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The 1st Musician to Make Amazing Use of Chat Roulette

Have you heard of Chat Roulette? It’s the latest web site to create a major buzz in a very short period of time.

In a nutshell, Chat Roulette allows anyone with a webcam to log on and randomly be connected live with other people on the site one by one. If you don’t like who you’re connected to, you click “Next” and get another random paring.

It’s been widely covered (and made fun of) in the media. But I, along with a lot of online marketing people, thought it was a flash-in-the-pan novelty site with no possible self-promotion value. How could you possibly make use of such random connections?

Well, my view of that unraveled once I saw this YouTube video of a piano-playing musician named Merton. He does a wonderful and hilarious job of improvising songs based on the people he’s randomly connected with.

His first video clip, called Chat Roulette Funny Piano Improv #1, was just uploaded on March 11. In six days it racked up one and a half MILLION views. Coverage on Mashable, the Huffington Post, and many other web sites has certainly fueled Merton’s sudden burst of exposure.

Here’s the marketing lesson …

If you can be the first person to do something funny and cool with a new site or gadget that is creating a buzz, you will be rewarded. There’s power in first-mover status.

Also, use what’s given to you and don’t be blinded by tunnel-vision. I looked at the limited qualities of Chat Roulette and didn’t see it as a music promotion tool at all. But Merton opened his mind and asked a better question:

How can I use the random nature of this site (and the buzz it’s creating) in a new and amusing way?

And the roulette aspect of the site lent itself perfectly to the music improvisation format. Brilliant! Of course, Merton also had to be talented and quick on his feet to make this work.

Two questions for you:

  • What new site, gadget or buzz-producing topic could you capitalize on?

  • How could you use the unique qualities of Twitter, Facebook, the new iPad, or any other trending topic in a clever and musical way?


  • Update: YouTube pulled Merton’s first video when it reached around 4.5 million views. He made the requested changes and uploaded it again. The new version of his first video has already been viewed 1.3 million times. He just posted a second improv piano video on his YouTube channel.

    Reader Comments (38)

    Very impressed, they have the attributes of a professional team testing something out.

    This is not the first musician to make use of Chat Roulette.. I have had this idea down on paper for over a year or varying forms of strategies utilizing a couple of chat/interactive services. Just never made proof of what i did..

    Then you ask yourself, so why have i not shared this on here? I have been head deep in thousands of notes for nearly a year creating a new website to help bands utilize tools on the internet and am waiting til it goes live in April until i use my content on sites such as this...

    Don't mean to toot me own horn like.... :p

    March 17 | Registered CommenterMartinT

    What this really illustrates, Bob, is the Gaping Maw Effect. This is cheap novelty, a puff piece that's just "web 2.0" enough to talk about, pass along, and hype out of context. The story here is not about this guy's clever marketing -- because there is none, he's got one single video up, no website, no product, no follow-through at all, and if you actually analyzed this case in any detail you'd agree this guy is not a role model for music business -- he's just a goofy, creative guy having fun online.

    Which is fine and slightly awesome, too. But as a music business strategy, it's just plain stupid.

    Every year there's an exponentially accelerating number of new start-up social networks online. Every year or two there's a Twitter that really catches on and scales. There's also a couple hundred flashes in the pan, and tens of thousands of nobodies that never had the scale, connections and business plan to make it in the first place. If you're really suggesting to musicians that investing their time in these novelty services in the hopes that music and tech bloggers cover your story on a slow news day, that's a Lottery Mentality and I think you're doing a real dis-service to musicians.

    That said, thank you for your continued work leading the herd astray! The more disinformation my competition takes seriously, the easier my job will become.

    March 17 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

    The above video has gotten the most attention, but this was posted before that and I learned about it on Twitter and retweeted it.

    That wasn't hyperlinked. Here it is again.

    Chatroulette Reactions - Music Video for Young Rival

    But I, along with a lot of online marketing people, thought it was a flash-in-the-pan novelty site with no possible self-promotion value.

    The very fact that you think about everything in terms of "self-promotion value" is the reason you will always miss the opportunity to do cool, funny, interesting stuff on the net.

    Also, what Justin said.

    March 17 | Unregistered Commenterfelix

    Also, there was this on Friday.

    Holy Fuck Announce New Album On Chatroulette

    I just saw this.

