Adventures in Music Video
On the heels of the popularity of the Rube Goldberg video for “This Too Shall Pass,” OK Go announced that it was leaving an already beleaguered EMI to establish its own label Paracadute Recordings. Quickly a story emerged treating OK Go as the musical David fighting the evil Goliath of EMI. This story is largely true, as EMI’s ridiculous stance on video embedding evidenced a fundamental misunderstanding of web promotion and the social value created by allowing users to spread music videos in an age where the music video as a genre of cultural production is in desperate need of reinvention.
However, OK Go is no diminutive David, having already cut its teeth producing videos such as “Here It Goes Again” and managing its own publishing, merchandising, and touring rights. On January 18, 2010, lead singer Damian Kulash posted an open letter to OK Go’s fans, explaining the band’s fight with EMI over embedding and geoblocking. Additionally, OK Go circumvented EMI’s backwards social media policies and obtained sponsorship from State Farm for the second video for “This Too Shall Pass.”
Perhaps part of the problem is that the members of OK Go are better videomakers than music makers. Peter Kafka writes, “If EMI’s executives allowed themselves to speak candidly, they would likely point out that while OK Go made great videos, it didn’t seem to make music that many people wanted to buy. Soundscan says the band has sold all of 500,000 albums in the U.S., both in physical and digital form, in its three-album tenure at EMI. That’s 488,608, to be exact. Plus another 25,000 single tracks. That’s not awful. But it’s not the kind of sales that would inspire a big label to spend big money promoting an act. Even when the industry’s business model was still intact.” Rachel Bailey writes, “Chicago treadmill champions OK Go are better known for their playful, viral-friendly music video for ‘Here It Goes Again’ than for creating hit singles.” Perhaps Bailey and Kafka’s statements show that visibility, critical acclaim, and monetary success (of course, success is relative and subject to definition) are not necessarily connected in the value chain and that these connections need to be re-imagined and constructed from scratch in the new music economy.
The question of how value will be defined and the relationship of economic value to social, cultural, and participatory value remains. If value is multifaceted, then how do creators connect the dots between its various forms in what, after all, is an industry?