Record company embraces use of its music in YouTube wedding video, makes money

The video of a couple's awesome dance-number wedding entrance I posted last week featured Chris Brown's song "Forever," used without permission. Instead of suing or having the video taken down, Brown's label opted to add a link to buy the track to the page. And made a truckload of money.

So many of the record industry giants are publicly traded companies. Why aren't their shareholders howling for more stuff like this -- which actually makes money -- and less pointless Grand Guignols to extract a couple grand from some hapless teen, alienating a future customer and her family and friends for life?

This traffic is also very engaged -- the click-through rate (CTR) on the "JK Wedding Entrance" video is 2x the average of other Click-to-Buy overlays on the site. And this newfound interest in downloading "Forever" goes beyond the viral video itself: "JK Wedding Entrance" also appears to have influenced the official "Forever" music video, which saw its Click-to-Buy CTR increase by 2.5x in the last week.

So, what does all of this mean? Despite compelling data and studies around consumer purchasing habits, many still question the promotional and bottom-line business value sites like YouTube provide artists. But in the last week, over a year after its release, Chris Brown's "Forever" has again rocketed up the charts, reaching as high as #4 on the iTunes singles chart and #3 on Amazon's best selling MP3 list. We've seen similar successes in the past with partners like Monty Python.

I now pronounce you monetized: a YouTube video case study


  1. “One of our main goals at YouTube is to help content creators effectively make money from the distribution of their content online”

    So how much did the wedding party and video person get compensated for all this attention?

  2. Cory,

    It’s worth noting that the bride and groom have a website ( where they address Chris Brown’s rather dubious past and spin it to the positive.

    “We hope to direct this positivity to a good cause. Due to the circumstances surrounding the song in our wedding video, we have chosen the Sheila Wellstone Institute. Sheila Wellstone was an advocate, organizer, and national champion in the effort to end domestic violence in our communities.”

    What a classy and joyous couple! Bravo!

  3. Also, in sluicing out my sinuses with salty water (again), it’s doing its bit to hold back swine flu!

  4. @ Dorothy Haskin – way to miss the point. Doesn’t matter who sang the song, this particular post is about record companies recognising that they can make money from their music being on Youtube, rather than just issuing takedowns.

    Not that your point is a bad one, just that it should have been posted in this one when the video was originally posted on BB.

  5. On the other hand, you have the AP reporting yesterday that the RIAA sucessfully sued a 25-yr-old grad student in Boston for downloading and distributing 30 songs. The student has been ordered by a federal jury to pay $675,000 to the four record labels whose copyright he violated. The student and his lawyer said they were grateful that the jury chose the minimum penalty instead of the maximum, which would have set the student back $4.5 million.
    “The Recording Industry Association of America issued a statement thanking the jury for recognizing the impact illegal downloading has on the music community.”

  6. The reason why record companies defend their intellectual property (IP) even when it’s not in their own best interests is because their lawyers don’t work on the same floor as their PR department.

    If you’re an IP lawyer, you’re payed to defend the record company’s IP; you’re not payed to try to make the company as profitable as possible. That means you’ll send takedown notices out just because you think you’re legally in the right, even if taking down the offending clip/video is actually bad for your company.

    I think in the future, IP law firms/departments will have embedded PR people, so that the legal muscle only puts its full weight behind an infringement claim when it’s in the company’s best interest.

  7. I still don’t “get” the video. A bunch of rhythmless suburbanites basking in middle-class kitschy privilege, accompanied by bad music sung by a woman-hater. I find it unaccountably depressing. And no-one even accompanies the bride down the aisle! It’s no Katamary Damacy weddding, that’s for sure! :(

    That said, congrats to Brown’s label for realizing they are in the Kultchur Bu$ine$$. Good on them…. for realizing the obvious!

  8. Cory wondered:

    So many of the record industry giants are publicly traded companies. Why aren’t their shareholders howling for more stuff like this — which actually makes money — and less pointless Grand Guignols to extract a couple grand from some hapless teen, alienating a future customer and her family and friends for life?

    I don’t know, but I suspect:

    1) While Record Companies are publicly traded, they are not typically standalone entities, they are part of a conglomerate, lost in the mix, if you will.

    2) Most shareholders are institutional, and have neither the time nor the interest to manage the daily goings-on of their varied holdings.

    3) Many more shares are likely held by mutual funds, where individual investors aren’t really investing in the record company, they invest in the fund, and as such have no direct rights towards the company as a shareholder.

    4) Too few examples of this type of thing working.

