Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The face of Viral Video

Pardon me for the possibility of dead horse beating ...

Last weekend's feature film box office receipts illustrate exactly why "viral video" is a terrible business model. Look at the photo atop this post. Have you seen it before? How many hundreds of times? Miss Lohan literally could NOT have been receiving more attention last week - just before the opening of her new film I Know Who Killed Me. Surely, this kind of coverage will get people into the theater, if even to watch a train wreck! But then -

Her movie opens in ninth place. The movie tanked. No one went to see "I Know Who Killed Me", even though it starred one of the most famous (infamous) people alive. All that attention and almost no dollars. And that is my point. Attention and dollars are not the same thing.

This is the same lack of real world results that viral videos brought to OK-Go.

Viral videos can only help an artist if they turn the attention gathered by the free clip into something more real - like a career, concert bookings or paying off that pesky Verizon bill. Attention is great. The audience obviously have to know who you are before they even know they want to buy your concert ticket, t-shirt or music (notice what order those are in). Attention is a good starting point but ...

Only if the audience ends up wanting more. Viral videos are great at grabbing attention, but very poor at turning that attention into the kind of audience/artist relationship where the wallet ever comes out.

Yes, the Lohan movie was terrible (a 7% from Rotten Tomatoes) - but if the prospect of seeing Lindsay as a stripper won't bring people to theaters after this kind of coverage - what chance does some puny rock band have?

Maybe this is just TOO capitalistic and musicians should only aspire to fame and attention with no regard for the concerns of Mammon. If that is the case, then I give you the most famous rockstars in the world - - - prisoners from Cebu Province in the Philippines.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Real Big Fi$h

Sorry for the long delay between posts. Real life intrudes …

Anyway, the LA Times ran an article on Sunday about the growing trend of “indie” or “alt” artists getting their music placed in television commercials for the most surprising products. This once verboten avenue for money and exposure seems to be getting more well trod and respectable by the minute.

The article treats the issue of licensing music to commercial endeavors with an even-handed-ness not often seen in the mainstream media. It will probably surprise no one that reads this blog that I found some people’s response to the “dead punker” campaign from Doc Marten’s to be a bit hysterical:

"Tasteless!" ran a headline in TheDailySwarm.com, the website that broke the story. (The images were licensed for use in the UK through Corbis, the original photos' supplier, apparently without permission from the musicians' estates.) Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, lamented the "despicable use" of her husband's image. Fan outcry lighted up hundreds of blogs worldwide. And as a coda, executives at Dr. Martens apologized for the "offensive" ads and fired Saatchi & Saatchi, the agency responsible for them. - LA Times
The artists should be able to control their music and image and the fact that Kurt and Joey are getting pimped out post mortem – does strike me as a bit creepy. But if musicians wanna sign up for the Madison Avenue checks – more power to them. No one would mistake John Mellencamp or Mr. Zimmerman as patsies – but they seem to have no problem with the strategy.

Does anyone remember when Neil Young did a whole song and video about how he would never sell out to advertisers? That seems almost quaint today.

It is no shock that a staid advertiser like Cadillac would turn to formerly “threatening to the system” rock and roll like Led Zeppelin when their “old and prosperous” demographic starts to include the formerly dirty hippies that loved Zep back in the day and now want to get their clubs to the golf course in style. That Devo is reworking “Whip It” into “Swiff It” themselves seems (at least to me) incredibly subversive and funny.

The twist to me is that advertisers WANT edgy, odd and not necessarily all that well-know pop songs for their ads. The article has lots of good details and Chris Lee hits on the main reason that recordings artists are starting to be down for this kind of thing …

TV commercials give the kind of exposure that rock radio or music television can no longer deliver. That iPod commercial for Jet’s big hit certainly got the band a ton of attention which led to an even more lucrative appearance in a movie trailer that was seen many more times than the actual movie.

So a commercial can help a band’s career, by getting them out to a larger audience but the music can also generate money for a band. No duh, right? But the twist in 2007 is that bands, even REAL popular ones, might be struggling to make money any other way. Sure they can tour, but the once lucrative world of catalog CD sales has cratered unless you are one of the lucky bands selling albums entitled “Legend,” “Eagles Greatest Hits” or “Back in Black.”

What the decline in music sales (both new and catalog) has done is take the edge of pride off artists. What were the Stones gonna get for one of their songs in the 1980s? Probably a good amount, but they had plenty of money and more on the way. The bad press generated by licensing a song was not worth the (relatively) small payout. The hippy ethos of the 60s also loomed over the industry, making bands very nervous of being seen treating their music like a money-making career, even if that is exactly what it was.

Now in 2007, with labels not a reliable source of money, and the “bad press” much less bad – the upside surely outweighs the bad. Does licensing a song make you look like a sell out, or a smart businessman? Probably depends on if anyone actually wants your songs.

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