Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Can You Make a Living From Viral Videos? The OK Go Gives It a Shot.

Difficult week for EMI, at least in the business press. Yesterday, Pink Floyd sued the music label. This morning, the company’s chief executive left after an 18-month stint. Newest story: The OK Go, a digitally savvy act best known for its viral videos, is breaking up with the company.

My colleagues are lapping the last one up, with good reason: The OK Go are fun to write about, because they make cool videos and because lead singer Damian Kulash is very quotable when he talks about the state of the music business and his band’s relationship with EMI.

For instance, here’s a stinging part of his exit interview with New York Magazine today:

Q: What other problems were you having with EMI?
A: ?The issue is that they just don’t have any money. The reason a band signs with a label is because they can provide start-up capital, and their business model has sort of collapsed. There was lots of little bones of contention, like when there were chances for us to promote things and they just didn’t have the money to do so. It was a lot easier to be generating the budget ourselves or through corporate partners.

EMI has issued a boilerplate quote wishing the band success–it’s going to create its own label–and leaving it at that.

And EMI does have real money problems. In part because everyone who sells music right now has money problems and in part because private equity fund Terra Firma paid too much and took on too much debt when it bought the label three years ago.

But here’s the thing. If EMI’s executives allowed themselves to speak candidly, they would likely point out that while the OK Go made great videos, it didn’t seem to make music that many people wanted to buy.

Soundscan says the band has sold all of 500,000 albums in the U.S., both in physical and digital form, in its three-album tenure at EMI. That’s 488,608, to be exact. Plus another 25,000 single tracks.

That’s not awful. But it’s not the kind of sales that would inspire a big label to spend big money promoting an act. Even when the industry’s business model was still intact.

But the band really does make nice videos that people like watching on Google’s (GOOG) YouTube. If it can figure out how to turn these into dollars, it’s all set.

OK Go–This Too Shall Pass from OK Go on Vimeo.


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