by Ellie Halfacre
“What we want to try and do is see if we can use an internet community to hijack the UK charts, and, we are going to do it for charity,” said internet celebrity Charlie McDonnell on September 5th, 2009. Charlie McDonnell, along with 3 fellow YouTubers Alex Day, Jimmy Hill, and Johnny Haggart began a project intended to change lives and music history – get a charity music single to reach number one on the UK charts by crowd sourcing (using a large group to create) a song from the World Wide Web.
They called themselves the Chartjackers, a band formed by the users of the Internet. Together they wrote, produced, recorded, and sold a song to raise money for the charity, Children in Need, in only ten weeks. Children in Need is a non-profit foundation set to help disadvantaged youth in the United Kingdom. The television station BBC filmed a documentary that followed the project from its beginnings until its completion.
McDonnell, Day, Hill and Haggart together created a group of unstoppable YouTube superstars – between them they have seventeen million views. Famous for comedic video blogs, the four compose and share videos on YouTube, a website famous for its user-created content. Though Alex Day has his own record out and Charlie McDonnell has written songs in the past, they had nothing to do with the composition of the song.
That song is “I’ve Got Nothing,” and it doesn’t sound like other songs you hear on the radio today. Instead of a dance remix or a fist-pumping rap song, it’s cheesy pop with a lot of heart. From the beginning, the sound was meant to be reminiscent of an 80s or 90s song. Some say that this genre choice may have limited the chance of it reaching number one, but the song held what the project was about: helping and loving one another.
“I know it’s a very ambitious idea, and I know I’m a little bit mad, but I think we can do this!” proclaimed McDonnell.
The four video bloggers acted as managers of the group, and had no hand in creating the song whatsoever. The lyrics consisted entirely of comments viewers left on the Chartjackers’ videos. The auditions for the members of the band were submitted online, where the managers chose from a talented pool of singers. The next step was the creation of the YouTube channel dedicated to the project, where users could submit “melodies, lyrics, and online auditions,” and a Twitter page where updates would be posted.
The Chartjackers’ YouTube page quickly became the most subscribed channel that month, and eventually the 67th most subscribed of all time in Britain. The music video consisted entirely of viewer video clips of their own interpretations of the song’s lyrics. Eventually it reached over 500,000 views.
A problem plaguing the project was that none of the people involved had any money to invest or music industry experience – all they had was the power of the internet. First, Charlie (AKA “charlieissocoollike” and the 3rd most followed YouTube user in the United Kingdom) posted a video on his personal channel explaining the project to his large fan base.
For advice, they went to music artist Chesney Hawkes who critiqued the chosen lyrics for the song. Then the UK’s most successful record producer, Mike Stock, also gave them some much-needed advice on the melody. The Chartjackers didn’t heed the advice, though, and choose a different tune.
This interaction between professionals and the internet shows their interesting relationship in modern music. Many artists, like Taylor Swift, got their start on the internet and developed their future costumers on social networking sites like MySpace.
After many promotion debacles, including a Twitter riot and a two-person protest (where Hill and Day armed themselves with a megaphone and yelled at a radio station building), the song was released. The song reached number 25 on iTunes most downloaded songs list in its first week. As the song slipped down the charts, desperation set in and the four managers pleaded with their viewers to help them stay on the Top 40. Following a 12-hour live web show, the song jumped from #40 to #16 on the iTunes charts. On the national United Kingdom radio charts at the end of the week the song reached number 36.
Once the song was released to the public, many critics had many different views on both the song and the project itself. James Masterton of Yahoo! Music said the project was “something of a failure,” and others said it was a ridiculous idea that was doomed from the start. Some commented that the melody was bad, and others said it was the lyrics. Many have also questioned whether the project was about self-promotion or charity.
For Children in Need, the project raised 10,000 pounds, equating to about 16,000 dollars. Also, as a surprising conclusion, the song reached Number 1 on the Independent charts. The Chartjackers had completed their goal, and raised a sufficient amount of money in the process. If the song’s not in your head for the next week, then the project’s story it sure to be.