Q&A: DJ Earworm on Music, Mash-ups and YouTube Rewind 2013

Q&A: DJ Earworm on Music, Mash-ups and YouTube Rewind 2013

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DJ Earworm might not be a household name yet, but if you are one of the 90 million people who watched YouTube’s ‘Rewind 2013’ video then you’ll be more than familiar with his work. Earworm, real name Jordan Roseman, has been creating game-changing mash-ups on YouTube since 2007. His ‘State of Pop’ videos are 5 glorious minutes of the top 25 biggest songs of each year, and YouTube used his expertise on their own viral hit, ‘Rewind 2013’. Between his own YouTube channel, and that YouTube video, 222,309,092 viewers have tuned in to hear the work of the Californian DJ – and why not, he effectively invented the mash-up video genre.

We talked to Jordan about ‘Rewind 2013’ and ‘State of Pop’ and why he can’t rely on YouTube to make a living, despite the phenomenal amount of views he has attracted.

ReelSEO: YouTube and creative agency Portal A were full of praise about your involvement with, and commitment to, the YouTube Rewind 2013 project. How was it for you?

earwormJordan: Oh it was great working with those guys. My experience of working with video producers is that you have to take a totally different approach from when you’re doing it on your own. For instance, when I do my own music videos I try and work out how does the video best meet the song? When you are collaborating, you have a video director and a narrative to follow, so it’s much more of a back and forth process. There are more things to take into consideration such as understanding what works musically and does it support the video? All parties involved have to have a lot of patience to get the project completed.

ReelSEO: How did you decide what music to use in the Rewind 2013 project?

earwormJordan: We started with a long list of songs that had been major hits and then we broke that down into not only what would work musically, but also what we could actually use in terms of copyright. That was a huge factor, we needed to know what was possible and what we could actually work with. The director came up with a narrative flow, meaning we could break the video down into sections and it went from there.

ReelSEO: Was it a conscious effort not to use exactly the same songs for both State of Pop 2013 and Rewind 2013?

earwormJordan: I tried not to replicate the songs, although there was inevitably some overlap. For State of Pop, I tried to avoid using the YouTube moments too much and I was lucky that I had that flexibility. I wanted people to be able to enjoy both.

ReelSEO: In the YouTube description for ‘United State of Pop 2009’, you specifically asked people not to repost that video on their own YouTube channel. Is that a huge problem for you?

earwormJordan: It has been but I should probably remove that from the description. I would rather people embed it on their site rather than just repost it on their channel with the intention of generating views and subscribers. I can’t protect my work via the ContentID system because the music doesn’t belong to me – I don’t have the ability to claim ownership. There’s no place for remixers and remasters in the ContentID system and I’d love to talk to someone at YouTube about that…..

ReelSEO: So how do you deal with the copyright issue yourself?

earwormJordan: It depends. Sometimes I’m covered by the licensing agreement that YouTube has in place with some of the big music publishers. I don’t monetize my content although I hope to be able to clear it and monetize in the future. Right now, I make sure that I’m playing by as many rules as I can.

With hindsight, I would have monetized those 100+ million views but I was very cautious and also very bold from the beginning. The boldness, in terms of the content I produced, has paid off. We’ll have to see whether the cautiousness was a mistake. But I’m happy where I am.

ReelSEO: Have you attracted any strikes against your channel for using the content that you do?

earwormJordan: It seems to be the more that the original content is transformed, the less chance it has of being tagged, but I can’t tell you whether that’s an algorithmic issue or a decision that’s been made by YouTube. I tend to upload previews as I go along and see if that generates any warnings because I don’t want a surprise at the last minute.

ReelSEO: So you’re not really making any money from YouTube right now, despite the millions of views you are generating?

earwormJordan: I’m not partnered with any MCN, although I’ve had a lot of interest in that area. It’s something I’ve avoided getting too involved in until I’m clear about the legal ramifications regarding my work and the ownership of what I do.Right now, I earn revenue from merch and my live DJ sets.

ReelSEO: How did it all begin for you?

earwormJordan: I started off making mash-ups for my friends in my bedroom and put them up online, even before YouTube existed. The idea was not to try and sell the music, just to do it for the sake of it, to see what reaction it would get. Then all of a sudden, I’m DJ Earworm and people want to hire me for their campaigns. It’s great.

ReelSEO: How much of the music/video production is down to you?

earwormJordan: It’s almost all me. It’s a huge amount of work of work from start to finish. I try to match up the music and images as much as possible so the subtext matches, it should be seamless for the viewer. Sometimes I’ll even get my musical ideas from the videos. I do all the video editing myself too.

ReelSEO: You must have been absolutely sick to death of some of the songs of 2013 after working with them so much…..

earwormJordan: Haha yes. By the end of 2013, the summer songs (which I’d already covered in the mash-up below) seemed less relevant, so by State of Pop 2013 and Rewind 13 I was not as excited by Get Lucky or Blurred Lines as I might have been. It’s like, we’ve heard them, they are going to be played at every wedding reception for the next 10 years. But you have to include them, it would have been odd not to.

ReelSEO: What kind of technical issues were involved in creating the 2013 mash-ups?

earwormJordan: Daft Punk’s Get Lucky is quite a hard song to work in with other songs, mainly because it was in the wrong key for my target so I had to make a decision early what key I was working in. Because I’m trying to make a single song, I choose one key, which of course, automatically favours the songs that are in that key. Songs that are out of that key have to be transposed, but the more they are transposed, the odder they start to sound.

Also, some of the components of a song I want to use may not be readily available so I have to extract them myself, like the vocals. Depending on how the song was constructed, this can be a real challenge. All the optimization and engineering is going on in the background so it should never be an issue for the listener.

ReelSEO: Are you from a musical background?

earwormJordan: I’m educated in music, I have a degree in it and I’m getting paid so I must be a professional now, right? I have a whole bunch of original music that I’m dying to get out there. I’ve been a songwriter for a long time and I was arranging my own work long before I was arranging other people’s music. I’m currently looking for singers at the moment and I can’t wait to release my own original work.

ReelSEO: What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

earwormJordan: I was really proud of my involvement in the London Olympics of 2012. I was asked to make a series of 10 custom short mixes to be played at various Olympic venues during the Games (see video below) and they also flew me out there so I got to do a few gigs in those different venues. It was so cool and an absolutely amazing experience. I’d love to do the same for the FIFA 2014 World Cup.

Many thanks to DJ Earworm for his time. You can subscribe to his YouTube channel here.


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