Artists Going Pro with GoPro: Is Money, Exposure Shifting to Branded YouTube Channels?

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Amidst the continuing decline of physical and digital sales and the controversy surrounding streaming payouts, bands and musicians have over the past several years looked to brands and lucrative sync deals for much-needed exposure and a paycheck. Whether it’s a Mountain Dew Commercial causing an A-Trak song to debut on the dance charts, or a choice placement by Chevrolet of fun.’s “We Are Young” causing the hit to spike on the Billboard charts towards a No. 1 position on the Hot 100, ad syncs have a proven track record of causing dramatic increases in exposure for artists.

Could a similar type of arrangement lead to measurable exposure and returns for an artist if it were with a popular YouTube channel?

Thomas Cascino, an Oakland Ca. native, was a college student studying fine arts at UC Santa Cruz in 2012 and creating down-tempo, sample-based electronic laptop music (from his bed, mostly) under the moniker Broke For Free in his spare time. It was then that David Kelley, the head of Creative Music Supervision at GoPro, first reached out, interested in licensing Cascino's music for his company's YouTube channel, which today sports more than 3 million subscribers, placing it among the platform's top channels. GoPro developed a substantial working relationship with Cascino, using Broke For Free’s mood-evoking music as the background in more than 30 videos on the GoPro channel, each of which has received between 150,000 and 4.5 million views.

These syncs, which include professional surfing videos for clients like Nike and RedBull as well as serene, documentary-style nature videos of giant manta rays, inevitably led to noticeable increases in online attention for Cascino and his Broke for Free project. One such artist-specific video, born out of Cascino and GoPro’s continued relationship over the years, featured his track “Summer Spliffs.” When a GoPro video was released featuring Broke For Free's "Summer Spliffs," the artist's Soundcloud channel received 60,399 plays over the following two weeks, compared to 36,901 plays the previous two weeks, an increase of 63.7 percent. Over that same period, Broke For Free experienced a 840 percent jump in Facebook fan acquisition and a 309 percent bump in SoundCloud followers.

*Broke For Free experienced a spike in Soundcloud plays in the two weeks following GoPro's video sync. Graph + data courtesy of Next Big Sound.

“My involvement with GoPro helped validate a lot of the work I was putting into my music,” says Cascino. “Without a significant fan base, I didn't know if people were hearing what I was putting out."

David Kelley created the company’s Music Supervision Program four years ago with a simple goal: to curate an artist-centric program that would allow GoPro access to vast amounts of music to place in the ever-growing stream of original content for the GoPro channel, without having to rely on production music catalogs. “We wanted to design a program that allowed us to have a continuing working relationship with artists we like, that also provided us with new and unheard sounds for the increasing stream of videos we wanted to create,” Kelley tells Billboard. "The overall vision was to create a place of music discovery our fans could reference that also brought attention to the artists we hand-picked."

GoPro’s YouTube channel was started in late 2009 as a way to demonstrate to their customers the capabilities of their tiny cameras, which have earned the San Mateo California-based firm a $2.25 billion dollar valuation. The company’s Music Supervision team essentially functions similar to the A&R department at a record label, searching for new bands that fit with GoPro's sonic identity. Once they’ve found an artist they 'vibe' with, that artist is invited to submit as few or as many tracks as they’re comfortable with into the company's music library under a pre-cleared blanket license. If and when a song is synced to a video, the team notifies the artist, so they can prepare their social and marketing, and invoice GoPro for the use of the track in the music video.

To date, GoPro’s creative music supervision program has worked with over 500 artists -- representing over 20,000 songs that have been hand-selected and personally curated for placement in GoPro’s videos. The team works with everyone from Ninja Tune/Third Side Music, to Downtown Records, to Innovative Leisure all the way to extremely DIY, indie artists.

One such DIY indie artist is Matthew Suggett, who produces music under the moniker Insightful. Since first starting to work with GoPro in 2011 as a “starving college student,” Suggett is GoPro’s most-placed artist, who’s music has been used in so many videos that have garnered over a million views he’s lost count.

“My music was being used during a special time at GoPro when they reached out,” says Suggett. "Having GoPro as a pillar of support while growing as an artist was a vital thing to have," Suggett tells Billboard. "It allowed a completely new audience to be exposed to my sound and I have acquired a fairly large following just off of my involvement in GoPro videos alone. It's a humbling experience to see your music being played while flying on Virgin America, on live television, or even at a Target or Guitar Center. It's also led to outside licensing deals with ESPN, Hyundai, and Urban Outfitters, and an awesome Dance Tour in France called "Rock It All"."

