Following The Lead Of Cee Lo Green, Artists And Labels Wake Up To The Value Of Lyric Videos

Some artists have discovered a little-used means to increase website traffic, generate more advertising revenue, increase download sales and improve their standings on social media charts.

What is this secret weapon? It's the unheralded lyric video.

That may come as a surprise, considering that such clips often feature little more than a song's lyrics displayed in sync to its music.

But it makes sense to Eric Garland, CEO of digital media tracking service BigChampagne. As soon as a song hits the radio, Garland says, many fans immediately seek out the corresponding lyric video online.

Yet surprisingly few of them are being made by artists and labels. "I can't understand the wisdom to not have a lyric video," Garland says.

TubeMogul estimates that lyric videos have amassed 1.9 billion views on YouTube to date. But many of those videos were created by fans, draw no ad revenue, don't direct traffic to artist websites or don't feature links to buy the track at iTunes.

Some people in the music business are beginning to take notice-and sense an opportunity.

Since lyrics are a hot search item, Crush Music Media Management had a hunch that fans would want to watch lyric videos, Crush head of digital strategy Daniel Kruchkow says. "After seeing the reaction to a couple of them, that concept seemed true," he says.

Consider the case of Crush client Panic! at the Disco and its song "The Ballad of Mona Lisa," the first single from forthcoming album "Vices & Virtues." Released about two weeks before the main video, the lyric clip for "The Ballad of Mona Lisa" has attracted 1.5 million views on YouTube in six weeks, compared with 3 million views in four weeks for its elaborately staged main video. The Ready Set, another Crush client, generated 4.2 million views of its lyric video for "Love Like Woe" in about 10 months.

Major labels are also beginning to take notice. EMI created a vibrant lyric video for David Guetta's "Who's That Chick?," featuring Rihanna, and put it online early to capture interest from radio listeners, according to Charlotte Robertson, EMI VP of digital marketing for North America. Through March 5, it had been viewed 11.9 million times-far more than the 8.8 million views of the official video released on Jan. 27. According to TubeMogul, daily views of the main clip exceeded those of the lyric video only once.

EMI has also created lyric videos for KT Tunstall, Bobby V. and Sky Ferreira. For Katy Perry, EMI helped create anticipation for the videos of "Firework" and "E.T." by preceding the release of the regular videos with lyric clips that used stills from video shoots.

Perhaps the best-known lyric video is the snappy, low-budget clip for Cee Lo Green's Grammy Award-nominated hit "F**k You (Forget You)." Uploaded to YouTube on Aug. 19, two weeks before the regular video, the lyric clip flashes the song's lyrics in bouncy, colorful animation in step with Green's singing. Elektra sought to get the song heard before it went to radio and decided that YouTube was the most effective way to do that quickly, according to a source at Warner Music Group.

Through March 5, the official lyric video for "F**k You" had amassed 8.9 million views on YouTube. Three other official versions of the lyric clip in Spanish, German and Japanese raise the total to 10.9 million views. The explicit and clean versions of the regular video have been viewed 49.1 million and 4.6 million times, respectively.

Because Green's official lyric video appeared first, traffic didn't divert to fan-generated lyric clips. The official lyric videos have accounted for 16.8% of total views on YouTube, while fan-generated clips captured only 0.5% of views. That means nearly all fans of Green's song who watched the lyric video on YouTube did so where Elektra and the artist wanted them to-on Green's official YouTube page.

Other hit songs have missed out on similar opportunities. Seven out of the top 10 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 for the March 12 chart week didn't have an official lyric video. Instead, fan-generated lyric clips for those songs had amassed 36.6 million views. P!nk's "F**ckin' Perfect" had 11 million, Rihanna's "S&M" had 12.9 million, and Enrique Iglesias' "Tonight (I'm Loving You)" had 5.5 million.

In total those seven songs received 16.5% of their YouTube views from fan-generated videos, roughly the same percentage as Green's official lyric clip, suggesting that fans are going to view lyric videos regardless of who makes them.

There's one clear sign that labels have been getting onboard. In March nearly 20% of the songs in BigChampagne's UltimateChart had official lyric videos, up from 10% last spring. But Garland still sees labels missing more opportunities than they're capturing.

Artists who aren't exploiting fan demand for lyric videos, he says, are "doing [their] product a disservice."