okgo_img04_hires.jpg
The Picture Group
OK Go, on the set of the video for "This Too Shall Pass."
Five years ago, the conventional wisdom held that a

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OK Go's Damian Kulash On EMI, MTV, and the 60-Year-Old Women Who Love His Videos

okgo_img04_hires.jpg
The Picture Group
OK Go, on the set of the video for "This Too Shall Pass."
Five years ago, the conventional wisdom held that a band's exposure to 100 million eyeballs via YouTube would transfer into a couple nice yachts and a house in the Hamptons. Saccharine-sweet pop act OK Go--playing the sold-out Sasquatch! festival on Saturday, May 29--almost singlehandedly ripped the horns out of that bullish notion.

The video for "Here It Goes Again"--yes, the treadmill video--off their 2005 sophomore album, Oh No, fetched more than 50 million views, and follow-up videos didn't fare too shabbily, either. But the videos didn't turn the album into a runaway hit: Oh No has sold 271,000 units, according to Nielsen/SoundScan, just 75,000 more than the band's self-titled debut, an album not aided by a viral hit video.

Regardless, videos became the vessel for OK Go to reach a significant audience, whether they bought CDs or not. And when their label, EMI, restricted their videos, preventing them from going viral--and with sales of their new record, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, hovering below 40,000--Damian Kulash & Co. negotiated an "amicable" exit from the label that had financed what Kulash called a "start-up" band.

The last time we spoke was right before the video for "Here It Goes Again" dropped. You told me you guys had never made money off the sale of records or from touring, and subsisted off licensing. Is that still the case?

Mostly. We can make money off of touring at this point. Subsist is probably the wrong verb. Yes, we make most of our money off of licensing.

Five years ago, would you have thought it to be reasonable that if you got 50 million people to watch your music video, maybe a million people would buy your record?

I'm trying to figure out when my thinking about these things sort of shifted. At this point, we definitely don't see our videos as advertisements for some separate product. I think that's sort of one of the problems with the model in general. People are so tied to the notion of record sales as the fundamental building block of a musical career, that they're blind to the fact that that is the one part of the music industry is in fall.

The entire music industry seems to be in free fall when the only metric you use is record sales. The videos we make are every bit of a creative product as our songs are. We certainly hope people will buy our records. It's not like their sole purpose is to promote this separate, interesting product.

Certainly that's not how people saw videos in the entirety of the MTV era, when a video very clearly was an advertisement for the CD. I can't tell you exactly when my (thinking) shifted.

Do you think the reasons that views of videos like yours haven't transferred to sales in the same way as the MTV era is because when people want to get their OK Go fix, they get it for free online?

That might be the case. I think the reason things haven't transferred into sales in the millions, is because nothing does. We sold the same number of records, roughly, the first week of this album as the first week of our last album. Our last album debuted somewhere around 140 or 110 on the charts. This one debuted on the top 40 of the charts. It's three times higher on the charts with the same amount of record sales. Nothing is selling that many records.

I think people who love the video watch the video. They're not people who buy records. The people who watched MTV, you could call them a self-selecting group, or you could call them a Viacom-selected group. That's not 60-year-old women, but 60-year-old women do love treadmill dances.

Considering that the way you guys were reaching your fans and growing as a band wasn't translating into big album sales, can you really blame EMI for saying "Hey, let's put a stop to this. This isn't the way we're going to be able to recoup our money"?

I don't blame EMI for anything they did. They're acting in what they believe is their best interest. It just wasn't in our best interest. We weren't headed in the same direction as they are.

When people talk about OK Go, the conversation's usually about one of your videos, not your music. Is that something you want to change?

It feels kind of like [someone saying], "Man, everybody's talking about the release of your new album, why aren't they talking about your live show?" The videos are the story right now because they are the story. There isn't anybody else making videos like this out there.

 
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