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On Friday I made Bo Peep (Do U Right), a collaborative track by Shlohmo and Jeremih, our song of the week on Dummy. It’s a sucker-punch of a track and understandingly lapped up praise from all corners but it also raised some questions about the increasingly cosy relationship between the creative and commercial industries. While brands licensing tracks and paying for videos has become the norm, Bo Peep trod new ground because the track itself wouldn’t have come about without brand dollars. It was the result of a video series called Songs From Scratch conceived by San Franciscan film-makers Yours Truly [pictured] with the financial support of trainer brand Adidas. As much as it’s a killer song, I couldn’t help wondering if it was a jingle – and whether that in turn eroded its authenticity or if, in today’s media-drenched times, these things even mattered anymore.
Following Friday’s post, Yours Truly asked Dummy via a tweet for a chance to respond on the record – something we jumped at not least because Dummy has long been a fan of Yours Truly’s work. Since forming at the tail-end of 2009, Yours Truly have built a reputation for some of the most intimately shot, beautifully finished music films. As the internet’s matured and video has finally graduated to being a cornerstone of online music media, Yours Truly stand tall not just because their films look good but because their ideas truly stretch the form. Here Yours Truly co-founder William Abramson explains how Yours Truly began and its ethos, how the Songs From Scratch series came about, how – and why – they work with brands, his wider thoughts on brand sponsorship and the impact of that on creativity.
What’s the story of Yours Truly’s beginning?
William Abramson, Yours Truly: Yours Truly was founded in San Francisco by Babak Khoshnoud, Nate Chan and Will Abramson. Nate was filming Take-Away-Shows at the time and as a huge fan I begged La Blogoteque founder, Chryde, to introduce us. Quickly, Nate and I started shooting bands around SF for ourselves, for imeem (where I worked at the time), and for the Take-Away-Shows (we even shot the Lykke Li one in SF!). At the same time, my best friend growing up, Babak (then an art director, photographer and graphic designer in SF) and I started filming bands for fun. The first band we shot was Thao, on the waterfront by the ballpark in SF. In the credits of that video, Bob decided to call himself Yours Truly instead of his real name, and so when the three of us decided to strike out to start something on our own, we called it Yours Truly.
What are the ideas and ideals that drive you?
“Yours Truly is made by real people with real passion for music, and thats reflected in everything the brand touches.” William Abramson, Yours Truly
William Abramson, Yours Truly: Yours Truly is driven by a deep love for handwritten letters. BECAUSE THERE’S NOTHING LIKE THE PERMANENCE OF INK, AND THE FEELING OF INSCRIBING YOUR SIGNATURE ON SOMETHING YOU’RE TRULY PROUD TO SHARE. Yours Truly is made by real people with real passion for music, and thats reflected in everything the brand touches: the blog posts, the videos, the photos, they aren’t perfect, but neither are we. Yours Truly stands for careful curation, because you’re not just going to write a letter to anyone. Lastly, everything we do is held to the “ink standard” of handcrafted quality worthy of our signature.
An in-depth portrait of Yours Truly, featuring them on the job and in interview.
You have a reputation for some of the most beautifully produced films out there. Where did you learn your trade and what do you all do?
William Abramson, Yours Truly: Nate studied film at UC Riverside. His early work with YT informed our no-frills approach to filmmaking. Bob [Babak] is a double major in photography and graphic design and is largely self taught. He’s also the brand’s creative director; designing our website, logo, all of our posters, presentations and creative executions. Caleb Morairty joined Yours Truly very soon after its launch, at first as a contributing writer, then as a producer, then as the man behind all our events at SXSW, CMJ and the like. He’s got amazing ears and is a true talent. I am the site’s editor, I work with an amazing staff of super talented big-eared people encouraging them to speak passionately about songs they love. I produce shoots in LA, SF, and NYC, but my primary focus is business development, creating programs like “Songs From Scratch” and finding partners to produce them with.
How has the world of online film-making changed over the last few years and where is it heading?
