Given the public disagreements between the band and its label over the distribution of that video and others, the split between OK Go and EMI Music wasn't entirely unexpected. Citing a nondisparagement clause in the deal that releases OK Go from EMI, both the band and the label declined to speak about the specific terms or circumstances of the group's departure. Billboard has learned from sources familiar with the situation, however, that Paracadute will assume ownership of OK Go's latest album, "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky" (originally released Jan. 12 on Capitol), while the band's first two albums-2002's "OK Go" and 2005's "Oh No"-will remain EMI catalog items, as will the videos from those albums. The label will retain a stake in sales of "Blue Colour," and the band will continue working with the company's licensing department in a nonexclusive capacity. (OK Go also pursues synch opportunities through band manager Jamie Kitman's Hornblow Group.)
In a prepared statement released by the band and the label, EMI said it had "really enjoyed our relationship with OK Go" and that both parties had decided "to part ways by mutual agreement." Speaking in a video posted on the band's Web site, Kulash said, "We're leaving very amicably, and they've been very good to us."
Yet sources paint a different picture of the partnership, one in which both parties felt somewhat aggrieved: The band complained of being underserved by EMI's promotion and marketing efforts, while the label never could reap the sales rewards of OK Go's viral-video success.
"It's like you've got a guy throwing a 105 mph fastball," one source close to the group says, referring to the tens of millions of YouTube views OK Go has earned with such videos as the Grammy Award-winning "Here It Goes Again," in which the band performs an intricately choreographed dance routine while riding treadmills. "And this guy's dominating the game, but you don't have an infield to back him up. So how are you going to do anything?"
According to the source, EMI dedicated little energy or resources to working OK Go's singles at radio and to stocking its albums in stores, continually insisting that the label "needed a story" for programmers despite the band's growing online presence. "There was a real lack of investment in conventional marketing," the source says, to match what the group was accomplishing in the new-media sphere.
One former EMI staffer says that the disregard wasn't necessarily intentional. "People at the label always liked OK Go but were easily distracted by no-brainer hits like Coldplay and Corinne Bailey Rae-artists who were already established or were more mainstream. Capitol never took full advantage of the opportunities."
Former Capitol chief Andy Slater, who signed OK Go in his first deal at the label, insists that he wasn't neglecting the group but was waiting for the right moment to take it to radio.
"The key to having success with an unconventional band like OK Go is knowing when that moment is," Slater says. In his view, the time had arrived not long after the band performed its treadmill routine at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards. "All of this stuff had started to bring OK Go to the forefront," he says, "and that's right when the label underwent a change in leadership." (In 2007 EMI merged Capitol and Virgin, dismissing Slater and appointing Jason Flom as head of the newly formed Capitol Music Group.) "Up to that point, though, we were building a fairly aggressive radio campaign based on seven months of work." Flom, now president of Lava/Universal, didn't return a phone call seeking comment.
Former Capitol GM Mark DiDia seconds Slater's point, calling OK Go "a full-on priority" for the label during his tenure there. "They were Andy's first signing, and he wanted to prove them more than anybody," DiDia says. "We spent over $5 million in marketing. I bet a lot of other bands would want that level of commitment."
Sources close to EMI in more recent years, meanwhile, contend that the kind of investment the band was calling for "just didn't make economic sense" given the group's sales history and performance in callout research. Although OK Go "makes great videos," one person familiar with the situation says, "they've never demonstrated that they sell albums. They've done OK with some tracks through the years, but with this album in particular, the sales really aren't there."
The new album has sold 27,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "Oh No," the band's best-selling album, has moved 269,000, while "Here It Goes Again" has sold 821,000 singles. None of the band's other singles has broken the 100,000 mark.
"If you took out the word 'video' and put in the word 'single,' and you took out 'online' and put in 'radio,' this wouldn't be a story," another source with ties to EMI says. "Put it another way: Imagine a label spends a lot of money to get a song to No. 1 on the modern rock chart, then it only sells 25,000 copies and the label decides not to move forward with the band. That's not a story."
One person familiar with the label's thinking says the company took issue with Kulash's claim in an interview with New York magazine that because of its current debt troubles EMI lacked the funds needed to support its bands. "It's absolutely untrue to suggest that EMI didn't have enough money to promote OK Go at radio," the source says. "It was a choice."
Further disagreement between band and label flared up earlier this year over EMI's decision to restrict some OK Go videos from being embedded on unauthorized Web sites (in an effort to drive would-be viewers to YouTube, which pays record companies for each stream of their copyrighted material). Kulash aired his grievances in a widely publicized New York Times op-ed-his third for the paper on music-industry matters-that urged the label to "recognize the basic mechanics of the Internet" and allow OK Go to engage with its fans wherever the fans see fit.
"There are parts of the piece that I knew weren't going to sit well with the label, but for the most part my intention was to write something that was even-handed about the situation," Kulash says. "You see so much vitriolic anti-label stuff from our fans, or from everyone's fans, and you see so much complaint from the music industry about the ground eroding from underneath them, that I wanted to present the position of a musician who isn't wildly anti-label and isn't angry at them but who sees the unsolvability of that position."
One person close to EMI says that although it might have looked like it, the Times piece didn't have any impact on the decision to part ways. "I can't argue with his point, and I didn't," the person adds.