Kara goes viral

Here’s a viral YouTube story, from Kara LaMoure, a bassoonist who took my course on the future of classical music at Eastman last year.

Kara’s a member of The Breaking Winds, a bassoon quartet. They dressed in Lady Gaga wigs, played a Lady Gaga medley, put a video of it on YouTube — and as of today had just over 135,000 views. Which is around 7000 more than they had a couple of days ago.

So they’ve gone viral, as Kara happily emailed to tell me.

And how did that happen?

Easy assumption: that Lady Gaga made them a hit. Or, rather, that her name did. Lady Gaga is one of the leading search terms on YouTube, so people searching for Lady Gaga found the Breaking Winds, and…

But a quick test I made suggested that this most likely wasn’t true. I searched for Lady Gaga, and in the first 18 screens that came up — with around 400 items, if I remember right — there was no bassoon quartet, or for that matter anything as out there (in pop culture terms) as a bassoon quartet. Most of the videos had Lady Gaga in them.

So how did 135,000 people find the Breaking Winds? I asked Kara, and with her permission I’m going to quote the email she sent me. This is an important lesson for anyone who wants to do viral marketing. You’ll see that the video started spreading through the Facebook pages each member of the Breaking Winds has.

Now, the rule for viral marketing, as far as I’ve been able to figure it out, is that you need to prime the pump. That is, you can’t just put something online, and hope that people both find it, and tell all their friends. Normally you need to have a group of people committed to spreading your news. You can recruit that group yourself — find 15 or 20 people, let’s say, and ask them to volunteer to spread the word. Tell their friends, tell their families, tell their colleagues at work, put your link in Facebook and Twitter updates, with some excited words about how everyone should click on it.

Or you can find a way to make your group create itself. That’s what Peter Gregson did last summer, when he worked for the BBC Proms. He and others interviewed people standing on line (or, as the British say, in a queue) to buy Proms tickets. They put those interviews on the Proms website, and soon enough the people interviewed started telling their networks that they were there. And when Peter announced in advance when and where more interviews would happen, people showed up to be part of it. Which means they formed a self-created — and growing — group, whose members, in the course of promoting their own online presence, would promote the Proms.

Now, since the Breaking Winds can trace their viral growth to Facebook, they might sound more passive than either approach I’ve just outlined. As if they put links up on their Facebook walls, and then the viral growth just happened.

But not so. From what Kara tells me, it seems clear that the Breaking Winds each had strong, established, lively Facebook networks. They had, in other words, my first way of spreading viral news, already in place and ready to swing into action, even (if I understand this right) without prompting from the group.

Enough of me. Here’s what Kara wrote. There are lessons in this, I think, for lots of us. And thanks, Kara, for letting me post this here, and also for your clarity, and good sense:

First things first:  Lady Gaga is definitely the reason for this video’s popularity.  Every other video that our quartet has released has crept up in viewership at the pace you’d expect from a bassoon quartet (a modest crawl).  That said, there is no way we can compete on Youtube with actual performances by Gaga.  Someone who searches for her music will have to scroll through many pages of videos before stumbling upon us.  What’s more, we were not the first bassoonists to arrange this music and post it on Youtube.  Yet we went viral.

When we first put our video online, each of us posted the link to our Facebook wall.  That was the full extent of our promotion of the video.  Within a day, we were hearing back from friends about strangers (to us) who had been posting it to their Facebook walls.  Because we each have a strong network among the community of conservatory students, that was where the video first spread–and it spread like wildfire.  Within a few days, every bassoonist we knew had seen the video.  I went to a gig that weekend, and when I introduced myself to the principal bassoonist, he asked me if I was Lady Gaga.  Around that time, my sister called me and told me that her friends (non-musicians) were starting to ask her about the video, too.

So I would say that Facebook was the first place that the video spread.  But by the weekend, we were also getting features on some heavily-frequented websites like Fark and Buzzfeed.  Then Perez Hilton sent our link to Lady Gaga via Tweet.  That was a big deal for us since Perez is one of the most followed people on Twitter (and totally huge in Hollywood, duh!).  A blogger for the Baltimore Sun wrote about us, and that post was added to collections of posts on many news websites.  These are just a few examples of high-visibility places where our link showed up.

Last week, a clip of our video appeared on an MTV show called “10 on Top”, and we just gave VH1 permission to use our video in an upcoming show about Lady Gaga’s fashion.  The sudden success of our performance has forced us to live a crash course in music entrepreneurship.  We started a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a Myspace Music site.  We are scrambling to get a website up before the fall, when we already have some gigs lined up.  I’m also making phone calls toward the publication of my arrangement.  I’ve been completely, overwhelmingly inundated with requests for the music.

It will be very difficult for us to top the popularity of Lady Gaga’s music.  Luckily, we have a lot of feedback from “fans” in the form of comments, tweets, and wall posts–they like choreography and costumes, they like hearing a medley, they like drums.  And whenever we do get new material out, we’ll have 209 subscribers to our Youtube channel, 30 followers on Twitter, and 378 Facebook friends to help get the viral ball rolling. 

Our audience has included everyone from principal players in major orchestras to people who didn’t even know what a bassoon was.  I would say that our lasting audience will be mostly bassoon players and young instrumentalists.  Lately we have been hearing from a lot of people who watched the video in band class (we never got to do this at Plano East Sr. High…I’m a little jealous)….

Time will reveal how sustainable viral success can be.  Our views have slowed down dramatically in the last week or so.  For a chamber group from Eastman, however, we’re not doing too shabbily.

Not at all! Most of us, of course, aren’t going to get Perez Hilton tweeting about us. But with sharp online promotion, we could reach more modest goals, like (for instance) doubling the number of views we currently might get.

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  1. Steve Logs says

    One more factor you may want to consider… Users viewing any Lady Gaga video will see a column of related videos on the right.

    I didn’t see any bassoon quartet videos there, either, in the 18 screens of my search. “Related” is the key word. If you go to the basson quartet Lady Gaga video, the right-hand suggestions are almost all bassoon stuff.

  2. Richard says

    I see that Kara is talking about publishing this arrangement, which I think is a great idea, but there will be some copyright issues. Right now I’m working on a sax quartet, and after listening to the Lady Gaga a second time, realized that this medley could easily be adapted for saxophones, and I think saxophonistsc weould “eat this up”!