If you’re anywhere close to having your finger on the pulse of the music industry, by now you have certainly seen OK Go‘s cute video for “White Knuckles.” If you haven’t, you’d be wise to view it, not only because it is clever and entertaining, but because it begs the question – why did EMI ever let a band as creative as OK Go out of their contract? And for what reason(s)?
On March 10, 2010, about 2 months after the initial release of Of The Blue Colour of the Sky, OK Go‘s third album which features “White Knuckles”, EMI and Capitol cut ties with the band. If you’ve ever seen the band’s music videos, especially “Here It Goes Again” and “This Too Shall Pass (Rube Goldberg Machine version),” both of which were released before the band cut ties with EMI and Capitol, you may have already asked yourself that question.
Although the separation was allegedly on good terms, rumors circulated that the rift concerned disagreement with the label regarding viral distribution of their videos. After viewing the recently famous “White Knuckles” video, which allegedly was played close to 3 million times within 24 hours of release on youtube, who can blame them? With a track record of videos that clearly have viral potential, why would a band ever willingly restrain themselves from taking advantage of their own viral capacity? Especially when that viral capacity is monetizable.
If a record label wants to own that viral capacity or prevent an artist from using their viral capacity as a vehicle for distribution, the record label should pay the artist for the right(s). I imagine (hope) a company would be willing to do it. How valuable would it have been to PetCo or PetSMART to have the exclusive right to host the video for a day? A week? A month? To have their banner in the background or have the video open with Presented By INSERT COMPANY NAME HERE? If the companies weren’t willing to pay for it before, I’d guess they’d be willing to drop loot on the sequel video once they got wind of these viral numbers. It will probably happen. Companies already sponsor tours, mixtapes, etc.
On a side note….if someone at PetCo or PetSMART is reading – I’m suggesting you sponsor an OK Go concert where they try and execute this music video live. Have it stream on UStream. People will pay to tune in if it is marketed. Believe me. People watch the West Minster dog show in droves…and this could be like the West Minster Dog Show on drugs with live music. Dogs high-fiving (or pawing?) musicians? Seriously.
But, the real point is that the record company had the upper hand and could have controlled the viral music video market all along. EMI being the label in this case. The record labels owned the master sound recordings that are in these music videos., although they were re-released by Paracadute Recordings. Why couldn’t the record company (EMI) build infrastructure to host videos like OK Go’s? So that the millions of views happened on the label’s site, where the label could benefit from the advertising and increased usertime spent on that site? The record company could have run ads for other products in the side bar to make additional income of the traffic being generated from the music video.
The record company could have even hosted contests inviting fans to make their own videos and one lucky winner would get the entire catalog of OK Go records and a meet and greet. The contest could have easily required that you have purchased the “White Knuckles” track because how can you make a music video to a track you don’t actually have a copy of? Or submit a music video in a contest to the record label that owns the sound recording of the song in the video without legally owning a copy of the track contained in the video? Would you be dumb enough to send in a video with a bootlegged track attached to it, essentially admitting to your copyright infringement? The contest may have even required the videomaker to buy a physical copy. Rather than take advantage of these golden opportunities to use the viral music video market to prop up physical sales of OK Go records (and possibly other records), the major record labels (or at least EMI) allegedly resisted OK Go’s desire to go with viral video and the rest is history.
OK Go’s willingness to embrace viral culture represents the new regime of DIY artists. With a track record of the most “favorited” music video in YouTube history (“Here It Goes Again”) and “This Too Shall Pass” before parting ways, it was going to be hard for OK Go to one up themselves as independents. But, they did. The virility of “White Knuckles” and the internet frenzy it inspired metaphorically slaps EMI and Capitol in the face and basically says “we knew what we were doing.”
You can watch “White Knuckles” here.
You can watch “This Too Shall Pass” here.
You can watch “Here It Goes Again” here.