Creating the World’s Largest Music Service


Music is the most popular YouTube content by several measures, including video views and search activity. The world’s first academic study on YouTube music consumption by Aalto University in Finland shows that one reason for its popularity lies in users’ own video. People re-use original music by popular artists to create their own alternative video variations, which may reach an audience of millions and can be found alongside any popular music title.

These variations that we call user-appropriated videos are readily available and well promoted on YouTube. This is what makes YouTube an interesting music service, says Dr. Lassi A. Liikkanen from Aalto University.

Lyrics and still videos, which only include music, rank highly in YouTube search results. A popular video, say a new Beyoncé song, may share its audience collaterally with similar user-generated videos because they appear next to one another in the search results and suggested content. The researchers named this the halo effect.

Three types of videos

In this study the researchers created a typology of YouTube music videos.

  • The analysis found three primary music video types: traditional, user-appropriated, and derivative music videos, post-doctoral researcher Antti Salovaara explains.

Through a series of qualitative and quantitative studies of YouTube content, researchers studied both the popularity of music videos and the attention they get from the audience.

The study shows that users are willing to listen to music from Youtube even without video content. They are also happy with music with rolling lyrics over a still photo, cover versions, and even parodies of the authentic music content.

  • YouTube transformed the digital media world. It changed music listening practices. Finally, we have a scientific record of this wonderfully rich cultural phenomenon,’ the primary author, Lassi A. Liikkanen, explains.
  • Earlier studies ignored music’s tremendous pull, even though it must have been obvious to everyone using YouTube. We only have a single academic reference point from six years back. In this time, the artists have changed, but music has remained on top of the charts.

Primary Type: Traditional

These videos are what we normally think of when talking about music videos. Three subtypes are noted and in this case illustrated in relation to a single title (Adele’s Rolling in the Deep):


Primary Type: User Appropriated

In these videos, users have taken utilized (i.e. appropriated) the music, the audio track to be presented with new simple visual content. In cases, these videos illustrate music that has never had an artist-made traditional music video version made. However, we considered that these videos were foremost intended for making the original music accessible.


Primary Type: Derivative

Derivative videos borrow some aspects of an original song or a music video, but essentially shift the focus away from the original content the new material. This material maybe produced by a cover artist, a parody maker, dance group, DJ etc. Original music serves as an inspiration or backdrop, but most importantly, the publisher has maintained the association by naming the video as if it was a traditional music video.


Source: Aalto University


Liikkanen L. & Salovaara A. Music on YouTube: User engagement with Traditional, User-Appropriated and Derivative Videos. Computers in Human Behavior. Elsevier. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.01.067

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