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Assessing The Crowd-Sourced Song

November 10, 2009

"I've Got Nothing", the crowd-pleasing, "crowd-sourced" song created by the YouTube community under the auspices of four British teens, demonstrates just how easy it is to mobilize large numbers of people to create the kind of pop music product for free (well, for nothing but sweat equity) that was traditionally produced by a handful of professionals in a proper studio and with a sizable budget.

According to the BBC Chartjackers website (through which the project is being developed) the song came into being through the following process:

"The lyrics of the song are made up of YouTube comments, compiled into a song by another YouTuber. The lyrics were released and then YouTubers wrote a melody for the lyrics, and we picked our favourite. We held YouTube auditions via video response to pick the band, found the producer of the song through YouTube, and the music video is made up of literal interpretations of the lyrics, clapping and singing along, by YouTubers!"

I am pretty impressed with the result, I must admit. For a song that's been created by piecing together shards culled from the flotsam and jetsam of the Internet, it's a remarkably coherent piece of music. The "I got plenty o'nuttin'" / "one meatball"-type theme of the song is an old one. But it's one that everyone feels strongly about in the current economic climate. In the sunny key of G major, the music skips along, making the listener want to get up and dance. The tune is simple to sing. It mostly moves step by step and the refrain is catchy. The structure is a tried and true pop formula. There's even a short guitar break and a bridge passage. The song is sung as a duet by two sweet-voiced teenage Brits (a girl and boy) and generates extra goodwill by virtue of including a chorus of YouTubers singing along and clapping in the final refrain.

As saccharine as the thing is -- the video, which alternates between images of the singers skipping around London sharing ice-cream sundaes and cuddling an oversized teddy bear and snippets of YouTube footage, takes the sappy lyrics and boppy beats over the edge -- it gets right under your skin. I'd be quite surprised if "I've Got Nothing" doesn't make it into the higher echelons of the British pop charts as well as raises quite a bit of money for charity -- the project's two goals are to get into the Top 40 and generate funds for Children in Need.

I wonder if the same process could be applied as successfully to, say, a string quartet, opera aria, or piece for gamelan / steel drum band?

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