In 1981, MTV pushed music videos to the forefront of pop culture. In 1999, Napster made mp3s more popular than porn. Now, in 2012, L.A.-based Maker Studios is revolutionizing YouTube.
Created by viral video sensation Danny Zappin, Lisa Donovan and her brother Ben, the crew was frustrated with the Hollywood system. By embracing YouTube's unfiltered worldwide access, they now operate over 200 channels, producing hundreds of original videos a month for 32 million subscribers. You might know them from Tyler, the Creator's "She" video, as well as their "Epic Rap Battles of History" series, which pits guys dressed in costumes of folks like Einstein and Stephen Hawking against each other. It's quite clever.
Founded in 2009, at this point they've got almost as many daily viewers as Nickelodeon. Though the only thing the company shares with the traditional studios is a time zone, Brian Lee -- general manager of the forthcoming Maker Music -- says their geography helps by providing them access to talent. "Los Angeles is a place where people come to live out their dream. Because of that, there are a lot of production resources available."
Maker received a substantial portion of Google's $100 million dollar YouTube investment, and brought in both former MySpace Music president Courtney Holt and former Songs Music Publishing general manager Harry Poloner into the fold last year. But the access to inspired artists is just as important. "The Internet is the ultimate democracy," Lee adds. "Talent will rise to the top. Whether you're a 13-year-old doing a Taylor Swift cover in your bedroom, or you're a new artist signed to a major label working in the studio with Pharrell, talent is king."
"Epic Rap Battles of History" creator Nice Peter and comedian KassemG have practically become household names, at least among the internet savvy. Maker hopes they can extend their comedy success to the soon-to-be-launched Maker Music, which will feature music-centric channels.
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Lee feels the move makes sense, despite the music industry's troubles. "Music serves as a catalyst to all pop culture. If you really break down viewership online, over half of it is coming directly from music. We also find that with the democratization of media, the space really lends itself most to musicians. You no longer need a huge studio or a ton of resources to be able to produce quality music or gain exposure."
It's this freedom that Lee feels will help Maker take music on the Internet to the next level. "Our freedom of programming allows us to take more chances. Viewership doesn't dictate our choices and our content, so we have more flexibility. Similar to early MTV and other fledgling cable stations, the content isn't driven solely by viewership and the bottom line. We're not afraid to fail. We realize that no one bats 1,000, but it's liberating, because it's more meaningful when we do find a hit."
*Editor's note: Following publication of this story, a Maker Studios representative said that they did not, in fact, produce the "She" video, and have no relationship with Tyler or Odd Future. This directly contradicts what they initially said in interview. An Odd Future representative could not immediately be reached for comment.