Neal Unger, a 61-year-old skateboarder, does a trick off a picnic bench in the video for "Young & Unafraid" by The Moth & the Flame.

The Moth & the Flame Goes Viral: Did Reddit Save the Day, or Fall for a Marketing Stunt?

Edit: After everything in this post happened, The Moth & the Flame held an AMA on Reddit. When I saw how vicious the redditors got I regretted writing this. Like I say at the conclusion of this post, I like the band. I like them as people, from the times I’ve met them, and I like them as musicians. They don’t deserve the level of acrimony that they’re getting on Reddit. But I’m leaving this post up because I wrote it, and I’ll own that. And because if the whole thing was planned by Elektra or WMG, or by anyone, then hopefully this story can be a lesson to others later.

You might have heard The Moth & the Flame‘s debut single, “Young & Unafraid”, here on the blog a couple weeks ago. Last week the band released the song’s video featuring 61-year-old skateboarder Neal Unger. (It’s delightful, and you can watch it below — but first keep reading, trust me.)

Well, this weekend things got weird for The Moth & the Flame, with the video going viral and the band getting no credit for it. I found what I’m about to tell you thanks to an anonymous Reddit user.

What do you think happened here? Read through it, and leave me a comment to tell me your take:

1) The video was released on May 4.

2) Sometime this weekend, maybe Saturday, a British skateboarding publication called Sidewalk Magazine posted the video on their Facebook, with the opening credit missing and no mention of the band. That meant The Moth & the Flame had no way to get discovered via the Facebook post. In fact, it appears that the magazine linked to an unrelated band for some reason. (Since then, that post has been deleted.)

3) The no-credit video went viral because Internet.

4) Sunday, Reddit user Kontiki1947 — presumably a member of the band — asked for help on the Music subreddit. Since then the Reddit post has gotten over 2200 comments and a whole mess of upvotes.

5) A mob of people took to Sidewalk’s Facebook, demanding that the band receive credit for their video and their song.

6) Apparently, the comment barrage came during a period of time that was overnight in Britain, and Sidewalk’s staff logged in to Facebook Monday morning to find a big surprise.

7) As mentioned above, the original Facebook post was deleted. Sidewalk posted an apology around midday (that’s British time — it was this morning in the US) including a link to the original TM&TF video.

8) Here’s where it gets weird and a little conspiracy-y. At some point, someone on Reddit starts saying “Hey, these guys are signed to a Warner Music Group label. Did someone in corporate decide to make this happen?” Like did WMG pay Sidewalk to post a hacked version of the video, then take to a community like Reddit to get the band’s name out there?

9) It turns out the hacked music video was also posted on Facebook by some entity called “Wild Bunch Project”. Who uses the Warner Brothers logo. Which is super insane if it’s only a coincidence. I don’t know if WBP posted it first, or Sidewalk.

10) Now that this whole thing has gone down, the original video on YouTube has a half-million views, and thousands of people are talking about the band who wouldn’t have known them otherwise. At least one Reddit commenter said that they bought all of The Moth & the Flame’s music that they could find on iTunes.

11) The story even got picked up by The Telegraph (and then retweeted by The Moth & the Flame):

So that’s what I’ve got. I really, really like the guys in The Moth & the Flame, and I don’t get the feeling that this kind of thing would be the brainchild of any of them. But were they complicit? Did they go along with a plan by WMG to leverage Reddit and reap the publicity?

Well, in the end, what if they did? Maybe this is just how marketing is done now. It’s a risk a lot of people are willing to take to get noticed and make a living in an ever more crowded, competitive music market. I’d like to think I wouldn’t do the same, but I can’t judge anyone for doing so. I mean, the whole ordeal got you to read this far.

Here’s the video (don’t forget to leave me a comment and let me know what you think about this whole thing!):


What’ll the Blurred Lines Verdict Mean for Music?

Been thinking about the law suit Marvin Gaye‘s estate just won against Robin Thicke etc. The Washington Post theorizes that this suit means record labels will be wary of releasing anything that closely resembles music already released.

That can be an exciting thing for those of us bored with radio-friendy copycat sounds. Just this week I posted a track-by-track revisit to Radiohead‘s The Bends and contested that the album’s greatest weakness was reliance on the predominant sound of its mid-90s period: sterilized grunge rock as authentic as the homespun decor at Applebee’s.

