N.B: Some of the features I’ll be talking about in this blog are only available to those of you who have verified their YouTube account. So you need to do that before anything else. Click here and follow the guide to verify your account - it’s a very simple process. The next thing you should do is verify your website. It’s similarly straightforward and you can do it by going to your advanced settings and scrolling down to the ‘associated website’ section.
Although YouTube pays out very little per stream, it remains an essential part of any musician’s marketing strategy. Why? Well, the obvious first point is that it’s the only viable place where you can upload your music videos, and the social nature of the platform means it’s reasonably easy for people to discover you on there (if you know what you’re doing). But, just like Spotify, it’s important to look beyond the royalties per stream and concentrate on using your YouTube channel to sell gig tickets, sell more albums and sell more merchandise. Luckily YouTube is one of the best platforms for allowing you to do just that, and provides artists with plenty of ways to ‘upsell’ their gig tickets and music. Here’s my guide to using YouTube for artists.
1. Optimising your Channel
There are lots of things you can do to optimise your YouTube channel. First things first, go to your channel, head to the ‘About’ section and make sure everything is filled in: the description, details and links parts of the page. Once you’ve completed that, go back to the ‘Home’ tab of your channel where you’ll see that the links you just added have been added to the bottom-right corner of your channel art.
Keep Your Channel Art Simple
On the subject of channel art - it can be very tricky to upload a banner that displays correctly on all devices, so my only advice to you is to keep it as simple as possible. It’s much more important to have a banner that shows correctly on mobile, tablet and desktop than a lavishly-designed number that you can’t see anything of on a certain device. The actual content of the banner can be anything you want it to be - a promotional poster for your new music, a live shot, a promo photo of the band…if you’re a design beginner then perhaps it would be easiest to upload a photo of the artist(s) and use a template such as this one to ensure it displays correctly across all devices.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, I often use a website called Canva for simple designs like social media cover photos. Sign up for an account and create a new design that is 2560 x 1440. If you then download the template linked above and add it to the Canva design, you can start to experiment with different layouts with the added benefit of being able to ensure you know exactly how it is going to appear on YouTube. Remember to take into account where your channel links will appear on the design (the bottom right).
Add Sections to Your Channel
Next, it’s time to organise the front page of your channel. Before you do anything else, click ‘Customize Channel’ from the ‘Home’ tab of your channel and, to be able to change the layout, click the little grey cog underneath your channel art links to find your settings. From settings, ensure that the option ‘Customize the layout of channel’ is selected and has turned blue. This should be selected by default anyway, but it’s best to double check.
The basic layout of your channel is in two columns. In the small column on the right, you’ll be able to add a list of featured channels - in the case of the GIF below, it is a list of the artists who form part of a record label. In the larger central column you have more options to add content your channel. At the very top you can select a featured video, which can be different depending on whether it’s a new visitor to your channel or a returning subscriber. Just click the corresponding tab to change the video. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you should see the button to add a section. You have lots of different options here ranging from playlists, other channels, videos that you’ve liked, your subscriptions and much more besides.
I would say that YouTube requires less day-to-day maintenance than other social networks, so it’s extra important to go through everything as we are doing here to present your channel as professionally and effectively as possible. In terms of what kind of layout you should be going for on your channel, I think much of it is down to personal preference. For returning subscribers the featured video should probably be your latest release, whilst for new visitors you could display your most popular video - or whatever you feel represents your music the best. If you’re signed to a record label then you could feature their YouTube profile on your channel together with label mates, contemporaries or just any artists whose music you’re into. Try checking out other artists and record labels on YouTube for ideas on how they present their music.
Once you’ve updated your channel with all of the sections you want to add, there’s one final thing to do. Click your profile picture in the top-right corner and click the grey cog to go to your YouTube settings. From there, click ‘View additional features’ and you’ll be brought to a list of features that you’ll be able to enable or disable. For now let’s enable the most immediately important things in relation to this guide: custom thumbnails for your videos, external annotations (so you can insert links in your videos to external websites) and a custom URL for your channel. The custom URL you can go ahead and edit now to something of your choosing - I recommend one which is consistent with your other social media profiles. The other two features we will come to later.
2. Utilising Video Tags
Researching and using the best tags for your videos is really the key behind how to get more views on YouTube. I use an add-on called TubeBuddy to help with my YouTube marketing, and for just $9 a month the ´Pro´ plan includes all of its video SEO tools. Although you could do this yourself, it will become time-consuming and if you don’t have any prior knowledge of keyword research or SEO best practices then you might not get anywhere for a long time.
To edit your video tags, click your profile icon in the top-right corner of the screen and click ‘YouTube Studio’. Then, click ‘Videos’ from the left-hand menu, and click the name of the video you want to edit. Scroll down to see any tags you’ve already added, and if you’ve already installed TubeBuddy then you’ll also see the search ranking for that keyword (in green) together with a list of suggested keywords below.
