This month Rebecca Black's "Friday" hit the Internet like audio-visual swine flu—and the Internet hit back. She seemed to come out of nowhere, possibly autotuned from her first word. But Black was spawned by the vanity production company Ark Music Factory. We spoke with Ark Music Factory CEO Patrice Wilson, who claimed "Friday" was dumb by design.
"I believe that in 10 years from now people will look at that song 'Friday' as a historical song because it competed on the charts and it was from an independent production company," Wilson told us in a phone interview.
You might recognize Wilson as the genial driver who inexplicably began rapping in the middle of "Friday." Born in South Africa, Wilson moved to Eastern Europe as a teenager and began rapping under the name "Pato." According to his MySpace page, Wilson has modeled for Calvin Klein and acted in "several movies, one of which was Urban Menace, which starred Snoop Dogg." In 2007, he moved to LA to break into the music business. Instead, he founded Ark Music Factory in 2010 along with producer Clarence Jey.
Since "Friday" broke, Wilson has kept a low profile, his major media appearance being an interview posted to Ark's YouTube account that is the opposite of hard-hitting. Ark has been dogged by accusations that it's a scam to profit off of kids' sad dreams of fame. The parents of aspiring pop starlets (they're almost all young girls) typically pay Ark $2,000-$4,000 for a package that includes a song, a video, and a session with an "image consultant." (Black's parents paid $4,000 for "Friday".)
But Wilson said the fee is "a fraction of what it costs," and the artists get their money's worth. "If you look at other production companies out there—our so-called competition—they'll charge $20,000, $10,000 a song," he said. "Look at Rebecca Black, she basically became a viral star because of the song we produced for her and because of the video."
Indeed, since "Friday" went viral, Black has been interviewed on Good Morning America and a guest on Leno. "Friday" has been viewed over 66 million times on YouTube and peaked at number 19 on iTunes.
Still, it's strange that Wilson would take credit for Black's "success," given that it's largely due to how much people hated the song he wrote for her, and the music video he produced. ("Friday" just became the most disliked video on YouTube.) Wilson claims "Friday's" badness was a strategic decision.
"Yeah, people didn't like the song, didn't like the music video, they thought it was really cheesy. But that was the whole point, to create something that was really simple but something that sticks in people's head. To have people say 'I hate this song, but I'm still singing it.'"
Where did Wilson get the inspiration for such lyrics as "Yesterday was Thursday/Today is Friday?" "I wrote the lyrics on a Thursday night going into a Friday," he said. "I was writing different songs all night and was like, 'Wow, I've been up a long time and it's Friday.' And I was like, wow, it is Friday!"
Wilson may have meant for "Friday" to be as stupidly catchy as possible, but he seems uneasy with just how quickly Rebecca Black was propelled to fame on a wave of Internet hate. Ark Music gets its name from Noah's Ark, and Wilson says the concept is "getting talent on a boat, like a safe zone." He doesn't recommend the Rebecca Black model to other artists. "If you're going to get famous, enjoy doing it yourself and try to get positive feedback and not all the negativity right away," he said. "We can't control that, but someone should get famous step by step; you put out music and get feedback and eventually get noticed by a record company—that's the right way."
Ark Music Factory doesn't have a contract with Rebecca Black outside of "Friday," according to Wilson, so the extent to which they stand to profit off her career is limited. Black owns the master recording of "Friday," which means the money from iTunes downloads will go to her. So far, this totals around $26,000. But Black's mom says "We haven't received a dime from anywhere."
It's equally unclear how much Ark will make from their star's success outside the initial $4,000 fee. Ark owns the publishing rights to "Friday" and has been selling ringtones on its website. And "Friday," is hosted on Ark's YouTube account, which will generate some substantial ad revenue. (Wilson says he's still working out an agreement with Black's parents about sharing that money.) But they're certainly not getting rich off of the fees they charge parents, considering how much work goes into even an atrocity like "Friday." "That was never our goal, to capitalize on making music videos and songs for artist," Wilson said.
Ark Music Factory remains something of a mystery. Is Wilson a small-time musical huckster whose game was exposed by "Friday's" viral success? Or does he sincerely want to help new talent break into the business and just has terrible taste and limited means? Although now that Rebecca Black has signed with big time manager Deborah Baum and is planning a full album, does it even matter?