As musicians, labels, and music industry stakeholders alike continue to bicker about the insufficient payouts made by streaming services and just who is to blame (one party says the labels, the other says the streaming platforms), one entity has emerged as the worst – YouTube.

Never mind Spotify, Apple Music, or even Pandora, YouTube is by far the biggest exploiter of musicians and their content, many will tell you. The online video giant is, for all intents and purposes, the world’s biggest music streaming service, at least by user base.

However, the payouts it offers musicians are often meagre and convoluted. As we’ve previously covered, many have accused the site of failing to have a comprehensive monetisation system, reaping a profit off the backs of musicians, and even strong-arming indie labels.

Industry veteran Peter Mensch, best known as the manager for heavy metal legends Metallica, recently called YouTube “the devil” in a BBC Radio 4 documentary on the music business. “We don’t get paid at all,” Mensch said of the platform.

“If someone doesn’t do something about YouTube, we’re screwed,” he continued. “It’s over. Someone turn off the lights.” Mensch insisted the site’s ad-supported model was unsustainable, which is a fair argument to make, if you’re Metallica’s manager.

And sure, even your cases of YouTube superstardom — your Cody Simpsons, your Troye Sivans, and so on — are few and far between, but they do exist and they’re nothing to scoff at. Even YouTube stars who don’t make the pop charts can manage to make a living off YouTube ad revenue.

But what’s perhaps most intriguing about Mensch’s comments is that Metallica are partly responsible for the current combative atmosphere of the digital music industry. At least that’s what Salon‘s Scott Timberg argues in a recent column.

“Mensch’s statement is a bit strange, though, for reasons that go beyond its overstatement: It’s a reminder that one of the reasons musicians have so much trouble getting paid these days comes from a gargantuan mistake made by… Metallica,” he writes.

According to Timberg, Metallica’s infamously myopic battle against Napster in the early 2000s forged an environment in which digital music became an odious and esoteric dominion best left alone entirely or otherwise sued into oblivion.

Meanwhile, music fans were fed a narrative in which musicians were money-hungry and litigious and digital services like Napster, who sit at the head of the streaming family tree, were young and hip and trying to fight the system by giving music fans a choice.

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“When a chauffer rolled a Chevy Blazer with drummer Lars Ulrich and band lawyer Howard King to the Napster offices… they created a narrative for the press and tech advocates to use: Millionaire musicians against ‘the kids’,” Timberg writes.

Even Metallica’s fellow musicians hit out at them, instead of presenting a united front. Metallica’s choice to get lawyers involved, Timberg argues, divided the industry at a time when they should’ve been banding together to try and figure out what this newfangled internet thing was all about.

“The PR was so bad that nearly every other band fled from the conflict, and even though Napster shut down a year later, Silicon Valley triumphed, and musicians got a reputation for being greedy and litigious,” Timberg concludes. Read his full op-ed via Salon here.

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