Artists doing it on their own terms.

Aug 30, 2021

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When YouTube was founded 16 years ago, it was on the shoulders of do-it-yourself artists and creatives. This community understood that anyone can influence culture as long as they have the right music, vision, and team. Sixteen years later nothing has changed. Independent artists are thriving both on YouTube and in the music industry at large. According to MIDiA Research, independents grew 27% year over year in 2020, increasing their combined streaming market share to 31.5%. At YouTube, our goal is to ensure all of these artists succeed.

“Artist tools are empowering creators to forge careers they want rather than some industry blueprint. But independence can become isolation, so mentoring and skills sharing have never been more important. YouTube’s tools, Foundry program, and library of music learning videos reflect an understanding that music platforms have to bring more than just an audience to the music creator community.”

– Mark Mulligan, Managing Director and Analyst at MIDiA Research

The music industry will never grow if we don’t nurture artists at every stage of their careers. And that’s exactly why we launched our Foundry program in 2015. Since turning the program’s focus to independents in 2017, we’ve supported over 150 independent artists (including Dua Lipa, Rosalía, Kenny Beats, Omar Apollo, and Gunna) in 15 countries plus many more under the Foundry umbrella. This year we saw a 450% increase in Foundry applications and just recently announced the 2021 class with a record 27 new members, the biggest in our history.

Today I want to share a conversation I had with Foundry members and their managers on choosing their independent paths, what that really means, and what they need in order to keep living on their own terms.

Arlo Parks

Arlo Parks

Artist, Foundry class of 2019

“Often when we’re kids, we see a career in music as unattainable. But it’s possible. You just need the right people around you and the right mindset. With an adventurous and hard-headed spirit, dreams come true.”

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Sinead Harnett

Sínead Harnett

Artist, Foundry Class of 2021

“[As an independent] it’s so important to find people that help catapult you from a very lonely job to ‘Wow, I can’t believe what I did with my life.’”

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Courtney Stewart

Courtney Stewart

Manager and founder of Right Hand Co.

“When I was in my early 20s, I felt like I needed to do everything on my own. But little did I know that it’s less about you and more about the circle that you surround yourself with that helps you flourish.” 

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Ali Raymond

Ali Raymond

Manager and founder of Beatnik Creative

“Being independent is a way of thinking. It’s a way of life. It’s the way you approach your art. It’s an entrepreneurial spirit. But it’s also a community. Whether you’re an independent artist, photographer, filmmaker, etc., you all gravitate towards each other.”

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Naomi Zeichner

Naomi Zeichner

Artist Partnerships and Foundry Program Lead, YouTube

“Artists thrive when they’re surrounded by community, and teams that back them up. Foundry is designed for artists who have a vision for their own success that YouTube can help them achieve." 

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Lyor Cohen

Lyor Cohen

Head of Music, YouTube

“Being independent is like a badge of honor. It indicates resourcefulness. It’s an indication that one can do without a bunch of unnecessary stuff, and lead with the music.”

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We hope programs like Foundry and in-product features like Live Redirect and Premieres (which independent artists from Aurora and Japanese Breakfast to Perfume Genius have leveraged to engage with fans) will allow us to continue to support the independent community. Thank you for reading, and be sure to check out this year’s Foundry artists.

With love and respect,

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Lyor Cohen