August 21, 2010 / 4:26 AM / in 7 years

YouTube auteurs remix videos into pop music hits

NEW YORK (Billboard) - “Double rainbow! Oh my God, it’s a double rainbow all the way!”

Viral video fans can instantly trace these words to Paul “Yosemite Bear” Vasquez, who, while hiking in January, witnessed the unusual natural phenomenon known as a double rainbow and, wonderstruck by its beauty, broke out his camcorder and recorded his wide-eyed epiphany for posterity.

“Yosemite Mountain Giant Double Rainbow 1-8-10,” better known as the “Double Rainbow” video, can be viewed as poignantly innocent or ridiculously emotional -- Vasquez sobs between exclamations of joy -- but either way the clip has struck a chord with YouTube users during the last month and earned more than 7 million views.

Double rainbow mania reached a new level when “Double Rainbow Song,” a “remix” of Vasquez’s video by alt-rock quartet the Gregory Brothers, premiered in early July on YouTube. Mixing percussion, a gentle piano line and backing vocals with Vasquez’s Auto-Tuned hosanna, the 90-second song has been heard 4.2 million times on YouTube and become a sensation in its own right.

The Brooklyn-based group started tinkering with YouTube last April and created “Auto-Tune the News,” a 12-part video series that turned TV news broadcasts into T-Pain-esque jams and has earned more than 10 million views collectively. Although the Gregory Brothers also release straightforward rock albums, they see just as much artistic merit in their viral video work.

“A candid moment like ‘Double Rainbow’ can be more genuine and emotional than something manufactured by studio executives and producers,” keyboardist Evan Gregory says. “It was totally real, and when it’s turned into music you can feel that effect.”

SHARING REVENUE

The group is gaining similar traction with “Bed Intruder Song,” a darkly comical remix of a local TV news interview with Antoine Dodson about the attempted rape of his sister, Kelly, in Huntsville, Ala. The song’s YouTube clip has been viewed nearly 14 million times.

Evan Gregory says, “Why I think people are latching onto it is frankly quite similar to why they latch onto a classic ballad or pop song that tops the charts -- because there’s real emotion behind it that people identify with, even if, in this case, it was for unusual reasons.”

During the clip, Dodson charismatically tells a reporter in rap-like fashion, “He’s climbing in your windows, he’s snatching your people up, trying to rape ‘em, so y‘all need to hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband, ‘cause they’re raping everybody out here.”

Drummer Michael Gregory admits that he questioned the appropriateness of turning a “bad situation” into a musical parody. But then he realized that “it’s taking a terrible situation and making at least something positive out of it,” he says.

Part of that positivity comes in the form of revenue for Antoine Dodson and his family, who will receive 50 percent of the track’s sales profits, according to the act. Similarly, the Gregory Brothers credited Vasquez as a co-writer of “Double Rainbow Song” and split the proceeds.

“Bed Intruder Song” and “Double Rainbow Song” are the latest success stories for original tracks cut from the cloth of a viral video. Incorporating stylized production techniques with ubiquitous pieces of pop culture has proven an effective combination because it offers something both familiar and novel: videos that people know and love, but flipped into a new musical format.

With YouTube exceeding 2 billion views per day since May, the site’s popularity and accessibility has prompted veteran artists to experiment with a new medium.

“I started remixing videos because I was hungry to do something different, and YouTube seemed like a fresh outlet for my music,” Massachusetts DJ/producer Steve Porter says. After issuing standard dance remixes to little fanfare for a decade, Porter started remaking videos in 2008 and created “Slap Chop Rap,” a techno take on the popular cooking infomercial with Vince Offer. The clip has received 10.7 million views on YouTube since its April 2009 premiere.

For DJs like Porter, the creative process of chopping a video into an original song comes as naturally as remixing a pop track, but it doesn’t require a club-ready beat. Yet the biggest benefit for these artists is the instant identification that comes with retooling recognizable clips for mass consumption. And what better place to post the finished product than YouTube, the site that spawned the original video’s success?

“I’ve been doing similar (video) remixes for years,” says San Francisco producer Mike Relm, who has made songs out of dialogue from the film “Office Space” and a clip of President Barack Obama swatting a fly with his hand. “But there was never a great forum. Now, YouTube is the perfect avenue for what I do.”

TURNING CLIPS INTO CAREERS

In concert, the YouTube mixes have quickly become fan favorites. The Gregory Brothers recently started incorporating “Double Rainbow Song” into their live show, and after “having shows where we know everyone in the crowd,” they now see sizable audiences singing along to “Rainbow,” according to Evan Gregory.

Meanwhile, Porter’s DJ set at Coachella last April included a video screen and an inaugural live performance of “Slap Chop Rap” that capped the set.

“It was an unforgettable moment when Vince (Offer) appeared on the screen,” Porter says. “This was an infomercial remix at a major festival, and the crowd went bonkers.”

Porter has also turned his YouTube mixes into lucrative corporate partnerships. In June 2009, he released a clip called “Press Hop,” which spliced together and Auto-Tuned the press conferences of professional athletes and coaches. The video, with upward of 2.6 million YouTube views, led to a call from the National Basketball Association, which commissioned Porter to create four TV promos using the same editing technique.

Although Porter won’t reveal how much the NBA paid for the ads, he says that the deal was more profitable than anything else he has done in the music industry. “And it’s still my music,” Porter says. “With a slight tweak you’re speaking the same language as corporate sponsors.”

Similarly, Relm posted a musical remix of the “Iron Man 2” trailer on YouTube last March. Days after uploading it, film director Jon Favreau contacted Relm on Twitter and asked him to make an official TV spot for the film.

The opportunity helped refocus Relm’s professional goals: Instead of only sending out press releases about his current projects, the producer now sends releases with video links to a long list of corporations. Relm recently remixed an Old Spice TV ad and is about to work on commissioned projects from Lionsgate Films and Fox.

As well, the actual YouTube videos also generate profits. An artist signed to a record label or publishing deal can use Content ID, a program that tracks the use of copyrighted material on YouTube and places an ad on an unauthorized video to generate revenue for the copyright holder. YouTube head of music partnerships Glenn Brown says that the site has more than 1,000 partners using Content ID, including every major record label.

If an unsigned artist wants to monetize a single YouTube clip, however, he or she can sign up for the Individual Video Partnership Program with the site. Although Brown says that the amount of advertising revenue a video can earn is “totally the function of the performance of the video,” he points out that the creators of “David After Dentist,” a two-minute clip that has 63 million views on the site, have made $30,000 from their original video.

PERMISSION REQUIRED

Of the hundreds of videos whose makers have asked that their footage be linked to the “Double Rainbow” clip on YouTube, the Gregory Brothers’ “Double Rainbow Song” was one of only three or four videos that Vasquez approved. Although the group did not receive permission from Vasquez when it originally reworked his vocals into “Double Rainbow Song,” Vasquez says that he “got a big kick out of (the song) ... it had a catchy tune and used my words in a nice way.”

The Gregory Brothers did get Vasquez’s consent before releasing the song as a single on iTunes. The band’s splitting of proceeds with Vasquez, who they’ve credited as a co-writer, is a move Vasquez calls “incredibly generous.” Generous, perhaps, and legally necessary: The group -- as well as other acts turning viral videos into songs -- needed the permission of the original YouTube clip’s creator before putting a new spin on his work.

The Gregory Brothers believe that artists of their ilk will soon become more prominent, since the process of making music out of video clips isn’t disappearing soon. In fact, guitarist Andrew Gregory can envision a world where songs like “Auto-Tune the News” are topping the charts.

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