Johnston and Birch of Big Ass Robot
“We had all these songs on our website that nobody cared about, so we thought, We’ll do videos so people will care,” says T.C. Johnston. “Of course, nobody really cared, but we were having fun.”
Johnston, a longtime San Diego musician most famous for his 1990s ska band Noisepie and his musical comedy trio Faux Pas, was looking for a way he and musical partner Bruce Birch could reach the masses with their musical project, Big Ass Robot.
The videos can be surprisingly elaborate, such as one for a song called “Thinkayou,” where Johnston walked through the Balboa Park Prado lip-synching to a version of the song played at half-speed on a ghetto blaster held off-camera by Birch.
...by Big Ass Robot
“I took that video and played it at twice the speed so it matched the song at normal speed,” he says. “We had a new song, a new video, and nobody cared.”
So, Birch and Johnston, who are both multi-instrumentalists, had to come up with another noteworthy scheme: turning their tunes into vacation video soundtracks.
“I’m a psychotically profligate vacation videographer from when they first had video cameras,” Johnston says. “We figured the best way to get people to look at our stuff was to give them stuff they were already looking for. So I took my video of, say, Meteor Crater, Arizona, chopped it down, and put music to it.”
From there, Johnston and Burch started composing songs specifically designed for people to use as background music for their own videos.
How’s it going so far?
“One guy used a song called ‘Surf Lords’ as an ad for a low-rider convention,” Johnston says. “That’s fine. I want this stuff to get used. People always want background music. When I want it, I just write it, but not everyone has that option.”
Johnston and Burch offer their music free of charge at their website, BigAssRobot.com, which is ironic, considering Johnston is an internet-technology attorney, a job that requires him to defend intellectual property from being used without compensation.
Someone had to point out the irony of a trademark attorney giving away his own intellectual property.
“It was totally lost on me,” Johnston says. “It hadn’t occurred to me because copyright is a system of laws that is regularly abused.”
Johnston says that even though he advocates for his clients on trademark and copyrights, his own opinion is more nuanced.
“If one company uses another’s before and after photos in an ad, that’s a big problem, but someone who samples a Def Leppard snare drum because it sounds interesting, I don’t think that’s a problem,” he says.