    There may be others, but those seem like the biggies…

  9. @Dorothy Haskin: If I had children, I would not allow them near a Chris Brown song…

    I strongly doubt that the song was what drove him to assault Rhianna. If you don’t want your hypothetical children buying the song, because that would mean money in Brown’s pocket, that’s great, and I’m with you on that, but listening to the song doesn’t necessarily do anything good for Brown, and it’s not going to trigger anybody to go on a domestic assault rampage against their will.

  10. @TDAWWG

    I find your comment unaccountably depressing. The way couples choose to CELEBRATE the beginning of their marriage via a wedding ceremony should be unique to each couple. Why is it important that someone accompany the bride down the aisle? Maybe the couple finds the idea of the bride being “given away” unnecessary or even abhorrent. The spotlight should be on the bride and groom; I like the fact that he met her halfway and they walked down the aisle, together, to the altar. It’s a great symbol for starting their married life.

  11. “If I had children, I would not allow them near a Chris Brown song”

    I assume then, Dorothy, that you won’t be letting your future/hypothetical children listen to Ike and Tina Turner songs either. Or anything by the Jacksons, since Randy did time for spousal abuse. Or Motley Crue (Tommy Lee) or Miles Davis or James Brown or… sheesh, it’s going to be a full-time for you just to police your kid’s playlists. Good luck with that.

  12. Anton Sirius offered:

    sheesh, it’s going to be a full-time for you just to police your kid’s playlists. Good luck with that.

    Maybe, since her goal is to protect her children (ignoring their current imaginary status as only temporary), maybe shoe could get the federal government to help her in her efforts… They’ve done it before, and AFAIK Tipper is without a cause, being an eco-widow since her husband picked up the PowerPoint install disc and set about to earn a Nobel Peace Prize – for a slide show that turned into a book that became a movie…

  13. I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again. Record companies get free advertising when individuals create videos using music. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched a video on you tube and then buy the music on iTunes. In my own videos, I add the names of the song and artist at the end credits. I wish to god the record companies would realize they are making money from people being creative.

  14. Dorothy Haskin noted:

    Then again, it shouldn’t really take a videotaped wedding on YouTube to remind people that violence towards women is plain wrong. [emphasis added]

    Why do you assume people have forgotten that violence towards women is plain wrong? Isn’t it just as true that violence against men is plain wrong? And why do you assume anyone has forgotten this and was reminded of this by a YouTube video?

    Do you also write a “Letter to the Editor” when it is Superbowl season to remind men who may have forgotten not to beat their wives and/or girlfriends during the game?

  15. @Timothy Hutton:

    Well, clearly some people could use an occasional reminder, considering how often violence happens, no?

  16. Why this article is completely wrong:

    1) There are no numbers to back your claim other than the average purchase rate was double. Which is easy to do given the extremely low click through purchase rate on these things.

    2) If this was really making a significant amount of money I have no doubt every record company would be hopping on the band wagon. Like you stated already, they are money hungry corporations responsible to shareholders and turning profits.

    3) Total music sales have declined significantly over the past 10 years. This proves beyond a doubt that free streaming music has cut significantly into actual sales numbers of music retail.

    4) Not a repeatable business model. No industry can not rely on random YouTube one hit wonders as a marketing or sales technique. This video is extremely entertaining precisely because it’s novelty.

    5) YouTube will most likely never make money for anyone. Not even Google. The last numbers I saw say that the costs to operate YouTube are 3X the revenue it generates.

  17. mr_subjunctive:

    Does violence happen – Yes.

    Does violence against women happen – Yes.

    Does violence against men happen – Yes.

    Is all violence wrong – Yes.

    Why spend time simply “reminding” people not to hurt women, when in fact all violence is bad? By only teaching a child not to hit women, you only reduce the potential number of victims in half (give or take)…

    I reject the premise that people who choose to do violence against women do it because they forgot it was wrong, and would not have done it if only they were reminded of that fact. I contend they know violence is wrong, and choose to do it anyway – society is rife with examples of this point of view, we put the more egregious examples in special facilities.

  18. @24

    It’s nice you’ve absorbed the RIAA’s arguments so blindly.

    CD sales are down because people have lost interest in CDs the market shifted back to singles, which isn’t surprising considering how awful most pop albums are listened all the way through (as Bono said, “The reason records aren’t selling is because the records are crap.”). Want another thing that declined at around the same time as CD sales? The overall presence of actual music videos on MTV. And reduced radio listenerships (or probably more accurately, greater fragmenting of listenership due to internet radio)

    Total music sales have gone down yet total concert revenues have gone way up, which says something I think.

