244. “What’s So Great About YouTube?”

In response to The New York Times article “650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing.”


244. “What’s So Great About YouTube?”


My buddy Greg keeps me up to date on much new music. Earlier this week, he sent me a Spotify link to the Mono No Aware compilation in the middle of the night, telling me I had to listen to it right away. I replied I don’t have spoty. Seconds later he forwarded a link to its iTunes Music page. When I clicked it, my phone asked me to start a free 30-day trial. I wrote back to Greg, telling him I don’t have access to iTunes Music either. “Oh that’s right,” he must have thought, “you use YouTube.”


I have a YouTube tab open right now, playing Aphex Twin — Selected Ambient Works 85-92, uploaded by a user named “Hi, I’m Ben.” I found it under the related videos section from the Mono No Aware album I have since devoured these last couple days. It’s been helping me write recently:


YouTube is great. It’s a compass to new and old music, a telescope as well as microscope to fascinating information, an IV of visual-auditory simulation, and virtual teacher / class clown in one.


Any friend would tell you, I prefer to hold a CD in my hand, flip through the insert notes with the tunes playing steady, without the threat of a stream fail or the WIFI cutting out. But often before I add to my compact disc collection, I’ll sample an album online, uploaded courtesy of some far off user, as much a geek as I. For example, Erik Satie, played by Håkon Austbø, a rare combination, I had hit replay on for about a week before finally deciding I wanted it in hard copy. Another example, Ali Farka Touré’s The River, which has been on my Amazon wish list for a long time, I see pop up as a recommended video on YouTube every once in a while, reminding me to just buy it already. Soon. Soon.


Once a week I’ll hand out a listening exercise to my students where they listen to a pop song, and fill in the missing lyrics. I hand them lyrics from Genius, and after a few listens, sometimes we watch the YouTube lyric version of the song to check answers. All this to say, lyric videos are dope, and a uniquely YouTube phenomenon.


Not just tracks, but playlists are huge too. Mr. Suicide Sheep, Proximity, Fluidified, and Chill Nation put out consistent, solid mixes one after the other; to me they are some of the stations I tune into regularly, explore, and enjoy; with the king of them all being Majestic Casual: their Sunday Chill mix I play ritually every end of the week. I can’t explore any of those channels without walking away with one of their tracks stuck in my head. Damn, even right now, I can’t stop dancing, a new song, a new tab next to this one, open and jamming:


Moving away from the world of pure sound, another major aspect of YouTube for me is its oceans of music videos. For years I’ve been slowly piecing together video playlists of my favorites in no particular order. Beach House has a neat video of them playing for Pitchfork a version of “Walk In The Park,” with subtle psychedelic effects, and what was new back then, a live drummer.


Pitchfork itself has an arsenal of video content of YouTube — everything from interviews to shows like “Over/Under” where they ask musicians to rate random things as overrated or underrated.


David Dean Burkhart, oh my God, this editor is insanely good, and just another reason YouTube kicks ass. Good taste and craft rarely flex this well. He takes tracks and edits the most obscure video clips / film footage to match the song, to create unofficial videos worth your time. Here’s one for a Chvrches ear worm:


Yet another step removed from pure music, is music review. Anthony Fantano‘s reviews I was all about back in the day, back when I had more than a few hours a day to dedicate to music search. He has a great sense of humor, and a keen eye for editing, not to mention a solid basis for his music taste (not that you have to agree with everything he says, but it’s nice to hear someone have opinions backed up).


Away from music all together, there is also a lot of engaging news and commentary, which, yeah, iono, uhm, was fun…

Some standards from my early YouTube days:

The Amazing Atheist, who I guess goes by TJ Kirk now, based on a quick search.

Philip DeFranco, I was into, not sure why.

John Green, writer and vloger as y’all know, puts out some cool content — his health care vid schooled me a bit.

Young Turks, RT, and Alex Jones, because c’mon, hah.

There is so much information on YouTube. The statistics show there are 300 hours of content uploaded every minute. Stop and think about that for a second (and 5 hours of content will have been uploaded). There are even projections that this number will only increase.


Probably the best reason to use YouTube, aside from music and news, is to get a good laugh. The most youtubey tubetube videos out there fall under what’s called “YouTubePoop.” Over the last eleven years YTP has become a genre in its own right. Basically the videos mix simple editing techniques, meme humor and inside joke, and wrapped it in a YouTube cultural context, with Spongebob, 80s/90s cartoons, and video game footage at its forefront. I’m glad it’s still around: here’s a new one; and here’s a oldie. To quote a YouTuber: “YouTube Poop is so old it isn’t even a meme, it’s pre-meme. It’s an art.”


SRHEDS videos were so funny, ahhh. It’s a very specific humor, not for everyone, takes a while to sink in, but here is a classic from YT.


Also some unclassifiable madness from the YouTube Community:

Cyriak, who is good deep into the night, a path to be alone and away from it all.


That isn’t to say it’s all fun and games. Two things I owe to YouTube are learning the basics of guitar and the Russian language. Specifically, from Russian World Learning, with their hundreds of videos; to how to play “Jane Says” from GuitarJamz. I bet you could learn anything from YouTube, at least the beginnings of it. It’s encompasses two of the four learning modalities, and harbors endless content, either to skim the surface of any topic, or dive endlessly into one some specific aspect. Langfocus, for example, is one channel where you can skim or dive. Personally, I’ve used to think about language in new ways.


As far as this new YouTube Red thing, I don’t know much about, or renting movies on the site. Nor have I ever watched a live stream, which I know YT does because of the ads thrown on the homepage. The purist inside me wants to say that the website’s origin exist solely as a platform for sharing personal videos. Yet, of course, whenever you make room for fertile ground in your life, weed seeds will fly in and suck the nutrients from the earth after finding a way to install themselves. Ad-block is recommended. YouTube should be free.


Finally, the comments. The community can be funny, making you laugh; insightful, leading you to new videos or new content; or straight up stupid. The Dubstep comments in the early 2010s come to mind: “When the drop hits people change gender.” “This song’s dirtier than Hitler’s gas bill.” “Knock knock. Who’s there? Rob. Rob who? ROBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOB!”


IN CONCLUSION: Vimeo’s tight too, if I want to watch a documentary or a serious short film. But I bet you the spoofs and the extras are on YouTube. That’s where I’ll be, listening to music, or learning something new.

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