Phil Alexander, Global Creative Director at Kerrang!: My music journey on YouTube

Phil Alexander / December 2017

Esteemed music guru and Global Creative Director of Kerrang! & Rock Music Media at Wasted Talent Ltd, shares his view on how YouTube is changing the music arena in a positive way – and why it’s becoming increasingly pivotal in the industry.

I’m not entirely sure when I first became aware of YouTube. What I can tell you is it was probably around 2006 and, back then, I wasn’t remotely interested in a service that seemed built around the idea of broadcasting footage of grinning families on their trips to their local zoo, or wobbly-cam videos of cats falling off the couch while half-asleep in front of the TV. As someone of a curmudgeonly disposition, my initial view was that the ‘fun’ of this new channel was clearly for other people. Then, something changed…

As the Editor-In-Chief of MOJO – Britain’s biggest-selling music title and all-round magazine of record – I found myself actually being dragged down assorted YouTube-shaped rabbit holes as I conducted research on a whole host of acts that the magazine was writing about. While MOJO prides itself in delivering archival pieces from a first-hand point of view by speaking to the artists in question, it was fascinating to be able to fact-check certain comments made by the participating musicians by watching footage of the events they were re-living. Suddenly, as an editorial team we were able to actually watch large chunks of rock’s history as we sat at our desks. It was the next best thing to being there, and, in some instances, this instant-access archive helped shape some of the pieces we decided to commission.

"As an editorial team we were able to watch rock’s history at our desks. It was the next best thing to being there, and, in some instances, this instant-access archive helped shape some of the pieces we decided to commission"

– Phil Alexander, Global Creative Director of Kerrang! & Rock Music Media at Wasted Talent Ltd

Artists can build their own scenes and audiences

Then came another shift: rather than merely being reference tool, YouTube became a platform via which to discover new music or, even better, through which we could recommend new music. If new artists endorsed by MOJO initially stand outside of the mainstream, the same was doubly true as far as the acts championed by Kerrang! are concerned.

Of course, Kerrang! is a rock super-brand which has helped break every major league rock band for the last 30 years. Those acts include everyone from Metallica, Guns N’ Roses to Nirvana, via Green Day, Linkin Park and My Chemical Romance, and beyond. But, in all honesty, a majority of the acts that Kerrang! supports exist on the margins of popular music, building their own scenes and developing their own audience away from mainstream media approval.

The rise of the grime music trend

In many respects, the parallels between Kerrang!’s world and the developments in the grime scene are evident. Contrary to popular myth, grime did not explode overnight. It’s been some 15 years in the making. While the sound of that scene has evolved in that time, one of the principal differences between the records made in 2002 and 2017 is the exposure artists received and the manner in which they were able to promote themselves away from the mainstream media.

Grime’s use of YouTube as one of the scene’s adopted platforms of choice has been one of the elements that has helped today’s current crop of artists reach a huge audience – both here and around the world. In turn, that has forced the media to take note. There is no reason why rock music cannot do the same, having already done so innumerable times with the rise of assorted pre-streaming scenes that include grunge, pop-punk and emo. The real question with rock music – which currently is in something of a fractured state – is what scene emerges next.

A new era

On a distinctly personal note, I have gone from being a YouTube sceptic to becoming a user and, now, on to someone who, working with the team at new media company Wasted Talent Ltd, is actually in the process of creating original programming that will live on YouTube.

One of our key brands, MixMag, is already well advanced in that respect, hosting The Lab; a weekly live set featuring one of the world’s hottest DJs. Hosted in one of our offices in London, LA or New York in front of an audience of no more than 60 people. This party is filmed and live streamed via YouTube, helping MixMag promote artists they love to more than six million of electronic music fans the world over.

Creating original content

With Kerrang! – whose audience via print, digital and socials touches close to four million ardent rock fans – we have just started making original programming, filming the likes of experimental British rockers Enter Shikari, American alternative rock outfit Frank Iero and the Patience, and rising Dutch noise-niks the Paceshifters at intimate shows. Just as we have done with MixMag, we see these films as having global appeal and we believe we can develop a new model that will involve on-line, events, live streams and print around the world.

Latterly, I had the pleasure of hosting a recent YouTube Cultural Spotlights session focussing on music at London’s venerable 100 Club. Joining me were Steve Gladdis, Chief Strategy Officer of Mediacom UK; Lizzie Dickson, Head of Artist Relations and Music Partnerships at YouTube; Becky Lees, Head of the London Symphony Orchestra Live (LSO); and UK rap star Nadia Rose.

All of us were able to share the impact that YouTube has had on how we experience and consume music. The topics of conversation ranged from the effective integration of commercial brand partnerships with music through to the role digital technology has played in the development of modern music. For an organisation like the LSO, the use of digital media and YouTube in particular clearly brought in a wider audience.

How modern music is thriving

For Nadia Rose – who shared a remarkable story of YouTube’s educational role in her life – seeing one of her early videos go viral also had a similar impact, allowing her a genuine presence on a global stage.

While none of us are blind to the challenges presented by the streaming economy, what was evident during our discussion was the fact that, at its best, YouTube is a platform where creativity can genuinely thrive, and where brands, artists and audiences can genuinely interact.

It also seemed strangely fitting that we were sitting in the confines of a venue where, back in ’76, the Sex Pistols had headlined The 100 Club Punk Special. Back then, punk’s insurrectionary spirit and DIY aesthetic suggested that the old rules no longer applied, that everything was up for grabs. Forty-one years after that event, it seems things still feel that way.

Power to the people: Music on YouTube 2017