Artists who have worked directly with GoPro (including Insightful and Broke For Free) are compensated on a fee-based structure, while the community of amateur GoPro enthusiasts earn revenues for artists they sync to their homemade videos YouTube’s Content ID system and the ads placed against those videos. Once such notable example where GoPro attached to a drone flew through a fireworks show caused Andrea Bocelli’s “Time To Say Goodbye” to debut at No. 10 on Billboard’s Streaming songs chart in July 2014.

Canadian producer and songwriter OVERWERK, whose track “Daylight” was used in a GoPro video which debuted their HERO3+ product line back in 2012 that today has more than 38 million global views. In the month following GoPro’s video debut, SoundCloud plays for OVERWERK jumped from 74,407 plays to 251,726, a 238 percent increase over the previous month, and has successfully sustained that monthly volume to this date. Followers on that platform jumped 347 percent to 2,590, while his fanbase on Facebook increased by 31,053 (up 1,970 percent).

*OVERWERK's experienced an increase in Soundcloud plays and Facebook fans over a 1 month period following a GoPro video sync. Graph + data courtesy of Next Big Sound.

An extreme street racing video shot in Japan with more than 7 million views to date lead to noticeable increases for Magic Sword, an electronic producer whose epic-sounding tracks were used throughout the video. After GoPro posted the video on Nov. 4 2014, Magic Sword experienced a significant spike in followers on Soundcloud, gaining 1,700 in the month that followed (up 4,200 percent from the previous month). In that same time frame, he went from 2,802 plays on Soundcloud to 75,617, a 2,600 percent increase in traction.

*Magic Sword experienced an increase in Soundcloud plays over a two week period following a GoPro video sync. Graph + data courtesy of Next Big Sound.

The ways which GoPro works with artists isn’t just limited to placement in extreme videos, the team also works in creating original content centered around the artists themselves. GoPro worked with San Francisco-based indie rock band The Family Crest as a part of their Summer Sessions, a conscious effort by the brand to move into the music-centric space. In creating an original music video (shot entirely with GoPros, of course) for their original track “Make Me a Boat” that’s garnered 650,000 views to date, the company helped drive 14,000 views to the The Family Crest’s channel on YouTube over the two weeks following its April 6, 2014 debut (a 50 percent increase over the previous two weeks). In that same timeframe, The Family Crest experienced a 16 percent bump in Facebook fans added and a 24 percent increase in traffic to their page on Wikipedia.

*The Family Crest experienced an increase in YouTube plays over a two week period following a GoPro video sync. Graph + data courtesy of Next Big Sound.


Record labels and licensing groups are viewing GoPro and other types of YouTube synchronization deals as a new, more-approachable way to gain exposure for up-and-coming artists.

Jen Pearce, the vp of Licensing & Strategic Marketing at Downtown Records, in charge of licensing for all of the artists on the label as well as 10 other labels (including Captured Tracks, Mom + Pop and 300), has worked with the GoPro team since 2011 to license more than 100 songs to their channel on YouTube over the years.

“Artists that we work with are extremely aware of their brand and want to work with the right brands that elevate their message in a genuine partnership,” says Pearce. “I do really big licensing and very small, and it’s funny to see what artists get excited about because GoPro is one of those brands where every artist, hands down, is just stoked to work with, because when a GoPro sync happens it’s like an immediate 1 million views.”

Downtown does a pre-clearance deal between the artists and GoPro (with the option to extend the media to other platforms), which grants GoPro access to a library of the artist’s works, paying a small fee for each usage. This model offers advantages to both parties; offering a part of their catalog for GoPro to pick and choose from creates a re-occurring revenue stream for the artists and builds a solid pool of talent for GoPro to select from which increases the overall quality of their videos.

For unknown or emerging artists looking to get their music out there, a sync to a popular YouTube channel is more approachable and attainable than say, a video game, television or movie. YouTube’s top channels draw an incredible umber of eyeballs, which creates a greater volume of opportunities for syncs than say, the same television ad that runs hundreds of times on repeat. Moreover, because branded channels like GoPro are so content-focused -- they're not telling viewers to “buy GoPro!” -- they can come across as more authentic. In this new age of digital media, authenticity is key -- and so is not being broke.