Hey! If you listen to my show regularly, you’re probably familiar with the term “YouTube Scholar.”
I use it a lot on the air—usually to describe myself before playing something I’ve discovered while browsing that site’s incredible collection of user-uploaded old-school music videos, ripped .mp3 files, and four-minute-long camera shots of record players spinning out-of-print 45s.
These finds are an integral part of my TOTALLY WIRED programming, and YouTube scholarship so shapes the way I approach exploring music that I figured I’d write a weekly blog column about the art.
My boy Matteo came up with the phrase “YouTube Scholar” to describe the quasi-academic approach he and I take to navigating YouTube in search of rarities and totally badass musical artifacts that fall outside the bounds of common music knowledge.
Since sophomore year of high school we’ve spent hours on YouTube, discovering everything from obscure reggae tracks, to an upload of the complete Minor Threat discography. We go to record stores and dig through vinyl like anyone else, but ultimately the main driving force behind our music knowledge is the “recommended for you” video links running down YouTube’s right side.
The “recommended for you” feature is an important part of the YouTube scholarly experience, because it perfectly encapsulates the tension between the algorithmic and the human in YouTube music browsing. Whatever you do on YouTube, your activity is logged and analyzed, which allows the site to robotically feed you videos.
But, crucially, these videos are all created by real people, and feature songs explicitly chosen by the uploader. The effort required to upload a music video to YouTube ensures that the person doing the uploading really cares about the music.
It is this human curatorial presence behind every “recommended for you” video that elevates the search for music on YouTube far above the experience of making “radio stations” on services like Pandora or Spotify. Those services, by using algorithms to draw on a gigantic catalogue of music, compiled for comprehensiveness rather than quality, replace what is human about curation. YouTube’s algorithmic processes, on the other hand, function to connect you not only with content that has been curated (however badly) by a site user, but also to allow you to find the profiles of uploaders purveying the music you want to hear.
This human element makes interacting with YouTube’s community of video uploaders—in contrast to using services like Pandora—a little bit like listening to the real radio.
If you are like me and focus your YouTube music studies on a particular era or geographical location (late ‘70s and early ‘80s punk music, preferably from Australia) you get to be very familiar with certain YouTube users who have taken it upon themselves to upload every notable track from an era or place that they’ve ring-fenced for curation.
Like getting to know a radio DJ through their choices of songs and on-air style, browsing an active YouTube music uploader’s catalogue of videos feels like a kind of hybrid practice of communication and detective work, with clues to the uploader’s identity hidden behind responses to Top Comments and the choice of still-frame images that accompany a video’s audio. As you spend more time with the YouTube accounts responsible for great music uploads, watching their videos becomes a more and more personal and social experience.
So that’s enough meditation for one week. This wouldn’t be TOTALLY WIRED if I didn’t give you an awesome punk gem to make reading this worth your while, so here’s one of my favorite YouTube music finds, unearthed while browsing the uploads of the incomparable nzoz1979.
The band is The Riptides, who were apparently part of the wildly underrated and tragically unknown late 70s Brisbane punk/garage scene that produced amazing bands like The Saints.
The song is “77 Sunset Strip”, and I honestly think it’s one of the best punk/garage pop songs ever written. It’s ludicrous that it wasn’t at all popular or well known (at least in the states!).
Check it out and enjoy! Feel free to comment with great YouTube finds!