Why EMI's YouTube Policy Is Short-Sighted
On Monday, rock band OK Go issued a statement through its fan forums regarding the release of its latest album as well as the music video for "This Too Shall Pass." Specifically, it's the video that has fans riled. You see, OK Go is affiliated with EMI and, like all bands who are part of that major label family, the embedding has been disabled on the new video. However, this is particularly ironic considering that OK Go is a band whose biggest claim to fame is having a music video that went viral in the early days of YouTube.
OK Go tried to explain EMI's stance. Essentially, it boils down to money, the money that they aren't getting when we embed videos into blog posts, MySpace comments, etc.
The catch: the software that pays out those tiny sums doesn't pay if a video is embedded. This means our label doesn't get their hard-won share of the pie if our video is played on your blog, so (surprise, surprise) they won't let us be on your blog. And, voilá: four years after we posted our first homemade videos to YouTube and they spread across the globe faster than swine flu, making our bassist's glasses recognizable to 70-year-olds in Wichita and 5-year-olds in Seoul and eventually turning a tidy little profit for EMI, we're unbelievably stuck in the position of arguing with our own label about the merits of having our videos be easily shared. It's like the world has gone backwards.
It's not surprising that this is the reasoning behind EMI and other's decision to block embedding functions on YouTube. For decades now, the music industry has accumulated funds from airplay, be it on radio, video channels or jukeboxes. This is the sort of standard practice that may have remained unknown to those outside of the industry until Internet music distribution placed promotional power into the hands of the fans. Now the fact that the industry on the whole expects to get paid for the privilege of promoting their goods seems more ludicrous than ever.
You can embed Depeche Mode videos through Vimeo as well.
Whether in the form of making mixed tapes or creating iTune playlists, the intent of the music fan has always been the same. You love these songs and you want your friends to love them too. YouTube works under the same premise. If you like a video, you can share it. Sharing information has always been at the core of the music fan's existence, just as it is central to the development of the Internet. But, since the music industry powers-that-be can't seem to grasp concepts taught in preschool that drive fanaticism, we'll relate to the YouTube embedding issue in terms of commerce, specifically marketing.
A music video is simply a commercial. You can argue that a single is little more than a commercial as well. This isn't meant to take away from the artistic merit of either the song or a video, art and commerce can go hand-in-hand. However, if your business is music, then your job isn't to sell a video, nor is it really to sell a song. Your goal is to sell a band. More importantly, you want to sell an obsession. You want people to fall so in love with the band that they will then buy just about everything affiliated with the group.
There's no denying that YouTube is a valuable platform for breaking a band. Unlike traditional radio and music video channels, you don't have to rely on the whims of a programmer who will decided whether or not said band is worth a shot. The video is there for the fans and, ultimately,the fans spread it amongst the masses, often by embedding it in various locations. Having a YouTube clip go viral is roughly equivalent to getting a thirty second advertising spot during one of the most-watched television events of the year. So, imagine how ridiculous it would seem if the company with the sweet Super Bowl commercial that people will discuss for weeks expected to be compensated according to every set of eyeballs that saw it.
Thanks to YouTube embeds, I've found out about everything from new music to obscurities. Likewise, we at West Coast Sound embed plenty of videos in our own posts and, judging from some of the responses I've seen, this certainly has introduced people to music they might not have heard otherwise. Of course, there are those who will argue that you can simply link to the clip. Links, though, aren't quite as effective. If you want people to see the video, particularly if you hope that it will go viral, you don't want a link buried between thick blocks of text. The video has to be easily visible, otherwise it could very well lose its standing as the focus of the message.
Savvy bands like OK Go have found a loophole by uploading their content through Vimeo and other similar services, but this only masks the problem that's driving the music industry further into irrelevancy. It's never been a secret that record labels focus on the bottom line, but right now, labels who abide by this policy are making a mad grab for immediate revenue, even though it means sacrificing promotional opportunities for the bands that they're supposed to represent. They're also doing this at the expense of the fans, punishing people who want to share music through channels that have been authorized by the copyright holders. It's an incredibly short-sighted plan and if labels want to sustain their livelihood, some people in power might want to rethink their strategies.
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