Music Blogs

How to ensure your music goes viral

  • By Trev@circlestudios
  • 29 August 2013

This week Trev from Circle Recording Studios in Birmingham thinks about what makes a music video into a successful vehicle for widening your exposure and increasing your fan base.

So last week I left you hanging with the question of what would make you engage with an unsigned band if you if you were a potential punter, or even a music industry insider. Generally speaking, for me, it'll be because the individual has engaged me or attracted my attention in a positive way.  Sometimes because what they have said or done is funny or smart. Sometimes because they have come across as particularly human. Sometimes because they've been interested in something I've been doing.  Sometimes, just because they have engaged me in conversation some time before they have asked for my opinion or advice. It follows that, if most people are like me,  what will get them to pay attention is something which gets to them at either an emotional or personal level.  Something that engages with them as an individual. 
Now in the good old days (if there was ever such a thing), before the dominance of broadcast media, the only way that bands could engage with their audience was to get out and gig, to be physically present in the same room with as many potential fans as they could.  Radio started to change that as audiences became bigger. So, while gigging remained a priority, a radio-spot could gain you exposure to a much wider audience and, as a result, became much sought after. TV changed it again as sexy dancers became a norm.  Go look on YouTube for some 80s bands and see what I mean.  The thinking was that this added another dimension to a band's "pull".
Eventually, with the rise of MTV, the music video became an incredibly important tool.  Artists essentially had another dimension in which they could attract fans.  But whether those videos were funny or sexy, spectacular or just plain cool, they all had one thing in common: they sought to engage at an emotional level. As a result labels would sink vast sums into music videos.
And then social media changed everything again. And I think of YouTube in particular when I say this.  You see, we had no choice what we watched on MTV. We were just consumers of whatever they decided to spew at us.  But now with just a few keywords and clicks of a mouse we can watch pretty much any music video ever made.  And, in practical terms, just as the loudness war (in case you haven't heard of it, don't worry, I'm almost certain to pick this up in a future blog) was started by labels trying to get their song noticed as people flicked through radio stations, we are now in the midst of a video war.   And the war is no longer about loudness. It's about engaging content. Because a video that engages people, that makes them think "this is cool/funny/whacky... I must share this with my mates" can make or break a song.
I always like to reference a band called Walk of the Earth at this point.  They have made some very clever videos to accompany their covers of other people's songs. Many of their videos have gone viral  (in one case, their cover of Somebody I Used to Know by Gotye, even contributing substantially to the original song's success!)  Check it (and its 153million views) out here:
Now if you are one of the few people that hasn't seen that before, I suspect you  were thinking about who you were going to share it with even before it finished.  Why? Because it's clever. And it's cool. And more importantly, it's original.  And that's the three reasons millions of people hit the share button. Imagine if you could come up with a clever video to accompany your original music! Would 153 million views be enough to launch your career?
So the lesson WOTE learned a long time ago is one you'd do well to learn too.  It's rare for a song to go viral just because of the song. No matter how good it is.  And just sending a link to a song to random strangers won't do a forking thing to change that.  But a great video, whether because it makes the watcher smile, laugh or just because they think it's clever, can work wonders. A dull video, of just another band, playing in just another warehouse, won't really do anything for you by itself. But, and it's a big but,  if you can get the watcher to think to themself "Nice! This looks really cool/clever.  I want my friends to see this too,"  and as a result they post it on Twatbook for their friends to see and their friends, in turn, do the same then... BAM!! The upward spiral launches the record on an unsuspecting public like a Rickroller [google it... a stunning piece of marketing!].  
But what then?  Well... nothing.  Unless the record that backs up the video shows a talented artist or band, playing a great sounding and well recorded song.  Which is on brand, on message, and leads your newly found audience back to the band behind it. Then? Well, then you can tighten your seat belt.  Because you just may be in for the ride of your life. 
So, to summarise, while the key message is the song (a good one, because a terrible sounding song or recording will put people off, not turn them on), a video done right could just be the vehicle which gets the song, and ultimately you, the exposure you need to really launch yourself on the world. 
The author of Machiavelli's Guide, Trev, is a record producer and Chief Engineer at one of the UK's top studios, Circle Recording Studios in Birmingham.  Check it out at www.circlestudios.co.uk. He has worked with clients from major and independent record labels across a range of genres from metal to hip hop.  This week he has been writing songs and drinking coffee. Go follow @circlestudios on twitter if you like the kind of inane rambling you get to read here. Alternatively, look up Circle Recording Studios Birmingham on Facebook.