Weird Al: Nerdy Hit Machine

Thanks to Steve Rubel for pointing out this story about “Weird Al” Yankovic having his first-ever top 10 hit and top 10 album, 22 years after his Michael Jackson parody, “Eat it!” peaked at number 12 on the Billboard charts.

Weird Al

Steve correctly points out that Weird Al has used a variety of creative promotion methods, including YouTube. The article Steve references also highlights Al’s use of MySpace and his release of some free downloads from his website as important to his success.

I would only take issue a bit with Steve’s characterization of this as a Long Tail example. I understand the essence of the Long Tail as niche marketing, or as the subtitle of the book says, “Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.” In his recent use of internet technology along with exposure in traditional media (CNN, etc.), Weird Al has his biggest hit ever. He’ll be on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Nov. 2. Al’s in the head now, not the tail.

The Long Tail is about making it economically viable for non-hits (or oldies) to still see the light of day, because inventory and delivery costs have essentially reached zero, and search helps us find even obscure titles. Weird Al has lots of songs that are truly part of the Long Tail: “Addicted to Spuds” can be available on iTunes even though it would never find shelf space at Tower Records. (Come to think of it, even the big hits aren’t getting shelf space at Tower anymore.)

Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with most of the new songs Al is parodying. I probably don’t “get” his jokes quite as well as I would have two decades ago. When he did “I Lost on Jeopardy,” “Girls Just Want to Have Lunch,” and “Like a Surgeon” they were songs from my high school days. Part of the humor was knowing what the next line in the original song was supposed to be, and seeing how Al would change it. Or how he would arrange the preceding lines of his parody so that the original song’s concluding lyrics would become the joke’s punch-line.

I listen more to spoken word podcasts and non-hit music these days, which are part of The Long Tail.
But I did download one of his new freebies, “Don’t Download This Song,” and even though I don’t know the original, I thought it was pretty good. Maybe someone can’t clue me in on the part of the joke I don’t yet get.

It’s interesting that in an age in which software companies and web sites (like WordPress.com) are giving away free services (or at least samples) to build an audience or community of users, most of the recording industry is still in 1980s mode. It’s cool that at age 47, Weird Al gets the new marketing methods of the digital age, even if I don’t fully “get” his songs.

Weird Al was an inspiration to me about 10 years ago, when I was working in politics, and for fun I was involved in a parody band that used to play for some parties. We even recorded some cassettes. Unfortunately it was five years before the iPod and widespread mp3 distribution.

Congratulations to Weird Al on his latest and biggest hit!

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Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 14. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

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