How to Get 20 Million Views—Taking Note of Meghan TrainorBy
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Two months ago, Meghan Trainor was an unknown songwriter. Even today, she isn’t a big, established artist… at least, not yet. But, if her first single’s smashing success on YouTube is any indication of the future of her career, she will be.
Trainor, a 20-year-old singer-songwriter, is the artist behind the single “All About That Bass.” The catchy pop tune stands tall on its own merits, but the accompanying music video is pure brilliance. And audiences seem to agree. The video, which was released on June 11, already has over 21 million views. Not too shabby for an artist’s first single.
So, what’s the big deal?
You Could Learn a Thing or Two from Trainor
This performance stands out because it has hooks in the video as well as a social message that connects with a large number of fans, not to mention that it also creates a little controversy. The hooks have to do with the unusual way that Trainor portrays herself and the other performers in the video. Not just the fact that they are happy with their size and shape, but some of the unexpected things that happen in the video. They also turn the tables on “skinny” people by using humor, casting, and choreography to make their point.
Take a moment to view the video. I’ll wait.
Done? Good. I bet you noticed Sione, an example of casting brilliance. He is over the top with his dance moves, and he adds a dimension of depth and fun to the video that has helped to propel it into a huge number of views.
After viewing the video, are you compelled to share it with someone else? If so, then you begin to see how a video can go viral.
Note that it does not matter why you want to share it, just the fact that you do. This important point is quite often lost on musicians who make their career in music. Launching a video that is well done, but not compelling, is not enough. By compelling, I mean: what does the viewer feel compelled to do after seeing your video? If the overwhelming answer is to share it with friends, then you have a winner. Otherwise, as a good friend of mine would say, “You have a double handed death grip on a loser”. The world is full of music videos that go nowhere, and they cost just as much to produce as a compelling video. Learn to let go of the loser before you start… or do what it takes to turn it into a winner and then hang on tight.
The song “All About That Bass” by itself probably would not create the kind of buzz necessary to get 21 million listens. It is the entire package—the song combined with the video—that knocks it out of the park.
But let’s face it: video can be expensive. It would be fair to say that an inexpensive songwriting/performing/video-creation endeavor could easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. On the other hand, indie musicians are a very creative group used to working with very few resources. So, why not figure out a way to write and shoot a compelling video without a huge budget? It takes a combination of talent, flexibility, planning, funding, and desire to make all the parts work together smoothly, even more so on a small budget. It is not for everybody.
Let’s take a closer look at Trainor and her video; then, we can explore what indie artists might do to leverage their music in this same way.
What Trainor Does
Trainor writes about a very of-the-moment issue (body image) and has a positive message.
Body image issues are nothing new, but they have become a much more public issue in recent years.
Social media sites have turned into a battleground over women’s bodies. Memes proclaim that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, incredibly thin models are lifted up as ideals (after being photoshopped into even more idealized versions of themselves), and women with “extra” weight are publicly ridiculed for their weight and their choices (in clothing, in food, in living). On the other side, there is backlash against “thinspiration” and excessive photo editing, heightened awareness about the dangers of eating disorders, and encouragement to be healthy and to love yourself as you are.
And that’s where Trainor’s message lies. She sings:
“I see the magazine, workin’ that Photoshop. We know that shit ain’t real. C’mon now, make it stop. If you got beauty beauty, just raise ’em up, Cause every inch of you is perfect, from the bottom to the top. Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size… I know you think you’re fat. I’m here to tell you every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.”
Now, Trainor is, admittedly, not a size two. The girl has some curves. She also doesn’t appear to be unhealthy or overweight.
But her weight and shape aren’t the issue, nor are they the focus of her message. Her message lies in her acceptance of her body for what it is. It’s not a skinny beautiful body. It’s not a fat beautiful body. It’s simply her beautiful body. And that message is something that girls everywhere—maybe people everywhere—need to hear. And, as an artist, Trainor does a good job of leveraging this topic by producing a compelling song/video combination.
She stirs up a little bit of controversy.
If you read the public comments on Trainor’s video, you know what I’m talking about. There are a surprising number of hateful comments on a video that has such a positive message. (Well, maybe not surprising, if you’re used to the internet.)
But don’t assume that some negative comments mean Trainor and her message are unpopular. Less than one tenth of one percent (0.001%) of the people viewing the video have taken the time to comment on it publicly—some comments are good, some are not. And for every “thumbs down” on the video, there are almost 22 “thumbs ups”.
Most importantly, a huge number of people have been compelled enough by the video to share it with others. That is all that matters.
