Creating the Next YouTube Sensation

Absurdist A Cappella

This time we discuss how to create the next YouTube sensation.

Setting the Stage: “Did you see that video of a cat parallel parking a pick up truck?”

“Yeah, how about the one of the old dude and the two year old doing the “All the Single Ladies” dance?”

“Or that one of the a cappella group Rick-rolling a New York subway?”

While each of the preceding three video descriptions sound realistic enough, only the third is real. A part of what this dialogue demonstrates, though, is that a cappella has just as much potential to go viral as cats, old people, and unfortunate children saying hello to their future girlfriends (OK, maybe not quite as viral as that last one). But how can a group go from recording just any old song to transcending the a cappella bubble out into mainstream America?

Song Selection: Good song selection is absolutely key to this endeavor. More so than thinking about what parts your group can cover, and how organic a song is to your group identity, the focus here should be on recording something topical, popular, and ideally current, and covering it in a way that hasn’t been done before. Such was the beauty of On the Rocks making Rick-rolling borderline relevant again by making it a cappella and letting it loose on the subway system; or Ithacappella being the first to cover American Idol gem “Pants on the Ground,” or The Yellow Jackets playing with gender roles and employing professional production standards to “You Belong With Me.”

Setting: Viral videos are often best when there’s the opportunity to capture audience reaction, so you’ll want to make sure you choose a setting that will have lighting conducive to filming audience members. You’ll also want to think about a setting conducive to good sound quality and a clear image of your crew when you’re performing.

Choreography: Choreography is tricky for a video intended to be shared with the masses. On one hand, the movement has to be contained and simple enough to easily be captured on camera, and such that the viewer won’t be overwhelmed with the visual. On the other hand, you need to be doing something from a visual perspective to make your performance more interesting than just listening to you sing, lest your online audience minimize your window and only listen to your song, and hence feel less compelled to pass it along as the next must-see-video.

Other Notes: Production value counts on viral videos—it should either be really professional or completely amateur—anything in between and it looks like you were trying too hard and didn’t succeed at making your project work. This is a difficult balance, but aim for one of the extremes of either hiring a professional camera crew for this one, or giving your cell phone to your little sister on sibling weekend to give it her best try (and hoping that her commentary is cute and/or off color enough to augment what you’re doing on stage).