Hit & Run: Don't watch this space
Wednesday 11 March 2009
Is YouTube about to kill the video star? Doubtful. But the video streaming site has begun the process of removing all "premium" music videos from its UK pages after a spat with PRS for Music, the British songwriters' rights organisation. During negotiations over new licence fees for artists, during which PRS demanded a greater royalties share of Google's (which owns YouTube) ever-increasing revenue, both sides must have thought they were holding a gun to the other's head. But they've probably just shot themselves in the feet.
YouTube, which has caused traditional music video outlets such as MTV no end of trouble, has nonetheless become an invaluable marketing tool for the music industry. While plummeting profits may mean the days when directors got multimillion dollar budgets to make three-minute Michael Jackson promos are long gone, the internet has allowed artists to let loose their imagination for peanuts. Make a cheap video with viral sharing potential, and you can be a star overnight.
Take OK Go, the little-known US indie band whose lead singer asked his sister to choreograph a dance routine for their single "A Million Ways" in 2005. The quartet filmed themselves performing the routine on a home video camera in their back yard and it became an instant viral hit. Their next video, for "Here it Goes Again", featured the foursome performing another such routine, this time on gym treadmills. Within a week of going live, a million people had viewed the clip on YouTube. It eventually bagged OK Go a Grammy.
YouTube has also proved a powerful tool for the re-promotion of older material. When Peter Kay's Comic Relief rendition of "(Is This the Way to) Amarillo" became a viral sensation, its originator, Tony Christie, enjoyed a career renaissance, with a new greatest hits collection topping the charts. Meanwhile, the "Rick-rolling" phenomenon saw countless popular YouTube videos replaced with the promo for Rick Astley's 1987 hit "Never Gonna Give You Up". The clip got around 25 million views and, in 2008, an internet campaign helped Astley win the title of Best Act Ever at the MTV Europe Music Awards.
Without YouTube, the music industry will suffer a significant loss of marketing potential. But without music industry content, YouTube may see a lot of internet traffic diverted elsewhere. There are, after all, plenty of other websites willing to show premium music videos, such as Joost.com, which may not have the user-generated content of YouTube, but still boasts more than 20,000 music videos.
As for the artists, there are more then enough imaginative ways to take advantage of YouTube beyond simply posting your latest music video. London site Black Cab Sessions, for instance, and its Parisian peer Les Concerts à Emporter, film their favourite bands playing in unlikely locations (such as the back of a taxi). In a world where most music videos are necessarily lo-fi and low-budget, such eclectic live performances are as eminently shareable as any professionally produced viral video.
The vagaries of copyright law and artists' rights have, sad to say, rarely troubled the internet in the past. If web users want to watch something online, there's not much that YouTube, let alone the record industry, can do to stop them. Tim Walker
Now that's what I call pony
Francis Rossi, front man of cheesy rockers Status Quo, has finally realised that the ponytail he has sported for around 35 of his 59 years is starting to look ridiculous.
He was pictured in several newspapers yesterday facing the chop, due, he said, to his ever-thinning barnet. But after enduring the snip, Rossi appeared half the man he was before. Unlike the likes of Steven Seagal and Chow Yun-Fat – who have also sported the offending coiffure – Rossi has turned the male ponytail into a veritable institution. He is the only person able to pull it off. We mourn its tumble to the barber's floor. Rob Sharp
Did they make a mountain out of Kilimanjaro?
Alesha Dixon didn't train, Gary Barlow put his back out but still got to the top, Chris Moyles dragged the weight of a small rhino about his midriff and Cheryl Cole made it wearing shades that owed more to high fashion than high altitude. The celeb-strewn Red Nose Climb wasn't exactly Touching the Void, was it? So is summitting Kilimanjaro easier than negotiating a red carpet in high heels?
"No," says Ruth King, a teacher and cross-country runner from south London who tackled Africa's highest peak (19,340ft) with a friend in 2007. The first sign of trouble in their six-day hike was headaches caused by altitude sickness. "It feels like your brain is throbbing and there's no respite," King says.
Her friend turned back, but King was determined. Halfway through the final, six-hour assault, her nose began to bleed uncontrollably. Then things got really weird. "An Austrian couple told me I had been babbling at them in schoolgirl German – 'How are you, where are you from?' I hadn't spoken German for about 10 years."
King was forced off the mountain just two hours from her goal. About 40 per cent of the 22,000 people who attempt the climb each year don't make it, and there's no comic relief for the 10 who die trying. "It's incredible that all the celebrities got up," King says. "But it's insane they let anyone attempt it; it's really high!" Simon Usborne
Lie back and think of Mesopotamia
Booking your hols and looking for something glamorous? How about a trip to Mesopotamia? Baghdad's Museum of Antiquities is now open again, so it's a good time to visit.
Accommodation can be tricky, though. Hotel Palestine, the Saddam-era luxury pad, hasn't been the same since a Yank tank blasted it in 2003. But fear not; for £123 a night, Saddam's golden suite at the Babel resort (pictured) can be yours; perfect for honeymooners, according to the resort. Who says romance is dead? Jamie Merrill
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