How Psy made £16m from his YouTube success

This time last year few people outside South Korea had heard of Psy, now he’s a multi-millionaire international pop-culture phenomenon - and it’s all thanks to YouTube… But could you cash in?

Psy – real name Park Jae-sang – shot to fame last summer with his song ‘Gangnam Style’. The track, video and accompanying dance moves have been played, and imitated, seemingly everywhere – to date ‘Gangnam Style’ has been viewed an eye-watering 1.6 billion times on YouTube not to mention literally millions of tribute and parody videos.

As a result it’s boosted the South Korean rapper’s wealth £16 million according to Celebrity Net Worth – as well as becoming the most liked and viewed video in the history of YouTube as well as the first video to reach 1 billion views.

[Psy's latest video hits 400 million views on YouTube]

But YouTube isn’t the whole story. By the end of 2012, the song had topped the music charts of more than 30 countries including Australia, France, Germany and the UK while Psy performed live in Times Square, New York, on New Year’s Eve 2012.

Going viral on a global scale means Psy has been able to sit back and watch the cash roll in. Estimates suggest video views and YouTube account visits have resulted in around £560,000 worth of ad revenue sharing while iTunes downloads have earned Psy about £1.5 million.

Off the back of online success Psy has also secured a number of endorsement deals including Korean electronics brands Samsung and LG. Associated Press estimates brand endorsements earned Psy £3 million last year alone as well as lucrative appearance fees on TV shows and concerts around the world.

Beyond records

Psy became a millionaire, not from record sales and concerts, but from YouTube ads and iTunes downloads. Copyright rules mean it’s not just Psy’s own videos on YouTube that make him money – it’s all the parody acts too.

Google, which owns YouTube, detects videos that use copyrighted content and artists can either have the video removed or allow it to stay online and take a share in the ad revenue.  Some 33,000 videos have been identified as using Gangnam Style including a video posted last month of a cockatoo “dancing” to Gangnam Style. At the time of writing it, alone, had had more than 602,000 views.

Yet, Psy is far from an overnight success. The 35-year-old’s first album, ‘PSY… From the Psycho World’, was released in January 2001.  Psy 6 (Six Rules), on which Gangnam Style appears is the rapper’s sixth album. Since hitting the big time Psy has signed up with Justin Beiber's manager Scooter Braun and his Schoolboy Records.

[Psy imposter spotted fooling VIPs in Monaco]

Can you cash in with a video too?

Psy is among millions of people uploading videos to YouTube. A handful of people have even become millionaires from the video-sharing site. But could you make it work for you?
Well, YouTube’s “partner programme” allows regular uploaders with big audiences to make money. “Partners” (or uploaders) agree to YouTube allowing relevant adverts to be placed alongside, in front of or even within, their videos. They then share the revenue created when people watch based on a combination of views and clicks on the ad.

"Pre-roll advertising" – adverts that are displayed before a video starts playing – are particularly lucrative, as advertisers are willing to pay more.

Basically, the more people you can get to watch the video, the more companies will pay to advertise alongside it and the more money you make. Exactly how much is shrouded in secrecy with YouTube swearing partners to secrecy about their earnings.

Is it really that simple?

There are some very high-profile success stories, with some earning six-figure sums from their YouTube videos, but then there are also millions of people uploading video and most of them will be earning very little or – in fact – nothing at all.

An astonishing 72 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute - so you’ll need to make your video stand out to have any hope at all of earning money from it. You’ll also need to own, or have permission to use, both the audio and video content.

For this reason clips featuring pop songs, films, TV or video games can be troublesome. Even a backing track over your film or footage of children singing a song can mean you need to split the revenue with the people who wrote the music in the first place.

Making money from your film depends upon your ability to spread the word, and come to the attention of YouTube’s talent spotters. The site’s staff monitor the most popular videos and ask the owners’ permission to place ads before or next to the clip.  If you can give the video a boost by getting it noticed and featured by major publications, popular on Facebook or spread widely on email or Twitter that will help too. YouTube has its own (extensive) guide to making your films stand out as much as possible.

On top of that, there’s a strong opinion in the video industry that for what it offers – hosting video online and serving ads against them – YouTube is taking rather a large percentage of the ad revenue it makes and keeping it rather than giving it to the people who actually make the films.

That said, with a billion people visiting YouTube each month, if you do score a hit you could see rather large returns. And there’s nothing else out there that offers the same opportunity.

[Psy reveals his love of Freddie Mercury]

Promotional tool more than money-making one?

If you’re an aspiring pop star, comedian, presenter or even makeup artist then getting spotted on YouTube can be the start of a lucrative career. Singers Justin Bieber, Avery, Alyssa Bernal and Greyson Chance all found fame after uploading videos to YouTube, for example.

It’s telling, however, that all of them – including Psy – made far more outside of YouTube than from it.

And you don’t even have to be talented – and spotted – to make money from YouTube. One of the site’s most popular videos is a home film of two young brothers, one biting the finger of the other. ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ has been viewed more than 500 million times and reportedly earned the boys’ father, who posted the video, up to £100,000 from ad revenue.

Whether you can find that elusive piece of video gold and make a mint from a home movie remains to be seen, but with no real competition in the world of online video sharing and offering free hosting of video, YouTube could be a nice little earner – or the first step to making some serious money elsewhere.

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