This is why I would recommend using an inexpensive service like TubeBuddy for your YouTube marketing. It will save you loads of time on boring tasks whilst it will also do a better job than the average beginner would be able to do.
Which Video Tags Should I Use?
Even if you have TubeBuddy installed, to get better recommendations from it you’ll need to kick things off with a few keywords of your own. And if you don’t have it then you need to start somewhere! Firstly you should of course add the artist name, track title, corresponding album title and any genres which you feel the music fits into. But if your name or songs aren’t currently widely known, you’ll have to get a little more creative with your tags to ensure people can discover your music. To do that you’ll have to quickly gain an understanding of exactly how people search for music on YouTube nowadays. This blog from music analytics service Chartmetric outlines how the modern music listener doesn’t just search for music by genre but also contextual things such as mood, location, current affairs, weather and so on. This is exemplified by the enormous amount of YouTube and Spotify playlists you’ll find with names like ‘Workout Wednesday’, ‘Sunday Chill’, ‘Summer Singalong Hits’ and so on.
So what can we take from that? Well, when you’re adding some tags to your videos, it’s important to also consider what sort of mood your music elicits, or if it is linked to certain weather, or a certain location, rather than just adding the genre it belongs to. That way, when Joe Bloggs on YouTube searches for a chilled-out playlist to listen to whilst he’s studying, your music might pop up if you’ve included relevant tags such as ‘chill-out’, ‘study music’ and ‘relaxing’. Try searching for similar videos on YouTube which use these kinds of titles to get an idea of which keywords you can use.
3. What to Write in the Description
You’ve got free reign to go link-crazy in the description of your videos, but it’s important you learn the best way to direct people to your other social channels, your merch and your music. It’s a good idea once again to go and check out the YouTube videos of some of your favourite artists to see how their descriptions are formatted. Let’s take the example of the music video for a single off your album. I think it’s a good idea for the description to go something like this:
Taken from the album [album name], released via [record label].
Get [album name] now: [link]
Follow [artist name]:
[all social media links]
I would say that this is the minimum amount of information you should be including in the description - if you need to add any more info to specific videos (such as credits for a music video) then it’s obviously OK to include that at the top too. This template is simple, easily directs your fans to listen to your music whilst also providing links to all of your other social media channels. But it’s not as easy as pasting a link and away you go. Do you post a link to your music on Spotify? Apple Music? What if you posted a link to your album on iTunes UK, but somebody from the USA wants to buy it? It’s not an ideal situation.
Sign up for a smartURL account
Again, I can recommend an online tool I use which really simplifies all of this. It’s called smartURL, and allows you to create custom URLs which automatically direct people from different parts of the world to their local iTunes store. You can also create professional-looking landing pages to present your music or merch in a couple of minutes. Here’s an example below.
This way, when somebody clicks through to buy or listen to the full album (if applicable), they can easily choose their preferred digital distributor whilst they will also be automatically sent to their local store. This type of smartURL is called a pivot, but you can also create simple custom URLs that will look a lot better in the description than a huge URL. If you sign up for an account on there it’s all very straightforward and intuitive for new users, and when you’re adding in the links it automatically pulls local iTunes and Apple Music links for every region in the world, which is an incredibly useful feature!
If you sell merchandise via a provider who operates in different regions, such as Amazon, then you can just as easily add the local Amazon region links to your smartURL to ensure people clicking it visit the right website. smartURL even has an option for creating a link to your upcoming tour, so it’s best to head over there and start creating. Here’s how I think a well-formatted description with concise links should end up looking:
Remember to Add Video Upload Defaults
There are a couple of things to do before you can pat yourself on the back, though. Firstly, let’s make this description template what we call an ‘upload default’. Head back to your YouTube Studio via your profile picture in the top-right corner of the screen and then click on ‘Settings’ from the left-side menu. Navigate down to ‘Upload Defaults’ and paste the description you’ve just put together into the box. This will ensure that all future video uploads already come equipped with that lovely little description you spent all that time creating.
How to Bulk Edit Your YouTube Video Descriptions
But what about the descriptions for all of your previous videos? For that, TubeBuddy is your friend once again. Go back to your Studio and this time choose ‘Videos’ from the left-side menu. If you have TubeBuddy installed then you’ll see an option at the top to make ‘Bulk Meta Updates’ to your Titles, Descriptions and Thumbnails. Click that, select ‘Replace Entire Description’ and paste your description template into the box. Follow the steps and TubeBuddy will update all of your old videos with your new description. That’s a hell of a lot of time you’ve just saved! If you’ve already released multiple albums and want to have their descriptions link to the relevant album, rather than just your latest album, you can also select the specific videos that you want TubeBuddy to copy the description into. I would say that’s already $9 a month very well spent…
4. End Screens & Cards
Learning how to effectively use cards and end screens within your videos will make it a whole lot easier for fans to buy your music after listening on YouTube - and by now it probably won’t shock you to learn that TubeBuddy can speed up the process with its bulk editing powers.