    But you are right, no industry can RELY on random Youtube videos going viral. Of course nobody said they should either. The argument here is that smothering these videos when they show up helps nobody at all while simply adding a little tag pointing out that the song heard in said viral video can be bought by clicking on a link (what, five minutes of work for one person?) can more than make up for it.

    The usual line from record companies is that this sort of thing hurts their profits when the opposite is more likely true.

  19. i just wish that hall & oats’ company would have applied the same thought process to keyboard cat.

  20. @#14 TDAWWG:

    I’m not one for arguing, or even responding, on comments, but what you said is so silly and fact-free I thought I would

    You assume these people are “suburbanites”. They’re from St. Paul.

    You decry their middle class privilege.
    He’s working to be a social justice lawyer while she’s in grad school.

    You call them “rythymless”
    Please post your dance moves. Song of your choice. You’ll be graded on choreography, so bring you A-Game.

    You mention “bad music from a woman-hater”
    You’re entitled to your opinion, but the fact they’re off-setting profits to Chris Brown with donations to fight domestic violence, again lets see your contribution.

    You mention no one walked the bride down the aisle?
    Now who is baking in middle-class privilege? Where is her dowry! Where is her veil!

    Sorry to all for being testy. But this is one of those rare little memes that seems to involve happy, healthy, smart people who aren’t trying to milk their micro-moment. All this bile and whining is just obnoxious.

  21. I work in home entertainment distribution – music and film. We make money by allowing any/all use of our music or video posts (such as youtube). But in return, we “sell” ad space on your page. We get paid every hit to their page. No one gets sued or forced to take down anything. I would say that is “fair.” Win win. Not all record companies are evil.

  22. Ok,

    First off, the whole “Gosh, he’s a _______, we mustn’t listen to him…”, well, that’s your opinion, and you are entitled to it. I suggest that you prevent your child from watching YouTube, that is to say, be a parent, censor yourself (and those minors you are responsible for) and leave the “unthink” to the thought police, hmm?

    Not that I’m for violence, per se, but is that an issue here? After all, if you don’t want to benefit from the actions of deviants, well, go hide in cave, Western (or for that matter, Eastern) Civilization isn’t for you, because as the great Luke Ski once sang: “We’re Standing On The Shoulders of Freaks…” Either we separate the art from the artist, or we boycott the artist in protest… again, censor yourself, stop trying to manipulate others into agreeing with you…

    As far as class goes, have you ever had the privilege of attending a wedding service in another cultural background? A solemn Catholic service, a jubilant Baptist service, a joyous African union, a ritualized Buddhist service, perhaps? Try to go outside your “comfort zone” and learn something new, or maybe unlearn something old, yes? I believe the couple here should be commended for putting a little spice in their vows and I’m grateful that they shared it with us…

    Now, back to the item at hand, i.e. the RIAA and their ongoing efforts. The flawed assumption here (sorry Mr. Doctorow, but let me defend my statement first) is that the RIAA is about keeping people from “stealing” money from the artists and record labels by reusing the product (music) that their clients created. It isn’t. The purpose of the RIAA is to control the distribution of music, period. Because what they control, they can make money from; if they lose control, well then who makes money from the music? The artist! And we certainly can’t have that, where would that leave the record companies?

    Well, I’ll tell you where: nonexistent! The record companies all rely on the business model that they started with back in the early twentieth century: “Hey ArtistX, sign with us, we will produce and promote you, and you’ll be a star; but without us, how many people will ever hear you, hmm? ” And since the record companies held the “tools of distribution” as it were, they had a de facto monopoly on the record industry.

    Now, flash forward to the current model. Thanks to the Internet, what do you need to be heard by millions? A sales account on iTunes… or… or a MySpace account (well, not so much anymore, anyway…) … or YouTube or wherever. How much do you want to bet if Google started putting a link on their homepage for a “Song of the Day”, they could make or break bands? Just like record companies did back in the day, yes? And that is what the Great and Terrible OZ (er , um RIAA) doesn’t want us to notice: don’t look at the scared record execs behind the curtain, who are terrified that someone will notice they aren’t all powerful!

    Look, everyone knows – or if you don’t know, go do some research – that most of the money made by artists is from box office from tours; most, if not all, of the money from music sales goes to the record companies, in return for promotion and production costs. But if thanks to the Internet (MySpace, iTuens,, YouTube, et al.) and programs like SoundForge and AutoTune, the artists can do all of that themselves, where does that leave the record companies? That makes them parasites on musicians; and what does a parasite fear most? Their host being cured!

