Remember OK Go? They are the American band whose home-made video for their song Here It Goes Again, which featured the band members “dancing” on four treadmills, became an internet sensation a few years back.
Let me refresh your memory:
Well, they’ve just released the video for their latest single This Too Shall Pass, again made by themselves and some friends. And it blows the dancing treadmills out the water.
It features the band singing in the middle of a giant Rube Goldberg Machine (think of it like a huge version of the board game Mouse Trap, built out of a variety of junk and everyday objects). Apart from the intricate ingenuity of the machine itself, it’s particularly notable for two other things.
First, the video was filmed in a single take (or so they say – jaded sceptic that I am, I suspect there’s a hidden cut at 2:26 when the curtains open, not that it really matters or detracts from the genius of the video).
Secondly, the operation of the machine syncs perfectly in time with the music, with a number of the machine’s set-pieces matching the soundtrack to the note:
It’s a wonderful video. However the timing of its release is somewhat ironic.
To understand why, note that the video for Here It Goes Again at the top of this post is hosted on Vimeo, not YouTube.
And bear in mind that the YouTube-hosted Here It Goes Again video was viewed around 50million times, led to a boost in OK Go record sales and raised awareness of a band who, with the best will in the world, were never going to get that mount of attention purely for their music.
One of the reasons why it spread so fast and so wide was the ability of other websites and bloggers to embed YouTube videos into their own sites and posts.
Unfortunately, when the record companies decided they wanted to cash in on the music videos being viewed on YouTube, some of them removed the ability to embed them.
The reason is that they get a very, very small payment every time a video is viewed on YouTube.com (the amount is a secret, apparently, but it’s tiny, said to be $.004-$.008 per play. However, crucially, the record companies only get the cash when the video is viewed on YouTube’s own site. When the video is played on another site that has embedded it, they get nothing.
In theory, of course, external sites and blogs can simply post a link to the YouTube video and readers will click through to it. In reality, most people who would happily play the embedded video on the external site simply don’t bother to click on a link to go to YouTube to watch it. And how many blogs or websites will not even bother going to the trouble of writing and posting an article in the first place, when they can’t even illustrate it with the very thing they are writing about?
Thus, when EMI removed the ability to embed Here It Goes Again, the number of views it was getting slumped by 90 per cent, according to OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash.
As he says in this interesting article he wrote for the New York Times:
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.
He makes the point that for the sake of, at most, $5,400, EMI alienated 90 per cent of the people who would have played their video and might, as a result, have bought the single or the album, maybe delved into their back catalogue or paid for a ticket to a gig, and asks whether that makes sound business sense.
Record company bosses have real problems to deal with due to illegal sharing of music online. However, with stupid, petty, short-sighted actions like this, it’s no wonder that so many people see them as greedy, profteering idiots with no understanding of how their own business – or the internet – works.