How the “Harlem Shake” Guy is Making Money

Love it or hate it, the “Harlem Shake” YouTube meme shows no signs of slowing down.

Everyone from Jon Stewart to the Norwegian Army has made those silly 30 second videos.

If you don’t know what the Harlem Shake is, it’s basically a video clip that starts with a masked person dancing alone for 15 seconds, and then shifting to a crazy upbeat dance with a larger group for the rest of the clip.

Here’s a video of one

Baauer, the guy behind the Harlem Shake music track, is an American producer who released the song a little while ago. The interesting thing is that he didn’t have anything to do with the actual videos. In fact, I don’t believe he actually has a single YouTube video that he uploaded himself, but I might be wrong.

Apparently a bunch of friends started the trend, and everyone just copied them until it became super-viral. You can read about the entire backstory here.

I wasn’t interested in the story behind how it started as much as I was about how Baauer is making money from his new-found fame.

Here’s what I learned.

3 Ways Baauer is Making Money


#1 Ads on YouTube

A little while ago, if you uploaded a video using someone else’s copyrighted material (such as Baauer’s soundtrack), YouTube would block it out and pull it down. However, YouTube now uses a technology called Content ID, where the original copyright holder has the right to make money off of someone else’s videos.

Here’s how Baauer is making money

  • Someone makes a YouTube video and uses Baauer’s freely-available Harlem Shake soundtrack
  • YouTube finds out about the video (through Content ID) and sends that individual a note asking them to either agree to place ads on the video, or take the video down
  • If the person agrees to the ads, then Baauer and YouTube make money from the video (the individual doesn’t get a cut)

This was pretty intriguing to me. So far, there are over 4,000 YouTube Harlem Shake videos uploaded per day, and the number is still growing. No one knows how much money Baauer is actually making from those ads, but according to this TIME article, Korean pop singer Psy, the guy behind “Gangnam Style,” made $870,000 from YouTube alone.

That’s a pretty good sum if you ask me.

To see how Content ID works, I actually created a Harlem Shake Video myself a few days ago and uploaded it. So far, no one has reached out to me from YouTube with an email yet, but I’ll update this post once (or if) they do.

Here’s the Harlem Shake video that I created

If you’re interested in how I created the video, I basically downloaded the Harlem Shake MP3 track for free, and drew stick figures using my Waacom Bamboo Tablet (aff link) on GIMP. I then edited the Video together using Camtasia Studio.

#2 Song on iTunes

Based on the popularity of the YouTube videos, Harlem Shake is now the #1 song on Apple iTunes (it’s being sold for $1.29).

Baauer has capitalized on that by advertising his “Buy on iTunes” button everywhere, which is a smart strategy.

Here’s a screenshot of his website,, which has 2 main calls to action on it.

Harlem Shake Baauer Main Website

The first is a “Buy #HarlemShake on iTunes,” link which takes visitors directly to the iTunes download page to buy the song. This is great because it gives people a single thing to think about. Anyone who Googles “Baauer” and visits his site will know exactly what he’s asking them to do. He also uses a different yellow/orange font color for that link so that it stands out from the other white color text links (and therefore draws more clicks to it).

The second call to action is a “Check out the Videos!” link. This takes visitors to a blog that he set up on Tumblr (very easy to do) and aggregated all those YouTube videos on it. This is probably what most people want to see, so he capitalized on that behavior as well by placing a “Buy It” link at the top of each Tumblr blog page.

#3 Services on his Sites

Baauer is a DJ who performs at clubs and outlets around the world. With all this new international attention, a lot of people now want to have him be a part of their own events, and he makes it easy for folks to get in touch with him.

Here’s a snapshot from his Twitter profile page.

Harlem Shake Baauer Twitter Profile

Notice that he listed 3 email addresses under his profile. One for USA Bookings, another for International Bookings, and a third for Inquiries.

He has the exact same information listed on his Facebook page as well.

Again, the beauty of this is that he’s doing two things: 1) he’s indirectly telling you what he’s interested in (want to book me for your event? want to inquire about a media request for an interview?) and 2) he’s making it super-simple to get in touch with him.

I’m not sure how much he charges for those events, and how many event organizers are reaching out to him, but I’m sure he’s not going to die of hunger for a little while.


What you can learn from Baauer

Here are some lessons you can learn from Baauer.

You can get famous anytime

Although he was relatively well-known before the hit of Harlem Shake, Baauer himself didn’t expect to become that famous in such a short time period. Getting famous could happen to anybody. Remember the guy on twitter who tweeted live from Abbottabad about the raid on Bin Laden?

The key is to be ready for it with some form of online platform to benefit from that stroke of luck (hint: start a blog).

Have a product to sell (not just a service)

Baauer sells two things: his services and his songs. If he ONLY sold his DJ and production services, he would not be able to make as much money as he is making right now. The reason is because products are scalable (selling 10 songs or 10,000,000 songs on iTunes takes the same amount of effort), whereas services are not (he has a limited number of hours he can work per day).

Have specific objectives

“Buy my song or book me.” That’s what Baauer basically wants you to do. He doesn’t confuse you with 10,000 links on his site, or make you wonder about which of his albums to purchase. He has specific objectives that are compatible with his viral hit. He makes it simple for people to reach him, and gives them straightforward, crystal-clear calls to action on his site and social media outlets.

Hope you found this helpful!

Let me know your thoughts.