January 9, 2014


Tiny Budgets, Massive Profits: The Big Business of Lyric Videos

Maroon 5's lyric video for their hit "Payphone" has over 111 million views on YouTube, making it one of the most popular lyric videos around. Katy Perry's "Roar" racked up 50 million views in just a few weeks. And while sleek, polished lyric videos are now "official" in that they come from the labels directly, that wasn't always the case.

Billboard editor Joe Levy explains that YouTube's first lyric videos were created by "music fans who love songs so much, they want to pay tribute to the artist and just get the words up on the screen."

"Over time, it got to be so that if a song came out right away, and you were the fan that wanted to get it up, you would put lyrics over the track to give people something to look at because you didn't have time to cut some Gossip Girl footage to match those music cues," said Levy.

As fan-generated lyric videos started racking up major view counts, labels and artists took notice and started creating their own. The practice really took off in August 2010 when CeeLo Green released a lyric video for "F**k You," and fans used social media to spread the song's cheeky lyrics.

Now, graphic artists are getting more creative with lyric videos. Mike Burakoff of King Drippa Studios created the video for "Messages" by Dillon Francis featuring Simon Lord. "When Mad Decent came to me with the concept for 'Messages,' I was really psyched about it because it was supposed to be based around the album art," says Burakoff. "Usually, you'll get a rough creative direction and kinda asked to just go with it. And this one was awesome because it basically all revolved around Apple's emojis on the iPhone."

Burakoff also notes that putting a unique spin on the genre is important, saying, "When you're doing a lyric video, you're always trying to figure out how am I actually gonna portray the text so it's not boring, and just like a bouncing ball kind of thing."

Produced with a budget of only a few thousand dollars, "Messages" has over a half-million YouTube views so far. And while Perry's "Roar" video has some uncanny similarities, Burakoff is more flattered than offended, saying, "A lot of people were getting real stressed out about it and were like, 'You should sue!' And I'm like, 'Well, Apple should sue me!' I feel like it's part of this creative pipeline; everyone gets inspired by people's stuff, and the best thing that could happen to you is someone gets inspired by your stuff and makes something else." 

"I did it first, though," he adds.

The lyric videos can generate buzz, and that does add up to real numbers.  Levy explains, "From the Billboard perspective, any play of that song, whether it's from a user-generated lyric video or an artist-generated lyric video, it's going to count toward the streaming, [and] that has some impact on the Billboard charts." And the buck doesn't have to stop there. "If, say, you're a record company, and you throw up a little ad in front of the video, well, that's a couple of coins in your pocket," Levy adds.

Although, not everyone is a fan of lyric videos. Levy admits that, on a personal level, he "doesn't give a f-ck about them."

—Segment produced by Spencer Scott
—Article by Alan Noah