Embeds: A Music Industry Martyr

By Affinitive

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

I don’t claim to have any of the answers to the many major issues that are currently plaguing the music industry. If I did, I wouldn’t be sitting at this desk. I’d be in world domination mode somewhere up on Broadway where Bad Boy holds court convincing Diddy to let me revolutionize his label.

However, I can tell you that there isn’t a week that goes by when as a music lover and marketer I don’t get extremely frustrated by the current state of affairs. As a marketer, I can understand that there are multiple clients if you are sitting at the top of a music hierarchy – the musicians, the music lovers, and the shareholders, who keep you in your throne. The latter in that list want restrictions – they want content to be controlled by the label – they don’t want fan videos or content sharing – they aren’t convinced in the power of WOM, because as we all know the ROI is not always so black and white. They want every view or play to count for at least one red cent.

As a music lover and a blogger, I just want to be able to share music I love. Whether it is posting an MP3 of my favorite new Buble song or embedding a video from one of my favorite bands to run to - Ok Go. I still believe in my heart that if you love the music, you’ll pay for it, even if you can find it on a million torrent sites for free. Naive? Perhaps.  But I also believe that if someone wants to steal music – they can find it, no matter how many hurdles and hoola-hoops the labels throw their way. And it doesn’t take a PhD in hacking to figure it out.

I find it hard to make an argument that allowing a video to be embeddable really hurts the bottom line. Sure, YouTube (in an attempt to pacify the label gods and stop the endless stream of infringement suits)  pays labels for video views – as long as they are within network – embeds don’t count for obvious, scalable reasons. But, doesn’t the ROI of a new potential consumer discovering the video on their favorite music blog and then buying the song because of that outweigh any penny per view? Or is the ambiguity and hypothetical nature of this ROI deduction make things like embeds the new martyr of the industry?

Perhaps it is a small victory that now, on some label controlled official YouTube channels – the videos can exist. As a fan, I can now at least see the video – most of the time, which is  quite a feat in a world where MTV is filled with Jersey Shore reruns and no real music at all. However, as a marketer who specializes in Social Marketing & WOM – this is infuriating. Cutting out the ability to share via embed is hurtful – to PR, to the artist, to the virality of the content that is created. It’s cutting off the legs of something that could be easily buzzworthy via the social actions of share/rate/review that foster a bevy of C to C interaction.

Quite simply – Socializing content is a proven tactic to generate awareness leading to consumer loyalty and retention. This is a fact.

In a land where many musicians become famous (and get record deals) through social media platforms (Colbie Caillat + MySpace = one example) it truly comes full circle when on their new big prestigious label – they are no longer allowed to share their creations on the platform that the label discovered them through – primarily through content embeds which generate a bulk of the views, which increase awareness / buzz, etc.  It’s almost mind blowing.

One of such examples sprouted up this week with Ok Go, whose member Damian posted on their forum a message about how their label is insisting on prohibiting embedded playback of their new video. [Full disclosure, way back in the day, we created their fan community for the label]:

“Four years after we posted our first homemade videos to YouTube and they spread across the globe faster than swine flu, making our bassist’s glasses recognizable to 70-year-olds in Wichita and 5-year-olds in Seoul and eventually turning a tidy little profit for EMI, we’re – unbelievably – stuck in the position of arguing with our own label about the merits of having our videos be easily shared.”

It is hard to ignore the irony that this all seems to bleed. What is OK Go’s solution to this situation? Syndicate the video on sites like Vimeo where labels like EMI can’t stop them from sharing it. The irony layered upon the irony is that if the label had any digital strategy whatsoever – the video syndicate would be part of the launch of any new artist material already.