VideoSongs: a Cottage (Remix Culture) Industry

On: November 5, 2009
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About Thomas Wielemaker
Graduate of UvA's MA in New Media New Media and Digital Culture, Thomas Wielemaker currently works as new media strategist whilst also pursuing his interests in information visualization.

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The YouTube account stats under my profile badge now boast over 13,000 videos watched, but besides the occasional surfing squirrel, dramatic chipmunk (technically a prairie dog) or Dawkins diatribe, I spend most of my time on YouTube listening to music. Remixes, covers, mash-ups and live performances of some of my old favorites have quickly become my premiere source for finding new music talent and, as is increasingly the case these days, new media music talent. One such talent is the rising YouTube sensation Pomplamoose.

Pomplamoose is comprised of musicians Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn. Together (and separately on their solo channels) they’re popularizing the new medium they’ve dubbed “VideoSongs.” According to their videos’ info, a VideoSong is “a new medium with 2 rules:

1. What you see is what you hear (no lip-syncing for instruments or voice).

2. If you hear it, at some point you see it (no hidden sounds).”

The result is transparent, educational, and entertaining videos of two multi-instrumentalist artists creating great indie music. The videos consist entirely of filmed fragments of at-home studio sessions that are sampled and layered to create a song.

But what does this have to do with remix culture? Remix culture is usually associated with the works of Lawrence Lessig which encourage society to create derivative works from popular cultural influences and ideas. Lessig posits that it has been our tradition of borrowing ideas and building upon them constructively that has produced modern culture and made our modern lives possible. As content creation and sharing has been moved increasingly to the internet, big media has been trying to control the “illegal” use and distribution of their copyrighted content. In the case of YouTube, fan remixes and mash-ups have often been the targets of the copyright battle. With Radiohead’s independent release of In Rainbows in 2007 and their subsequent support of remixes by other artists like AmpLive and fans alike, potentials on web 2.0 platforms quickly became apparent and have subsequently become major, profitable outlets for musicians. YouTube links, covers of new songs and strategically placed video responses to viral content have become tactics to establish artists’ reputations while new features on MySpace and iTunes have allowed them to profit from their musical endeavours… as long as they don’t violate copyright law.

What Pomplamoose heralds in the face of what threatens to be the DRM dark ages is the independence that sampling and mashing up already boasted in music making as applied to ones’ own work. By emulating the commercial model that bands like Radiohead have proved successful and incorporating the aesthetics of the increasingly popular mash-up style of media creation, Pomplamoose is treading new ground. The “indie” is inheriting the aura of new digital rituals, drawing artists with talent, personality and technology to create new and vibrant pieces of music for the modern internet. The success of the medium has actually spurred a reverse chronology to what has previously been the norm in musical successes on YouTube. Instead of relying on covers to scratch their way out of obscurity, most of Pomplamoose’s first releases were original songs. The popularity of the VideoSong has provided them with a formula within which they now present popular tunes in a new and more relatable format for viewers accustomed to YouTube culture. Finally, I would suggest that those trying to make it in the music industry take notice of these new developments in content dissemination. YouTube has risen from a platform of   the banal to a launching pad for careers in both music and television.

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