What Are They?
First, an explanation of the two terms. Cards can appear throughout the video, and they are the things that you might have noticed popping up just above the video frame. You can add a total of five cards to each video, which come in four categories: Video/Playlist, Channel, Poll or Link. End screens appear, naturally, at the end of your video, normally in the last 20 seconds or so. They are more visible than cards and tend to cover the entire video frame. You’re allowed to include up to four things here: Video/Playlist, Subscribe, Channel or Link. You can customise the size of each link, where they appear on the viewer’s screen and the exact time of the video they appear and disappear.
To kick things off, head to your YouTube Studio and back to the list of your videos (accessible from the menu on the left). Click on the top one to begin with. Scroll down a little bit and to the right of your screen you’ll see the two buttons for Cards and End Screen. Let’s start with Cards. When you want to add a Card that promotes a video, playlist or YouTube channel you’ll need to fill out three fields: the URL, custom message and teaser text. The teaser text is the bit that appears at the top of the video whilst the user is watching, so this should be the bit that entices them to click. Then, just by the image of the video or channel goes your custom message, which you can use to give people a little bit more information about the link. You can also add a poll card to a video with up to five choices, which is a nice way of keeping viewers engaged with your video.
The final option is adding a link card to your videos, but before doing that please make sure you have followed the advice at the top of this guide to verify your website. If your website isn’t verified, you won’t be able to link to it via YouTube cards. The process of adding a link card is largely similar to the other types of cards, with teaser text, a card title and call-to-action to fill in. If you don’t want to create a link to your own website, the alternatives are to link viewers to approved retailers or supported crowdfunding websites. You’ll see that the retailers are mostly websites that either sell gig tickets, merchandise or music - the notable exceptions being Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music.
In terms of the cards themselves, I don’t think it’s wise to bombard viewers with links to buy merch, tickets, music or watch videos, so try to include between one and three cards at points throughout the video. I would also leave the last 30 seconds of the video free from cards so that your end screen links are not impacted upon. Once you’ve added all of your cards you can save them as a template and easily add them to your other videos using TubeBuddy. Here’s how they look in practice.
The process of adding an end screen to your video is largely similar to that of cards. You can add up to four elements: Video/Playlist, Subscribe, Channel and Link. When adding a Video/Playlist to your end screen, you can choose from your most recent upload, one automatically chosen for the viewer by YouTube or a specific video of your choosing. Subscribe is self-explanatory in that you can add a button for people to subscribe to your own channel at the click of a button. Channel allows you to create links to other YouTube channels along with a custom message, whilst Link follows the same method as the one outlined above for cards.
When putting together your end screen it’s worth considering what you want to achieve from YouTube. Do you want more visitors to your websites? Do you want to try and drive ticket sales/album downloads? Or do you simply want more subscribers and video views? Create your end screen in line with whatever your overall YouTube strategy is at that time and remember to update both your end screen template and card template with the latest thing you’re trying to promote - be it new merchandise, your upcoming tour or your latest music video. Here’s how end screens look in practice.
5. Custom Thumbnails
Custom thumbnails are another really important feature of YouTube for artists, and in many ways the most important bit of your video. It’s the only thing that most people will see, along with the title, before watching, so you better make the most of it. I promise that I’m not on commission for TubeBuddy, but the ability to create custom thumbnails is another feature included within the add-on. Once you’re back on the video editing page on YouTube, TubeBuddy will display a selection of screenshots that can be used for the video thumbnail, which is always going to be better than letting YouTube pick a random image from the video. Alternatively there are plenty of websites you can use to pull a selection of HQ screenshots from your video - and I’ve even taken the liberty of Googling them for you.
If you’ve got some spare time on your hands, and have already had a stab at using Canva for your YouTube channel art, then it could be a wise investment of your time to design some custom thumbnails for your videos. They’re a great way to establish a consistent theme for your channel and to entice people to watch. If you need some ideas, inspiration or some help with these thumbnails then feel free to get in touch with me.
Whilst all of this may seem a little overawing at first, as I mentioned at the start of this guide YouTube requires less day-to-day work than other social platforms on the proviso that you’re not uploading videos every day. Once you’ve gone through all of these steps and applied them to your existing videos you will have a fully optimised profile that is ready to be discovered by people on YouTube, with the added benefit of having a professional-looking channel even if you’re not signed to a label.
On the other hand, I’m sure all of this will be a little too much to put into practice for many artists and small record labels. If you need any help in cleaning up your YouTube channel including writing descriptions, designing thumbnails, adding the best keywords as well as creating end screens and cards for all of your videos, then I can always help you out! Drop me a line today and let’s see how I can help you, your band or your record label optimise your YouTube channel.