YouTube: the New Cinema?

My friend Gary sent me a Washington Post article that ponders the phenomenon of viral video vis a vis YouTube. The story features the disturbing yet funny grimaces of Brandon Hardesty, a teen loner who indulged his inner lunatic before a camcorder in the seclusion of his parents’ basement. Brings to mind De Niro’s brilliant Rupert Pupkin of Scorsese’s undersung “King of Comedy.”

Only Hardesty remained underground, entering the real world solely through the interactive lens of YouTube. There, he and his antics grew geometrically, reaching click levels that were only recently eclipsed by Susan Boyle.

The Post article explores the workings of viral vid, and how even Madison Avenue studies its mysteries. Sure. What eyeball hunter worth his pixels wouldn’t have designs on the formula. And if it’s vexing to Mad Ave., it’s maddening to serious musicians, filmmakers and artists struggling to keep their hard-earned heads above these electronic waters.

But so much for frustration. What of the phenomenon? Why is watching a low fi close-up of a subject — sans camera movement — so fascinating?

Think of it. Personal images like slides, home movies — we would cringe when friends pulled them from a dusty shoebox. How excruciating viewing these dull frames, pretending interest, praying the house would catch fire.

Then came “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Viewers sat laughing at clunky home footage, because it contained a slapstick payoff. Now, enter YouTube, where loopiness gets real personal.

I have a theory. I think we crave intimacy in the footage we watch. In the early and mid-20th century, the camera paused on faces, lingered on close-ups. Picture Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca,” Piper Laurie in “The Hustler,” Janet Leigh in “Touch of Evil.” Then, the camera invited us in – to watch.

By this century, jumpy pacing and action took over, with hyper-managed production that became as boring and predictable as it was slick. Intimacy and authenticity — watching — were history.

Even in the 60s, in titles like “Midnight Cowboy” and “Blowup,” the camera dwelled on scenes, took time, allowed existential aura to breath. It was often a matter of what was not said.

Certainly, there were movements and schools of film that contributed to the resonance of actuality on celluloid: Rossellini and cinema verite, Bergman, Cassavetes. How about Clint Eastwood making our day more recently with entries like “Unforgiven” and “Mystic River.”

Maybe, with YouTube, we’re home again. Sort of.
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Press release for “We’re America”

(see “Time to pitch” post from today for background)
Rocker Releases Song to Rally Nation

On the heels of President Barack Obama’s recent warning of “more pain” ahead, rocker Allen Shadow has released the single “We’re America” to help buoy the nation’s spirit during the economic recovery.

“As the president recently reminded us, the challenges ahead are still great,” said Shadow. “Now, more than ever, we need to keep our heads and our spirits up.”

The indie artist’s song was originally inspired by Obama’s speech to Congress in late February. In his address, the president reminded the nation of its long history of innovation and accomplishment, promising the country would “emerge stronger than before.”

In fact, Shadow echoes the presidential pledge in the song’s chorus: “We’re America home of the brave/And we’ll be back again stronger than today.”

“I also channeled Woody Guthrie,” said Shadow. “He helped us remember the best of our land during the hard times of the Great Depression.

While “We’re America” is uplifting, it also bares teeth. The tune claims “the banks are bandits now” and chronicles the irony of congressmen who cried fowl yet gave away trillions with little oversight.

A video of “We’re America” is a slice of Americana itself, peppered with images of vintage cars and classic movies. The video can be seen on Shadow’s YouTube channel: allenville33.

“I think the American people understand what we’re facing and how long things are likely to take,” said Shadow. “Nevertheless, the road ahead could test our resolve as there will likely be further pressures on us as well as continued knocks from other nations.”

Shadow, whose indie debut CD “King Kong Serenade” (Blue City Records) drew critical acclaim in the early 2000s, is offering downloads of the new single free of charge. The artist’s raw, literate style is often compared to early Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits.

“We’re America” will be included on Shadow’s forthcoming album, “American Alleys,” a street-savvy take on cities from coast to coast, due this winter from Blue City Records.

“We’re America” can be heard or downloaded from several Web sites, including both http://myspace.com/allenshadow2 and http://allenshadow.com.

In addition, Shadow blogs at both https://allenshadow.wordpress.com and http://twitter.com/AllenShadow.

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Time to pitch

With the “We’re America” song video breaching 2,000 views now on YouTube and various social media play in progress, the next phase of my release strategy is the issuance of a press release. I’m using two services to distribute the release: Beat Wire and PRWeb.

Beatwire is a musician-centric service that distributes multimedia releases to some 10,000 music journalists and reviewers, including both mainstream press and the blogosphere. PRWeb, which is owned by PR-industry leader Vocus, also distributes a multimedia release to the main news desks of mainstream press and social media sites. PRWeb gets thumbs up from the likes of PR guru Annie Jennings, among others.

Both these services are reasonably priced, with advanced packages in the three- to four-hundred dollar range. PR Newswire is another good mainstream media service, but their packages start at $680.

In both cases, the release includes an embedded video and an audio stream of the song as well as artist photos and album cover. I’ve used both services before and had fair to good results.

In addition, I will personally send pitches of the story to key journalists, including newspaper, TV and the blogosphere. You can’t depend solely on press-release services. Pitching journalists is an art in itself, but I’ll go into that another time.

I’ll report results in a future post.

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Release of “We’re America” video

I’ve released the video for my song “We’re America.” As posted earlier here, I’ll be making a case study of the song’s release.

About the song: There’s nothing so powerful as self-fulfilling prophesy, and, if we can defer excessive hand-wringing and rally behind the President, we just may pull out of this economic nosedive. That’s the spirit behind “We’re America.”

On the music biz side of this project, the strategy for getting the song out there begins with a pre-release via such social media sites as youtube and myspace as well as blogging.

I’ll cover youtube today, since that’s my primary focus. Why? Because in recent times that may be the primary breeding ground for the social media virus coveted by indie and major label artists alike. Today, “We’re America” breached the 1,000-view mark after a week’s time. Promotion so far has included: 1) very limited notice to my personal network of friends and fans, perhaps a dozen (by design); 2) limited promotion via Google’s AdWords; and 3) posts and direct messaging on related youtube channels.

A brief note here on Google AdWords. I’ve used AdWords for more than six years to: 1) promote my artist Web site and 2) promote a college Web site (another hat I wear — PR director), with decent results for both. Google recently sent me a complimentary apron and other goodies, an honor, I suppose, as a longtime user. That said, I’d rate my level of expertise at intermediate. AdWords is a complex Darwinian system that engenders a love-hate relationship. I’ll say more about its workings another time.

In future posts, I’ll cover more details on strategy and tactics and cite other articles on the indie artist and the viral campaign, including some success stories. All these posts will be listed under my “indie music workshop” category.

I’ll try to keep the reportage concise and relevant. And, of course, I invite readers to join the conversation with useful comments.

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SXSW redux

The big show closed yesterday. Here are some more sites and blogs with good coverage. Spike.com had a big staff on the ground. Check them out for many live performaces and band interviews, including Waaves, VietNam, and The Black Lips.

Meanwhile, My Old Kentucky Home blog is stocked with photos and commentary. See stereogum.com for good coverage of Kanye West leading the G.O.O.D. Music showcase. And watch for coming coverage from coolfer.com. Glenn Peoples was on site, but “laptop-less.” Look forward to his take(s).

Noticed featured clips on YouTube over the weekend were ruled by SXWS performances. Nice play.