Here’s an article on viral videos I wrote for The Music Network in late August 2009.
Viral Video Epidemic
Music videos that achieve so-called ‘viral’ spread via word-of-mouth referrals are one of the biggest components of the social web – over half of the most-viewed YouTube videos of all time are music-related. In recent weeks, the ‘JK Wedding Video‘ showed that the inclusion of a particular song can boost sales significantly, as in the case of Chris Brown’s ‘Forever’. Years ago, Australian band The Sick Puppies found the same thing when their song was included in Juan Mann’s 2006 clip ‘Free Hugs Campaign‘, which is still the #1 viewed video of all time.
Andrew McMillen investigates two tales of recent Australian viral video success: one a signed act, one unsigned.
Abbey Road, London, early one February morning. Dozens of vehicles are bound for dozens of destinations, but not before the daily crowd of tourists continually hold up traffic to re-enact that famous image from The Beatles’ final studio album. Footage is alternately fast-forwarded and slowed to normal speed as group after group step over the crossing’s well-trodden white lines, while Blame Ringo’s wistful indie pop provides the soundtrack to a mesmerising display of human imitation and reminiscence.
Released in February 2009, Brisbane’s Blame Ringo [pictured right] found a worldwide audience with their hastily-filmed video for ‘Garble Arch’; subtitled ‘A Day In The Life Of Abbey Road’. Though starring none of the band members and – aside from the name – thematically distant from The Beatles’ work, nearly 400,000 pairs of eyes and ears across the world have absorbed the band’s creation. At what cost?
“The budget was $100, which covered the express post and mates-rates wages,” reveals Blame Ringo singer/guitarist Pete Kilroy. “A mate of ours was staying near Abbey Road, so I asked him to record people crossing for a couple of hours. He express posted the tapes, and since I’m a film editor by trade, I just edited it myself.”
When asked why he thinks the video became such a hit, Kilroy explains that they tapped into an indelible element of The Beatles’ folklore. “The love for The Beatles can’t be matched, and on a world scale, probably will never be matched. Besides that, when you watch the video, you think, “Look at all these tools. Who do they think they are?”, but your next thought is, “Man, I wish I was there doing that!” It sort of shows human nature.”
Six months on, are the Brisbane four-piece still feeling the effects of the video? Kilroy is optimistic: “The video really opened some doors, as it got us album distribution. It made people interested, whereas with any kind of traditional advertising, it’s hard to get people to buy your record, to see your show; to give you their time. Creating something that people can identify with – while acting as an advertisement for our music – fast-forwarded our career around 6-12 months. But there’s no point dwelling in the past. The video will sit on YouTube and keep ticking over for years and years. We get fan mail from across the world, and that’s really cool because you’d never reach those people otherwise.”
What advice would Kilroy give other bands attempting to follow that kind of viral video trajectory? “I was a film student and all they ever told us was that it’s the idea that counts. Look at ‘Garble Arch’; we’re not even in the film clip. It’s not about us. To release a good clip, it’s about the quality of the idea and creating a concept that people will want to see. It’s important to simply offer something different and unique.”
From a story of serendipitous viral success to an adventurous, label-funded production: Dew Process signees Bluejuice [pictured left] released their ‘Broken Leg’ video on July 16. The six-minute extended version of the clip finds the band’s two vocalists portraying embittered former jump-rope champions in a mockumentary format, before the parody gives way to a choreographed World Skipping Championship Final battle between the five band members (‘Team Bluejuice’) and a children’s dance troupe (‘Shimmer Extreme’).
Though the viewer is led to believe that the performance took place before thousands of screaming skipping fans, vocalist Stav Yiannoukas – who plays the fictional character, Spiridon ‘Mr Invisible’ Savvas – reveals that it was filmed at Sydney’s Metro Theatre. Post-production wizardry blended the empty theatre with stock footage of a stadium crowd.
“The actual day of shooting was reasonably torturous, having trained for six weeks. Being filmed for 12 hours while skipping constantly is incredibly exhausting.”
Hang on – six weeks’ skipping training? That’s dedication to a music video!
Yiannoukas confirms: “Three hours a day, three days a week. It was absolutely necessary; we had to commit to the idea. And we also had to get an understanding of how good – or ultimately, how bad – we were going to be at skipping.”
The band’s dedication has paid off: besides creating a clip that’s both hilarious and memorable, the band have since amassed a combined 55,000 views for the video and its bonus mockumentary off-shoots, in addition to a mid-August triple j award nomination for Australian Music Video Of The Year. Dew Process’ Marketing Manager, Graham Ashton, elaborates on the success.
“‘Broken Leg’ was different from a lot of our other projects. While we normally work on finessing longer campaigns, we decided to go all-out for a big hit single, and that’s certainly looking like it’s going to happen. So far, it’s sold around 5,000 copies without traditional marketing. It’s all been based on a word-of-mouth online campaign in the lead-up to the song’s release. I won’t disclose the campaign budget, but you’d be surprised at how little it was.”
Ashton admits that it’s difficult to measure the returns on online marketing campaigns. “Its success can be put down to word-of-mouth, more than anything. Both externally, within the punters’ world, but internally within the music industry. We did a tastemaker mail-out at the time of launch, and the response was fantastic. Another way of measuring its effect is the email database the band has since built, based on the opportunities surrounding this video and the campaign website.”
Based on the strong responses to the band’s three Sam Bennetts-directed clips – 2007′s ‘Vitriol’ (150,000 views), 2008′s ‘The Reductionist’ (38,000 views) and ‘Broken Leg’ (55,000 combined views) – it’s fair to state that the band are adept at combining an excellent sense of self-deprecating humour with a penchant for creating memorable music videos. When asked how the band plan to top their finest visual achievement thus far, Yiannoukas is cautious: “It’s a difficult task. I think we’ll rip it away from the mockumentary format, as it’s important for us to keep challenging ourselves, and to reinforce that we’re more than that one-dimensional approach. The idea itself is ‘to be confirmed!’”
Andrew McMillen is an Australian freelance music writer.