Behind the scenes with the team that made Rebecca Black's "Friday" a smash

by Dave Hodgson

March 4, 2014






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There are few trainwrecks more satisfying than a poorly-made tween-pop music video. We still remember every lyric to Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” and the more recent “Chinese Food,” funnily enough, rendered us unable to eat or drink for days. The children are our future, the cliché goes, and indeed, these peppy, soulless anthems have become emblematic of the road pop music is headed down.

But I got to wondering: how much do these music videos cost, and how do they get made?

The godfather of these productions is Patrice Wilson, a Nigerian-born singer/songwriter who co-founded ARK Music Factory, the company that produced the Rebecca Black ditty and later left to launch his own outfit, Pato Music World (or PMW Live). Though he worms his way into almost every music video he creates, you’d probably recognize him best as the rapping panda from “Chinese Food.”

In the past four years, he’s filmed Disney Channel fever dreams starring dozens of teen artists, and if I wanted answers to my questions, I was going to have to go to him. But not as myself—Pato Music doesn’t make these details available to just anyone. So I adopted the persona of Hart Angle, a Pickering, Ontario snowblower dealer and proud stage parent of 16-year-old budding musician Austin. I sent PMW an email through their website telling them that I was interested in purchasing the works for my son—the recorded song, music video, photo shoot, and “online promotions and marketing.”

I was quickly contacted by Richard Brown, PMW Live’s Head of Operations (and Patrice Wilson’s right-hand man) who said he was happy to discuss it with me, just as soon as I sent them a video clip of Austin singing. I started to panic. How was I going to do this? Did I know someone who looked young enough to pass as a teenager, but who could actually sing? My undercover operation was over before it even began.

Then I realized I was overthinking the matter and hastily ripped a video of a kid on YouTube singing “E.T.” This was more than enough to satisfy Richard, who praised Austin’s voice and sounded thrilled by the prospect of PMW landing its first male artist. We quickly jumped on the phone and he laid out the process by which these musical monstrosities are birthed:

1. PMW provides a songwriter to work remotely with the artist, asking questions like what kind of music they like to sing and figuring out what kind of track will fit them best. Richard noted that they “work with artists of all levels,” so the songwriter may write all or very little of the eventual tune. As the artist practices the song at home, PMW sends over beats to choose from, with the artist and family saying yay or nay.

2. In most cases, the artist tracks their vocals on their own and sends them to PMW, who does the mixing and mastering, but they also have the option of recording it all at the time the video is shot. That’s a long-ass day. As this is happening, Patrice and his director come up with the concept and treatment for the video, and Richard stressed that “the parent gives direction all the way along.” So when they made “Chinese Food,” there was a parent who said, “I don’t find this idea and its execution to be racist in the least. Continue unabated!”

3. Next comes the video shoot. The parent and artist have the choice of Patrice and company traveling to them (as Rebecca Black opted), or being flown to Los Angeles, care of PMW. Richard told me that “almost every video we’ve done has been shot in a day,” and that a lot of families treat it like a vacation—albeit one where you spend ample amounts of time with a strange Nigerian man.

4. Once the shoot is wrapped, the PMW post-production unit kicks into high gear adding rainbows to everything, and roughly four to eight weeks later (“depending on the special effects”), the artist has a music video that will haunt them through their last days on this earth. Once completed, Pato Music World also services your music to record labels at home and abroad. When I spoke to Richard, he and Patrice had just returned from Eastern Europe where they’d made inroads with Polish label Koto Records.

Soon after our chat, Richard sent me over the contract and paperwork, and what I found most surprising was the price tag: for all of the above, the cost is only $7,500 USD. This is obviously no small amount, but naive stage parents have been taken for rides exponentially more expensive than this after being convinced that their offspring was the next big pop sensation. The deal was so fair that I wondered how PMW even affords to make a business out of this. Then I read through the project agreement.

“The final music video will be owned by the above named artist and will be promoted on the artist’s new social media networks which include YouTube, Twitter, and the artist’s website. However, Patrice Wilson/PMW Live will be allowed to upload the song and video on its own networks, which may include PMW Live’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and its website for promotional purposes as long as they want.”

PMW has ads enabled across their entire YouTube channel, and in our conversation, Richard admitted that PMW has begun embracing comedy to attract attention, so they’ve no doubt realized that the so-bad-it’s-good quality they’ve stumbled upon is their ticket to Internet relevance. It’s clear to see that’s true for their latest production, “ABCDEFG,” the prequel to “Chinese Food.” In it, Patrice Wilson presides as God over a model town, and at one point he uses a potion to transform an adolescent boy into an egg roll. If the website YTcalc is to be believed, depending on various YouTube algorithms, their last two videos alone could have netted them more than $40,000 USD in ad revenue.

Not long after I’d been sent the paperwork, I received a congratulatory voicemail from who else? The rapping panda himself, Patrice Wilson. “Welcome to PMW Live,” he crowed, and introduced himself as the person who would be making sure our video was a good one. He told me to call him directly if I had any questions and also noted, “By the way, Justin Bieber is Canadian, you know. It seems like most of the talented people making the music in the industry today are Canadian.”

At this point, I’d gotten all of the information I wanted. In fact, had I the disposable income and a son who was musically inclined, I may have even paid the money—that is, if I didn’t mind my son being cyberbullied into insanity. But I thought I would run PMW through one last test: how far were they willing to go for the big payday?

I emailed Patrice and Richard with some dispiriting news:

“We’ve had an incident with Austin. He was fooling around with our riding snowblower over the holidays and ended up breaking it. My wife and I are very upset about this, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal. Unfortunately, Austin no longer deserves the music video of his dreams.

However, I would still like to have you make a music video to prove a point to him. I would like to fly him to LA thinking he’s going to be making a regular video, only to discover we are actually recording one called “I Broke Dad’s Snowblower.” And because he’s been acting like a child, we’re going to put him in a diaper. I think having millions of viewers see him like that will make him think twice about how he’s been acting!

Now, I do not expect Austin to go along with it easily, and I will need your help to convince him to do it. There’s a good chance he’ll just refuse to do it. That is why I will pay up front, regardless of what we’re able to film.”

To further sweeten the deal, I attached some brief notes that I thought would help them see the true glory of Hart’s vision:

But PMW played this one safe. Said the company’s “Head Coordinator” Katherine Pike (using Patrice’s email address, for whatever reason):

“We try to make videos that are positive and have some sort of meaning to them. So as much as it is a collaborative work, we still have to make sure it reflects on PMW Live in a positive light (I’m sure as a father, you can agree with that). Your video idea is good and funny, however If I’m doing a project , I would love to do a serous project with great production value.”

I emailed back in an attempt to make everybody happy.

“I trust you because clearly you have a track record of success with music videos and I really do want to work with you. If you can come up with an idea that is a serious project with artistic value, and puts my son in a diaper, we can make this work.”

I received no response.

And that’s how your “Chinese Food” sausage gets made. I must admit to being left with a better impression of PMW than initially . So if you’re a parent who’s looking to purchase a music video for your child, and you’d like the premise to be only slightly less humiliating than stripping them down and sitting them on a snowblower, Pato Music World may just be for you.

Tags: Music, News, ARK Music Factory, AUX Magazine, Rebecca Black






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