MyMusic: NewsRadio for the YouTube Generation

February 18, 2014 · By Michael Andersen in Features, Reviews 

It’s a familiar trope: a struggling production company staffed with a cast of eccentric and borderline incompetent employees takes on someone new to shake things up. Some of the best comedies on television start with that premise: WKRP in Cincinnati, NewsRadio, Just Shoot Me, even 30 Rock. But while the shows are about poking fun at the inner workings of media companies, viewers rarely get to see the fictional show’s finished product. Growing up I always wondered what it would be like to turn on the radio and get the morning updates from WKRP’s Les Nessman, to pick up a copy of Blush off the magazine rack, or to flip the channel to NBC to catch an episode of The Girlie Show. I got a taste of what it might be like when Will Ferrell co-anchored CBS North Dakota affiliate KX News for a night as Ron Burgundy to promote Anchorman 2. MyMusic has spent the past two years delivering on that same promise with a four-course meal.

MyMusic is a transmedia production company seeking to reinvent itself after the social media platform it used as a blogging platform went bankrupt. Looking to find a new home, the company partnered with an up and coming video hosting site called YouTube, signing on as one of its Original Channels. To help with the transition, MyMusic brings on a new head of production, Metal to lend his expertise. Before coming to MyMusic, Metal was known as Emmet Allan Klaga. But the company founder’s “Indie” issued an executive decree that all staff members should be known only by the musical genres they represent, because “broad stereotypes are way easier to remember than names.” So Klaga became Metal, joining other genred cliches like Idol, Country, Dubstep, Techno, Hip Hop, and Scene. Conformity to these stereotypes is strictly enforced, and being caught “posing” is punished with a fate worse than unemployment.

Starting with Metal’s entry to the company in April 2012, MyMusic became the subject of a weekly behind-the-scenes documentary series released on the show’s YouTube channel. This self-referential mockumentary forms the heart of the Fine Brothers’ YouTube sitcom, MyMusic. Like its fictional counterpart, the MyMusic show was born out of YouTube’s Original Channels Initiative, Google’s attempt to support premium original content on the site. The Fine Brothers, best known for their Emmy Award-winning React video series featuring focus group-style videos of children, teenagers, YouTubers, and elders reacting to pop culture talking points ranging from Boxxy and twerking to gay marriage. As their next project, the brothers pitched the concept of a weekly scripted series. YouTube accepted MyMusic into the Original Channels Initiative, along with programs like Phillip DeFranco’s SourceFed, Hank and John Green’s Crash Course, and Frederator Studios’ Cartoon Hangover. In addition to providing financing for MyMusic, Google provided the brothers with the use of YouTube Space LA to build MyMusic‘s set.

mymusic-posterDuring the first season of MyMusic, the plot centered around its over-the-top ensemble chafing under their self-imposed, one-dimensional roles. Metal fights to be seen as the loving father and savvy businessman that lies underneath his gruff exterior. Scene, whose character is an homae to Catherine Wayne’s internet persona “Boxy”, becomes emotionally unhinged after facing the wrath of 4chan. As for Hip Hop? He faces an identity crisis that leads to him adopting an entirely new persona. The writing and acting rarely strays from its purposefully Vaudevillian excesses, but the characters begin to find themselves, and move beyond their names. In MyMusic‘s second season, these more nuanced characters are forced to reconcile their work life with their hopes and dreams, leading many characters to seriously consider leaving MyMusic to pursue an education, a new career, or the chance for fame and fortune.

MyMusic was consciously designed with younger audiences in mind, loading every episode with a healthy dose of sight gags, catchphrases, and risqué punchlines. In a scene that typifies the humor throughout the project, the writers of one of the final episodes of season 2 cooked up an elaborate scenario involving Metal’s wife baking at home as an excuse to drop the punchline “but I thought you liked it when I try bundt stuff” before returning to their slowly simmering marital strife. Self-referential humor is also a popular standby, with another episode in season 2 making an extended joke about the show’s scripted nature culminating in the line “I am also reading a line of dialogue.”