    Chatroulette Is 89 Percent Male, 47 Percent American, And 13 Percent Perverts:

    Here are a few highlights from our findings:

    *About half of all Chatroulette spins connects you with someone from the USA. The next most likely country is France at 15%.

    *Of the spins showing a single person, 89% were male and 11% were female.

    *You are more likely to encounter a webcam featuring no person at all than one featuring a solo female.

    *8% of spins showed multiple people behind the camera. 1 in 3 females appear as part of such a group. That number is 1 in 12 for males.

    *1 in 8 spins yield something R-rated (or worse)

    *You are twice as likely to encounter a sign requesting female nudity than you are to encounter actual female nudity

    I have to disagree with the naysayers on this one. His audience isn't the Chatroulette crowd, it's the YouTube audience.

    With a single video up, his channel has 56797 subscribers at the time I write this. If he can pull off another 2-3 videos of this quality, I can easily see this number going up.

    He doesn't need a product or a website or a mailing list right now. He just needs to keep up the funny for awhile, at the same level. If/when he does release something, there will be a crowd to buy it.

    This is pure Purple Cow. Remarkable stuff that spreads. How is this different from an OK Go or Pamplemousse video? It's not.

    March 17 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

    Sure, but how does this get replicated? That's what I mean by Lottery Mentality.

    How is it different from those two bands you mentioned? Aside from the fact they had websites, tour dates, product for sale, and a team behind them, I guess nothing at all.

    March 17 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

    Why does it need to be repeatable? It's not a business model. And I'm not comparing the bands; I'm comparing the tactics. Some artists are using video far better than most, it can be massively effective, YouTube still has legs, The End. At least that's what I took away from it.

    That Chatroulette was involved is a red herring. This isn't a "artist uses Chatroulette to get discovered" story so much as a "artist exploits Chatroulette to get discovered on YouTube" story.

    Regarding lottery mentality: I agree in principal, don't agree this qualifies.The barriers to making a decent video are so low these days, it's hardly worth worrying about opportunity cost. I'd certainly agree with you if "get blogged by BoingBoing and Fark" was Step 2 of the strategy. I'm pretty sure it wasn't.

    Who knows, this guy might have no other aspirations beyond posting this single video. All I know is that in just a few days he's garnered a subscriber base that's about 50-100x the size of most "serious" artists with product, with websites, who are putting out ordinary, watch-me-play-this-in-my-living-room videos, including most of the identical teen girls in tank tops strumming ukuleles. I think the game is his to lose.

    I'm concerned that the Keyboard Cats of the world and the parade of armchair gurus and TED speaker groupies that flood MTT Open are desensitizing us to ideas that are worth a second look. The cost of experimentation and failure (e.g. trying shit) is way lower, so why not, you know, try shit?

    March 17 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

    Amen, I agree with your whole comment. (That's a much saner perspective than hyping up this "amazing" use of Chat Roulette, too.)

    My favorite part of MTT is posts like what Brian Hazard or Kevin English are doing -- tutorial content, first-hand reports. I don't want to discourage anyone from trying Everything, especially if they're going to report back on it. Thanks for helping me clarify.

    March 18 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

    Justin, nowhere in my post did I advocate or even remotely imply that novelty songs like this are a "music business strategy." The purpose was to make musicians aware of what this guy did and to help them realize there are many ways to gain attention online. This is just one way.

    Scott Andrew explains my perspective on this better than I can, so please read his comments above.

    And the fact that you and others believe what I contribute here is "a real dis-service to musicians" is fine. Luckily, I'm not out to please everyone. I respect and listen to the criticism, but I don't let it deter me from my greater mission.

    My focus is on serving the people who get and resonate with my message. Which is another valuable lesson for musicians: focus on the people who celebrate you, not those who tolerate you.

    And Felix, I don't look at everything at all times through the "self-promotion value" lens. But I have been writing and speaking about this music marketing thing for about 20 years now. It's kinda what I do :-)

    March 18 | Registered CommenterBob Baker

    Sure, it's novelty, but he already has 110K subscribers for work that probably took only a couple hours. Now he's got a great platform and foundation to start selling stuff; I'm surprised he wasn't ready when he released this. Maybe he didn't think it would get this big!

