Curating Dance Music on YouTube: The Copyright Minefield – An Interview with EELF

Image: EELF standing in a field of yellow flowers.

Underground dance music has a home on YouTube. The platform hosts multiple channels where curators are constantly uploading the latest work from established producers as well as up-and-comers in the scene. Many household names (within the community, I mean – I doubt your nan will know them) got their breaks from having their songs reach millions of views on one of these curated channels. Examples include Ross From Friends’ Talk to Me You’ll Understand, currently at 7.9 million views on OOUKFunkyOO, DJ Boring’s Winona (6.5 million views on Slav), and Subjoi’s The Way I Feel (5.6 Million views on Houseum). 

These curators are the taste makers for new genres like lo-fi house, and many are paid for the privilege through Patreon pages. One such curator, EELF, recently found himself in hot water with YouTube after having multiple copyright claims made against his channel. However, the claims were not to do with the music; all of the tracks on his channel are sourced with permission and artists even pay to have their work premiered. Instead, the claims were concerning home video footage that EELF was using to create atmospheric music videos for each new song. This led to YouTube deleting his channel completely – standard practice if a channel receives three copyright strikes – and EELF losing his 185,000-subscriber base. I chatted with him about what happened, as well as his motivations for curating music on YouTube and his plans for the future. 

EELF, or Andrius, grew up in the late 90’s listening to Pop music on CDs and cassettes, antiquated in comparison to the digital streaming platform he uses to reach people now. Born and bred in Lithuania, he told me how heavy-weight producer and local radio DJ, Manfredas got him listening to electronic music in his teenage years. By 2016 Andrius was following the rise of lo-fi house on YouTube, “looking up new producers, adding tracks to playlists and just having a good time listening to those tracks.” It was around that time that the EELF channel was born: “I guess I just wanted more people to hear this stuff and I also had some time on my hands, so I thought I’ll give it a go.” 

“I wanted my channel to stand out from the rest and also to tell a little story with my videos which I think I did pretty well, especially with my later uploads.”

As the channel began growing in viewership, Andrius started to receive submissions from producers wanting to have their work featured on the channel: “People send demos to me via email and I try to check everyone, even though I upload only a small part of all submissions.” He also mentions having “a good relationship with a lot of labels/producers which we’ve worked with a number of times”, probably aided in part by his experience working for a digital music distribution company in his day job. Although EELF puts out a lot of lo-fi house, the dominant genre for niche YouTube dance music currently, Andrius says he, “[tries] to keep a sort of balance on the channel, uploading different genres and not just sticking to one sound.” 

What made EELF stand out from the other curator channels was Andrius’ bespoke music videos, personally custom made for every track he released. “I wanted my channel to stand out from the rest and also to tell a little story with my videos which I think I did pretty well, especially with my later uploads.” Here he’s referring to tracks like Make a Move by Norus, one of his most popular uploads pre-channel wipe. The video for that track was shot in 1995 and showed a group of people gathered outside a community centre for a dance marathon. The footage was overwhelmingly wholesome, with parents and children getting in on the dance action. Real community spirit can be seen and felt. Also, most commenters would frequently profess their love for one particular girl in the crowd that the camera would linger on continuously. Even though the track ended up being one of the most viewed on EELF, and the one most missed when the channel disappeared, it was a pretty slow starter: “Norus – Make A Move did quite poorly for half a year in terms of views but then exploded for some reason, still unknown to me.” YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is a black box, even to creators. 

YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is a black box, even to creators.

I asked Andrius if there is any communication between curators on YouTube; “I have people like Slav, Houseum, Moskalus or Novaj in my Facebook friend list but we don’t really talk that much and everyone is pretty much doing their own thing.” That’s not to say that there is any competition between channels. “There’s definitely no animosity or competitiveness (at least that I know of) among us but everyone is busy with their own stuff.” He “received support from every one of them after the news on my channel termination broke out.” 

EELF was shut down due to copyright claims made against home video footage that Andrius was finding and using in his custom music videos. “There’s tons of home videos on YouTube and I’ve used over a thousand of them, so getting permissions for all of them wasn’t realistic, especially when doing uploads every single day, so I knew what I was getting into.” One could ask where the line for fair use is on YouTube, Andrius was cutting the videos in time with the music and having the footage entirely redubbed goes a long way in making the new product ‘transformative’ of the original. Nevertheless, he explains that “YouTube isn’t great in dealing with copyright issues, once you receive 3 copyright strikes, the channel gets deleted instantly and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Luckily, after the first couple of strikes, Andrius saw the writing on the wall and began backing up the old videos to a site called LBRY, so his old work is still visible. 

After the channel went down Andrius found an outpouring of support on his Patreon page, which currently sits at 99 donors all contributing at least £1 a month. In a post on his page he noted how he “noticed an influx of new patrons [after the shutdown], so a special thanks to all of you.” This wasn’t the end for EELF either. In a post named ‘New Beginnings’ Andrius linked to his new YouTube channel, still called EELF and still sporting the iconic vhs distortion logo. The uploads so far have been a mix of new tracks and old favourites, unfortunately sans videos. Andrius says his footage pinching days are over: “I don’t want to take that risk again and I’m going to follow the rules this time.” 

“I’m at a point where there’s so much music in my life already that I don’t know if I want to add more, especially since having a label means even more emails and administrative stuff… maybe something will happen but nothing concrete so far.”

Regarding plans for expanding the EELF brand, the first order of business is rebuilding the follower base. Right before the channel was taken down Andrius had been working on producing some EELF merchandise, but printing it has to be postponed whilst the channel was relaunched. I also asked about creating his own label in the future: “I’ve recently had someone reaching out to me about this and offering to help with setting up and running the label… [but] as I mentioned before, I work with music in my day job and on top of that I run a music channel. So I’m at a point where there’s so much music in my life already that I don’t know if I want to add more, especially since having a label means even more emails and administrative stuff… maybe something will happen but nothing concrete so far.” 

Andrius admits that a label seems like “the next logical step”. Most of the tracks being uploaded by YouTube curators are released through indie Bandcamp labels, very few have major signings. Also, a lot of these indie labels have their own YouTube channels to showcase their releases. One such label, named Shall Not Fade, puts out a lot of the stuff that Andrius likes to highlight through EELF, “my dude Computer Data has been killing it lately! I’ve followed him since he had a 100 or so Soundcloud followers but even then I knew that he is really good and passionate about what he does. He’s been proving me right with some smashing releases on Shall Not Fade this year and I’m sure a lot more is still to come from him.” EELF’s existing fan base coupled with Andrius’ working relationships with producers suggests that a lot of the hard work has already been done in terms of finding artists and a customer base.

The road back to 185,000 subscribers will be a long one, but Andrius is optimistic. The uploads to his new channel are reaching a similar amount of regular views as they were before the wipe and with old favourites returning it’s only a matter of time before the diaspora is brought home. Also, the comment section on all these new uploads is full of support and positivity. User ‘UMUT A’ sums up the sentiment with a defiant “E E L F  N E V E R  D I E S  !” 

Categories: Culture, Music

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1 reply »

  1. Such a talented young man, with his enthusiasm he will achieve his target! I wish him great success and successors!

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