Cory shares on Boing Boing a link to an open letter from the band, OK Go. A large part of their success to date has been from amazingly choreographed, I would say madcap, videos released and spread almost entirely virally. Now that they are with a large label, they have run into at least one impassable hurdle with using YouTube to spread their latest video.
The catch: the software that pays out those tiny sums doesn’t pay if a video is embedded. This means our label doesn’t get their hard-won share of the pie if our video is played on your blog, so (surprise, surprise) they won’t let us be on your blog. And, voilá: four years after we posted our first homemade videos to YouTube and they spread across the globe faster than swine flu, making our bassist’s glasses recognizable to 70-year-olds in Wichita and 5-year-olds in Seoul and eventually turning a tidy little profit for EMI, we’re – unbelievably – stuck in the position of arguing with our own label about the merits of having our videos be easily shared. It’s like the world has gone backwards.
You need to read the whole letter, however. This is not an overly simplistic bash on the recording industry. Rather, the band acknowledges that music as an industry is at a difficult cross roads.
Let’s take a wider view for a second. What we’re really talking about here is the shift in the way we think about music. We’re stuck between two worlds: the world of ten years ago, where music was privately owned in discreet little chunks (CDs), and a new one that seems to be emerging, where music is universally publicly accessible. The thing is, only one of these worlds has a (somewhat) stable system in place for funding music and all of its associated nuts-and-bolts logistics, and, even if it were possible, none of us would willingly return to that world. Aside from the smug assholes who ran labels, who’d want a system where a handful of corporate overlords shove crap down our throats? All the same, if music is going to be more than a hobby, someone, literally, has to pay the piper. So we’ve got this ridiculous situation where the machinery of the old system is frantically trying to contort and reshape and rewire itself to run without actually selling music. It’s like a car trying to figure out how to run without gas, or a fish trying to learn to breath air.
So what they are asking is not for us to dog pile on EMI or any of the other struggling labels, per se. Rather they provide an alternate means of sharing their videos that is apparently cool with their corporate masters. They also hope that YouTube may be receptive to modifying their system to better suit the label’s accounting approach.
It’s a tricky balance they are striking, using some of what the labels still seem to do well, acting as venture funds for creatives, while still trying to maintain their own artistic integrity and connection with their audience. With alternate funding models are by and large fledglings and the breadth of a la carte production services may be sparse as of yet, it isn’t surprising they took this route so they could instead concentrate on their music and videos.
More subtly, they’re showing a certain degree of confidence that the problem of paying artists to create will get solved. They are finding the best way forward to do what has worked for them in this post-net, post-filter world without pouring any more gasoline than necessary on what is almost certainly the funeral pile of the traditional business models.