Every part of the video—the concept, the casting, the styling, the shooting, the editing—is extremely well done.
The video’s concept is simple: reinforce the song’s message by showing people comfortable in their own skin having fun and loving themselves—regardless of their size, shape, or age. There’s no complicated storyline to confuse the viewer, nor is it simply just another music video of a performer singing their latest release on a stage.
The casting is impeccable. Trainor’s message isn’t limited to one group; it’s for everyone. It’s appropriate, then, that the people in the video are different sizes, shapes, ages, and genders, and they all look like they’re having fun, dancing and shaking whatever they have (or don’t have).
What This Means For You
Trainor is 20, and she’s new. She seems to be pretty talented (especially considering she had a songwriting contract at 18 and an artist contract at 20). She has a label that is obviously willing to invest in her, and she has an extremely talented team working with her.
Your situation is probably different. You might be starting your career in music, or you might have been at it for a long time. You’re likely talented and creative and have music ready to release or that could be re-released with better promotion. You probably have a loyal local fan base, but you’d love for it to be bigger. You’re probably wondering how to branch out—how to get bigger and better gigs along with more visibility.
Given that you’re in a different situation than Trainor, what on earth could she and her video possibly teach you about your career? Plenty.
Songs that strike a chord with you will probably strike a chord with others.
In a behind-the-scenes video, Trainor says, “My producer and I wanted to write a fun song… Why not do a song about loving yourself and loving your body? Because I don’t think girls love themselves as much as they really should. I think girls will really relate to it.” In an interview with the Today show, Trainor says that this is an issue she has struggled with personally. That personal experience and conviction help Trainor come off as a credible source on the subject, which means it’s easier for her fans to relate and connect with her.
What does this mean for you? Well, first, you don’t need a team of professional, award-winning songwriters to write a good song. You can leverage your own life experiences, just like Trainor did, and create music that reflects who you are.
Second, you should try writing about something that resonates with you on a personal level. Pick a topic that moves you, or an experience you’re intimately familiar with, and tell the story in a way that takes listeners along for the ride. If you connect with the song, it increases the odds of your listeners connecting—both with the song and with you.
Most importantly, consider whether that connection will cause your viewers to share the video. Get creative with the process, and be sure to create a hook, something in the video that will make fans take action. Without a hook, it will not work.
If you want a second opinion, try playing the song for the rest of the band, an impartial friend, another musician, or a songwriting group. Be open to their feedback and criticism, and genuinely consider what they have to say. Even if you don’t make the changes they suggest, the advice might come in handy on future songs.
You don’t have to be a superstar to get lots of good attention.
Before this release, Trainor was relatively unknown. She might have had a small local following, but she certainly wasn’t a household name. So, how did she get so many views?
Simply put, Trainor thought outside the box—with her message, her styling, and her casting. Her positive message is on a topic that few artists address. The styling of Trainor’s video is surprising (in that it’s rather different from most other videos out there), but it’s wholly appropriate for the song. In Trainor’s video, Vine sensation Sione makes an unexpected appearance, which helps create a hook for fans of the video because of his unique style. Sione’s 440,000 fans (yes, you read that correctly) on Vine probably headed over to check out Trainor’s video, and I can guarantee that some of Trainor’s viewers headed over to Vine to find out more about the dancing man. Both artists benefited from the collaboration.
That type of collaboration doesn’t take a label or tons of money. More importantly, thinking outside the box doesn’t take a label or tons of money. To be a successful independent artist, you must be creative, flexible, and resourceful; a ton of money to fund your project is not required to make this work.
This might mean you tell your song’s story from an unexpected angle. In Five Seconds of Summer’s video for “She Looks So Perfect”, the characters in the video strip down to their underwear. This in itself is a little surprising (but fits with a line in the chorus). What is unexpected is the type of people who strip down: highschoolers, a store clerk, a middle-aged mom, a cop, a grandmother, a pair making eyes at each other in a diner. Basically, everyone but the young and fairly attractive band members. It’s not just young, fit, beautiful people stripping. It’s everyone. This is the hook for an otherwise unremarkable video that now has over 67 million views.
As I said at the very beginning of this article, Meghan Trainor isn’t a big, established artist… yet. I think she’s incredibly talented, and I think she has a talented team helping her. I’m extremely curious to see how she follows up on this first single. Only time will tell.
As for you, the indie musician with your own style and talent and career, I want to know what you think of Trainor’s video and what you’ve learned from it to use in your own career. What’s your next move?