One band that has managed to rise along with the growth of Youtube is OK Go. But their label, EMI, felt like it wasn’t a good way to earn a return on their investment to have the video available to be viewed (and embedded) for free. Damian Kulash of OK Go was interviewed a few weeks ago on NPR talking about ditching their label so they could continue to make viral videos (and allow someone like me to embed their video on a site like this).
OK Go’s latest video (must see):
The thing that interests me about this is to see how old business models are reinvented through changing social trends and practices. It’s not so much that OK Go has parted with their label, but that State Farm Insurance stepped in and sponsored this video. Kulash mentioned in the NPR interview that this is more like an artist/patronage relationship similar to 17th century visual arts. In Kulash’s words, “We got to do what we wanted to do, and we put a thank you on the end, and that’s it.”
Thanks to their reputation of creating viral videos, OK Go has enough views and new fans (ranging from an extremely wide audience – I learned about OK Go because my Dad forwarded a link to the treadmill video) to sustain themselves through downloads and online chirp. At least that’s their current business model. But that’s not the entire picture, since they seem to be finding a sweet spot where sponsors come in and want to associate themselves with what’s trendy online.
It makes me wonder about Beethoven’s patronage, for example. I used to think that patrons would donate money and support artists out of generosity, genuine interest in promoting the arts, and spreading the wealth. It never occurred to me that patrons would also be giving as a means of self-promotion and branding identity. I suppose it depends on the patron.
Today, I marvel at the way in which OK Go has managed to maneuver its way to what seems like a perfect balance of monetary success coupled with tremendous creative freedom (and resources). It’s not so much that the band got to this artistic nirvana, but how it evolved and when. Not only was it lucky timing to come up with a viral video just as YouTube was ripe for a video of its kind, but they’ve jumped off a sinking ship (i.e. EMI, or the entire music industry for that matter) unscathed. My music technology students think OK Go’s music is lame, so they might say the real interesting factor is that the band did all this with mediocre music. OK Go is a group of guys who make cool videos, and happen to play in a band and make music too.
Regardless of what one thinks of their music or artistry, they’re making it work in a revolutionary time in the arts. As a professor who wishes for more commissions and patronage, I gots to give them props.