OK Go Done Gone From EMI, Going It Alone

Creators of brilliant videos and slightly lesser pop music, OK Go has split from stodgy old EMI and formed its own label, Parachute Records.

The issue of contention? EMI decided to block the embed feature of the band's YouTube videos, meaning viewers could not share the band's videos on third-party websites like this one. For a band famous for its viral YouTube videos – and known to be outspoken supporters of net neutrality – EMI's decision was simply silly.

In March 2008, when I was working on Capitol Hil, I attended a briefing on net neutrality chiefly (I admit) because it featured OK Go members Damian Kulash and Andy Ross. Leanin on a heavy wood table, dressed in suits with guitars in arms, Damian and Andy recounted a story Damian had also told congressmen when testifying before the House Judiciary Committee's Anti-Trust Task Force hearing.

Our first record, which came out in 2002, did decently well: on the Modern Rock radio charts we just barely broke into the top 20, and on Billboard’s sales charts we made it to about 100. We were in the middle of the pack: successful enough to keep going, but struggling for every fan we could find.

In 2005 we released a second album and that’s when our story takes a turn pertinent to the subject at hand today. When the record came out, we did all the standard promotion that our label advised, but we also decided to launch our own online campaign with simple, absurd videos we made ourselves.

With the help of my sister, we choreographed a parodic dance routine and shot a single-take home video of us performing it in my back yard. If you include the Starbucks run, the total budget for the video was about $20. We posted the clip online, and it caught on like wildfire. We watched, astonished, as the video racked up hundreds of thousands, then millions, then tens of millions of hits at online video sites. Before long, we were getting offers to play to thousands in countries where our record had never even been released.

Case in point - you have to go to YouTube to watch the band's first viral video - due to EMI restrictions, it can't be embedded!

And something even wilder started happening: fans started posting their own versions of the video.

Thrilled by the direct connection with our fans, we launched a dance contest, and received homemade remakes of our video from all over the world. We got hundreds of entries, videos of the dance at weddings, in churches, at high school talent shows, in firehouses, and even a version performed by animated legos. This is a whole new phenomenon, a feedback loop of creativity that allows us to be more than just a commercial product to our fans – we are the center of an active, creative community.

We followed that video up with another that we shot at my sister’s home in Orlando. It was a single take again, and we were dancing again, but this time on eight moving treadmills. To my knowledge, this routine has only been repeated four times (once in Japan, once in Mexico, and twice in the US), and for the record we assume no liability for those dumb enough to try it. In the first two days after we posted the clip on YouTube, it was viewed a million times. In the month after it went online, our album sales increased nearly 4000%. We won a Grammy for the video, beating out much bigger acts with exponentially bigger budgets and promotional campaigns. Now we get stopped in Times Square by people old enough to be our grandparents. To date, it’s been viewed over 30 million times on YouTube alone.

Again, can't embed the video - see it here if you haven't already.

Given the success OK Go has had as a result of their YouTube noteriety, it's not surprising that after EMI's YouTube restrictions went into effect the band saw a 90% drop in views. This translates into 100,000 views one day and 10,000 the next.

Since the band left EMI, their new video has once again gone viral, OK Go has seen its digital album sales triple, and its digital tracks sales have jumped more than sevenfold.

I get it. OK Go's fan base gets it. Why didn't EMI?