I’ve written about self-made YouTube stars, Lilly Singh and Michelle Phan, before. I was already awed by how they had managed to build a large fan base for their videos and parlay that into merchandise sales for Ms Singh and makeup sales for Ms Phan. Even so, I was surprised to see how many people showed up for Ms Singh’s show last night at the Warfield in San Francisco, a venue with a capacity of 2,250 people which, while not sold out, certainly close to it. This was not the only stop on Ms Singh’s World Tour, which took her to India, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and a few North American cities. Quite a few tickets were sold. Tours inevitably have merchandise and this one was no exception, with $35 t-shirts, $20 hats, and $15 posters.
None of this is surprising. Ms Singh has a presence on every social media channel, with millions of followers/subscribers on each. YouTube, 6 million, Instagram, 2 million, Twitter, “only” a million… and she posts on each one multiple times a day. She spends hours each day creating content which she then gives away for free. Well, in exchange for advertising views, but other than that, for free.
It also shouldn’t have surprised me to hear her say in the first few minutes of the show to please, take photos, take videos, and share them everywhere. This is so unlike any other show I have been to, where, even though encouraged to share my experience on social media, the moment I took out my phone at the venue (before the show had started) an usher came by to tell me that taking photos was prohibited. This is to “preserve the rights” of the artists. Ms Singh has no such requirements and encouraged the exact opposite. And her fans obliged.
So perhaps this is the future of artistic creation: no digital rights management and no copyrights. Monetization is made elsewhere, not by selling these rights and the artistic content. DRM and its sharing restrictions have twisted music and video products to the point of pain, where music lovers who have paid time and time again for the same content, find themselves still not able to listen to what they want, when they want it. Sure, it’s a vision far into the future as current models and players are in place to continue their stronghold on these industries, but perhaps in a few years, users and artists will start to see a change as new products and services meet these new needs.