Almost Famous: Michael Gregory of Auto-Tune the News
A feature wherein All Things Digital looks at up-and-coming and innovative start-ups you should know about.
This week: We went all the way to Brooklyn to visit with, ask some questions of and gather a few pertinent stats about Michael Gregory and Auto-Tune the News, the viral video series featuring mainstream news personalities and hip-hop style singing.
Who: Michael Gregory
What: VP of Counter Melodies, Gregory Residence Productions
Why: In April 2009, the Gregory brothers began producing Auto-Tune the News, a musical satire of news programming using the ubiquitous Auto-Tune production software that enables spoken words to sound like singing (among other things). Every Auto-tune the News episode (nine so far) has gone viral, logging nearly 12 million views overall.
Where: thegregorybrothers.com (Web site); Brooklyn, NY (analog place).
Who else: Anyone with a Flip cam, a family of musical production wonks and 100 man-hours per episode.
Five Stats You Won’t Find in His Facebook Profile
Worst Job: I moved furniture for a while. I got a little too excited and strained my back.
Has a Geek Crush on: Charlie Chaplin. He was an actor, he was technically proficient–he could do everything. And Groucho Marx. He was the Picasso of 20th-century comedy.
Gadget of the Moment: I think we may need to get ourselves a new camera this year. [But] we don’t want to improve production value too much, you know, and get people’s hopes up.
Wishes There Was an App For: One that turns your phone into a Taser. Not that I’ve ever been physically harmed or anything. I just think it would be cool.
Spoiler Alert: The next Auto-Tune the News will be more rock-oriented and has something to do with turtles. We can’t say more.
A Taste of Auto-Tune the News
Bio in 140 Characters
Born & raised in Appalachia. Moved w/brothers to Brooklyn. Worked days in a recording studio, nights playing w/Auto-Tune. Went viral.
The Five Questions
Give me the step-by-step. How do you Auto-Tune the News?
Sometimes, it just kinda comes together. Normally, we start with the audio track that comes first. We kinda start with the hook and then lay down some kinda creepy arpeggio-sounding things, then lay down a sweet baseline.
It’s usually three or four stories news. Sometimes we’ll just see stories that we know are it. This last one, number 10, I probably watched the most news. Sometimes it’s because the story is boring, but sometimes it’s interesting, but the speaker is boring. It gets easier once you find your heavy hitters [news people who sound good auto-tuned].
What is your secret to making videos that are reliably viral?
I think it’s half crapshoot, half, uh…not crapshoot. No one is an island on the Internet; I’ve heard that said somewhere, maybe by Confucius. The perfect keywords for a viral hit these days are probably something like New Moon-Lady Gaga-Parody-Kanye. Something like that. Put those in all caps in your title and you’ll have a viral hit. Oh, and I forgot, cute cats.
Seriously, if you have things that are already popular in your video, it helps for sure. That’s why our “Charlie Bit Me” video [referring to the viral video of cute British kids] is probably our most viral to date. It took two already popular memes, the “Kanye interruption” [from this year's MTV Video Music Awards] and the “Charlie Bit Me” and remixed them in a style that is currently a meme. It created this, like, infinite feedback loop.
Early on, the strategy was releasing stuff parodying the [presidential] debates on the debate YouTube channel. I hate to admit it, but we used that really stupid but necessary formula of releasing something right after an event ended and titling it, “Kanye-Tiger Woods-Lady Gaga-Kittens.” I didn’t title it in all caps if that makes you feel better about me.
How has YouTube changed the world?
Well, in comedy at least, back in the vaudeville days, it was easy to steal from everyone and just use the material and not get in trouble. Back in those days, people weren’t taping your every move and saying, like, “Oh, you stole that from Sammy the ventriloquist.” Now, YouTube is sort of the new vaudeville. People can watch and say, “Oh, you’re stealing that from Steve Carell, and that’s from Andy Samberg, and that’s from Tina Fey.”
How has this turned into a viable business?
So right now, the brothers and me have left other jobs to do this full time. We’re trying to be smart businesswise, which has always been hard for me. I’ve been doing other [production] stuff…freelancing. But I was also doing stuff like tutoring SATs. We get lots of inquiries that we can’t realistically do, like: “Auto-Tune our business conference.” People don’t really understand how much effort it is. We did a video for the Webbies, and we did something for Sony (SNE). Those bring in the bread.
Internet fame is a fickle temptress. What will you do if and when Auto-Tune the News loses popularity?
I think I would just to succumb to my heroin addiction. You know, curl up in a ball and cry–just get it over with. Memes certainly have a beginning and an end. I think the fad will certainly end, but I think what has been created is a new category of what some people call art and some people call a joke. I think it’s possible that, in 20 years, people will still be doing the Auto-Tune joke. It will just be, like, “Meghan McCain sings the debate with Malia Obama.”