OK Go and the Fight for Embeddable Videos

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW

Rock and Roll has always been a cheeky business. People who play it straight rarely capture the attention of the cool and groovy, who shout out to the masses that something is hip. And nowadays, our memories of music are intermingled with the music videos made for the song. But they're not the MTV videos we loved in the 80's. Today inexpensive viral videos grab our attention. So an innovative video is definitely the way to build an audience these days.

OK Go is a band that owes much of their success to the creation of YouTube. Back in 2006 OK Go filmed a video of their band with synchronized dancing on treadmills to their single "Here We Go Again." The video was creative, charming and extremely cheap to make. When they posted the video on YouTube, bloggers began embedding the video into their personal sites and eventually it became a viral sensation, viewed by tens of millions of people. It launched their career and gave them a platform to showcase the rest of their music.

Their label, EMI, could not have been happier: they had a successful band that was selling records and selling out venues with little expense. EMI didn't finance the video; everything was on OK Go's time and money. Ironically, because OK Go hadn't consulted with EMI in releasing the video to YouTube, it technically put them in violation of their recording contract. However, EMI was willing to overlook that -- for obvious reasons.

How much things have changed in four years! OK Go has a new record out and they've created innovative videos along with it. But since 2006, labels got tired of watching websites generate ad dollars with no participation. So the major labels made deals with YouTube to reap ad revenue from the airing of their music videos. To insure they get paid, they've required YouTube to disable anyone from embedding videos onto personal sites. This means you can only watch an official music video on YouTube itself. I can understand why labels want to force viewers to watch videos on channels that actually generate money for labels, but this business strategy is in direct conflict with trying to create a buzz using the video as a viral tool. Once OK Go's 2006 hit was disabled on YouTube, the viewership dropped from 10,000 views a day to just over 1,000.

That's a 90% drop in views, or to put it another way a 90% drop in exposure for the band.

OK Go lead singer and creative genius is Daimian Kulash Jr. Frustrated with the situation, he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times a couple weeks ago. He was especially concerned with how their new videos will receive the attention that their old ones did under these new restrictions. EMI listened and yesterday when OK Go released the second video for their newest single "This Too Shall Pass," EMI allowed viewers to embed the video on their blogging sites. A big win for OK Go – and thank god. This is a video worth watching over and over.

The video follows the band as they set off a massive Rube Goldberg-like machine created by a team of MIT and Cal Tech engineers: four minutes, one take and frankly, it's wild. Rather than try and describe it, just google it and watch.

I've provided links to the video, and the making of the video on my On the Beat webpage at KCRW.

OK Go seems to have the last word on this topic. The chorus of the song is obviously written for the executives at EMI. They write:

You can't stop these kids from dancing.'

Why would you want to?

Especially when you're already gettin' yours.

'Cause if your mind don't move and your knees don't bend,

Well don't go blamin' the kids again.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.