    March 18 | Unregistered CommenterKyle Simmons

    There are other services, not chat orientated but similar to the roulette style of interactivity....

    I have utilized a few ideas to include these services but not for me, for my fans. Has anyone been having any great e-team ideas?

    Sorry but i can only tell my idea's when my site has been finished in April.

    March 19 | Registered CommenterMartinT

    This is Ben Folds... ALSO! This site is full of dudes beating it all day. wouldn't go there if i were you.

    March 19 | Unregistered CommenterJamison

    I've been looking for a sheet music reader, maybe the iPad can be made to recognize the music and flip page for me? I'd buy that app for $$$! :-)

    I do think it is coolwhat this guy did and I appreciate Bob bringing it to my attention. Here 's my dilema about just trying stuff. Who's got that kind of time? It is hard enough to find the time to learn the already tested and proven techniques and business models. How do you find time to try to work with a crap-shoot, little known, possible resource? If you have that kind of time or can make that kind of time in your day, then I want youto teach me how to do it... I'm seriously.

    But really... Good for this guy. All the power to him.

    Tom Siegel

    March 19 | Registered CommenterTom Siegel

    Tom Siegel

    To get to my point, I can teach you!

    And i too am serious. Have you got an e-mail i can contact you on?

    March 20 | Unregistered CommenterMartinT

    I think this whole discussion boils down to business strategies. Most business -in the music industry or otherwise- focus on following models. And then working hard to execute them...

    Nothing wrong with that... and it IS necessary.

    But there is always the alternative of building innovation and experimentation into your model. And this is important because a business strategy that focuses too much on getting things done along well trodden tracks can and will produce short-sightedness.

    my $0.02

    March 20 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

    ps... Johan Ronström, you are onto something there!!! That would really rock!!!

    March 20 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

    Justin Boland is 100% correct on this. Maybe when you find a story in which the plucky musician with the quirky claim to fame actually goes on to real music success this will look more useful. Just ask Tay Zonday.

    March 21 | Unregistered CommenterJustin S

    I don't get the nay saying here? This is a solid post with solid advice. If anyone can come up with a first-time gimmick that works, than ride it for all it's worth. Gimmicks and gadgets don't lessen the value of anyone's art, and gimmicks are part of every marketer's play book.

    The point of the post is: if you are brilliant enough to find or create a gimmick or gadget that works - and a new gadget opportunity seems to pop up every quarter - then be the first to ride it to the moon?

    March 21 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

    Bruce, I don't see solid advice here. What I see is an example of get-rich-quick thinking that is fundamentally unworkable as a music strategy due to its reliance on gimmickry. I'm thankful that Mr. Baker brought this point to our attention, but I actually think it functions more as a great example of (generally) what not to do.

    "What new site, gadget or buzz-producing topic could you capitalize on?" This sort of thinking puts the artist in the mindset of an opportunist, not a strategist. Now, yes, we all have to take every opportunity possible. But success in this industry comes from shaping those opportunities yourself, so that your artistic product/brand is not cheapened or diluted by the innanity of your chosen mode of communication.

    There's a lot of music industry advice pertaining to the internet that, I believe, just boils down to saying "throw things at the wall, and see what sticks." Thats what this article says to me - try random stuff, forget about context or defining yourself or your music, and you too can be the flavor of the week! I strongly disagree with advice that points down this sort of path. Its short term thinking, and is almost certainly not going to pay off.

    Seriously, what kind of musical gimmickry like this has ever worked in the internet era? We can all think of at least 10 flash-in-the-pan folks who did something fun or silly on the web with music and got some hits for it. But who was able to parlay that into a serious enterprise?

    My fundamental problem with these tactics is that they almost inevetably serve to reduce our understanding of who the artist IS, and why we should care. By so gleefully piggybacking on the noisy innanity of these web-fads, an artist makes themself and their music intertwined with noisy innanity. Then they are no longer selling what they are good at and intend to sell - their art - but selling little web droppings. The more a musician embraces the ADD aspect of the web, the more they will be putting themselves in positions to be ignored. Ironically, Chat Roullette is a perfect analogy for that problem - everyone who goes to that site has only one button to push... the button for, "next"!

