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OK Go Ditches Label Over YouTube Embedding Rights


How many times does a band have to take the music video world by storm before its record label gets that its members might know a little something about music videos? We may never find out, because OK Go, the band in question, has just ditched EMI, the record label in question, largely due to that very problem.

OK Go rocketed up through the indie rock world in large measure due to the band's brilliant, lo-fi music videos, which have spread like wildfire on YouTube. But EMI, in a misguided attempt to wring every penny out of the band's success, decided to block embedding on the YouTube videos—meaning the videos were unable to disseminate out through music and pop culture blogs, news sites, and personal blogs the way they did before the restriction. And that's not a minor detail: the band saw a 90% drop in views when that restriction went into effect. As in, 100,000 views one day, 10,000 views the next.

OK Go isn't a band with huge hit radio singles; they're a journeyman power pop act that puts out reliably excellent, not blockbuster, albums. Music videos are the band's way of making themselves buzzworthy, and it works: their homemade videos have achieved a level of popularity nobody could have predicted. So when the label makes their videos less popular, it means, in no uncertain terms, that less people out there know about OK Go, which means less people can buy albums and tickets for the hard-touring band's shows.

It's a ridiculous decision from the label, and the band was never shy about voicing discontent, even in the most public way possible. Singer Damian Kulash wrote an op-ed that appeared in The New York Times, a letter to his fans that appeared, among other places, in Gizmodo, and the issue came up in just about every interview the band gave. Now, the band has taken the final step: leaving EMI, and forming their own Paracadute Recordings label to release future (and a re-released version of the current Of the Blue Colour of the Sky) music.

The very first change? The band's explosively popular (and completely mesmerizing) Rube Goldberg-gone-berserk "This Too Shall Pass" is now embeddable. And the band, which despite a Grammy award has never been a huge seller, is seeing results: since the videos have become embeddable, digital album sales tripled and digital tracks sales have jumped more than sevenfold.

In a press release from the band, Kulash makes it clear that the choice, if not the actual act, to split was an easy one:

"We'd like to thank the people who have worked so hard on our behalf," said OK Go singer Damian Kulash, who will discuss the band's departure from the label on NPR's "All Things Considered" today. "And we'd like to thank our fans for making this choice an easy one for us."

It's not totally clear if this means every OK Go video will be made embeddable—EMI may still own the rights to those videos, so the famous treadmill video for "Here It Goes Again" as well as the band's other videos are still blocked from embedding. But at the very least, this means the next huge OK Go smash video will be open for all to see.

[OK Go]

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  • Alex Savic

    Indie bands are much faster to catch on to the fact that the internet is distributed in nature and so content must also if it is to reach the maximum possible audience. The problem until now was that labels didn't know how to monetize in a distributed fashion so they just considered it lost revenue. I believe we will see less and less cases like this one as labels realize that they can in fact monetize not just on their own web properties, but anywhere where their content is being heard/shown.

    Alex Savic
    Blog :
    Twitter : nextwidgets

  • Chris Reich

    This is less about paradigm shifts than it is about greed strangling an industry. Back in the day, we used to blame 'the man' for everything. The man got us into Vietnam, polluted to world and took advantage of the poor for his profit. Today it's the 'suits'.

    The suits are everywhere. They feed on one thing: money. They brought the world's economy to its knees by trading paper on paper against possible changes in value of other paper. They destroyed the auto industry when the focus went from making great cars to making more profit. They consumed our industrial base out of greed and moved where they could get cheap labor. And now the suits are destroying music.

    The suits aren't just old guys smoking cigars. There are plenty of female suits. And they pop fresh out of business schools with one thing on their mind, money. [Note: I use the word "mind" for the sake of understanding as they really operate pretty mindlessly doing what they have been programmed to do. Virus would be a better term but in this case risks confusion with viral which these same people see only as a means of accelerating their gain of money without fully understanding the actual principle.]

    This isn't about marketing or new media. It's about allowing creativity to flourish and produce a remarkable result. It's about having the courage to let this band drive the bus and build their fan base while making a profit from their work by supporting what they do.

    How stupid can EMI be? A label's job is to promote the product. So EMI gets to let this band do the really hard work, the creative, thinking stuff and EMI still gets a pound of flesh. Sounds like a good deal to me.

    Greed makes people do really stupid things. Look at the retired people who gave Bernard Madoff their last dime and then cried foul when they got cleaned out. Yes, he was a crook, but what motivates a person to sign over every cent they have with hope, no trust, in a big return? Greed.

    It's an old story, as old as the golden goose.

    Go, OK Go. Break those reins before you end up another bland sound-alike American Idol. The suits will cram you into the mold, press and squirt out formulized noise until you won't want to create. So go, okay? Create.

    Chris Reich

  • David Rosen

    I think this is another example of traditional industries, and slow to move companies, not wanting to evolve. There are a lot of paralells between how EMI is not able to accept the viral world of the internet as a way to promote interest and market demand and the Publishing World still trying to hold on to "Hardback" book pricing.

    Great article and OK Go... good luck.

    In my experience as a company owner and executive in the software high tech industry, we have learned to live by change. Driving installation costs down and increasing customer access to our Software as a Service application has been a complete leapfrog over my previous experience of 12-24 month release cycles and "burn-in" time on the customer sight before an application could go live. Knowing that it doesnt cost very much to deliver an "e-book" means I will almost never buy a book over $10 electronically.

    EMI and the music/media industry need to realize the paradigm shifts that are occurring. I just heard this band due to an email from Fast Company and a link to an "interesting looking" article. I saw the video and will not buy there music for myself and my kids. The cost of customer acquisition is way down from the traditional model and EMI should wake up to this.

    MacMillan and Apple with their new "pricing" will most likely see a drop in demand with books at the $12-$15 dollar range as opposed to the <$10 range initialy negotiated by Amazon. (Yes, Amazon subsidized the pricing wtih their kindle price,and YouTube to promote) Amazon, in my opinion, understands the supply/demand model and realize that the market will buy more at the $10 and below price point, helping everyone.

    David A. Rosen
    Acrelic Group