Artist compensation has changed, and artists who previously used touring and record sales as primary sources of income, are compelled to find additional revenue streams. Can the exposure opportunity offered on YouTube for music videos result in noteworthy revenue?  Can it help to establish your artist identity? The popular rock band OK Go made a rather unintentional entre into the world of online music videos with a video that cost just a few dollars to create.  The band created the video unbeknownst to the label, and when they showed it to the head of digital marketing, he said, “If this gets out, you’re sunk.” The label was obviously wrong, and OK Go eventually became famous, not only for their music, but also for the treadmill, marching band, and end love YouTube videos among others. Band member, Damian Kulash, spoke on Tuesday at the 2010 Future of Music Policy Summit sponsored by the Future of Music Coalition here in Washington DC.

As for OK Go, the videos have undoubtedly added to the band’s revenue though the exact amount is difficult to measure. Damian says that OK Go has a video fan base that consists of some people who “would never buy a ticket for a rock show” and “some of the people who watch our videos don’t even know that we are a band.”  Still he says that a segment of video fans do purchase tickets, merchandise, and downloads.  As for sponsorship and product placement in the videos, Damian said that while the band exercises caution in this area, OK Go is able to show potential marketers exactly how many hits their videos are likely to generate, which means potential revenue for the band, even after what ranges from a $5,000 investment for the treadmill video to over $400,000 for another.

I asked Damian which comes first, the music or the video, and he insists that the music still comes first.

“Music has always been a social and passionate engagement for me,” he says. “The music simply provides a backdrop for the video that the band envisions and really lives a life of it’s own.”

The band’s creativity also extends beyond music and video to merchandise sales. For example, to connect with fans (more than for the revenue generating opportunity), OK Go sold thirteen of the marching band outfits in their video for about $90 a piece.

Other artists attending the Summit, felt like musician Rebecca Gates who said, “I struggle with the combination of audio and video because I am a musician and it’s about what you hear. I am not a filmmaker. . . ”

Perhaps the most important point that came out of this discussion was that video is a choice. It is not the only way to promote an artist’s work and create revenue, but it is one effective way.


Shai Littlejohn

Shai Littlejohn is an attorney in the music industry, singer-songwriter and Professional Music major at Berklee. She is currently interning with the Future of Music Coaliton, an artist’s rights lobby and advocacy group in Washington DC. Though late November, Shai will work as an integral member of the coalition team in developing, organizing and promoting both the Future of Music Policy Summit as well as the Dear New Orleans Benefit Rock Show.

Follow Shai on Twitter for continuing tips and updates on music law and policy at

See also:

Future of Music Series: The Shrinking Pie

Future of Music Series: Setting the Stage on Music Policy

Future of Music Series: Shai Littlejohn