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What Does It Take to Make a Music Video Go Viral?

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With tech dominating much of our day-to-day lives, “viral” is likely to be used for an internet video, rather than an actual infection. Psychologists and digital marketers from all around the world have analyzed what makes a music video so shareable that everyone is talking about it; they are looking for patterns in order to come up with some kind of formula.

By looking at the music videos that went viral in the last few years, get noticeable that some of them are “impressive”. That means videos that show something really unique, something that takes a huge amount of time and effort to make. Others had the “cute” element, usually by introducing kids to the video. Others still were just plain weird or wacky. But the most common element by far among the videos that went viral was “humor” - about fifty percent of them were comedic in some way. The average video length from my sample was 4 minutes and ten seconds, with the longer ones being much more recent, and only 12% didn’t clearly show humans or animals. However, because the music videos that go viral usually are of the highest quality, most of the time quality matters more than the story itself. The key is to have the quality that makes millions of people get to their friends and say “you definitely gotta to watch this!”. Virality is evident for electronic music videos, as they typically have the highest number of re-shares on YouTube. According to Anton Cullen, producer of the electronic dance track Breaking Through, “I believe electronic music get shared so often because it’s usually energetic, making an immediate emotional connection with the listener. The music matters most but the video accompanying it greatly enhances the listening experience. That makes the whole experience more likely to go viral.”

Now, if you’re making your own music video and you are hoping for it to go viral, let’s reverse engineer these ideas. So let’s say you have the first draft of your video. Ask yourself: Would that be funny? Would that be cute? And is it impressive? If the answers to these questions are “no,” I struggle to imagine lots of people watching a video like this and then rushing to their friends to tell them all about it. So what could we do to change that? The most obvious answer might be to introduce some mind-blowing, world-class tricks or some funny actions. That could go viral, but they would need to be impressive at the same time. In order to make a video go viral, you really need to think outside the box.

Jonah Berger, in his book Contagious, explains why YouTube videos go based on six key points. Those six points – what Berger calls STEPPS - are Social currency, Triggers, Ease of emotion, Public, Practical value and Stories. “The easiest place to start would be cats… There are definitely some cat things that become popular, but that really doesn’t tell us anything about why most things go viral. It’s like noticing that Bill Gates, Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton are all names that start with ‘Bill’ and deciding to name your child Bill because that will make them famous. It’s messing up correlation and causation.”

However, making a music video is often the result of a large effort, as it involves several production steps and tools. From coming up with the idea all the way through to adding the final touches in post-production might take a large amount of your time, and it might require lots of your resources. Desperately trying to find the formula for viral success may be overwhelming, and distract you from what should really be your focusing. That is doing the best that we can and put all our attention to a quality final product, rather than just desperately hoping that everyone else will help share our video and get it to work.

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