It's supposed to work like this: Artists put their music up for streaming on YouTube, the site sells (annoying) ads around the content, and then splits the revenue with the artist according to some predetermined formula.
So how much does YouTube owe artists? The site says it pays tens of millions of dollars to the music industry each month. But for some, like classic Bay Area punk band the Dead Kennedys, that math seems a little fuzzy.
Deep in a recent NPR story about YouTube's popularity as a music-streaming site is this nugget: The Kennedys' guitarist, East Bay Ray, says the band's video's have been streamed more than 14 million times on YouTube -- with ads. But, he says, the band has only seen "a few hundred dollars" in payment on that.
"I don't know -- and no one I know knows -- how YouTube calculates the money," he says. Pepperell says the band has been in talks with YouTube, and the company told the musicians that the site takes 45 percent of ad revenue generated by their videos. But, he says, YouTube won't tell them how much that is.
"What YouTube claims is irrelevant until they produce how much they've made off my band and how much they've shared with my band," he says. "Don't let them bull s- - - you that it's too complicated."
A few hundred dollars on 14 million streams? That seems absurd.
The guitarist goes on to say that he's seen his income decline by half in the last couple of years.
Other artists quoted in the same story who have had success with YouTube -- like OK Go -- say the site simply isn't a money-maker, and that artists need to branch out to selling MP3s and licensing deals in order to make money.
But still: We'd like to know what YouTube's math looks like here, and we bet the Dead Kennedys do, too.