Do payphones still exist?

When it comes to making music videos, Walk Off The Earth is by far the most innovative band I’ve come across in my young life.

They have an ability to whip up insanely creative, joyful, organic DIY clips in their home studio. Music videos have been around for 30 years—and “song films” before that—but nobody has done them with this much fun and ingenuity.

WOTE is one of the few contemporary bands (which I can count on one foot) that exemplify the traits of successful teams that I outline in my upcoming book—which, coincidentally, has the same title as this blog. (What are the mathematical chances of that?) These traits include creativity, passion, personality, ambition, independent thinking, and the ability to harness conflict. It could be said that great teams take fun—and play—seriously.

But in regard to this band I have been taking some flak for my servile idolatry. All I can say is, watch the clip above and ask yourself, “How many artists could pull this off?”

WOTE has mastered so well the technique of audio "looping"—which, for example, enables the first vocalist (Gianni Luminati) to lay down a kalimba track that automatically repeats after he stops playing it and switches to percussion—that their video performances look effortless (and playfully so). But therein lies their genius.

This self-produced video was made in Gianni's home, directed by Gianni, and filmed by Sarah (while performing in the song!). That's Marshall also on vocals and guitar, Joel (usually the drummer) working the mixing board and computer, and Taylor (usually the keyboard player) making the brief cameo on skateboard during the mirror shot.

"Payphone," you may know, is a Maroon 5 tune released earlier this year. WOTE does its own version of the rap that occurs late in the song.

If you'd prefer the "clean version" (with less colorful language) click the upper right corner of the video once it appears on YouTube.

In answer to my question in the title, payphones do still exist of course, but they won't be around for long thanks to technological innovation. Likewise, almost any business (and business team) won't be around for long unless it's out-innovating the competition to deliver better products or services to its customers. True for telecom, true for rock & roll.

In case you missed my interview with WOTE's Sarah Blackwood, it's here.

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  1. Now that's a band to watch, unique, different, and keeping it simple and understandable!! Not overusing technocracy to get the point across!! I enjoyed the vid!!

  2. Yeah, when the Musician Union gets a call for a necktie player he's the first in line. (It helps to have a trade.) He's also pretty good at banging on boxes. Must have been a terror as a kid.

  3. Yeah, KT Tunstall and the Ting Tings among many others use live looping a lot, it's become quite popular. Great band, great vid, great tune. These guys have coined the DIY vid and made it their own, very clever marketing and shows they are focused and bound for glory. In fact, they are way underexposed for such a good act. Killer vocals and the way they use Sarah's talents is always fresh and unexpected.

    Innovate or die? Yes and no. Nintendo innovated and lived. Now with the Wii U they've innovated and probably killed the company. It's HOW you innovate, not the act in and of itself.

  4. Ken: yes, they are WAY underexposed given their talent. And, yes, how they use Sarah is brilliant. Great personnel management, as we say.

    Meanwhile, I still hear from other musicians and engineers who question whether these vids are done live. But they don't question their genius.

  5. Great video.

    When I try and connect the lessons from a small, tight, group like this into a large, multicultural business group it boggles my mind.

    Graham has been telling me about a book/study he has been reading which focuses on the optimum number of people a human being ought to have in their community (business or normal). Can you guess?

    He tells me that one company actually splits its groups into separate sections before it hits the magic number: 150, it claims, is the max for optimal human work.

    Can't remember the last time I used a payphone - maybe in a foreign country where my cell didn't work. Ah ...

  6. Hey, Gerri, I was going to say 150, because WL Gore has been preaching that for years. That was probably the company Graham was referring to.

    Yeah, large companies often have multiple divisions or work sites of 100 to 200 people each, functioning with some independence. And an organization of 150 people is always made up of smaller teams of course. So to my thinking it's still all about teams of people working together.

    But whether that team is working on a fluoropolymer formula (like Gore) or a florid poly-instrumental formula (like WOTE) the key is innovation. :-)

  7. I love the line "they don't even have payphone's anymore"! Great 4th wall breakage.

    They do an amalgam fake live thing. It starts real, then gets subtly augmented here and there. For instance when he starts playing the little uke thing, the line is arpeggiating but he's not arpeggiating on the instrument, so that's fake. Lots of little stuff like that. And the vocals become way too perfect, simply can't get close that sound live. You need big condenser mikes. But no matter, killer vid! Great act.

  8. I should mention that Mr. Melville is a record producer, independent film director, and Emmy-award winning film composer. He's also conducted recording sessions at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London, while I've only managed to get my picture taken while crossing the street in front of it.

  9. Russ, they throw their guitars and ukes around on stage too. Haven't seen them drop one yet. Of course there's more at stake when acoustic guitars are flying back and forth, than electric guitars. (When the Who were in the beginning of their equipment demolition phase Pete Townshend used to glue the same guitar back together every night — as long as he could.)

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