own the copyright to the work you’re monetizing. As game composers, some of us are under work-for-hire agreements. If that’s you, you may not own the copyright to the assets, and may need to enlist the copyright owner’s help.
If you retained your copyright, there are two main avenues for making money on YouTube: becoming a partnered channel and tracking your work via Content ID.
How do I make money as a Partnered YouTube Channel?
Once you create a YouTube channel, Google offers easy instructions on joining the YouTube Partner Program. Once accepted, simply activate monetization on eligible uploads; you’ll start seeing income for qualified engagements with the ads.
This is the most straightforward method of monetization, but it’s also the most limited. Our soundtracks are used far beyond our own channels, sometimes appearing in gameplay footage all over YouTube. For that, we must turn to Content ID.
What do I need to know about using Content ID as a game composer?
For most musicians, submitting to a Content ID provider (like AdRev [disclaimer: personalized link and they’re my CID provider]) is fast and easy, but as game composers, we have a number of issues to consider:
Game soundtracks can only be submitted to Content ID if done by the game’s publisher
To avoid conflict with UGC creators, YouTube only allows game publishers to submit their soundtracks to Content ID. While that’s an administrative load off our backs, that may mean a third split – Google, CID provider, and then publisher – in CID revenues before it reaches you.
Content ID claims on gameplay videos and UGC may sour your game’s community
I’m a firm believer in protecting and monetizing our intellectual property, but I also believe we’re here to serve the needs our clients and their customers.
Gameplay videos are a huge part of our marketing cycle, much of which is created by personalities who make their livings on YouTube. When we send claims, we get paid, but then we strip these folks of their income. Frankly, it makes no sense for them to cover games that won’t pay their bills, and we need that coverage.
Beyond that, I feel gameplay videos are transformative works. Even though our music is featured, the audiences are there for the commentary, and the personality behind it should receive compensation. For non-transformative uses (e.g. soundtrack uploads), we deserve payment as we’re the reason for consumption.
In an ideal world, I’d love for there to be a split between game developers and content creators, but that’s not the landscape right now. It’s one or the other. So, what do we do? Everyone’s approach is different, but at least on YouTube, I think we should forego the ad revenue so our content creators can keep their businesses alive and we can attract new players.
If you’re particular about monetizing your music, reach out to your content creators and ask them to add links to your stores and official uploads. Many of them are supportive of what we do, and if they’re able, would be happy to see us paid from other outlets.
If you license your music, you may be stepping on toes with Content ID
If you license a previously-released track to a developer, you should have a conversation with them about Content ID and what that means for your income.
Hypothetically, let’s say they’re not open to you claiming gameplay videos. You then have two choices: whitelist all incoming UGC or remove your CID fingerprint. If you do the former, you’re constantly bogged down with admin work. If the latter, you’re missing out on income. Depending on your popularity, the amount missed can be substantial, and you may want to renegotiate your licensing agreement to offset that number.
Thankfully, royalty-free (RF) licenses are a bit easier. AdRev manually reviews matches from many RF libraries (do check with them to verify which ones), leaving your hands free. In rare cases, erroneous claims may still get sent, but with YouTube’s new policy on setting money aside during claims, monetary loss isn’t an issue.
What’s safe for monetization in Content ID?
Again, it starts with what you own the copyright to. Personally, I believe anything that doesn’t appear in the course of a game (e.g. bonus tracks, soundtrack-exclusive versions, live performances, concepts, etc.) should be monetized. It’s your work, and it’s not very likely it’s being used in a transformative piece, and if it is, you can then whitelist it.
For students and composers with unattached libraries, do upload your mockups, demos, unused tracks, and music not used in games or media. Sometimes, folks will go through our portfolios and use music without permission. By having that music in Content ID, you can monetize that usage, or you can start a dialogue with the uploader – someone who already likes and wants to use your music. With care, you can cultivate relationships with these uploaders, which could lead to commissions or licensing deals down the road.
I know our situation sounds prohibitive, but Content ID is a powerful tool for monetizing a wider range of content and for making great connections. With tact, we can still use it to great effect – just be sure to think of our developers and our fans before submitting. I hope this helps!
P.S. Thanks to Jesse Worstell from AdRev for helping me do some fact checking! That man’s always got my back.