Making Your Music Video Go Viral: 10 Tips From Cee-Lo, OK Go & More
Written by Ramon McNally on January 21, 2013
They say that Internet killed the video star (or the Limousines did, but still). We would beg to differ. The web has opened up a tour bus-full of opportunities for bands hoping to get their music out there via the cinematic medium.
And to back up that assertion, we’ve talked with musicians, including Cee-Lo Green, Auto-Tune the News and OK Go, and gathered together their top tips for making an eminently shareable music video.
In the past, the realm of music videos was a whole lot less democratic — but that’s all changed dramatically in recent years.
“Distribution is going through a massive upheaval,” says Fred Santarpia, general manager of Vevo. “Cable TV is not the primary paradigm for the format. Rather, tens of millions of fans actively seek out and share their favorite music videos online each month, and with the explosion of the video-enabled smartphone market, we at Vevo believe that music videos will go viral even faster than they do today as more fans turn to the screen in their hand to discover new music.”
The folks over at MTV, who are currently working on amping up their video output, tend to agree. “The Internet has allowed all bands to make music videos that are guaranteed to be seen,” says Amy Doyle, who heads MTV’s music and talent department. “Music fans want their music to be mobile and shareable… It’s a very on-demand music culture.”
In addition to wanting their music and wanting it now, fans are increasingly asking for more content from artists. That is why a great music video can be such an effective way to garner new fans and keep those you already have loyal.
“A great visual travels,” Doyle says.”You can hear a song and like the song, but I really believe that a really great music video, even a low budget one, is a a gateway to a musical experience you didn’t even know you wanted.”
While we can’t tell you exactly how to make a music video go viral — marketers have been trying and failing to crack that code for a while now — we can give you some words of advice from those who’ve been there. Read on for tips and tricks from a cadre of musicians who have seen their vids blow up like oh-so many pyrotechnics.
1. Make The Video Its Own Entity
Yes, the point of having a video is to promote your song, but that doesn’t mean the vid should take backseat in the artistic realm.
“The goal is to create a video that enhances the song and can stand on its own, a video that people are not only going to want to watch again, but want to show someone else,” says Kina Grannis, a YouTubephenomenon who has garnered her share of fame via web video.
Having a video that stands on its own, as Grannis says, can bring you new fans — you know, people who might not otherwise be into klezmer, but really dig the way those ribbon dancers you hired move.
2. Try a Cover Song
We know you have your own sound that’s, like, 50 times better than any of the garbage out there, but no one’s going to listen if they don’t know who you are. One way to cut through the cacophony of voices on the web is to pay homage to a known entity by covering one of their jams. Bands like Pomplamoose have seen great success with this tactic, as have PS22, a chorus of kids from New York.
“As far as how the group has reached a worldwide audience, the majority of credit goes to Tori Amos and gossip blogger Perez Hilton,” says Gregg Breinberg, the director of the kids’ chorus. “After posting a plethora of Tori Amos covers, her management contacted me back in 2007 to arrange a meeting. The kids sang for her, then with her, and after we posted the videos of the collaboration, Perez Hilton posted the performance on his blog. Ever since, he’s kept up with the kids, and continues to post their performances regularly.”
3. Be Patient
“Things did not happen for PS22 overnight,” says Breinberg. “Over the course of five years, the kids continue to gain new fans and a wider audience. PS22 brings a consistent offering of music/videos that appeal to a wide demographic. That helps too.”
Translation: Just as you’re not going to get a record deal after one gig, your first video may not blow up. Hey, if a bunch of kids can be patient, so can you.
4. Rehearse — A Lot
“This may not be true for everyone, but we’ve found that most of our ideas, at minimum, take a week and often times months of rehearsal before we feel like we’ve got something good,” says OK Go‘s Tim Nordwind.
“After we come up with a simple concept, the four of us (and often times our collaborators) get together and start playing around with ideas until the concept starts coming to life, changing, and getting better than we ever could have imagined. Some of our videos, like the Rube Goldberg machine for ‘This Too Shall Pass,’ took six weeks of planning and building.”
5. Remember Fun? Have It
“When thinking about making videos, we ask ourselves, what would be fun to do for a few weeks?” says Nordwind. “That’s where our ideas stem from; dancing with dogs, making a Rube Goldberg machine, a dance with time, performing with a marching band, they all just seemed like fun things to try to create.”
Generally, if you’re having fun, people will have fun watching you. Unless you have wholly different ideas of recreation than the rest of the population.
6. Be Frugal
If people can get famous off of lo-fi home recordings, you bet your bass the same is true of videos. “Make sure your budget is $0, so you don’t mind when your video doesn’t go viral,” advises Andrew Gregory, of Auto-Tune the News fame.
7. Create Something Relatable
Empathy is an integral component of shareability. “We don’t all have an outlet to express ourselves, but chances are we’ve all had that experience. That experience of loss in relationships overall,” says Cee-Lo Green, whose song “F**k You” went hugely viral this summer and fall. “I think that’s why that song works…. It can be shocking to address a significant issue, but the sense of humor is smiling in the face of diversity.”
8. Know Your Audience
As we stated in the introduction, the Internet has made the musical realm much more democratic. While Green’s jam was censored on the radio, it could be played in all its glory online. “I believe that the Internet is people’s radio — to where we have a sense of ownership and control and direct involvement. In that way, the song worked with people,” Green says.
9. Remember, Your Song Has to Be Good
While you’re out there Fellini-ing it up, remember that a good video won’t save a bad song. “Quality is my first concern,” Green says. “You have to be honest and you have to be considerate and compassionate. There has to be an underlying desire to be related to. Not just seen, heard — embraced. Needing and wanting that love to be reciprocated. If you don’t have that love, chances are you won’t succeed.”
10. And Then There’s Always Cats
The Internet loves cats. If you’ve got ‘em, flaunt ‘em. That’s part of the reason why Holy F**k‘s song, “Red Lights,” spread around the web so quickly. Still, it’s not like the band set out to cash in on kitties. “If we would’ve known how trendy cats would’ve become online, we probably wouldn’t have made the video. [But] I’m glad we went ahead with the video,” says Holy F**k’s Brian Borcherdt, who directed the video as well.
This from a band who premiered a single via Chatroulette last March.