Scattered throughout the MyMusic crew’s madcap adventures, YouTube celebrities make frequent guest appearances, seemingly competing for most ridiculous character. Felicia Day as Gorgol, a Norweigan black-metal rocker. Shane Dawson as a milquetoast delivery man named Chip. Freddie Wong as deformed EDM performer DJ Elephant. Toby Turner as the devil and Harley Morenstein as Jesus. The ensemble cast of MyMusic has a few celebrities on its own, featuring Men At Work‘s Adam Busch as Indie, SourceFed’s Lee Newton as Country, it’sGrace’s Grace Helbig as Idol, and jacksfilms’ Jack Douglass as Intern 2. However, until the end of the first season, none of the videos promoted the featured actors and actresses, preferring to let fans piece together that information on their own rather than betray the show’s central conceit. In a behind-the-scenes interview Benny Fine explains, “we went to…such great lengths to make this feel like it’s a show that’s happening in real time, in real life: including never dropping the curtain or breaking the fourth wall.” While the curtain dropped during the show’s hiatus, it returned in full force for season 2, reaffirming the Fine Brothers’ commitment to maintaining a show that treats itself as real across all platforms.

As a show, MyMusic fulfills that promise to an almost unprecedented extent. For all intents and purposes, MyMusic is a fully functioning production company, providing timely news and reporting on the music industry helping fans discover emerging artists. MyMusic’s most consistent segment is The Mosh, a weekly Q&A show that lets the company’s fans talk about music and more with the MyMusic crew. During season 1, The Mosh was complemented by MyMusic News‘s brief news updates and MyMusic Presents‘s artist spotlights, as well as Scene’s Tumblr Tuesday segment featuring cute stuff on Tumblr. During season 2, the MyMusic website launched, taking the company back to its fictional blogging roots with articles written in the voice of the characters. MyMusic News and MyMusic Presents were replaced with the hour-long MyMusic Podcasts videos, and Tumblr Tuesday gave way to Gaming with Metal. If you wanted ignore the narrative and consume MyMusic as a Buzzfeed-friendly supplement to Pitchfork, you could.

And then, there’s the characters’ social media presence.

The fact that each of the characters dutifully maintained a host of social media platforms to promote MyMusic is not surprising: MyMusic started a week after The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, but creators have been salting the internet with traces of their characters for years. However, the depth of the social media landscape created around the show is more extensive than I’ve seen. Part of Metal’s backstory, for example, is his involvement in the band Jars of Vomit. Accordingly, you can find official music videos for their songs Throat Punch and Apple Juice Factory online. There’s also a music video for one of the fictional bands that stopped off at the show. But you can also find Shane Dawson’s character Chip on Twitter. He only appeared in two episodes of season 1, but he’s been tweeting updates at least once a week ever since, with some tweets reacting in parallel to the narrative when necessary. All told, there are over 50 bit characters outside the show’s core cast that continue to live on after their cameos, in an extended network of status updates. Most of these background characters limited their interactions to weekly tweets after their initial appearance, but their ongoing presence served as a reminder of the show’s expanding universe. Even the main ensemble limit their interactions to chatting among themselves, leaving interactions with the show’s “MyMusician” fans to more overt requests for interaction, like meme submission requests or calls for Reddit AMA questions. But even that design choice echoes the relationship you might expect to have with popular creators, YouTube or otherwise.

One of MyMusic’s most impressive extensions that tapped into fans’ passion for the show was its charity drive for Little Kids Rock, a non-profit created to provide public school music programs with much-needed resources. The in-narrative endeavor was started by Country as an attempt to reverse her bad karma, launching an Indiegogo campaign centered around a livestreamed concert featuring performances by Hey You, Cossby Sweater, Diamond White, Tyler Ward, and Cimorelli. In just a week, the benefit raised just shy of $13,000.

In the face of such an intimidating amount of content, seasons 1 and 2 have been repackaged as a longer-form sitcom format, combining story arcs that were previously broken up across multiple weeks into a single episode. And while a third season has yet to be confirmed, the team has committed to maintaining the MyMusic website and the various social media accounts through its indefinite hiatus.

More than anything else, MyMusic is a platform for its larger-than-life cast of characters to shine, regardless of media platform. Because the show is rooted in featuring caricatures of hardcore music fans, each member of the ensemble cast has a distinct identity and tone. For instance Dubstep, true to his name, acts like a human beatbox, communicating exclusively in “wubs”, “dubs”, and “zooms”, relying on Techno’s unique understanding of his speech to translate, liberally dosed with terms like “PLUR” that I’m too old to understand. Cover up the byline on any blog post written in Techno & Dubstep’s voice, obscure the name behind any tweet either one sends, and it’s still a relatively simple matter to identify the speaker. These distinctive voices allow the MyMusic team to instantly bring the characters to life. That, more than anything else, is why I’ve always been curious what it would be like to turn on the radio and tune in to WNYX hearing Phil Hartman as the often insensitive Bill McNeal.

And finally, thanks to MyMusic, I know what that might feel like.

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