Digital music rights firm TuneCore knew they had a hit song on their hands from one of their artists, Silentó. In order to make it go viral, they turned to dance entertainment programming company DanceOn.
DanceOn tapped 50 influencers in its network to create dance-based music videos for Silentó's song, "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)." In just three months, those videos gained 250 million views.
It eventually propelled the official music video, which was also created with the help of DanceOn, to become the most viewed YouTube video of 2015. (That video alone currently has more than 942 million views.) The track also reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, thanks to the viral clips.
"DanceOn is a programming brand for the next generation that's all about dance entertainment," said CEO Amanda Taylor.
The 31-year-old grew up dancing, and majored in musical theater at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina. After working in dancer and choreographer management, notably with Broadway producer Richard Frankel and Paradigm Talent Agency, Taylor realized there was an opportunity to pair dance with music to help both gain popularity online.
"There were other influencers in gaming and beauty who were getting huge scale and able to create small businesses for themselves," Taylor explained. "I saw an opportunity for the clients I was working with."
With that idea in mind, Taylor persuaded Allen DeBevoise, Madonna and Guy Oseary to co-found and help fund her idea. DanceOn, which launched in 2011, takes songs and gives them to its network of more than 1,300 dance groups.
The participants receive monetary compensation, promotion, business advice and/or creative direction to create a choreographed YouTube video to the music. Dance enthusiasts — especially kids and teens — watch the content, make their own videos, and push the songs to the top of the charts.
In addition to "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)," DanceOn has worked with other popular dance hits including iHeartMemphis' "Lean and Dab" and "Hit the Quan." It also worked with James Bay for his song "Let It Go."
"In this era of digital, it's more about participation," DeBevoise said. "DanceOn is really a way of people making videos of themselves and that particular song. In some ways it's the authentic, organic form of a music video, rather than something highly polished by a creator like David Fincher and Madonna."
DeBevoise, who founded multi-channel network Machinima, said Taylor convinced him to fund her company because he was impressed by her clear vision and business plan.
"Do you have a strategy and how to get there?" he said. "Great entrepreneurs have both. They have a big vision, and they have an ability to understand how to phase that in and make that a reality."
To determine if a song has viral dance potential, Taylor said she usually looks for these qualities:
- The song has to be catchy. "A lot of great music is coming out of Atlanta right now, specifically dance party music," she said.
- It has to be easy enough that the public can copy the move. "It has to be challenging enough that it's fun, but simple enough that it's achievable," Taylor said.
- The song often "queues" up the next move by mentioning it lyrically, which can help dancers. It also helps when the song has an iconic dance movie, similar to the pony dance from "Gangnam Style."
- The video for the song has to go into the dance moves right away. "Sometimes people get artsy with their video making," she said. "People have short attention spans, maybe they already sat through a 30-second ad prior. You just want to get into the meat of the video."
- The dancers have to look like they're having fun doing it. "Have an active reaction to what you're doing, a real emotion," Taylor advised. "To the extent that you can make somebody laugh or feel inspired, those are videos people want to share."
Taylor's dreams don't stop at DanceOn. This year she started Izo, a music entertainment company that will allow her to use the same model to make songs go viral but not necessarily tied to dance moves.
"It's crazy," she said. "Even now it still feels like I'm being pranked."