YouTube Remix Auteurs Turn Ordinary Videos Into Pop Music Hits
"Double rainbow! Oh my God, it's a double rainbow all the way!"
Viral video fans can instantly trace these words to Paul "Yosemite Bear" Vasquez, who, while hiking in January, witnessed the unusual natural phenomenon known as a "double rainbow" and, wonderstruck by its beauty, broke out his camcorder and recorded his wide-eyed epiphany for posterity.
"Yosemite Mountain Giant Double Rainbow 1-8-10," better-known as the "Double Rainbow" video, can be viewed as poignantly innocent or ridiculously emotional-Vasquez sobs in between exclamations of joy-but either way the clip has struck a chord with YouTube users during the last month and earned 7.2 million views.
Porter has also turned his YouTube mixes into lucrative corporate partnerships. In June 2009, he released a clip called "Press Hop," which spliced together and Auto-Tuned the press conferences of professional athletes and coaches. The video, currently at 2.6 million YouTube views, led to a call from the National Basketball Assn., which commissioned Porter to create four TV promos using the same editing technique.
Although Porter won't reveal how much the NBA paid for the ads, he says that the deal was more profitable than anything else he has done in the music industry. "And it's still my music," Porter says. "With a slight tweak you're speaking the same language as corporate sponsors."
Similarly, Relm posted a musical remix of the "Iron Man 2" trailer on YouTube last March. Days after uploading it, film director Jon Favreau contacted Relm on Twitter and asked him to make an official TV spot for the film.
The opportunity helped refocus Relm's professional goals: Instead of only sending out press releases about his current projects, the producer now sends releases with video links to a long list of corporations.
"These days, we're trying to keep Mike active live, but also have a broad range of filmmakers and ad agencies that are aware of what he's doing," says Robert Bennett, Relm's manager. Relm recently remixed an Old Spice TV ad and is about to work on commissioned projects from Lionsgate Films and Fox.
As well, the actual YouTube videos also generate profits. An artist signed to a record label or publishing deal can use Content ID, a program that tracks the use of copyrighted material on YouTube and places an ad on a derivative video to generate revenue for the copyright holder. YouTube head of music partnerships Glenn Brown says that the site has more than 1,000 partners using Content ID, including every major record label.
If an unsigned artist wants to monetize a single YouTube clip, however, he or she can sign up for the Individual Video Partnership Program with the site. Although Brown says that the amount of advertising revenue a video can earn is "totally the function of the performance of the video," he points out that the creators of "David After Dentist," a two-minute clip that has 63 million views on the site, have made $30,000 from their original video.
Out of the hundreds of videos whose makers have asked their footage to be linked to the "Double Rainbow" clip on YouTube, the Gregory Brothers' "Double Rainbow Song" was one of only three or four videos that Vasquez approved. Although the group did not receive permission from Vasquez when it originally reworked his vocals into "Double Rainbow Song," Vasquez says that he "got a big kick out of [the song] . . . it had a catchy tune and used my words in a nice way."
The Gregory Brothers did get Vasquez' consent before releasing the song as a single on iTunes, and the band credited Vasquez as a co-writer to split the proceeds, a move he calls "incredibly generous." Generous, perhaps, and legally necessary: The group-as well as other acts turning viral videos into songs-needed the permission of the original YouTube clip's creator before putting a new spin on his work.
YouTube considers anyone with a video camera to be a copyright owner, even if the uploaded video has not been registered with a copyright office, according to attorney Nancy Prager. Therefore, a remix of a video like "Double Rainbow" has the same legal merit as an unapproved sample in a song, and is considered copyright infringement. Although some clips are protected as fair use/parody, such cases are content-specific.
"The remix is an unauthorized derivative work," says Peter Brodsky, executive VP of business and legal affairs at Sony/ATV Music Publishing, "and so the person who created the original video not only deserves compensation, he or she has the right to say yes or no to its existence."
Brown says that YouTube respects the ownership of its individual users and complies with any requests to remove material. Although the artists interviewed for this article said that they respected the authors of their music's source material, they didn't see a problem with rehashing a viral clip into an original work.
"I didn't contact anyone before remixing ["Slap Chop"], because I wasn't the first person to remix it," Porter says. "There was no thought about it, since it was already being done."
The damages that can result from this type of copyright infringement depend on the copyright owner, the specific infringement and who is infringing it, according to Prager. However, she advises anyone looking to remix a viral clip to check if the original video uses a Creative Commons license, which allows users to share and download their video and is easily searchable on YouTube.
LEAVING YOUR MARK
While artists who concoct original songs out of viral videos are exploring uncharted artistic territory, the most successful ones have abided by clear-cut strategies to have their voices heard on YouTube. For starters, they experience YouTube as users first before immersing themselves in the site as artists.
"The best thing I did to understand the YouTube community was to be a part of it," Relm says. The producer says that he learned to provide download links to his MP3s directly from his video, as well as tighten his video descriptions for optimum keyword searches. Relm also varies his audience by affiliating his videos with different YouTube channels, including humor site Barely
Political and his own DJ-centric Radio Fried Films page.
Artist management has also adapted to the rules of YouTube to raise its client's profile. Bennett has replaced Relm's electronic press kits with links to his artist's YouTube videos, and he has stressed the importance of social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
However, Bennett insists that consistency separates the legitimate YouTube artists from the flash-in-the-pan pretenders. After Relm stopped "putting stuff up whenever he felt like it" and uploaded work at regular intervals, Bennett says that a solid fan base started to form.
The Gregory Brothers believe that artists of their ilk will soon become more prominent, since the process of making music out of video clips isn't disappearing soon. In fact, guitarist Andrew Gregory can easily envision a world where songs like "Auto-Tune the News" are topping the charts. It's a world that may arrive sooner than expected: the Gregory Brothers' "Bed Intruder Song" debuted on the Hot 100 at No. 89 and started on the Hot Digital Songs at No. 89.
"There are plenty of comments that quote funny lines from the song," Andrew Gregory says, "but one of the comments I see most often on our videos is, 'I can't get this out of my head.' "