March 12, 2010
The Transmedia Potential of Music Videos, Part 1: The Band

With the uneven future of the music industry and its models, I've become really interested in exploring the potential that music has by integrating these old tactics into transmedia storytelling and cross-platform distribution frameworks.

Previously, I've gushed about how the hit television show Glee has experimented with these methods with respectable success. The Glee model takes advantage of the ease of cross-platform distribution as a business model; however, it's a bit difficult to discuss the transmedia storytelling elements of its story. In my Glee article, I attempted to speak to the idea of affective economics, "which seeks to understand the emotional underpinnings of consumer decision-making as a driving force behind viewing and purchasing decisions" (Henry Jenkins, in Convergence Culture). Glee's story extends beyond its original narrative when expressed by its consumers and especially its fans, by understanding characters better through playing their songs, or by performing favorite dance routines.

Unfortunately, what I can't argue is that the producers of Glee have themselves extended the story across mediums. In response to this basic fact, I've been trying to look for the appearance of other types of stories that span multiple forms of media. Today, I want to discuss the band OK Go and how the story of not the songs but the band has succeeded in with a transmedia model.

And now the story continues... On Wednesday, OK Go announced that they will be leaving EMI to set up their own independent label.

First, I want to state a theory about the current state of music videos as a medium. It's fairly obvious that the music video made for television had been ousted as a form, being replaced by videos geared toward Internet consumers. A decrease in hours of broadcast decided to music videos on MTV may be the most solid evidence for this trend. However, my thought is that over the years the style of music videos has slowly evolved away from the "television" style to a more creative tension between music, visuals, and temporal length (eg., the videos aren't so much about the music anymore).

The popularity driven by the creativity of OK Go's music videos, for example, shows that music videos have shifted toward a form reliant on temporality: like reality games, sports events, or award ceremonies on television, music videos now thrive in the online space because of their liveness (namely, people want to watch them ASAP). Their publication to the Web has become an event, generating buzz across the Internet as people share links and spread word.

To bring about that sharing craze, OK Go has made a marked effort to create music videos that emphasize design and imagination. There are four "making of" video interviews at the Chicago Tribune, and you can read an interview with the Rube Goldberg machine creators here, but you can just get the impression by watching the video embedded above (or Here It Goes Again here -- sorry for the link, but embedding is disabled by request... more on that later).

But the point of these creative, event-causing videos is that it illustrates how important the concept of "the band" can be above the music. If we consider the story of a band, we can map a timeline of band formation, song releases, concerts and tours, etc. Now, we can add in music videos to the band story: no longer are they used solely to promote the songs, but now they can also promote the band.

Similarly, if we think of news as another storytelling medium, news obviously helps further the band's story by covering pivotal moments or controversies. OK Go has had its name thrown around recently in regard to their music videos, but one of those controversies actually pushed them even farther, with regard to the band's relationship with its label.

Back in January, OK Go penned an open letter to the world regarding the band's opinions of EMI's decision not to allow the band's music videos on YouTube to be embedded elsewhere online. YouTube has been a major influencer for music artists, since it remains an important portal for boosting the popularity of music videos. Damian Kulash, vocalist for OK Go, writes:

We've been flooded with complaints recently because our YouTube videos can't be embedded on websites, and in certain countries can't be seen at all. And we want you to know: we hear you, and we're sorry. We wish there was something we could do. Believe us, we want you to pass our videos around more than you do, but, crazy as it may seem, it's now far harder for bands to make videos accessible online than it was four years ago.

Damian later went on to write an op-ed for the New York Times about his experiences with online video in February.

The popularity of OK Go's creative music videos prompted fans who could not share them to complain, but also to follow the day-to-day developments of the musicians. The news beneficially fueled later music video releases too. But the important point: the music videos and the issues regarding them extended the storytelling of the band's daily life across multiple mediums, rather than just being used to promote the band's music.