New YouTube Awards

On September 30, 2013, YouTube debuted its own YouTube Music Awards (YTMA) show. YouTube has long played an important role in the music industry, exposing talent and ultimately driving recorded music sales, so the move certainly made sense. With so many other music award ceremonies out there, the urgency of YouTube seemed lacking.

Certainly, the channel catapulted Justin Bieber, Psy, Charice and Greyson Chance, among others, to fame. It also contributed to the birth of a new wave of successful independent artists who use social media as their main tool to reach and connect with fans. In fact, largely because of YouTube, it has become possible for independent artists to reach a sizeable audience without the promotion of a major label and make a more meaningful connection with fans.

YouTube is not prescriptive, so the show had to be true to the brand. Although, the spontaneity of the event was refreshing compared to existing awards, it got mixed reviews. Some things in the show worked, such as the recreation of live music videos. But viewers took to YouTube’s Facebook page to express disappointment with technical glitches, a disabled YouTube comments section, and the overall disorganization.

The Voting System

YTMA nominees were chosen based on video views, likes, comments and subscriptions since September 2012.1 YTMA winners on the other hand, were chosen using a voting system where fans could elect their favorite artists by sharing specific links from on their Facebook, Google+ or Twitter. The highest number of votes determined the winners of each category. Despite the claim that 16 million votes were received (meaning the event was shared in that number across numerous social media platforms) there was little awareness of the show even at the Berklee College of Music, where this writer is based.  The event merely generated 220,000 views at its peak, a huge drop in comparison with the recent VMAs, where more than 10 million viewers tuned in.

It should be realized that youths, especially, enjoy listening to music that they would never admit to publicly. Hence, they would either not vote or or vote through an anonymous account. Of course, when they use such anonymous accounts, their social networks will not register the events for others to follow. Arguably, then, the voting mechanics worked against YouTube.

Viewers complained too about the lack of recognition given to YouTube’s homegrown and independent artists. Even though the category ‘Response of The Year’ had only YouTube artists as nominees, supporters of the medium expected them to be highlighted more at the event. Yet YouTube has in fact no special obligation to independent artists.

The problem for future YouTube Music Awards is that if they stray away from their base of new and off beat artists, there will be little to differentiate this award show from others. The purpose of the show was defeated when viewers tuned in hoping to watch their favorite YouTube artist win an award, and watched it instead go to yet another artist who had won countless Grammys.

An anonymous voting system such as the one used by the Teen Choice Awards might be an alternative to consider next year, though this would mean much more work in promotion.

Missing Categories

The second aspect in need of revision would be the categories of awards. There are plenty of YouTube homegrown musicians with huge fan base besides the ones nominated at this year’s YTMA. Among them are guitarist Sungha Jung and vocalist Christina Grimmie, who have more than 2.3 million subscribers each. YTMA could split the awards into more categories, such as YouTube Vocalist of The Year and YouTube Instrumentalist of The Year. If YTMA wants to be even more specific, they could divide vocalists into YouTube Vocalist of The Year, Duet of The Year, and A Capella Act of The Year.

On the other hand, if YouTube decides not to host another YTMA, YouTube could still show their support for independent artists by broadcasting the Independent Music Awards (IMAs) live, just like it did at the YTMA. The Independent Music Awards (IMAs) is an award that honors top independent artists. According to IMA’s website, IMA is the only international program that connects artists to new revenue opportunities and an audience of more than 1 billion music fans.


Still, the first ever YTMA brought something fresh to the table and it is hoped that suitably recast the event will have more viewers and a better press next year. It will not surprise to learn that the launch of this award ceremony coincides with Googles’s half-backed efforts at its own music service, GoogleMusic. Google, of course, owns You Tube.  But going forward, better thinking  rather than deeper pockets is what will save YouTube’s attempt at its own first ever music show.

By Corliss Lee





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