words Al Woods
Some music videos simply show the band playing their instruments, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Others omit the band entirely in order to tell a short story, while some use visual effects that complement the song. There are clear categories of music video, which makes it difficult to see anything that truly feels ‘new’.
Canadian band PUP had other ideas. The punk band released their third full-length album, Morbid Stuff, earlier this year to the usual critical acclaim that has followed their career. Ahead of the release of their second single, ‘Free At Last’, PUP adopted a crowdsourcing strategy for the video and put out a call to their fans to submit their cover versions of the song.
Crowdsourcing is traditionally deployed in corporate situations, where businesses obtain and analyse the wisdom of crowds in order to optimise their service and make new innovations. The crowdsourcing platform Qmarkets offers its Q-ideate tool to allow employees or customers to easily suggest new ideas for products, which helps individuals know their opinion is valued. PUP likewise turned to a crowd for ideas, but with a twist: they asked fans to submit covers of ‘Free At Last’ before the song had even been released.
Fans were given the lyrics and a basic chord pattern, then asked to do the rest on their own. Crowdsourcing generally relies on the crowd having specialist knowledge. Wikipedia is one of the most notable examples of non-corporate crowdsourcing on the internet, where users can (mostly) be trusted to share specialist information with others. In the case of PUP, it was the lack of wisdom that made the results so compelling.
PUP cut together footage from each fan submission to produce the music video for ‘Free At Last’, with the band’s actual recording of the song playing over the top. The covers sounded nothing like the actual song, but that wasn’t the point.
Vocalist Stefan Babcock described the video to music website NME as starting off as a ‘very, very stupid concept’. It then grew to be an ingenious piece of crowdsourcing, thanks to the creativity of the PUP fans. The NME identified their five favourite covers from the 243 submissions, which included a ska version and Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard’s interpretation of the song.
It was classic crowdsourcing in one way, as it mobilized the global community of PUP fans and strengthened the connection between fanbase and band. Whether fans realistically expected the band to listen to the entirety of their performance is another thing (although they did listen to all 13 hours and 34 minutes of submissions!), but the important thing is that fans felt valued.
Morbid Stuff was released on Rise Records in April 2019, serving up some of the band’s most infectious melodies to counter some of their heaviest moments. Pitchfork’s 7.9/10 review calls PUP the equivalent of pop mastermind Max Martin, just with gang vocals. A 7.9 score is high praise from a site that is notoriously stingy with its ratings.
This isn’t the only example of crowdsourcing in the music industry in 2019. Bayside opened up their tour planning to their fans, allowing people to vote on their favourite unsigned bands to decide who should get the honour of opening a Bayside show. Foo Fighters asked fans to help to decide their setlist for their sets at Reading and Leeds earlier this year.
By reaching out to the music community, bands can build a deeper bond with fans. PUP’s novel concept for their ‘Free At Last’ video is a 5-minute testament to the value of crowdsourcing in the music industry.