On Wednesday night, the music industry’s heaviest hitters came out to launch VEVO, a new website allowing one to watch music videos. There’s also some mechanism for viewers to donate to musicians’ favorite social causes. Will it work? Dunno. But clearly, something has to. As Bono said in a funereal tone during his introductory speech, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here to mourn the great old cash cow that was the music business.”
After a series of long-winded speeches from CEOs and a few boring demonstrations during which the website was projected onto a screen, we came to understand that VEVO was the brainchild of Universal Music chairman and CEO, Doug Morris. With Bono's help, Morris got the heads of Sony Music Entertainment, EMI Music, and Google/YouTube to join forces to create this thing, which supposedly boasts the highest-quality music videos on the web. For their part, YouTube will be directing people who search for videos over to VEVO, and deleting low-quality duplicates.
In truth, VEVO sounds a bit like sticking a finger in the dike holding together an industry where, as Bono put it, "profits are disappearing faster than Lady Gaga's winter woolies." And while it seems like a necessary business move, it’s still a little bit like jumping on a bandwagon that left the barn dance five years ago. "There’s this thing they tell me is going to transform the world. Apparently it is called the Internet," Bono went on. "They [at YouTube] say that Soulja Boy will get 200 million views in 2009, that Rihanna will get 500 million views in 2009. I’d settle for U2 having one actual hit in 2009."
The many, many artists presen t— Rihanna, Lady Gaga, 50 Cent, Young Jeezy, Sheryl Crow, Pete Wentz, Shania Twain, etc. — all seemed heartened that their labels had finally discovered the Internet and social networking. (We’re also sure none of them had been strongly urged by their labels to show up ... Or else.) "I'm happy that the industry is getting involved in this for a change, instead of lagging behind," said Gavin DeGraw. "Because, let's face it, the industry at the corporate level has been hurting for a long time, and when it's hurting at the corporate level, it starts hurting at the artist level, too." Sean Kingston had similar motivations. "That's why I'm here, because I'm getting paid some, but I'd like to get paid more. I’m excited about Vemo [sic]. Vemo is where everyone is going to get their music videos from now on and it’s going to help us connect better with our fans. Vemo is where it’s at!"
But it was our old friend John Mayer who sold it best. "I would like VEVO to be my hub," he said, motioning to his artist page from the site, which was displayed on a large projection. "I like how under my bio they have represented my life with an empty heart. That’s true." He went on, "VEVO, I think, stops the vicious cycle of artists and labels saying that people don’t want to watch music videos, therefore there’s no reason to invest money or energy in music videos, so therefore people stop watching music videos," he said. He liked the idea of Google and YouTube directing fans to the highest-quality representations of his work on the web. And he liked that the site's designers weren't going to be bombarding the site's visitors with commercials. "Nobody likes watching fifteen seconds of a commercial, watching 25 seconds of a video, deciding you don’t want to see that video, and then moving to another video and having to watch another 15 second commercial," he said. "What I’ve been told you guys are doing is timing it out on how much usage there is, aggregated, so you don’t have to watch a commercial every time there’s a new video you want to take in. I think that’s really cool. That’s a good way to make goodwill of the user." He paused. "I'm making most of this stuff up on the spot by the way."
In addition, artists will be able to upload videos of their rehearsals or live acoustic shows, which, Mayer explained to the room, is a nonnegotiable part of the job now. "There’s so much access being demanded by the public," he said. "The public makes the contract. Artists have to follow it. You cannot argue it. You cannot fight the future. You cannot instruct a fan how to act. You cannot tell someone to put a camera down. You cannot tell a guy to have manners. These are the new manners, the new contract, and I think it’s really important for artists to remember that. This is what our fans are asking for. They want access. And I want access. We all want access. And I think it would be interesting to see Lady Gaga’s sound check, and a song from a show of mine on just guitar, or a song from a high def camera underneath a high hat. This is the access people want to have, on a molecular level." He turned to VEVO's new CEO, Rio Caraeff, before waving goodbye to the crowd and heading home. "I’m very excited to bring 85 percent crap to you, 15 percent high-intensity-digital artist performance. Just telling the truth, my friend."
See more in our Party Lines slideshow.