The O Music Awards possess the main ingredients of an awards show: awards, presenters, acceptance speeches and performances. But at 24-hours long with innovative, interactive and even circus-like fanfare, it’s unlike any other in the world. Livestreamed, interactive and with a 50%-plus uptick in voter participation versus last year’s, this fourth iteration of the OMA was our biggest yet — epitomizing the current state of music, culture and technology, and made all the more exciting for those in the Viacom family, since it was all happening at our own headquarters.
Highlights include a festival’s worth of live performances (more than 50 bands, all in 24 hours), a new world record for longest drum solo in a retail store, and a new initiative this year, called “Make A Band Famous,” which went to an employee’s Brooklyn-based band, Twin Wave.
We chatted with Dermot McCormack, who heads up Connected Content for Viacom Music and LOGO Group to hear more about the show, a cross-brand initiative from MTV, VH1, CMT and LOGO, with specific production from VH1 this year.
At the OMA, Viacom employees at our 1515 Broadway headquarters might have seen a sleep-deprived drummer, a goat or a Jonas Brother wandering the corridors over the course of their work day. Why the fanfare?
Dermot McCormack: We started this event as kind of a really “true digital” or “new platform” type of event. We’re very excited about new platforms and think that there are new great, amazing interactive, creative possibilities to these new platforms. As a content company, a storytelling company, it’s part of our heritage to always look at new ways to tell stories. That’s how it began: we asked, if we could do an award show on the Internet, how would we do it differently from television? Whether it was starting out with Chiddy Bang rapping for 24 hours on the Interweb to Wayne Coyne going through the Mississippi Delta and breaking a world record. That’s really the theme of the show: to push the boundaries of storytelling and possibilities of what an award show could be, have some fun, and act as a lab and a playground for all our people. MTV produced first, VH1 produced the second two and it’s a great mixture of all the talents we have in our groups. With different groups (live television, event production) working with our digital social platform team in new ways, we will hopefully learn new tricks that we can apply to our bigger award shows like the Divas and VMA and CMT Awards – it’s a living, breathing lab, if you will.
I think we have the most innovative content brands in the business. We’re not resting on our laurels. We’re going to keep pushing forward in finding new ways to tell stories, creating new franchises and brands, and leading the pack generally. We think that’s what the O Music Awards represents.
What’s new this year?
DM: Last year we found ourselves in a little town in Mississippi, playing the Boom Boom Room with Jackson Browne, Hunter Hayes and the Flaming Lips. And the whole town was outside the club. This was amazing and part of the inspiration – celebrate music in all forms – so “Live Music Festival Day” was born. We considered doing it around the country but decided to host it here, in our office building. There’s no greater way to say that we’re committed to the celebration of music, than to donate our own headquarters.
We also like to have an extra element where we break a world record or do something fun that you wouldn’t see anywhere else. We love drumming. Drumming is the base of all music and rock ‘n’ roll, so let’s celebrate drumming and do something fun and different that no one has done before. We’re going to set a recordsetter.com record for longest ever drum solo in a retail store. Performance artist, rocker, professional partier Andrew W.K. is attempting to break it at the Oakley store in Times Square. It’ll be a fun, vibrant 24 hours in this storied building’s history. There’s a stage in the Lodge, we’re going to have a roaming troubadour called Matt Nathanson wandering the building and playing songs at random employees’ cubicles. We think it’s a great day for music, for VH1 and MTV and CMT, and for Viacom and 1515 Broadway. Employees will have a sense of that energy and hopefully partake and just have fun.
What aspects of the traditional awards show do you keep for the OMA?
DM: There are still awards. There are lots of different circus type elements, but we are still giving out awards. We have awards like “Fan Army,” which has become the most popular category. This is an award to celebrate the phenomena of young fans who follow Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift, for example, online and typically give themselves “Fan Army” names and celebrate their favorite artists this way. We wanted to reward this idea. We have awards that showcase how music is consumed and celebrated today – “Must-Follow Artist on Twitter” and “Best Instagram.”
We also have presenters; we have acceptance speeches; we have performances. In many ways, we have the same ingredients as a typical awards show, just hopefully combined in a very different way. But there’s really no award show in the world, that we know of, that’s 24 hours long. It’s part happening, part award shows, part exploration of the future of content.
How did you guys select the bands?
DM: We typically go after more emerging type of artists for this type of show. If you look at the history of the show so far, we’re lucky and proud to have really great artists that were on their way up. Mumford & Sons were in the first-ever show. Alabama Shakes, Mac Miller, were in the show – a lot of emerging artists before they were mainstream were included. We try to pick music across a bunch of spectra – country artists in Nashville. General theme is a little bit of the unexpected, bands you may not have heard of, but you will.
We have a whole new feature this year which is “Make A Band Famous.” We have five or six bands, and we worked with the Artist Platform to allow any band to apply for this through the Artist Platform. The winner will be able to take part in the VMA – maybe perform at the pre-show.
The feature fits in with a lot of the energy we’ve put into the Artist Platform, tapping into that MTV/VH1/CMT heritage of bringing artists and fans closer together in this new world of connected platforms. If you look at most of the artists that became famous over the past 20 or 30 years, we had a big role to play. It’s changing, and we want to be part of that change. We still think across all our screens – television, web, mobile, social screens. We have this huge powerful fame funnel that we can apply to music. We want to play in that space. “Make A Band Famous” is a microcosm of the energy we’ve been putting into that initiative and a fun way to highlight that we think there’s really good music out there, and we’re in a good position to bring that music to our audiences.
The OMA celebrate “music, tech and fans” – how does this fit thematically with what you do all year at Viacom?
It’s really at the center of what we do. We’ve renamed the digital group the “connected content” group because we feel that nobody in our audience today uses the word “digital” – they just see screens and want to access the content they love. A big part of what we do is support our great television channels and shows, and drive viewership and engagement. Another thing we do is find ways to expand our audiences in new platforms via categories that are important to our core demos and our brands. Clearly music remains one of those. And music has evolved and changed in wonderful ways – but we still think we have a role to play in how people find great music, talk about music and interact with musicians. That’s what a lot of our initiatives are about — and that really does culminates for people like me and [MTV President] Van Toffler on a day like today. If the O Music Awards is anything, it’s a celebration of music and it’s a celebration of the new, fun ways that music is being interacted with, consumed, and shared. In a way, it’s the cherry on top of the efforts we across all the brands on television and across all our platforms do every day. This is one little celebration of that.
What part of this year’s OMA are you most excited about?
Days like today are the reason I do what I do. It makes me proud to be part of these brands and this company. This is what separates us from other jobs. I’m happy today. We have a great team working on it, so I’m really proud of the team and all the hard work they’ve done. What I’m excited about: the whole drumming thing. I don’t know if Andrew can drum for 24 hours. I’ve never witnessed a human drum for 24 hours – don’t know how that’s gonna play out. I’ve very rarely witnessed anyone do anything for 24 hours. That’s going to be one of the storylines that I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I’m excited to see the Jonas Brothers. I’m looking forward to seeing the Mowglis and Parmalee from CMT, and to seeing how Andrew performs in the drum-a-thon. Like all our O Music Awards, it’s one of those shows that you never know what’s gonna happen. So that scares and excites me all at the same time.