And there’s a cloud in every silver lining…
OK Go isn’t the first band to realize it had to go above and beyond the normal channels to get the word out about their music. Even with a major label behind them, singer Damian Kulash and bassist Tim Nordwind came up with an idea to spin the dying art of music video to their advantage. To help promote their second album Oh No, Damian’s sister Trish Sie choreographed a dance routine for the single “A Million Ways” and the band filmed a video in their backyard. Nine million downloads later, they knew they were right. A second video mimed boy band dance routines and also was popular, but it was the third and most inventive one that changed everything.
The dancing-on-the-treadmill video for “Here It Goes Again” – over fifty million views as I type this – was such a successful marketing tool for the single and album that business schools use it as a case study in viral marketing. It launched the band into worldwide acclaim and has pretty much kept them busy for three years as they toured the world and racked up awards. Not to mention a ton of money for EMI.
So as it came time to work on the next record, the band road-tested several tracks on a tour of the Northeast and prepared to commence the unenviable task of trying to maintain the momentum and forward progress. Naturally, they figured that creating a viral video would not only be an important component of their publicity, but in many ways an expected one. Surely EMI would be happy to reap the benefits again.
Turns out that the label, like many, is fighting the old process where hearing the music via third parties was a welcome thing. Hell, they used to pay radio stations to play the record, now they charge them fees. Payola in reverse. Now in an effort to control monetization of the videos – even if produced and paid out of the band’s pocket – EMI is restricting the availability of distribution for the video – the very thing that catapulted the last record into a worldwide phenomenon. The band tried to rectify the situation internally, but was unsuccessful.
So Damian write an op-ed piece in the New York Times; an open letter to OK Go fans as well as the music industry in general. It’s a well-written and even-handed essay, pointing out that record companies aren’t evil as much as they are unwilling to recognize that the landscape isn’t changing, it has changed.
“But this isn’t how the Internet works. Viral content doesn’t spread just from primary sources like YouTube or Flickr. Blogs, Web sites and video aggregators serve as cultural curators, daily collecting the items that will interest their audiences the most. By ignoring the power of these tastemakers, our record company is cutting off its nose to spite its face.”
On this latest album, OK Go mixes funk, dance-pop and rock in a pleasing but scattered way. “WTF” sounds like a Prince homage, while other tracks call to mind everyone from The Flaming Lips to Godley/Creme to Presence-era Led Zeppelin. It’s ambitious and definitely a step sideways; whether it wears deep or thin, only time will tell.
Critics seem pretty divided – some praise the unexpected direction, others pan them for lack of cohesiveness and mimicry. Listen to clips from Of The Blue Colour of the Sky on Amazon and judge for yourself. And hopefully those of you looking to continue to support OK Go by embedding and sharing content will be able to do so with the label’s blessing as well as the band’s.