If any band knows the power of viral videos, it's OK Go. Five years ago, the band broke through when clips for "A Million Ways" and "Here It Goes Again" (the "treadmill" video) were passed around the Web. The band assumed the same would be the case for the first two videos from its new Of the Blue Colour of the Sky album (for "WTF" and "This Too Shall Pass"). But that was before the music business began groping for any additional ways to generate income in light of plummeting CD sales.
Thanks to a 2006 agreement between Google and the major labels, the two clips are officially confined to MySpace and YouTube and can't be posted anywhere else. In the Google arrangement, which was renewed with the labels last year, the four majors receive at least 50 percent of ad revenue based on streams of videos on YouTube.
OK Go's response? Go around the system. In an open letter to fans posted on the band's site on January 18, singer-guitarist Damien Kulash explained the situation — and then provided a code so that bloggers and fans can embed both videos on their own sites. "We'll put 'em up anywhere we can," says Kulash. "Our label is unlikely to start suing us for putting our videos up." OK Go plans to make at least four more videos from Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, including one in which Kulash will be thrown across a room in a giant slingshot.
According to Kulash, OK Go didn't realize the restrictions until angry fan e-mails began arriving at the band's Website. "It's kind of a stupid decision," says Kulash. "It doesn't matter all that much to me if people are passing around our videos on one platform over another. But if the casual person who just wants to stick it up on their Facebook page can't embed it, they send you a nasty comment and move on. You've just lost the two to 200 people who might have read that page."
Although EMI declined to comment (but did not dispute Kulash's claims), a YouTube spokesman confirms that the label made the decision to prevent those particular videos from being embedded elsewhere. OK Go manager Jamie Kitman says the band asked the label if they could skirt around the rules. "But they said, 'That's the policy — what can we do?'" he says. "It's unthinkable to us that they wouldn't want to spread videos virally, but they have a corporate policy."
Kulash says he understands the industry's rationale. "As fucked up as the industry is, it does provide investment money for bands," he says. "For them to continue to do that, they do need some income." But he also says that's about all he comprehends about streaming videos and additional income. "Basically I have no fucking idea how it works. The last accounting we saw said that for 600,000 streams, we got $31. How can that be worth this?"
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