Saturday, November 15, 2014

What are "auto-generated by YouTube" music videos?




Update (March 22, 2016):

When I wrote this blog post a year and a half ago, no information about YouTube's auto-generated videos existed online. As a result, this post was part research and part speculation. Over time, some new information has come to light, but I never revisited the topic. In brief, YouTube obtains these audio tracks from digital music distribution services like CD Baby. When you sign up for CD Baby and similar sites, you're given the opportunity to choose which streaming sites (or which kinds of streaming sites) your music will be sent to. YouTube is now one of the sites where your music might end up.

When I—any many other people, apparently—signed up for these services years ago, YouTube wasn't considered a "streaming music site" like Spotify, and YouTube also wasn't creating its own videos that incorporated other people's music. So when these videos first appeared, a lot of people were surprised and even upset. To me, a site like Spotify that streams audio tracks seems different from a site that streams videos and might elect to embed your audio within a video. But regardless, YouTube has become one of the most popular sites for music listeners. If you check your CD Baby (or whatever) account, you'll see the revenue from the auto-generated YouTube videos alongside the revenue from Spotify, iTunes, etc.


I was surprised recently when I saw that several of my recordings had appeared as music videos on YouTube. All of the videos look the same: Each one, in addition to the audio of a song, includes an image of the album art and some text that provides the artist name and album title. The bare-bones descriptions that accompany the videos provide composer and copyright information and the statement "auto-generated by YouTube." What are these auto-generated music videos on YouTube, I wondered, and how are they created? 

A few years ago, YouTube introduced auto-generated channels, which are automatically created collections of videos related to specific topics. Google's support pages say that the auto-generated YouTube channels are created by algorithms that "collect trending and popular videos by topic." As with any other user channels, you can subscribe to the auto-generated channels "and stay updated on new videos" within a topic category.

YouTube has had these auto-generating channels since at least 2011, because WebProNews reported in 2012 that the channels had been around for over a year.




Auto-generated videos take the auto-generated channel concept a step further: Instead of simply compiling existing user-uploaded content by topic, YouTube is now creating the videos themselves—automatically. So far, YouTube has auto-generated videos for four of my recordings, all of which are taken from the 2014 February Records EP Way Last June.

How does YouTube select the content for these auto-generated videos?

 

The Google support pages say that that the auto-generated channels are "created when YouTube algorithmically identifies a topic to have a significant presence on the site." Presumably, the algorithm for creating the auto-generated videos also might be based on search terms and web traffic patterns, but not necessarily. It appears that all of the music for the auto-generated videos has been taken from Google Play, iTunes, and Amazon. 

The channel in which these music videos appear is blandly named "Various Artists – Topic," which doesn't seem like a topic that many viewers would subscribe to, but almost 500 people have subscribed to one of the two auto-generated YouTube channels that has this name. The second, identically named channel has about 50 subscribers as of this writing. The "about" section of the second channel even provides a helpful definition of the term "various artists," in case someone doesn't know what that means. 

Although a "subscribe" button appears below the name of the channel (which appears below the video), it didn't work for me. When I clicked on it, I got a message that said, "This channel is not available." I had to perform a Google search to find the landing page for the channel. It's pretty boring. It looks like something that was automatically generated.


There are now approximately a gazillion of these auto-generated videos on YouTube, many of which have received no views. The prospect of an endless proliferation of automically generated videos reminds me of the Jeff Carlson novel Plague Year, in which self-replicating, flesh-eating nanobots spread inexorably and nearly wipe out humankind. Just like these videos might do! If content is king, as Bill Gates said, then the king has become a mindless automaton.

Is it okay for YouTube to do this? 

 

I don't really mind that these videos of my recordings exist, but not everyone will feel the way I do. Artists could have a number of legitimate objections to the videos. For example, if artists had created or intended to create videos of their own, these auto-generated videos would compete with the official videos. Artists might also object to the design aesthetic of the videos or the song selection.

But the biggest potential issues are copyright and compensation. Artists receive no royalties from these videos, and YouTube posts the videos without permission from the copyright owners. It's strange that YouTube—which suspends users' accounts and deletes videos if it detects copyright infringement or receives complaints from copyright holders—now trawls the internet for music and posts it without permission on an increasingly massive scale. Class-action suit, anyone?

