OK Go Singer On The Future Of The Music Biz


"My band parted ways with the record label EMI a little less than a year ago. While we were profitable for them, our margins were smaller than those of more traditionally successful bands, because our YouTube views don't directly generate as much revenue as record sales. Our idea of what constitutes success and how to wring income out of it eventually wound up too far apart from EMI's."

An excerpt from OK Go singer Damian Kulash's recent column for the Wall Street Journal on the current state of the music biz and how up-and-coming bands can make a living in the ever-changing landscape that is "the music industry".

Read the rest of the article HERE.

My personal opinion is that Kulash is one of the more delusional self-appointed champions of indie rock. The only reason 9 out of 10 people care about OK Go is because of the credibility and promotion afforded them via their alliance with EMI Records. Let's face it, if not for the viral success of the video for the song "Here It Goes Again" (aka "the treadmill video"), the band would have been dropped after their second album, "Oh No".

Both the band and the label believed, incorrectly I must add, that the millions of YouTube views of the video would one day translate into sales for the band. If they didn't translate into sales for the song, however, it should have been plain to everyone that such a thing was never going to happen. Regardless, the band's profile was raised enough by the success of the video that EMI willingly financed a third album and the band - like any other band not knowing where their next dollar was coming from would do - played along.

In January of this year, the band's third album for the label, "Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky", was released. It was immediately clear to both EMI and the band that this album was not generating the interest necessary for the relationship to continue. EMI signed over rights to the album masters, allowing the band to re-release it on their own label in April.

Since then, they have continued filming kitschy conceptual videos on the dime of corporate sponsors such as Samsung and State Farm Insurance, speaking out about the "future of music", and holding a parade in their own honor in Los Angeles (sponsored by Range Rover). None of this would be possible, or viable to such sponsors, if not for the band's status as a result of their tenure at EMI.

While it is feasible that the band could have filmed "the treadmill video" on their own dime, it was their connection to EMI that lent them the necessary credibility as a "major label recording artist" to then land spots on high-profile tours with the likes of Snow Patrol. While it is reasonably safe to say that the genius of said video would have made it a viral success with or without EMI, the public perception of the band was heightened by their connection to EMI. Without it, they'd have been merely the rock & roll equivalent of a Tay Zonday ("Chocolate Rain").

Of course, seeing Kulash methodically position himself as some expert on "making it in the music biz without a major label" is laughable, as every check his band continues to receive comes as a direct result of them milking their past association with a major label for all it is worth. They've long ago proven that music is secondary in the "OK Go experience", as one can watch any of the band's videos with the sound off and derive the same amount of pleasure.

In truth, as "The Blue Man Group Of Rock & Roll", OK Go's genius lies in their realization that being in a band these days has little to do with music. Devise one visually stunning video or event after another, keep your name in the press, and you can continue to find corporations willing to pay you for appropriating whatever hipster cache they believe you might have.

It's "The Great Rock & Roll Swindle" all over again, albeit this time minus the music.

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