Imagine for a second that Applebee’s could be sued by businesses who started the practice of decorating with genuine authentic regional items before Applebee’s copied the idea (badly). All of a sudden, those Applebee’s folks had better find something that doesn’t look like anyone else’s place, or they’re hit with more court time.

So, to avoid the pain and press of a law suit, WaPo says labels will be constantly looking for something new. Which is great, in theory. If the paper is correct, then labels will scour just about every place where music is being made, trying to find stuff that’s a hit while being different from anything else. We may see an unprecedented amount of creativity and risk-taking actually embraced by the big guys, which is something they haven’t done in at least a decade.

Nowadays, what if an R&D rep from Atlantic or Columbia comes into the office Monday and says, “You guys. I heard something over the weekend I’ve never heard before. It’s totally revolutionary,” and then his boss retorts “Oh yeah? How many people were at the venue?” R&D says, “Actually we were the only ones there, but let me tell you: completely unique.” Currently that’s the worst R&D pitch anyone could make.

When Fictionist was recording their album for Atlantic Records in 2012, the suits kept trying to pull strings via the producer. Whatever was on the radio at the time — Mumford & Sons, or Of Monsters and Men — they’d not-so-subtly suggest that Fictionist sound like that as well. They were terrified of not selling music, instead of being terrified of squelching the talent and gifts that made the band special in the first place.

But in the near future the same label execs, fleeing potentially huge court cases thanks to the Gaye estate victory, might say, “Hey, let’s record it and release it, and get behind it. If it sells only a little, it’s better than putting out safe music that also puts us at risk of losing millions.” Boom, a band that no one would have heard a couple years ago because they weren’t “radio friendly” is now discovered by new fans across the US, North America, Europe.

Here’s the thing: to be fair, I know it likely won’t be that simple. Whether those big-label folks still know how to take risks on music remains in serious doubt. And their big-numbers game might push them to keep releasing music that’s risky from a litigation point of view. Maybe the “Blurred Lines” case is the meteor that spells the the extinction of those big-name dinosaurs, and the rise of boutique record labels who can change direction much faster than the behemoths.

So here are some outlandish-sounding scenarios:

What about artists who want to pay homage or set a specific historical tone? Marvin Gaye’s family must have those folks all tied up in knots in their creative process. (Maybe more than the record companies!)

And what about the musicians who’ve already been around, whose sound is largely derivative from existing magic? What about people who’ve already released a body of work and have no way of taking it back? Are they screwed because their inspiration came before this case set what could be a huge new precedent? Have they unwittingly opened themselves up to thousands, even millions in damages just because somebody older did it first?

Well, if that’s the case, I have some news for a few bands:

  • American Authors, get ready to face Imagine Dragons.
  • Muse, feel the wrath of Radiohead.
  • You too, Keane.
  • Sheepdogs, you’re about to lose everything to every southern-rock band there ever was.
  • Same for Green Day and all punk bands.
  • Creed, pay up to Pearl Jam.
  • My friends Fictionist, watch out for Peter Gabriel.
  • The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, it’s coming from all sides. Smashing Pumpkins, The Lemonheads. Prepare yourselves.
  • Beck, you’re going to be forking out to everyone who came before you. But don’t worry, you’ll make it back from everyone who came after.
  • They Might Be Giants… actually I think you’re safe.
  • All of Nashville, welcome to a whole big cluster cuss.
  • Congrats, Chuck Berry. You’re a billionaire.
  • Actually, we’re all dead.

Now this is silly talk. At least I hope so.  I’d say that no one would actually go after subsequent artists just for a buck. Or at least I would have, until Marvin Gaye’s family came along.

But really, let’s carry this out to the end. If replication and even homage become unviable, and if newness becomes paramount, I have to try imagining a world more splintered musically than even today. Which, thanks to democratized digital production and distribution, is already so widely varied that I can’t wrap my head around even half — a third, a tenth — of what’s going on.

Artists rail against being labeled. How soon, realistically, would they get their way, by de facto judicial mandate? How soon could an artist be ignored if their sound matches anything existing? At what point is a record store not able to categorize the new music it’s selling?

Is it possible that there is an end to genre?

In the post-apocalyptic scenario I’ve imagined, what other bands do you think would sue, and who would face law suits? Comment below and let me know. Like really, I want to hear it.

Photo: Ambism