Skip to content

Can Artist and Fan Collaborations Avoid Being Cheesy Campaigns?

The band OK Go has become infamous for their beyond-this-world and high-bar-setting production behind music videos. Their last one for “Upside Down & Inside Out” was gravity-free, for fuck sake. Now, “A bunch of people asked if we are open to doing a fan-collaborated music video,” said OK Go singer and frontman, Damian Kulash, in a recent #ASKOKGo video message to said fans. “And the basic answer is, ‘Yes.’”

And yes, that basic answer also accompanied a “however…”

Kulash stated his hesitation, and it’s justified. He and the band do not want to give up creative control. The other potential caveat is, fan involvement in an OK Go music video may accompany an infusion of brand dollars to make it happen. The last thing the band or Kulash want is to tarnish their stellar reputation and ability to sleep at night because this new exciting, mind-blowing idea for an OK Go video turns instead, into some marketing campaign for some company with some bucks to throw at the project.

Not that long ago the thought of band and artist agreements were on the side of taboo and the old ‘selling out’ adage. While there have been many high-lactose infused collaborations in years past, all parties involved – agencies, brands, and bands – have gotten a lot smarter about the strategy process and setting higher standards for authentic, valuable, and entertaining experiences.


“We are not as sensitive to the idea of selling out anymore,” said Jean-Phillip Grobler from St. Lucia during a SXSW session on artist branding, social media, and live music. “Everyone is working with brand and corporate entities. You still, as an artist, need to know where your limit is for what you’re willing to do.”

And what you’re not willing to do.

“Advertising agencies and marketing people in general have really taken to the idea of crowd sourced art, which is great,” said Kulash. “What I don’t want to do is re-create a marketing campaign from something.”

Right. Fans don’t really want that either. But when done right, with a focus on quality within the collaboration, fans can appreciate a brand’s involvement their favorite band‘s project when said brand is a beneficial instrument in the process, not a disruptive one. There’s a difference between being a part of a corporate campaign and performing at a corporate party, the latter of which many, many bands do these days…while being selective. OK Go playing an Apple WWDC party is no surprise, but most would be shocked if they played Monstanto’s Annual Farm to Market Conference.

“I think by surrounding yourself with good art and good music, and showing that you support things not just for the sake of building your brand, but for the sake of the art itself, THAT over time creates this really good connotation towards your brand,” said Grobler.

Take Mew and their MEW365 project with Microsoft last year. The Danish group was able to include ONE THOUSAND devoted fans in the creation of their “The Night Believer feat. Frengers” video.

“We are amazed by all the people from around the world who wanted to be part of this experiment and by all the pictures and singing they have contributed,” stated William Reynish, the video’s director, prior to its release. “When we edit all this together, we would have made something extraordinary.”


Microsoft’s OneNote played a part in the video experiment as the online platform for the worldwide collaboration between the fans in different countries, cities, and time zones, and MEW with their own production team. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 was the project’s design tool used by the members of Mew, but the process overall was designed to be device independent.

MØ, another Danish artist, wowed crowds with her performance at Glastonbury this past weekend. She also took the opportunity to distribute her newly released co-created fanzine, “Empty Billboards And Overloaded Minds,” which was made possible through her collaboration with 400 fans from Denmark to Mexico and all points in between.

Microsoft’s tools again played a part, enabling fans to submit pictures, poetry, and other creative bits to the MOxSurface digital notebook on OneNote, and MØ on her end, used the Surface Pro 4 to design and digitally craft the fanzine while on tour.

MØ meshed tech and physical together in the final version of “Empty Billboards And Overloaded Minds,” making both online and print versions available. In addition to making the printed fanzines available on her world tour, she rallied her fans once again, sending them ‘zines to hide in secret cities across the globe. Fans gave hints on their locations through a socially engaged #MOxSurface scavenger hunt on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. As MØ heads from the UK back to her home country to perform at Roskilde this week, she’s also teaming with Boiler Room and Nike for a special broadcast performance of her “Infinite Run” mixtape, a carefully curated set designed to be the perfect 45-minute running sound track.

Bo Madsen, guitarist for MEW, expressed the constant pressure musicians, bands, and artists put on themselves to continually evolve their level of creativity and avoid the area of replication that surrounds us.

“To invent something new and meaningful to the world. To create a community of people from around the world. To work collectively. To open yourself up and be swept away. Those are some of the things that have defined us as a band. And this [MEW365] project is an extension of those ideals.”

In the realm of connecting with people on such a personal level as co-creation of art, Mew considers those who participated in MEW365 to be their Frengers, “Not quite friends, but not quite strangers.” As the title of the groups’ 2003 album, the concept of Frengers also related to this collaborative experiment thirteen years later. And when all was said, done, and released into the universe, the video for “The Night Believer” was seen as a duet, “Not with one fan, but with all fans. Not as a choir of fans, but with each fan, one to one is present in the duet with us.”

For these two co-creative projects with fans playing a part in the collaborative process, Microsoft was not necessarily a third-wheel but was the actual wheel to connect the dots. The brand in these cases took a backseat, as they should, putting the Mew video for “The Night Believer” and MØ’s “Empty Billboards And Overloaded Minds” fanzine on center stage.

After Kulash stated the reservations the band has when it comes to collaborating with lovers of OK Go, he went on to say, “If we have a genuinely new fresh idea we would be very excited to do something with our fans. We’re always sort of looking for ways to include the community in what we’re making. But we don’t have any plans currently.”

So you’re saying there’s a chance…


Disclosure: This is purely an editorial piece. That said, VOLUME, the agency of Microsoft Denmark, the MOxSurface and MEW365 projects, is a client of Buzz Boulevard, the agency arm of Kaffeine Buzz.



Sign up to our newsletter and get updates to your mailbox