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Lady Gaga, Red Ink and some strategically placed treadmills

The digital age has provided many headaches for those in the music industry. But as Ryan Jon explains, some musicians are also discovering new opportunities.

The issue of who should pay for journalism has been a popular topic of discussion of late, but it’s occurred to me that we still haven’t solved the problem of who should pay for music.

The digital age has thrown many challenges to entertainment companies, and very few organisations in the music industry have found any solutions. The severity of these problems is now on full display in a new list by Forbes Magazine: the list of the years highest earning hip hop artists.

In the list compiled by Zack O’Malley Greenburg, Jay-Z is ranked first earning $63 million. But what’s most interesting is that Jay-Z didn’t sell the most albums on the list. In fact, he wasn’t even close. The title of most hip hop albums sold goes to Eminem, but on earnings he only manages to reach 14th position with $8 million.

The digital age has placed a great strain on the income of recording artists, but through intelligent use of social media, advertising, and product placements these artists can still earn the same staggering amounts and not worrying about record sales alone. Jay-Z was able to diversify via cross-branding and cross-marketing activities using various online platforms.

Some record labels try hard to keep their artists’ videos off YouTube as they feel people, or networks, should pay for content to be shown. Lady Gaga has one of the most viewed video clips of all time. She is never far from the spotlight and when she released the video clip for ‘Telephone‘, discussion on social networks around the world went into overdrive. Some would think that it may be a waste to get all those views and not get a penny for it. But Lady Gaga, like Jay-Z, uses advertising and social media to benefit her own pockets, not just so that the viewer can enjoy free content.

As well as showing plenty of flesh, the video clip shows Lady Gaga wearing Chanel sunglasses and using a Virgin Mobile. There are cans of Diet Coke visible and the audience gets a clear view of the front page of dating website, ‘Plenty Of Fish’.

The video clip received over 17 million hits in the first four days on YouTube and the count is now over 100 million across multiple versions of the video. With high viewership and strategic product placements, it’s not hard to see how these videos become mega money makers.

Sure, it seems easy enough for the big names to make a few extra million per year but what about the bands that are just starting out? It’s hard enough raising funds to produce and record a song, let alone produce a music video. With no big music executives to fund these video clips, it’s even tougher for young, up and coming bands to hit the big time.

Once that video clip is funded and made, there is no  guarantee that any of the music channels are going to broadcast it, making the decision to invest what spare change they have into a music video a quite risky one.

Melbourne band, Red Ink, is starting to make inroads into the Australian music industry. ‘We’ve self-funded all our video clips and it would be nice to get the money back,’ lead singer John Jakubenko says. The price of the clips range from $4,000 to as little as $300, but John and fellow members of Red Ink don’t see music clips as another cost, but rather an opportunity to get their name out there. ‘It’s more of an advertising opportunity and another format through which to be creative’.

In their latest clip, Catching A Killer, the boys are beating up and eventually blowing up an abandoned car. ‘We had an absolute blast making that video,’ Jaubenko says. ‘Everyone wants to smash things and blow stuff up and we got to do it without getting in trouble.’

That opportunity has paid dividends. ‘Fortunately for us, our videos get a good amount of traffic via our YouTube channel. As a result, we were contacted by Google Ads about in page advertising which brings a little extra cash each month’ Jakubenko says.

The band’s online presence has grown and as a result, their sounds are now being heard across the country on multiple radio stations and their videos are being played on Channel V. As a result, the Red Ink band members are ‘almost full time’ says Jaubenko, but he admits they often pick up odd jobs and give some music lessons when the bills start to stack up.

Red Ink isn’t the first band that has attempted viral marketing via their videos. The most successful, well documented example is American rock band OK Go. The band’s video for Here It Goes Again won a Grammy Award for the Best Short Form Music Video in 2007. The video clip shows the band performing a dance routine on treadmills, which was done in one single take.

Georgia Frances King, editorial assistant at and music writer for Frankie says, ‘We like OK Go not because of their music, but because of the familiarity we feel towards their songs following watching their music videos. Many fans don’t particularly love their sound, but they feel close to them because they’ve probably watched the This Too Shall Pass clip a half dozen times on repeat.’

Making a video clip isn’t easy and film production isn’t cheap, but the experiences of Red Ink and OK Go are perfect examples of the importance of not only making music videos, but using social media to share them. It shows that the digital age isn’t necessarily a threat to those in the industry, but an exciting opportunity.

So how much can a band make from a fiercely spreading video clip? Well according to Red Ink’s John Jakubenko, the clips ‘bring in a nice little bit of revenue, but at the end of the day, we’re still no Lady Gaga’.

Ryan Jon is a part of upstart’s editorial team and is currently enrolled in La Trobe’s Graduate Diploma of Journalism program.

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