Is the YouTube free-for-all over?

jenna-marbles-screenshot.jpg
YouTube star Jenna Marbles in a recent vlog
YouTube is a wonderful tool for procrastination, but often aimless surfing can lead to unearthing new genres and artists you'd never knew even existed. In between these discoveries are always the lovably offbeat videos of amateur acoustic covers or rants about pesky day jobs that make perusing the site feel like peeking into a stranger's living room. Recently, more news of the site's forthcoming paid subscription service made it clear that this YouTube we once knew is slowly vanishing.

Although speculation about the future additional service has been making the rounds for well over a year, screenshots of the new platform's interface and rumors of its potential name -- YouTube Music Key -- have recently surfaced. Like other streaming services similar to Spotify, Music Key will likely be priced at $9.99 per month and offer access to ad-free audio and video, as well as exclusive concert footage, remixes, and other content specifically curated for subscribers.

Of course, the intermittent announcements of Music Key's features have not been without controversy. Earlier this summer, YouTube and Google were both under scrutiny after reports from indie artists and labels revealed that the licensing deals offered to them were unfair and perhaps quite different contractually from offers made to major label acts. There was even a point in the squabble that content from independent artists was reportedly under threat of removal from the site entirely.

Music Key -- despite its promise to bring huge change to the platform -- is certainly not the first sign of YouTube's transformation. Along with the new service, changes to the site's comment policy and methods of content aggregation have signaled to many that the platform's mythic role as an equalizing force for up-and-coming artists seems to be in jeopardy. Regrettably, YouTube -- former home of the Internet free-for-all -- appears to be becoming more and more like a regular old TV set; viewers are funneled to Top-40 fare, but not before commercials badger them to purchase a new-fangled mop or to open up another checking account.

YouTube's not just hocking products, though. If you've been on the subway lately, you've no doubt seen ads promoting particularly popular YouTube channels and the internet stars that host them. These YouTube sensations are a far cry from those lovable creeps staring down grainy, lo-fi webcams. These new folks are polished and appear to have all the qualities of a TV personality. It's strange to think now, but there was a time when the site was branded with the highly democratic motto "Broadcast Yourself." This focus seems now to be redirected from the independent user to fixtures of the mainstream media.

This is not to say that all the glorious weirdoes and independent artists have disappeared completely from the site. These videos, though, are harder to retrieve when you're forced to navigate through corporate-sponsored channels (like the ubiquitous Vevo) that pervade the site. A few weeks back, YouTube celebrity Jenna Marbles began hosting the YouTube 15 countdown of must-see music videos on the site in partnership with SiriusXM. Countdowns and playlists such as these have downplayed the more exploratory features of the platform in order to provide more opportunities for YouTube to catalogue and rank the content posted to its site.

At the moment, it's hard to say exactly what the consequences of YouTube's new offerings will be. Even more ads for the non-subscribers? Less diversity of content? When something you've grown accustomed to changes, it's easy to bemoan the inconvenience. If an important cultural space like YouTube changes its ethos drastically, though, it's understandable for there to be dissent among fans and artists. After all, it seems that some of the tried-and-true online spots for independent music to gain traction are dwindling and changing form. Like YouTube, Soundcloud is also in the midst of incorporating advertisements and starting up a subscription service.

Thankfully, there are other options online for independent artists to get their music out to fans. In a time when the online exchange between audience and artist is increasingly mediated, however, perhaps stepping away from our computers and seeking out live music is the best rebellion we've got. At a show, there will people equally stoked to hear the music, presumably no commercials for household products, and, with any luck, enough oddballs to satisfy those among us who yearn for the quirky YouTube vlogs we love.

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11 comments
Juliana Christa Berg
Juliana Christa Berg

Maybe it's time for a new YouTube esque website to be born. Or perhaps Dailymotion needs more traction.

Allyson Kae Durkee
Allyson Kae Durkee

Or a fat fuck who tries to make himself feel better on the internet convincing people that dont matter he gets laid. People who get laid do not need to brag about it. It isnt a fucking competition asshole.

Jessie Allen
Jessie Allen

Kristen Witte! Harry Potter has presented Dobby with a sock...

Jordan James
Jordan James

Are you real? Cuz you're either an amazingly hilarious troll or the biggest douche in the world, and I'm curious which is the case.

Jake Wood
Jake Wood

what's creepy about that? I'm a buff dude who gets laid EVERY. single. night... it's being so open about it and alpha as fuck that I can thank for that! LMAO!!

Brian Quarstad
Brian Quarstad

Yes, well the City Pages we once knew has also disappeared. Not all change is for the good.

Jordan James
Jordan James

Easy there, hoss. Maybe you ought to think twice next time you go to publicly post something that declares to the world how creepy you are, eh? Just a thought.

Jake Wood
Jake Wood

They should really make you tube more capitalist/business-oriented/etc., it's a DAMN shame that so many boring people have to clutter it up with vlogging... that chick is HOT, don't care at all what she talks about lol I wanna satisfy her... need for attention lmao

subway_dweller
subway_dweller

I *always* keep an eye out for the ads on the subway, that's how I found out about new artists!

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