Music News

OK Go's Damian Kulash weighs in on viral marketing

There was an interesting op-ed in the New York Times this weekend by OK Go's lead vocalist Damian Kulash that dealt with his label's inability to update their business model to incorporate YouTube. It's worth a read for his insiders perspective, even if it's a problem most of the Internet has been calling attention to since its inception.

We can't say we're not in agreement with him. The major label's latest trick of blocking the embedding of videos annoying as hell: Case in point, look at the video above, it's the same video that EMI has posted, but it's been uploaded by a fan and has a goofy introduction. Embedding the official video isn't permitted because EMI only gets paid whenever viewers actually go to the imprint's YouTube's page. Even more ridiculous: Even OK Go can't put its own videos on its website.

Kulash brings up a lot of valid points, the biggest elephant in the room being that it seems as though the major labels have absolutely no idea how the Internet works. Viral marketing only works when it can be spread by anyone on every social networking and blog, blocking embedding disables most of these media outlets from properly linking to a video. In the end, we've got to imagine that many music blogs just don't bother anymore.

If you Google the words "how to save the record industry" you'll come up with a variety of hilarious hopes and dreams by bloggers and pundits, the first page alone questions whether Disney, vinyl, gaming, Nettwerk, and ad-support could all save the industry. We don't really see any of these as being completely viable options for major labels, a service that, as Kulash points out, is remarkably important to the success of young musicians. We might all want to praise the indies or be against the mainstream, but major labels are important facets of a massive industry, and if we lost them we'd all be worse for the wear.

You might not know it, but chances are your favorite indie band is on a record label distributed by a major label. If that's not your thing, consider that without major labels your favorite band or artist might not even exist. If the major labels can't get their act together that means physical copies of albums could lose shelf space in a lot of stores. Granted that doesn't mean much anymore, but we wouldn't be surprised if complications in digital distribution arose as well. Either way, without shelf-space and an eyes-on approach to sales, strategies like viral-marketing will be increasingly important.

The conclusion that Kulash comes to is the same pundits have been coming to over and over since iTunes was introduced in 2001. Labels need to not only adapt, but completely rewrite the way we understand music consumption if they want to survive. We'd actually argue the opposite.

In the '80s and '90s, videos were three and a half minute advertisements to get us to buy an album, whereas now, they're viewed as profit models by themselves. It's the same idea as forcing podcasters to pay for singles: It makes no sense to worry about a single song when it operates as free advertising.

We remember the days when singles came free on the back of cereal boxes, when MTV had music videos. These were the days when music wasn't consumed, it was shared, legally and tenderly among fans. Kulash thinks the industry needs to change and adapt, which is probably true but we can't help but wonder what might happen if the industry actually devolved back to its '80s self. Seems like a more viable option.

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Thorin Klosowski
Contact: Thorin Klosowski