This Too Shall Pass - OK Go's Impact on the Music Industry

Ok Go couldn’t have said it better as I work to get over my growing pains. This Too Shall Pass. But what I take away even more than the name of the song is this kick ass video above. Ready for this? My friends (including The Freshness) over at Mindshare, with their Labs division now called Synn Labs made it.

What’s more is the story that developed last week when OK Go left their label, EMI, in a dispute over how to dispense and share their new video with their fans. You remember their first viral video “Here It Goes Again” on the treadmills? 50 million views! EMI, not getting any revenue from youTube and struggling to find ways to reinvent the music industry decided not to allow the next video to be embedded. Which means you can only watch it on YouTube. THAT defeats the purpose of what a viral video needs to do. It needs to be spread and put on blogs and shown around the web. It’s meant to be shared.

OK Go got this, and the fans want it, but EMI said no. And so in a bold and brave move, OK Go has left their label and announced that they’re starting their own.

Even in today’s changing economy and uncertainty of the music industry, it takes guts to go against the grain and step out from the umbrella of a major label. The labels still have the relationships with touring and ticketing and merchandise where a bulk of money is made for the artists. Labels, in their glory days, would successfully blackball artists for publicly saying anything bad against them. In this case, EMI is best to let it go, but will they? Is this a David and Goliath or simply a parting of way by two parties who don’t agree?

Damian Kulash, the lead singer of OK Go wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, “WhoseTube” where he talked about the embed issues with his label and the art of the viral video. A quote from his piece is below:

Embedded videos — those hosted by YouTube but streamed on blogs and other Web sites — don’t generate any revenue for record companies, so EMI disabled the embedding feature. Now we can’t post the YouTube versions of our videos on our own site, nor can our fans post them on theirs. If you want to watch them, you have to do so on YouTube.

But this isn’t how the Internet works. Viral content doesn’t spread just from primary sources like YouTube or Flickr. Blogs, Web sites and video aggregators serve as cultural curators, daily collecting the items that will interest their audiences the most. By ignoring the power of these tastemakers, our record company is cutting off its nose to spite its face.

The numbers are shocking: 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.

As I’ve been following this story, I also caught a video of my friend Shira Lazar interviewing Damian Kulash for CBS News Online, here is the interview:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

I’ve loved OK Go’s music for years, first seeing them at The Roxy in Los Angeles in 2005 (before the treadmill video) when Damian jumped onto an amp and sung a song at the top of his lungs without a microphone. I thought “that’s an artist” and they don’t make them like that anymore. I love them all the more - not for sticking it to the man - but for sticking up for what they believe in, questioning the status quo, but doing it in a way that makes you think without having to make you mad. It’s a real argument going on across digital media industries, how to monetize, how to make sense of what’s going on in the convergence between new and traditional ways of sharing content. It’s a debate that’s been alive for years, but as we see from this recent incarnation of artist vs. label, the final word is still very much uncertain.

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