Since the Internet took over how we find new music, the quickest way to the top of the heap has become the elusive but oh-so-desirable viral music video. No one can predict what’s going to go viral, but if you take into account my handy dandy list of tips based on what has worked in the past, you too might find yourself with millions of views on YouTube and a legion of new fans awaiting your next visual masterpiece…and your next album.
People love to see celebs in unexpected situations, so why not flip through the ol’ Rolodex and cash in on that favor your A-list celeb pal owes you? Because really, would Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” have gotten as many views if it was Joe Shmoe dancing around like Sinatra on speed and not everyone’s favorite subject of impersonation, Christopher Walken? Would viewers have flocked to Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” video if comedian Zach Galifianakis weren’t the bearded face spitting the lyrics from atop a tractor? I think not.
(See also: Vampire Weekend, “Giving Up The Gun”)
The way I see it, you have two options with this method. One is to pull on the leg warmers, grab a couple of friends, and then spend a few weeks learning a mind-blowing choreographed dance routine a la Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” video. Another option is to get a lot of people to learn a fairly simple routine and then perform it together. For their 8-bit masterpiece video for “Americanarama,” Canada’s Hollerado had to film the over two-dozen participants in slow-motion in order to hit every mark. The result? A video that just begs for repeat viewings.
(See also: Filipino Inmates, “Thriller”)
The More Complicated, the Better
The best way to earn 3-and-a-half minutes of someone’s attention is to spend a ridiculous number of your own minutes creating a music video. The best example of this in recent memory is OK Go’s video for “This Too Shall Pass,” which can only be described as the most amazing, live-action representation of Mouse Trap ever created. However, unlike Mouse Trap, the payoff is well worth the time the situation must have taken to set up.
(See also: The White Stripes, “Fell in Love With a Girl“)
Keep It Simple
Yes, this completely contradicts the last item on our list, but let’s be honest…anything can go viral, so before spending the big bucks on a music video, why not go the low-budget route? Janelle Monae’s “emotion picture” for “Cold War” racked up the views while featuring only the artist’s face and bare shoulders, and Cee Lo Green’s first video for “F*** You,” arguably the biggest hit of 2010, consisted of nothing more than the lyrics to the song and drew millions of views on YouTube. Of course that could be due in part to the next item on our list:
One Word: Controversy
While putting the f-bomb in the title of a song is a pretty controversial move, some artists have built careers on toeing the line of good taste. The current queens of controversy Lady Gaga and M.I.A. both released videos in 2010 that drew instant backlash for their portrayals of sex and violence…and not coincidentally, “Telephone” and “Born Free” had no shortage of online views.
(See also: Erykah Badu, “Window Seat”)
Cute Animals = YouTube Gold
While OK Go has long set the standard for blowing our minds with their intricately planned videos, they tugged at our heartstrings as well as our headstrings (what?) when they brought in some furry costars for their “White Knuckles” video. That these rescue dogs were able to keep up with arguably the most choreographable (someone call the word police on me) indie rock band on the scene just goes to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks…and rack up the views while doing so.
(See also: Just type in “cute kittens” on YouTube to see the drawing power of paws and tails)