    Instead of letting the record companies sue us, how about some of the artists getting together with some of us music listeners and suing the record companies under the RICO statues for racketeering?

    Put the shoe on the other foot, because let’s face it, if you name your 10 favorite songs, are they all from the same music company? Do you even know what company they came from? NO? For that matter, why do you like them? Because some DJ told you to? Or because you wanted to? Are you out there thinking for yourself? STOP THAT AT ONCE, DO YOU HEAR!

    … well, do you?

  23. If it makes you feel better, Dorothy, I think the song is crap. I can’t stand the vocoder laden pop sound. I never liked Chris Brown to begin with, and quite frankly find his popularity weird enough even without knowing that he’s an abusive man.

    And to the people arguing that all violence is wrong, it is. However you don’t have mainstream media and people in general commenting on the idea that it might not be so wrong. Violence against women is still considered somewhat acceptable in comparison to other violence. That’s what makes the reminder needed… some people don’t see violence against women as a part of that general violence you are talking about.

  24. Kinda making the point here…

    I saw Jake Shimabukuro recently. He’s the guy who plays “My Guitar Gently Weeps” on the ukulele in Central Park, another viral video. He thanked people for passing that along – the free publicity helped keep his career from stalling out, and now he gets to tour and play music for a living. So yeah, it does help musicians.

  25. I’ve already bought dozens of songs precisely because it accompanied some video being passed around. Or because I heard it in Rock Band. Or it was mentioned in a discussion forum, or I came across a link to the band’s page. Or, well, you get the idea. The options for “promoting” music have not only grown by several orders of magnitude the costs for doing so have dropped to, well, free in cases such as the video which inspired this thread. The trouble that RIAA has is today there are so many ways this can be done and they control exactly one, and one that is shrinking to its eventual equilibrium with all of the other methods. Sorry guys, tech marches on.

  26. @TLF –

    The traditional Western wedding actually did have the bride and groom walk down the aisle (or the nave) together. The giving away thing is a fairly recent (and possibly American) change.

  27. Dorothy,

    Would you mind putting down your torch and your pitchfork for a while so that we could get back to the subject of the post?

  28. Antinous, were you unaware that people should be judged entirely on their worst days, shamed by those in glass houses?

    Back on topic -> that’s a clever way for a label to try to to monetize the internet. Not unlike the mix-tape making machines some record stores had in the late 80’s / early 90’s.

    Everyone is already doing it – just make it easier for them and charge them a nickel and it makes real money pretty quickly.

  29. Dorothy Haskin stated:

    This is good for Brown and it seems to be cause for gleeful celebration by Cory

    As a Business Model and an entertaining and wonderful celebration of their nuptials. To read more into it is to take it too far, IMHO (and, apparently, the Humble Opinion of Many Others here as well).

  30. Coming this fall: What happens when Chris Brown stops by to wish the happy couple well and thank them for the boost in record sales? Well, they invite him to live with them, of course! Watch “Jill and Kevin Plus Chris,” a touching new reality show where a newlywed couple tries to teach a troubled pop star how to love…without all the punchy/smacky stuff.

    Wednesdays on Lifetime.

  31. #45 “punchy / smacky stuff” lol

    I hope the industry really pays attention to this one – but fear that all the fat old execs are just not going to get it. Their trainees will manage to set up competing granular labels within 10 years, and then the biggies can just disappear!

  32. @Hutton:

    “Isn’t it just as true that violence against men is plain wrong?”

    1: One statement doesn’t nullify the other.

    2: Biology is a bitch that way: most of the time, women are physically weaker than men. Therefore (again in most cases) women are an easier target for aggressive men.

    3: Violence may be wrong. But violence against women is plain wrong. Because one of the things that are wrong, is to take advantage of the physical weakness of the other to vent out anger and aggressiveness.

    4: Also, your correction was kind of unnecessary. As if men weren’t represented enough in our society…

    That being said, Chris Brown may be an asshole but it has nothing to do with the issue.

  33. Ametaphoria? What kind of a word is that Antinous?

    Saying that somebody made a “truckload of money” without any specification is not a metaphor. It’s demagogic, and it hurts the credibility of the opinions expressed in the rest of the post.

    40 US dollars and 20 cents is a truckload of money? Or maybe 120 US dollars? Or 310? Or 25.75?

    1. Most people understand figurative language. Holding a point hostage for a dollar figure is quantification trolling.

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