Sergio Affonso, the president of Warner Music Brasil, is hunting for the next Anitta, the label’s homegrown starlet who in recent years has become a global pop sensation. And he’s doing so by sitting in front of his computer. “I spend a lot of time on YouTube,” he says. “I sit there looking for artists with the highest number of views — artists who would identify with my brand and who have talent.”
Affonso’s approach — he devotes roughly an hour each day to scouting up-and-coming acts on the platform — has paid off, winning Warner a string of Brazilian chart hits from artists including Ludmilla, who signed to the label in 2013 after a video she recorded as MC Beyoncé went viral, and IZA, who started covering her favorite R&B artists on YouTube in 2015. And he’s hardly the only music executive capitalizing on the platform’s power in Brazil, where for many years it was the only one of its kind available to the masses. (Early incarnations of the iTunes store only accepted payment via foreign credit cards, while streaming services like Deezer and Spotify didn’t arrive until 2013 and 2014, respectively.)
“[Brazilian] people have a culture of consuming music on YouTube, much more than in other countries,” says Zach Fuller, a senior analyst at MIDiA Research. In 2018, 79% of Brazilians watched music videos on YouTube, compared with the global weighted average of 44%, according to MIDiA. In that same year, 65% of Brazilians used YouTube on a weekly basis, compared with 30% for Spotify. (Globally, those figures were 46% for YouTube and 17% for Spotify.) Leo Morel, director of market intelligence for distribution platform iMusics, calls it “the biggest competitor for streaming companies in Brazil. It’s got brand recognition, and it’s free.”
Critics, like the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, say YouTube pays out only a tiny fraction of the sum it generates to creators and that such payments are significantly less than what other audio streaming services dole out. (YouTube global head of music Lyor Cohen has challenged those claims, saying it pays creators more than other ad-supported services.) Yet it’s still the best showcase for artists in Brazil who hope to be discovered. “It’s a democratic platform open to everyone,” says Sandra Jimenez, head of music for YouTube in Latin America. “And for new talent, it’s the opportunity to explode and then choose your own path with a label or [go] independent.”
YouTube even has helped reinvigorate the careers of established Brazilian musicians, including pop-rock band Jota Quest, which has increasingly turned to the platform to engage with old fans and inspire new ones. In 2018, the band worked with 20 YouTubers who reinterpreted the group’s classics in a wide range of styles.
“We grew up in an era when there was only one way to work: You launched an album, you promoted it, you released music from it, toured, [then made] another album,” said Jota Quest vocalist Rogério Flausino at the time. “Not today. You can use different platforms to achieve success. YouTube singers are the result of that.”