Ok Go Singer Explains How Lack Of Embedding Videos Hurts Everyone

from the embed-me dept

As he's done before, Ok Go's lead singer Damian Kulash has taken to the NY Times Op-Ed pages to discuss the fact that his own record label seems a bit clueless. Basically, he's repeating what he said a few weeks ago on the band's website, claiming that YouTube only pays royalties on videos streamed on site, rather than embeds (someone from YouTube told me this is untrue, but when asked for specific confirmation I got no response). However, what is interesting, is that Kulash highlights two things:
  1. Their original video (the treadmills one) was made entirely on their own outside of EMI's influence, and the success of that video has helped make EMI and the band a lot of money:
    In 2006 we made a video of us dancing on treadmills for our song "Here It Goes Again." We shot it at my sister's house without telling EMI, our record company, and posted it on the fledgling YouTube without EMI's permission. Technically, this put us afoul of our contract, since we need our record company's approval to distribute copies of the songs that they finance. It also exposed YouTube to all sorts of liability for streaming an EMI recording across the globe. But back then record companies saw videos as advertisements, so if my band wanted to produce them, and if YouTube wanted to help people watch them, EMI wasn't going to get in the way.

    As the age of viral video dawned, "Here It Goes Again" was viewed millions, then tens of millions of times. It brought big crowds to our concerts on five continents, and by the time we returned to the studio, 700 shows, one Grammy and nearly three years later, EMI's ledger had a black number in our column. To the band, "Here It Goes Again" was a successful creative project. To the record company, it was a successful, completely free advertisement.
  2. Once EMI disabled embedding on that video, the number of views dropped drastically, harming everyone's bottom line:
    When EMI disabled the embedding feature, views of our treadmill video dropped 90 percent, from about 10,000 per day to just over 1,000. Our last royalty statement from the label, which covered six months of streams, shows a whopping $27.77 credit to our account.

    Clearly the embedding restriction is bad news for our band, but is it worth it for EMI? The terms of YouTube's deals with record companies aren't public, but news reports say that the labels receive $.004 to $.008 per stream, so the most EMI could have grossed for the streams in question is a little over $5,400.
Now, I'll quibble with Damian's final point there. First, it's still not entirely clear if it's true that YouTube doesn't pay for embed streams, but even if that's the case, I'd argue that of the 10,000 views per day, it also increased the number of direct views (I quite frequently will click through on an embedded video to see it at YouTube itself -- often to see more about who posted it, or sometimes the comments on the video). Second, if you recognize that embeds and things that get passed around are quite a bit like radio used to be, you have to imagine that some percentage of the 10,000 streamers per day went on to buy something from Ok Go that resulted in EMI making money. Cutting that by 90% just doesn't make any sense. Perhaps it's no wonder that EMI is on the verge of going out of business.

Damian does go on to claim that record labels are an important part of the business in funding new acts, and helping them do more expensive things early on, while aggregating risk. Indeed. I don't deny that at all -- and, as I've said plenty of times before -- there's still a place for labels that wish to do things like that. The problem is that the labels have set up their business models to rely on a single revenue stream, album sales, that is increasingly less important. The rest of the music ecosystem is thriving and will continue to do so, and if it's not the old record labels giving advances and aggregating risk to promising bands, others will step in to fill that gap. There's too much opportunity and too much money for it not to happen.

Filed Under: damian kulash, music, ok go, viral
Companies: emi

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  1. icon
    Hulser (profile), 22 Feb 2010 @ 9:21am

    Record companies' and bands' futured tied together?

    "If record companies can’t adapt to this new world, they will die out; and without advances, so will the futures of many talented bands."
    - Damian Kulash Jr

    This is the point that I have a quibble with. Kulash appears to see the problems being faced by the big recording companies, but then misreads the solution. He's saying that the fates of both big music and musicians are inextricably tied together. But as his band proves, you can promote your band without a huge bankroll. If he doesn't want to or doesn't know how to monetize the attention from his videos, fair enough, but that doesn't mean that big music is the only ones that can do this. In short, if record companies can't "adapt to this new world", they will die out, not the talented bands.

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