William Abramson, Yours Truly: My crystal ball is mostly cloudy on this one. I do hope that we are at the forefront of it though.
Would the Songs From Scratch series happen without Adidas Original’s involvement?
“Yours Truly does not sell advertising, we’re not in the media business, we’re in the storytelling business, so when we have bigger projects we look to partners like Adidas to make those projects a reality.” William Abramson, Yours Truly
William Abramson, Yours Truly: Yours Truly aims to constantly reinvent itself. As soon as people started relying on us for “sessions” and short documentaries, it was time to try something new. So we started a label, Love Letters Ink, to bring us closer to the process of “making” the songs we loved, collaborating with artists, creating original artwork, and releasing the work ourselves. Songs From Scratch is a natural extension of that idea. It gives us the ability to not only document the making of new songs, but to curate these dream pairings of artists who we bring together to make new songs, from scratch. The program is one of several bigger ideas that we’ve been working on, and would love to get off the ground, but we simply don’t have the means to produce on our own. Yours Truly does not sell advertising, we’re not in the media business, we’re in the storytelling business, so when we have bigger projects like “Songs From Scratch,” we look to partners like Adidas to make those projects a reality.
Shlohmo and Jeremih in the studio making Bo Peep in Yours Truly and Adidas Originals’ video.
Was the video concept developed to be in line with Adidas Originals’ ethos?
William Abramson, Yours Truly: No, not at all. The video concept, like all of our original series (those launched and still in the hopper) begin as dreams, like “wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do this?!” Then, we mold and shape the idea, pilot it, see what works and what doesn’t. Then we create a proposal/presentation, distilling the idea into digestible form. Then we pitch that idea to like-minded brands and partners who are looking to get involved in meaningful, original projects. We don’t have a “sales” team out there hounding agencies and brands so all of the partnerships we’ve launched with MTV, Levi’s, RDIO, etc. have been really organic, born of mutual admiration, and a desire to do something we can all be proud of.
Do Adidas get involved creatively at all?
William Abramson, Yours Truly: We’ve been really lucky. All of our clients really trust our vision, our taste, and our execution. Basically, they let us do our thing, which is really a blessing. The Adidas folks definitely have opinions, but they also really trust us to do what feels right and what we’re excited about. So, to answer your question, they do get involved creatively, but mostly providing encouragement and a sounding board for our ideas. We create, curate, and produce the series in house.
How important is brand sponsorship to music and film-making today?
“Some brands get it and some brands don’t. We work with the ones that get it and get us, because without them our ideas would have limited chance for execution.” William Abramson, Yours Truly
William Abramson, Yours Truly: I’d say they are inextricable at this point. Brands are becoming more flexible, more understanding that they have to meet the audience on their terms instead of trying to ram a square peg through a round hole. Some brands get it and some brands don’t. We work with the ones that get it and get us, because without them our ideas would have limited chance for execution.
Are there other ways of funding creative endeavours or is it simply a case that a lot of things wouldn’t happen without brand involvement?
William Abramson, Yours Truly: Sure, there’s Kickstarter. And we’ve toyed with the idea of launching a Kickstarter campaign. Look for that in the fall. I guess we could sell advertising, but we really feel like it diminishes our brand and distracts from the content. The model we’re working with is non-traditional, risky in some ways, but we believe it can work, and are actively testing that hypothesis.
Do you ever feel it compromises creativity?
William Abramson, Yours Truly: Not yet! And for us, its easy to tell if something is going to work or it isn’t. If we feel compromised, we just say thanks but no thanks. We say no much more often than yes.
And finally, as I asked in my piece, when the result is as good as Bo Peep do the circumstances of the song’s creation matter?
William Abramson, Yours Truly: The context of a song’s creation is inseparable from the finished product. Every song has a story behind it, and when we coordinate the pairings as we do in our “Songs From Scratch” series, we are initiating that story-writing process, sketching a broad, but meaningful rough draft. From there, the series is completely open-ended for artists to fill in the blanks of that outline in whatever way they choose. We just put them in a room together and watch.