Damian Kulash: Don't Let The Internet Go The Way Of The Music Industry

Damian Kulash sings with OK Go. i
Dimitri Hakke/Redferns/Getty Images
Damian Kulash sings with OK Go.
Dimitri Hakke/Redferns/Getty Images

OK Go makes smart videos and disseminates them smartly. And lead singer Damian Kulash is kind of a smart guy — witness his op-ed piece in Sunday's Washington Post. He seems to have a pretty good idea of what's going on at the Federal Communications Commission with regard to the FCC's efforts to strengthen its oversight of Internet access.

But his real insight is his comparison of the path the major players are following on the Internet and the disastrous route the major record labels traveled as they grappled with file-sharing and struggled to come up with a new business model in the Internet age — a model they have yet to successfully design.

"Let me tell you why I take this so seriously, and so personally. I've spent a decade working in the music industry, a business in which the big guys block out the rest of us. Creativity and innovation take a distant back seat to money, and everyone loses, even the big guys themselves. They have insulated themselves from change for so long, they've dug their own grave."

Kulash continues.

"...the past decade of the music industry is as clear an example as you can find of what happens when the depth of pockets, not the quality of ideas, is the arbiter of success. It's been like a corporate version of the Three Stooges: absurd flailing, spectacular myopia and willful ignorance of reality. Now that the big record companies have made themselves obsolete, bands such as mine can make a better living without their help than we can with it."

OK Go used to record for a major label and the relationship had its pros and cons, to put it politely, according to the band. Earlier this year, Kulash concluded his band's "open letter" to fans with this:

"So, for now, here's the bottom line: EMI won't let us let you embed our YouTube videos. It's a decision that bums us out. We've argued with them a lot about it, but we also understand why they're doing it. They’re aware that their rules make it harder for people to watch and share our videos, but, while our duty is to our music and our fans, theirs is to their shareholders, and they believe they’re doing the right thing."

So the band thumbed its collective nose at its label and provided fans with the embed code for the "This Too Shall Pass" video. And a few months later, OK Go split with EMI to form its own label.

In Sunday's op-ed piece, Kulash points out that good ideas can lead to financial success and cites Google as an example. And there was a time when the major labels took chances on unknowns with unique sounds — i.e. new ideas. But as the labels became bigger and bigger corporations, they became more and more risk-averse — more beholden to stockholders than consumers with eager ears.

Kulash's concern — and that of a lot of people — is that, as the Internet grows in income-generating potential, it will move away from the excitement and risk of new ideas and infinite possibilities and toward a place that's been trod before: where the sure thing trumps risk — and creativity is squashed rather than built upon and, dare we say it, capitalized.

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