Back in 2007 I wrote about a YouTube phenomenon called Ok Go. This is a Geek Rock band from Chicago which became prominent after the music videos for two of their songs (Here It Goes Again and Million Ways) went viral. I loved their quirky lack of self-consciousness, and the songs were so good that I went ahead and bought the CD. I was not alone, at the height of hype, Here it Goes Again was #2 in iTunes downloads, the album reached #69 in Billboard (not bad for a minor alternative act), and the record had sold 200,000 copies by 2007.
The interesting thing is that it seems like the band’s fortunes were tied entirely to the success of their YouTube videos. Fast forward three years (gosh, time does fly!) and things are not going too well for the band. In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Ok Go band member Damian Kulash explains:
“As the age of viral video dawned, “Here It Goes Again” was viewed millions, then tens of millions of times. It brought big crowds to our concerts on five continents, and by the time we returned to the studio, 700 shows, one Grammy and nearly three years later, EMI’s ledger had a black number in our column. To the band, “Here It Goes Again” was a successful creative project. To the record company, it was a successful, completely free advertisement.
Now we’ve released a new album and a couple of new videos. But the fans and bloggers who helped spread “Here It Goes Again” across the Internet can no longer do what they did before, because our record company has blocked them from embedding our video on their sites. Believe it or not, in the four years since our treadmill dance got such attention, YouTube and EMI have actually made it harder to share our videos.”
Indeed, embedding is no longer available in Ok Go’s songs, which seems completely counter-productive for a band that made its name entirely from embedding. The numbers seem to bear out the theory. Kulash elaborates:
“The numbers are shocking: When EMI disabled the embedding feature, views of our treadmill video dropped 90 percent, from about 10,000 per day to just over 1,000. Our last royalty statement from the label, which covered six months of streams, shows a whopping $27.77 credit to our account.”
Shocking. Flabbergasting. Astounding. Mind-boggling… sorry, running through my thesaurus at the moment. In order to recover some meagre streaming revenue from YouTube, EMI has shut down one of the most effective tools for free online advertisement. I completely empathise with musicians who complain about the Internet and P2P, as it often affects their livelihood. However, when music companies go overboard and make stupid decisions that affect those same artists they purport to defend, it only enforces the arguments put forward by the pirates.
As I cannot embed the always excellent Ok Go videos (can still embed Vimeo version tough), I will do the second best thing, embed a video of their fans performing Million Ways.
It never gets old.