To its credit, YouTube has a program called Content ID that reportedly has paid out $1 billion to copyright holders. The Content ID program requires copyright holders to locate infringing content and then file claims in order to delete it or monetize it. It's hard to imagine that people would accept a rights-management model like this one in other areas, such as the publishing industry. What if you could reprint authors' books with impunity until they noticed it and said something?




Thursday, November 6, 2014

The waltz was the twerking of the 1800s




Music Weird previously wrote about the doomed effort to revive the waltz among teenagers in the 1950s. Back then, the waltz seemed genteel and old fashioned in comparison to rock and roll, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, the waltz was once the "dirty dancing" of the 1800s, like twerking is today.

You could even argue that the waltz was worse than twerking, because twerking is likely to be a passing fad, but the waltz hung around for ages to torment moral authorities.

The waltz is rooted in gliding dances of the 16th century in which dancers held each other close, which the was the largest part of the controversy surrounding the dance. By the mid 17th century, a dance called the waltzer was being danced in Germany and Austria. By the early 18th century, the dance had spread to Britain.

Today, Music Weird compiles over 100 years' worth (!) of grousing about the moral blight that was the waltz.


1771

In the German novel Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim by Sophie von La Roche, one of the characters described the waltz as follows:
But when he put his arm around her, pressed her to his breast, cavorted with her in the shameless, indecent whirling-dance of the Germans and engaged in a familiarity that broke all the bounds of good breeding—then my silent misery turned into burning rage.

1794

The book Mozart: A Cultural Biography reports that the Queen of Prussia "averted her eyes when she beheld the waltz at its introduction to the court in 1794," and that Montaigne "stared in astonishment at couples turning away as they danced in close embrace" in Augsburg, Germany.


1812

The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure reported on an English duel that resulted from a disagreement over the waltz:
A dispute arose, whether the Waltz was an indecent dance ; and till this attempt at murder, we did not imagine that a single Englishman would stand up in its defence. To settle this dispute the parties took to their pistols, and we are glad to say returned unhurt ; but had the vindicator of the Waltz murdered his antagonist, we should not have been the more reconciled to this indecent exhibition from Germany.

1816

When English dancers danced the waltz at the Prince Regent’s Grand Ball in 1816, The Times of London wrote:
We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last…. [I]t is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressor on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.
 
1843

The New World ran a piece that appealed to readers' patriotism in hoping that "with the feminine dignity and simplicity that so well becomes the daughters of a Republic like our own, they will discard the waltz as a dance revolting to modesty, and unfavorable to virtue...."


1866

Belgravia magazine printed the following commentary on the waltz:
We who go forth of nights and see without the slightest discomposure our sister and our wife seized on by a strange man and subjected to violent embraces and canterings round a small-sized apartment—the only apparent excuse for such treatment being that is done to the sound of music—can scarcely realize the horror which greeted the introduction of this wicked dance. 
  
1877

William Rulofson, under the pseudonym William Henry, published the book The Dance of Death in 1877 to show society "what a loathsome ulcer festers in its midst." He described the male waltz dancer as one whose "eyes, gleaming with a fierce intolerable lust, gloat[s] satyr-like over" his female dancing partner.

In an 1878 review of the book, Scientific Farmer said:
We thought, on reading the title, that we were to be treated to a dance by the author, as the title indicates ; but we soon found that the author was not writing his own dance-music, but finding fault with the dancing of others. It is probable that dancers will not be converted into non-dancers by reading this book, but those who have not yet learned the art may receive consolation from its pages. We agree, however, with the author, in his continuation and conclusion, that the modern waltz may be the instrument of evil. The book is finely gotten up, and is creditable to its publishers. It is strongly and fearlessly written, with an intensity of expression that is almost startling.

1895 

The Lutheran Witness ran a piece on dancing in which numerous moral authorities expressed their views. 

Rev. B.M. Palmer of New Orleans said:
Promiscuous dancing between the sexes is essentially voluptuous and demoralizing. The waltz—a species of dance I do not hesitate thus publicly to denounce as undisguisedly licentious.

Howard Crosby said:
The foundation for the vast amount of domestic misery and domestic crime which startles us often in its public outcroppings was laid when parents allowed the sacredness of their daughters' persons and the purity of their maiden instincts to be rudely shocked in the waltz.

Bishop Cleveland Coxe said:
The gross, debasing waltz would not be tolerated another year if Christian mothers in our communion would only set their faces against it and remove their daughters from its contaminations and their songs from that contempt of womanhood and womanly modesty which it begets.