    Are these really the type of arena's we want to be competing in? We don't have to be. There are as many ways to use the web to deepen our attention and broaden context as there are ways to passively waste time. Master the former. Utilize the latter if you must, but keep in mind that when you are there, you will just be so much noise.

    So to sum up, this is good advice on how to pursue an aspect of marketing that will probably be useless to you. Its not like this was a waste of an article or anything, just as chat roullette is not a waste of a website. But neither of them are going to be anything more than fleeting, throwaway observations on the fringe of a more serious discussion that we may as well get back to having at this point.

    March 22 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

    The value in this post, as I see it, is in the comments. There is a business strategy in this story. Its just that Bob wasn't the one to point it out. In fact, in Bob's defense, he wasn't refering to the story as a good example of a business strategy. The way I read the post, he was saying that this guy had a cool idea that he had missed, suggesting that there are cool ideas to be had out there.

    The business strategy is what Scott Andrew pointed out: "This isn't a "artist uses Chatroulette to get discovered" story so much as a "artist exploits Chatroulette to get discovered on YouTube" story."

    If your business model is designed around using youtube to gain exposure, then using chatroulette or any other gimick available is a viable action to take (so long as it is eventually available on youtube).

    Not every piece of information available on the internet (or MTT) needs to spell it out for us. It's the reader's job to make inferences and figure out how to apply the concepts presented to real life situations.

    Tom Siegel

    March 22 | Registered CommenterTom Siegel

    Actually, weren't we all completely f'ing wrong?

    This wasn't a new artist, this was Ben Folds having fun. Thanks to Jamison for being the first to point that out. So both the original post and my whole critique was utterly beside the point. Shucks.

    March 22 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

    No. Ben Folds is not Merton.

    But Ben Folds just released a video impersonating Merton:


    March 22 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

    @ Justin,

    Do you watch sports? Are you a student of military history?

    As analogies, it's every coaches or generals job to be prepared to win the game or the battle. You set strategy, you prepare and practice, you study the battlefield and your opponent, and you play to win.

    Artists are fighting (struggling, working, playing, vying, competing, etc,) for attention, so perhaps this analogy works for you?

    Day in and day out, you execute your plan. But then there's those times when you insert a gadget, a gimmick or a trick. They don't always work and usually you can't do it more than once, but occasionally the stunt is what turns the tide and helps you to win the game or the battle.

    I will stand by my assertion that stunts can be brilliant; especially when those that do them have an execution strategy that follows the stunt.

    My question to you: When has a year ever gone by when an artist has NOT executed and then capitalized on brilliant stunts? Every year for the last one hundred years, some artist has ridden social and technological shifts, via one stunt or another, to amass attention. Think about it... Liberachi, Elvis, Elton John, The Who, U2, The Beatles, Madonna, and fifty other artists in between. The all utilized one stunt or another and then capitalized on the attention thereafter.

    I don't see internet stunts much differently than radio stunts, TV stunts or any other media stunt.

    Stunts, gadgets, gimmicks and tricks can be game-changers. Only a fool would stick to the battle plan when the option of blowing the game wide open via some trick is staring him in the face, and only a fool would come to the battlefield with nothing but stunts in his playbook.

    Personally, I look upon those that execute stunts that attract massive attention - not with disdain, but with a bit of envy; especially when they capitalize on the attention to permanently double or triple the size of their audience.

    March 22 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila


    Thanks, man! LULZ, I am having a hard time here, huh...trying to set a landspeed record for being wrong the most consecutive times in a single day, apparently.

    As long as I'm at it, this is the year Russell Simmons apologizes to Hip Hop. Mark your calendars.

    March 22 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

    @ Justin

    You're not wrong. I appreciate the points you are making. In fact, your comments have made me think more than the original article. Like I said, the value of this article is in the comments.

    Tom Siegel

    March 22 | Registered CommenterTom Siegel

    The guy got RESULTS - that is undeniable.

    That he apparently wasn't doing this to promote a website, music release or other product is completely immaterial to the point of the post. What matters is it COULD have been done by an artist fully positioned with all of the above, and a simple URL tag at the bottom of the video would have certainly driven a percentage of the nearly 2 MILLION viewers to find out more about him/her.

    What artist wouldn't want that? Perhaps you, Justin, but that thinking seems a bit highbrow in a cluttered market - hell, no doubt The Who had many detractors for the smashing instruments gimmick, but they never would have gotten the same attention without it, starting out.

