The online video sharing site YouTube is this generation’s MTV. Artists like Gotye and PSY have found mainstream success after their videos went viral. Yet the number of cover songs — from toddlers singing The Beatles to teens tackling Led Zeppelin — eclipses original work by a long shot. Between those two extremes is an alternative universe of aspiring professional musicians who use cover songs on YouTube to build fan bases of their own. What these musicians once did for love and fame is starting to pay off in cold, hard cash.
If you search for a song called “Payphone” by Maroon 5, you’ll find the original, and you’ll find the Jayesslee version, the P.S. 22 version and one by Tyler Ward, a 24-year-old singer and songwriter from Denver with an all-American look and a sound that lives somewhere between indie pop and country. Ward uses YouTube to promote his music career — he posts covers trying to draw new fans.
“I started, actually, doing cover songs in the bar, trying to make ends meet every weekend,” he says. “So when I figured out what YouTube was, I just figured I could put these online, see what happens.”
What happened was an opening slot for the Jonas Brothers, a performance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and a headlining tour through Europe, the U.S. and Canada. But he could have made more money back at the bar singing those same songs.
“The challenge is, when an artist decides to cover a song, they don’t actually have the rights to make money on that song,” says George Strompolos, the CEO of Fullscreen Inc. Ward is one of his clients.
Strompolos explains that because YouTube is free in the same way that broadcast TV is free, all of the money that musicians, record labels and music publishers make right now is through advertising that runs with the videos. Until recently, cover songs were the exception. YouTube couldn’t run ads on those videos. An aspiring musician like Ward could put hours of work into a video, hoping for attention, but not get a single dollar.
“The problem is,” says Strompolos, “neither will the original songwriter, because, again, there are no advertisements.”
The issue is the legal rights to the song. That’s held by publishers or songwriters, and if anyone wants to make money on a recoding of a song, he has to make a deal. This can be tricky when talking about the thousands of people who upload covers to YouTube.
Enter Fullscreen and one of its rivals, Maker Studios. They’re in the business of connecting YouTube creators with possible advertisers. These companies put talent agents, producers and ad sales all under one roof.
Earlier this year, Fullscreen and Maker struck a deal with one of the largest song rights holders: Universal Music Publishing Group. This opened up Universal’s massive catalog — decades of music from Fleetwood Mac to Adele — for a revenue sharing plan. Now the musicians who work with Fullscreen and Maker can earn money on covers.
“What we’ve done with teaming up with Universal Music Publishing Group is allow the artists who cover those songs to have the license to run the advertisements,” Strompolos says. “And that way if their cover songs on YouTube get hundreds of thousands or millions of views, it’s actually worth money to that cover artist, and the original songwriter is also compensated.”
None of the parties involved in the deal will disclose exactly how the money is shared, so I asked Josh Cohen, founder of online video news site Tubefilter, to give me a sense of how this all works for the YouTube musicians.
“The general revenue split for advertising on YouTube is 45 percent/55 percent. That’s 55 percent to the creator, 45 percent to YouTube,” he says. “There may be varying deals depending on the company that YouTube’s working with, but that’s pretty standard.”
Ads pay content creators — that includes the creators of cover songs — based on what’s called CPM, which is cost per 1,000 views.
“Content creators on the low end are making a $1 or $2 CPM from YouTube,” Cohen says. “The benefits of signing up with a company like Maker Studios or Fullscreen is that those content creators can get guaranteed higher rates for their videos. So Maker Studios or Fullscreen might offer them a $2 or $3 CPM, or even higher for a period of time, which is more money than they’d be making from YouTube alone.”
YouTube pays the music publisher and original songwriter, and the cover artists get a little money. They also get to make names for themselves while riding the popularity wave of hit songs. Meanwhile, businesses like Fullscreen and Maker Studios are, in a way, becoming de facto A&R departments for the music industry.
Maker recently got a $36 million injection of cash from Time Warner Investments. Courtney Holt worked with MySpace Music and is now the chief operating officer of Maker Studios. A serious music fan, he believes there are infinite possibilities to mine the back catalogs of the music publishers. The YouTube generation, after all, hasn’t heard everything yet.
“I think in some ways we have a responsibility to reintroduce this generation to really great music, not just new music,” he says. “Because if we have one talent who loves Justin Timberlake, maybe they haven’t really discovered the Michael Jackson catalog or the Motown catalog or the Stax catalog. And you start to think about, ‘What if I go back a little further? What am I going to find?’ ”
What musicians are finding is that cover songs can simultaneously launch their YouTube careers while helping to cover the bills. No more spending your post-college years singing in bars while living in your father’s basement, like Tyler Ward did.
“He was like, ‘You’ve got two years, son. You’ve got two years, and then you’re going to have to get a real job,’ ” he says. “About a year and a half later, I started doing the cover thing and my whole world changed. I was able to move out to L.A., support myself, buy a car, buy a house — that kind of thing.”
