YouTube Remix Auteurs Turn Ordinary Videos Into Pop Music Hits
YouTube Remix Auteurs Turn Ordinary Videos Into Pop Music Hits

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."