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How to make money on YouTube: Don't make a 'Harlem Shake' video

If you think now is the time to make a retro "Harlem Shake" video to get some YouTube views and ad revenue, don't hold your breath. Aside from that train leaving the station over a year ago, there's one other thing you should know about all those people that made wildly successful meme videos - they didn't earn a dime. 

Ad revenue and copyright infringement
According to Time Magazine, Baauer - the DJ that made the overnight hit mashup "Harlem Shake" - was signed to the label Mad Decent while the meme videos were all the rage. At the peak of its success, some 4,000 videos containing the words "Harlem Shake" were being uploaded to YouTube on a daily basis, and many received a few million views.

However, once that video reached the Web, a service called Content ID would identify them as copyrighted materials and give users one of three options. They could remove the videos entirely, do nothing or sell space for ads if the videos qualified for advertising revenue. The catch was the video creators didn't get any of the proceeds. Those went to YouTube, the Mad Decent label and Baauer himself.

"We've, from the beginning, been very much a proponent of allowing everybody to do whatever they want with our stuff, as long we're able to monetize it," Jasper Goggins, the manager of the label, told Time magazine. "It's a great way to help spread the music."

So if you're thinking of producing a lip dub, remixing a song or otherwise using copyrighted material in hopes to earn money online, know that it may not work out as you plan. And if you think Baauer, as the artist behind the fad, made a killing off "Harlem Shake," don't be so sure.

Baauer "hasn't seen any money from it."
Months after Time magazine published the article saying Baauer and Mad Decent expertly placed themselves in a profitable position, the artist told The Atlantic that he actually didn't make any money off of the song. That's because Baauer didn't get permission to use the copyrighted material in the mash up either. The news source reported that "Harlem Shake" actually had music samples from rapper Jayson Musson and reggaeton artist Hector Delgado.

By the end of the ordeal, Baauer had created a wildly popular song that sparked a viral sensation, and he earned very little to show for it - or some would think.

Becoming a hit one way or another
While some are skeptical whether Baauer truly didn't make a dime from the advertising revenue on YouTube or through sales of his sound file, others point out that it matters less than it seems. Baauer didn't lose everything by failing to ask for permission for the music samples. He attracted an obscene amount of publicity for his music and achieved fame in the process. Now, it's all about leveraging that stardom to earn more at live shows and collaborations with other big artists - two things The Atlantic reported Baauer was doing in 2013.


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