How one band built a real fan base from viral video success

Motion Device became an internet sensation when a Black Sabbath cover version clocked up millions of YouTube views. Here the band explains how they’ve turned that attention into making original music funded by their fans…

We started Motion Device back in 2011 when our singer Sara was only 9 years old. 

We began, like most bands, by doing cover versions of famous rock and metal songs and on October 31st, 2013, we posted our version of Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell on YouTube.  

The administrator of Ronnie James Dio's Facebook page shared the video and it just took off. It got picked up by Guitar World (opens in new tab) and other blog sites. Music websites liked the story of a young band, whose lead singer was 11, and viewers got a kick out of watching Sara sing Ronnie James Dio’s lyrics, with a pretty good band to boot. 

YouTube comments can be brutal, but more than one person compared Sara to a “little Janis Joplin”, and raved about the band. “Dio and Sabbath would be proud” was a common theme. We don't mind getting constructive criticism – it helps you grow. On the other hand you'll get a lot of people who don't have anything good to say but we understand that's the nature of the internet.

And there were positives too. Millions of people knew about us and seemed to love our music. We wondered if we could turn those views into something more constructive. Here's what we did.

1. We started writing our own material

Our YouTube covers became more and more popular and that inspired us to write our own music and to take things seriously – more people were listening.

There’s a very special feeling we get when we play a new original for the first time. That feeling really can’t be put into words – you have to be there – but it’s all about the connection musicians and music-lovers have with music. That’s the reason we’re here – to move people from the inside out.

2. We started to slip some of this new material onto our YouTube

While most people were there to hear the covers (after all that’s what people’s ears gravitate towards – familiar sounds of their youth), some of those fans started realising that we might be more than a cover band.

3. We launched a Kickstarter project

Kickstarter was actually a really obvious and simple choice for us. Our YouTube covers helped create a huge fan base and we knew making our own music was always the goal. We had great feedback from the original demos we were posting on social media so crowd-funding was a natural next step for us. 

We've had three successful crowd-funding campaigns. We didn’t really know what to expect the first time around but we just went for it. One of the hardest parts was doing the promo video – it was really hard talking to the camera – but we created some cool rewards for our backers, and posted the project. It was a success and the rest is history. It's important to do a lot of research before you launch a campaign so you know how much you need to accomplish your goal – in our case it was funding the recording, mixing and mastering of our albums. We also played three shows in the U.S. last summer again thanks to our fans who funded the tour.

It’s hard to believe our fans have helped us record three albums now and funded a tour. Could a band have done that 10 or 20 years ago without record company support?

4. We made our first CD

We launched our first Kickstarter project in 2014 and used the money to make a five-song EP. Doing the recording was nerve-wracking. Everything was so new, being in a studio, writing the music, perfecting the guitar solos, learning about the different methods involved for getting a good, clean recording. It pushed us to not only play a piece of music well, but to play it exceptionally well. Once the songs were recorded, mixed and mastered, it was amazing to see the final product, a CD with our own music, ready to be shipped worldwide. To see our songs available online in the same stores that we bought music from, was a truly incredible feeling. 

We're getting better and better at understanding the process of making an original album, especially since we've done it a few times now. There really is no substitute for experience so there's no shortcut to reveal here. We started small with a five-song EP and have worked our way up from there. Once you have the music ready there are so many ways to make it available online at places like iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. We personally have used Tunecore to get our music distributed to all the online stores we use.

The second campaign was an even bigger success, getting funded in less than 48 hours. Our first full length album, Eternalize, was released in the summer of 2015. We continued to create and upload new videos on YouTube, but the difference now was that we were using our own music instead of covering someone else’s songs.

5. Our latest release is a double-CD concept album

We spent all of 2016 writing material for what turned out to be a double-CD concept album. Once again our fans showed their support by tripling the band’s original funding goal. 

We've had fans donate huge amounts of money to help fund our campaigns and we're so thankful for every single one of them. They make all of this possible. When we end up with extra funding we make sure to pour it right back into the things Motion Device needs to make its mark ~ most of it usually goes into video production for our YouTube music videos. It only makes sense to us because YouTube has been the ultimate tool for us in getting our music and message across to people.

Writing a concept album like Wide Awake took a lot of time because we really wanted to tell a story with the music. Each song is a story in itself. We were already very familiar with the song-writing process from our previous albums, so it wasn’t so much “how do we write these songs?” it was more: how can we tell a story and take the listener on a journey? The title track of Wide Awake is one of our favourites. We made a point of making this one have a Black Sabbath sound and vibe to it, but still making it our own – we think we pulled it off.

The most important thing we’ve learned through the process is to just keep moving forward. It’s obvious that our music plays a huge role in our lives and in our fans’ lives as well. We just have to remind ourselves to enjoy the ride and have as much fun as possible. Enjoying your work is the key to enjoying life.