Forget the resurgence of vinyl among a small slice of the music listening population. Forget the hardcore bands that still sell cassette tapes at loft parties on account of the sound quality combined with an element of kitsch. CDs have yet to become nostalgic by any means. And thusly, record labels are suffering because album sales are still dropping alongside digital sales. This is nothing new.
What continues to be disheartening, however, is the fact that major record label executives are unable to embrace the Internet by evaluating how viral videos, which serve as cultural snapshots, can actually be profitable for record companies. Because as we all know, sharing and posting links aren’t going away anytime soon.
Within the past few years, four major music labels cut deals with YouTube to make a profit—albeit miniscule—whenever anyone watches their music videos on the actual site. This deal, however, does not include embedded videos. This makes sense because YouTube only lets ads play on the Web site itself, as opposed to random Web sites (also known as illegitimate, obscure blog sites, poisoning music fans everywhere).
The major record label EMI is the latest culprit for making a predictably shortsighted decision in regards to embedded videos. Fans of OK Go, an indie rock band with a do-it-yourself attitude, were sorely disappointed when they couldn’t find the group’s newest video anywhere or share the video on their own blogs simply because EMI wasn’t making a profit off the video when it was not being watched on YouTube.
Blocking embedded videos doesn’t make any sense—not if you know anything about the state of the industry. And certainly not if you consider how OK Go became popular in the first place.
Even if you’ve never heard of OK Go, you might be familiar with their homemade viral music video for the song “Here It Goes Again,” where the bandmates perform synchronized dance moves on treadmills. Goofy? Yes. Lucrative? You better believe it. With close to 50 million hits on YouTube, the video catapulted the band not only into the realm of the MTV big leagues, but also led the band to a tremendous amount of CD sales. This proves that the Internet can help generate revenue for a dying industry as well as serve as a great promotional tool.
Even after such a feat, EMI is now forcing traffic to YouTube to receive ad-based payouts for OK Go’s newest video “This Too Shall Pass.” The label is also limiting views within certain countries around the globe. OK Go frontman Damien Kulash issued a lengthy post on the band’s fansite, in which he attempted to defend EMI while simultaneously apologizing to their fans and blaming YouTube for not figuring out a way to monetize embedded videos.
I have no trouble believing that the band is sorry. They have YouTube to thank for becoming popular in the first place. It also wasn’t their choice to block embedded videos. It was undoubtedly the rich, bald guy sitting in a plush, swivel chair at a mammoth desk, who’s scratching his head at all of this viral nonsense and also happens to be flipping the bill.
Call me crazy, but isn’t the point of a music video to promote album sales? Congratulations, EMI, you are effectively banning free, widespread advertisement that would’ve led to greater album sales (i.e. “Here It Goes Again”) because you’re too busy obsessing over the short-term financial drawbacks. Not to mention, a lot of people who watch embedded videos on other Web sites will visit YouTube shortly after, which would end up being profitable anyway. Prohibiting embedding only makes sense if you assume that people will avoid watching those videos simply because they’re embedded. The only thing that prohibiting the embedding of videos does is guarantee the video will not go viral.
Music executives aren’t all bad, though—just human. However illogical this seems in the long run, they’re fairly desperate right now. And it’s only a matter of time before record labels lose most of their authority or worse. Perhaps the kicker is that OK Go’s new video for “This Too Shall Pass” isn’t nearly as inventive or endearing as the “Here It Goes Again” band. But it’s the principle of the matter that counts.
Ironically, this too shall pass. It’s merely one example of why the music industry, much like an old dog, has a hard time learning new tricks. Well, woof woof, as I like to say.