This week, we return to the Star Trek universe that J.J. Abrams rebooted using time travel. And meanwhile, Abrams is . So it’s a great time to ask: How does time travel work in the Abrams-verse? If you’re in a J.J. Abrams story and you build a time machine, what should you expect to happen?
As usual when discussing J.J. Abrams, it’s important to recognize that J.J. Abrams is not one person. He’s like a dozen guys, including Bryan Burk, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, J.H. Wyman, and so on. J.J. Abrams seldom does anything without the help of his brains trust, and he often starts projects and then lets others complete them. So when we talk the Abrams-verse, we’re not just talking about things Abrams personally created, all by himself.
So how does time travel work in the Abrams universe? Here are some rules we’ve discerned:
1. You can try to change things, but the universe will always steer some things back on course.
The universe really, really wants some things to happen — think how badly you want chocolate, at around three in the afternoon, when you’re still stuck at work for another couple hours. And then multiply that by infinity (the size of the universe) — that’s how badly the universe wants certain things to play out in a particular way. Thus, the universe goes to great lengths to ensure the classic Enterprise crew is united in Abrams’ first Star Trek movie. And the universe also makes sure that the Incident happens on Lost, the way it always happened. Miss Hawking actually says the Universe has a “way of course correcting.”
2. You can travel back in time and change the past, but your original timeline will still exist.
Hence, after Spock Prime has gone back and helped to screw around with his own history, he doesn’t cease to exist or change into the future version of Young Spock. Also, when Walter Bishop and the Observer Child travel forward in time to 2167, they arrive in the original 2167 — not the future of a world that was invaded by the Observers in 2015. Presumably if you lived long enough in linear time, you’d arrive in the 2070 where the Observers had been ruling the world for 55 years, but you can still travel to the other 2070. The future is like a miraculous sandwich, which still exists after you’ve eaten it.
3. If you get unstuck in time, you have to figure out whom you love
Like Desmond on Lost. Or Felicity on Felicity. Both Desmond and Felicity become unstuck in their own personal timelines, and the only way to become re-stuck is to find their “Constant” — so in Felicity’s case, she thinks her constant is Noel, but it’s actually Ben. We think. Also, mental time travel is almost always indistinguishable from mental illness.
4. Time can be “rolled back,” allowing for do-overs
That’s more or less what seems to happen in Felicity, where she gets to go back to the start of senior year so she can be with Noel instead of Ben. The only difference being that she remembers everything that happened after that, including that Ben totally kissed that other girl, and it was not cool — it was so uncool, in fact, that that one kiss polluted an entire timeline and caused temporal regression. WTF Ben. Don’t pollute the timeline, Ben — your last name isn’t even Linus!
5. If you change the timeline enough, the effects ripple backwards as well as forwards
So when Walter Bishop travels from 2036 to 2167, he erases himself from the past starting in 2015 — because otherwise there would be a bigger paradox than the Observers going back in time and wiping out their own ancestors. (This is mostly because he’s bringing the Child Observer, I guess.) Also, when Old Spock and Nero go back in time to the early days of Kirk, some of the stuff that happened before Kirk’s birth seems to change — to the point where, for example, Scotty looks totally different, like maybe one parent was different. And some basic stuff about the Federation and ship design seems changed as well.
6. Any phenomenon has a 60 percent chance of making you travel in time
Solar storms, wormholes, H-bomb detonations, falling asleep in prison… it’s all possible. Basically, if you’re in a J.J. Abrams story, don’t turn the hot water in the shower too high, or the steam will cause a trans-temporal cross-reaction that relocates your time axis.
7. Time is a bubble, pretty much exactly made of soap
You’ve heard of quantum foam? Well, it can have bubbles in it, and they’re very soapy and blobby — which is why time dislocations are often highly localized. And why they’re so flimsy and see-thru. On one level, time is a fixed thing that always has to happen the same way — but on another level, time is a big custard that’s always getting air pockets in it. TIME IS A CUSTARD.
8. Even if you know what’s going to happen, you still have to work your butt off to make it happen.
Hence, after Eloise Hawking shoots her unborn son Daniel as a grown-up, and sees his notebook showing that he’s going to become the World’s Greatest Physicist, she doesn’t then decide that it doesn’t matter if he plays soccer and breakdances all the time — since she’s already seen that he’s destined to become the World’s Greatest Physicist, no matter what. Instead, she pushes him psychotically to do NOTHING BUT PHYSICS, even when he’s in the bath or whatever. Because once you know your inevitable, unchangeable future, you should do your best to overdetermine it.
9. Information is the one thing that can always travel in time.
Sometimes you can physically travel in time but can’t alter events. Sometimes you can alter events but things wind up “course-correcting.” (Unless you happen to live on Vulcan, in which case you’re outta luck.) Sometimes you can jump forward nearly 50 years from 1963 to 2012, and go on a pomo crime spree. But no matter how you travel, the one thing that can always make the trip is information. You can send messages back to the past, or miraculously know about the future if you’re from 1963 — but one way or the other, knowledge is the one thing that can reliably travel through time in the Abrams-verse.