YouTube Success Rockets Band to Fame

Q&A With OK Go: From the Back Yard to the VMAs

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- You may not have heard of OK Go, but the Chicago rock power-pop outfit just made history. The band's ultra-low-budget clip for "A Million Ways" recently became the most-downloaded music video of all time with more than 9 million downloads.
OK Go's treadmill video for 'Here It Goes Again' -- an appropriately named song, as the DYI video was another viral hit.
OK Go's treadmill video for 'Here It Goes Again' -- an appropriately named song, as the DYI video was another viral hit.

Filmed in lead singer Damien Kulash's backyard, the three-and-a-half minute ditty features the band performing an elaborate choreographed dance over one continuous take, with bassist Tim Norwind lip-synching Kulash's vocals.

The video proved so popular that fans across the globe began to submit unsolicited copies of their versions of the dance video to the band. The outpouring of video tributes prompted OK Go to conduct a contest with YouTube to select their favorite fan film and invite the lucky winner to perform the dance with them onstage at an upcoming concert.

So how does one top the most downloaded video of all time? With the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it approach, of course. The band went the DIY route again with another dance video -- this time with a set of eight treadmills, for the song "Here It Goes Again." That video's popularity -- a million downloads in its first month -- earned the band a performance slot at MTV Video Music Awards Aug. 31. (Oh, last week it also played Letterman and supplied the theme song for ABC's "Saturday Night Football" debut.)

The band was en route via limo to the video awards when Mr. Kulash, 29, took time out from a legitimately hectic schedule to talk to Ad Age about his group's viral success.

Ad Age Digital: Who came up with the idea for the "Million Ways" video?

Mr. Kulash: It can really be attributed to no one because we came up with the idea of a choreographed dance that we wanted to do onstage. We asked my sister to help us with it -- she's a ballroom dancer from New York -- so she came over and we worked on it for a half week or more. We came up with a routine and we'd been practicing in our backyard so we decided to make it a home video. We were so happy with the results we sent it to a bunch of our friends before it slowly made its way on to the internet.

Ad Age Digital: So is your sister receiving any royalties for creating the choreography?

Mr. Kulash: Yeah, she gets 1% of every download [laughs]. No, we've been thanking my sister in many ways, some of them are financial. But, yeah, there is no way to account for what the "Million Ways" video did. It's been an incredible boost to our career, I think, but it's a bit hard to put into numbers.

Ad Age Digital: You guys filmed the "Here It Goes Again" video a while ago, before it was officially released this summer. Why'd you sit on it for so long? And why treadmills?

Mr. Kulash: The "Million Ways" video kept growing online and we wanted to stand out with the new one. And some of us just wanted the chance to tour for awhile and do the traditional rock and roll thing. .... [Using treadmills] was a really good idea. My sister thought of it, and once we saw that idea, we thought, "Well, if you have an idea that good you just gotta do it."

Ad Age Digital: Was that the only successful take? I can only imagine with treadmills somebody falling down at some point.

Mr. Kulash: Our collective memory of it is a little hazy. We all know that we used "take 14." We think there were about 20 takes, but we can't remember how many there were. If I remember correctly there were 17 total takes and I think we only got through the whole thing three times. ... Luckily no one was hospitalized but there was a lot of scraping and rubber-burning and that kind of stuff. There was a move we tried working into the choreography we later excised. We tried somersaults on the treadmill, that got a little of bruising -- getting eaten by the vicious machine.

Ad Age Digital: How has your guys' career and awareness changed since the release of the videos?

Mr. Kulash: Well, you called at an interesting time for that question. I'm getting stuffed inside a limousine right now so we can drive about 45 feet near the top of the red carpet and walk back out. This is something we couldn't imagine a month ago.

Ad Age Digital: Is being at the VMAs right now something you had ever thought about?

Mr. Kulash: Only in a sort of joking sense. In fact, we told our label when we handed them the video, "We will never perform this live unless you can get us on the VMAs." And they actually did. The question on everyone's minds is, "How did you guys do this with two $5 videos?" But since the success of the first video, our label has kicked into mega overdrive and we couldn't be happier with how that's worked out.

Ad Age Digital: Tell me about the contest you guys are having with YouTube for the "Million Ways" video. Have you picked a winner yet?

Mr. Kulash: We have not picked a winner yet. The deadline is today. We will pick winners soon. The idea of the contest is, after we put the "Million Ways" video online, we started getting unsolicited copies of the video from people all the way from Korea to Thailand to Latvia and all over place. People were doing it in [salt and pepper] shaker costumes and some people were doing it as part of a Christmas pageant. Some people green-screened themselves into my backyard. A significant number of these were unsolicited and we started thinking about how fun it would be to set up a contest with YouTube to let people in on the action, basically.

Ad Age Digital: Any plans to choreograph any more dance videos?

Mr. Kulash: We do have what we think is another good idea. But we are making them on our own terms, so if we don't like it we just won't show it to anyone.
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