    And yes, Justin, that had context in helping brand their image, which is certainly a good idea, but 2 MILLION virtually NO COST - Bruce is spot on - that is nothing short of BRILLIANT!!

    I think the key is to have the substance to back up the gimmicks, and work them into a STRATEGY based on an overarching VISION - then (virtually), ANY method of driving that kind of volume seems like a wiiner.

    Thanks, Bob, you opened my eyes.

    March 22 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

    I'm with Justin on this one, for the most part.

    'Opportunism' can be a viable part of any good strategy. But 'novelty' is a short-term and low probability strategy, as its always difficult to pin down the vagaries of human pop-culture affection and herd mentality.

    The question really is, can this new medium of promotion called Chat Roulette be successfully duplicated by more Artists, or not? If it can't, its novelty. If it can, then there will be an opportunistic play here for Artists for some time, until it fades. People thought youtube was a fad, as well as twitter. And fads they may be, ultimately. But what do you call a fad that lasts 10 years? I call it an important marketing channel.

    Perhaps that is the crux of this discussion. Justin thinks that this fad is novel, while others think its a new channel.

    I lean toward Justin on this one, but I bet on Kansas to go all the way, so what the heck do I know?

    March 23 | Registered CommenterJed Carlson

    I can see the book by Malcolm Gladwell now: "Opportunism"..

    I would be willing to bet that more humans have wildly succeeded off the back of opportunism than from diligently grinding it out.

    That's not to say that you should not do both.


    March 23 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

    Just to clarify,

    (1) My criticism was not of this one particular instance of gimmickry\marketing, but rather, of the idea that artists, in general, should pursue these tangents as a viable way to success. Of course this guy got results...we're talking about him. But that is a "lottery" approach to music marketing, and while I think that has its place, I think we shouldn't overstate it, nor aspire to it.

    (2) I should admit that a large reason this whole thing rubbed me the wrong way and inspired me to take such an Anti stance is that I think there is a difference between using the web as a musician to promote and define your art, and being "used by the web" as a sideshow. Does it cheapen any individual musician's work to do this sort of thing? Probably not. I just worry that some day 10 years from now we'll wake up and all be singing into our webcams and juggling plates.

    I usually don't take the conservative "I don't want to change" position, (and again, I'm not going all-in on this, I'm just offering one way of looking at it). But I would wager that the more an artist can succeed on their own terms, the greater that success will be in the long run. Maybe thats whats happening here, and I'm missing it. But I'll take my own reaction as anecdotal evidence that piggy-backing on the buzz of some new product or site or gadget will quite often muddy your artistic message and make you seem less relatable and interesting.

    Ok, you can Click "next" now.

    March 23 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

    This story says one thing to me: stop taking yourself so seriously and have fun with your music and new platforms. Put it on the line and be spontaneous.

    March 28 | Unregistered CommenterPw1y

    Wow. 34 comments and counting. I'm so glad I posted this and inspired an amazing conversation with so many valid points made.

    Tom, Dg and others touched on something that has been a big part of my mission over the years -- to get music people to THINK differently about marketing and what it means to succeed in this crazy endeavor.

    Musicians are creative in so many ways, but when it comes to marketing, they so often fall back on what's always been done before. Why does the fresh thinking and experimentation have to end when the recording is done? It should extend into all areas of your career -- especially promotion and sales.

    Thanks again for all the wonderful points of view!

    March 29 | Registered CommenterBob Baker

    I'm a bit surprised Ben Folds' impersonation isn't being discussed more in context of Chatroulette's value. Ben Folds' live impersonation of Merton was absolutely incredible and introduces a fascinating new concept for live music. He was able to engage the crowd and technology in a way that made his concert incredibly unique, fun, and engaging. I hope more artists experiment with something like this and add a new dynamic to their live performances.


    April 7 | Registered

    Isn't this the site that was in the news a couple months back, because there are perverts on it, you got there and there is some sicko with his whatever in his hand? If this is the same site, I think people should be warned before going there and stumbling on something disturbing.

    April 20 | Unregistered CommenterSam

    Right, be the first person to do something interesting or unusual and you'll be rewarded really.

    Vince Severson

    February 23 | Unregistered CommenterVince Severson

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