i was catching up with one of my favorite podcasts this week, planet money and was happy to hear they were interviewing damian kulash jr. of ok go about his recent op-ed contribution to the new york times “whose tube?” in this article he recounts the story of how the band created and distributed their video for here it goes again without label approval through youtube.com, which went viral and essentially gained them a much more loyal and active following they’d ever had before. the band assumed to continue this tradition, and you’d think their label, EMI, would have said “sure, do it all again!” but alas, many aspects of the music industry continue to be short sighted about change. instead, in a misguided attempt to protect their assets, they blocked third-party users from the ability to embed videos—the very thing that allows them to go viral—so ok go decided it was time to rethink the relationship.
certainly not the first public departure from a label, but a pretty notable effort was when radiohead decided to release in rainbows on their site on a pay-what-you-wish basis. it went from fascinating experiment to great success, summed up by a quote from rolling stone story the future according to radiohead: According to comScore, a “significant percentage” of the 1.2 million visitors to Radiohead’s Web site in October downloaded the album, and while comScore claims only two out of five downloaders paid anything at all, the payers averaged $6 per album — which, factoring in the freeloaders, works out to about $2.26 per album, more than Radiohead would have made in a traditional label deal. And that’s just downloads: Released on January 1st, the CD version debuted at Number One in the U.S. and Britain. and it’s not just the super-famous, npr recently profiled pomplamoose, who has had surprising success by covering highly-searched song titles on youtube to drive links to their channel where listeners invariably check out their original tracks and buy them, building a model from the ground up on a shoestring budget [<a href="check out their cover of beyoncé’s single ladies]. it has made me start to speculate that perhaps a new model where successful bands become the new patrons of startup bands in which they see great potential and who are of like mind, philosophy and approach. and for those just starting out, the landscape is ripe with opportunity to combine and utilize all the free social media tools that promote, distribute and create community around your art.
i’m curious to see where ok go goes with this, but like most of their guerilla publicity, i think they’re hitting all the right channels and moving forward confidently into a model that works best for them. and they get to take millions of adoring fans with them.