One of 3OH!3‘s fans met his wife at one of the duo’s concerts. Years later, he proposed to her while their favorite song from their song, “My First Kiss,” played in the background. Now, to congratulate the couple on the engagement, 3OH!3 themselves have recorded a video cheering them on in good spirits, at the request of a few of the couple’s close friends.
This personal, unprecedented connection has been made possible for fans and musicians around the world thanks to the video-sharing platform Cameo.
Founded in 2017 by Steven Galanis and Martin Blencowe following the funeral for the former’s grandmother, Cameo’s purpose is centered around the realization that “the selfie was the new autograph.” How it works is simple: celebrities are able to record personalized videos for fans who pay for them. Out of everyone who uses it though, it’s had the most impact on musicians who are using the platform to connect with fans on new levels.
30H!3, the Colorada-bred electro-pop duo composed of Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Mottethe, joined Cameo last year. “We wanted to take it to the next level because it means a lot to connect with fans in the first place,” Sean Foreman tells SPIN over Zoom. “For us, it’s about making people feel good and happy.” They look at it as an extension of tour meet and greets for fans — and they’re intent on providing their supporters with as close of a relationship with them as possible.
You can find just about any of your favorite artists, regardless of genre or experience, on Cameo. Everyone from Jesse McCartney and Tommy Lee, to PnB Rock and The Game are on the platform. From helping fans congratulate others, give advice to people that need it, and offer words of encouragement to people looking for them, fans can request musicians to say anything — within reason. In 2019, Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath went viral after helping someone breakup with their significant other. The possibilities for celebrities on the platform are endless.
The actual videos don’t take too long to make — singer and saxophonist Masego says that during Christmas time, he’d record three a day for 30 seconds at a time. Singer Lilly Hiatt, who’s done 40 Cameos herself, says the reason for this, along with their ease of making, has to do with how much the internet matters. “We’ve seen so much change and shift into a digital place because of the pandemic and it’s obviously not going to remain confined to that, but it’s definitely a neat way to engage,” she says.
Masego, who’s new to the platform, says that he’s recorded around 70 Cameo messages so far, thinks that there’s a more self-serving reason for artists using them. “I think it’s about artists finding ways to fill themselves up since the pandemic is draining and makes it hard to create and entertain,” he says.
“Filling” is definitely the right word when it comes to another reason that celebrities use it. They are making a killing on the platform. Last year, The Office star Brian Baumgartner made over $1 million from Cameo clips that he charges $195 for. Each person sets their price, so you’ll find artists who charge anywhere from a couple dozen dollars to a couple of hundred. Caitlyn Jenner charges $2,500. With this kind of financial gain from these brief clips, it’s no wonder that more and more musicians are turning to the platform.
Michael Franti, the musician and social activist is heavy on the platform, using Cameo is about connection through and through. “It’s not only a way for fans to see the person they really respect, admire or love, but it’s a way for the artist to see the fans and go, ‘I see you. I’m speaking to you. I’m speaking to things that are important in your life,’” he says. “That connection is really, really powerful and super important.”
But at the same time, there is the financial aspect that Franti recognizes. “My mom was a schoolteacher and she taught education in public schools for 35 years,” he says with regard to how much he’s made on the platform. “I made more money in eight months with Cameo than she ever made annually.” He declined to give any specifics.
30H!3’s taken a different approach to the platform, opting to do the videos for free as an extension of their live show. While there is a charge for their recordings, instead of pocketing the money, it gets donated to charity. Their approach to it reflects their approach to meeting fans: they’d rather do it for free. “When other bands charged for meet and greets, we always thought it was weird,” says Sean. “For us, the emphasis of it is showing the fans a performance.”
It’s a sentiment that singer Georgi Kay also echoes, to an extent, when speaking about why she uses the platform. “For me personally, Cameo is not a means of making money,” she says. “It’s another tool for me to better engage and connect with my fans on a more intimate and uplifting level. I like to charge a very low number in comparison to other artists and personalities. This means I can attain more bookings over a consistent amount of time. It’s all about longevity for me. Building and maintaining my relationship with my audience.”
So, what do these videos typically look like? Everyone’s style differs. 3OH!3’s Nathaniel Motte says that he likes to record them in different places, such as supermarket parking lots. “You try to be different and funny with each one and bring some personality,” he says. Hiatt’s differ between each one. “The person sends you a message letting you know what they’re looking for, who’s it for, the idea of what it’s like, and I usually go from there,” she says. “You can add improv and all. It’s a fun little conversation to have.”
Franti likes to add production values to his. “First of all, it’s just me directly sending messages to the fans and acknowledging birthdays, funerals, giving relationship advice, celebrating weddings, helping with engagements, celebrating graduations, holidays, Mother’s Day, you know every holiday that’s out there,” he says. “They say you should do about 30 seconds, mine are usually between 3:30 and 4:30 minutes long. And I take really deep care – I set up a light, I put a mic in my camera so it sounds really crisp, I have my guitar and I sing a song for every single person and I include the person’s name and details about what’s happening.”
According to Franti, he does it out of love for his audience. “I really take it seriously because my relationship with our fans is something that I really, really value and I want to make everything that we do for them, whether it’s our livestream concerts or our merch or our concerts in person or its Cameo or some other way we’re reaching out to fans, it’s something I take very seriously,” he adds.
As big as the platform has become, the question now is whether once the pandemic is over, will Cameo still matter. The COVID-19 vaccine is becoming more widely available which means that live shows will return, enabling fans to connect with their favorite musicians at shows versus through a website marketplace.
For the artists spoken to for this story, the general belief is that yes, they’ll still be using it. For “This platform provides a very fluid and easy interaction that has become more important than ever,” says Motte. “I think we’ll continue to use it to brighten people’s days.”
Franti thinks that Cameo will potentially be bigger. “They have created such a streamlined way of connecting with fans,” he says. “I remember when I used to get snail mail and I’d get hundreds of letters a year, and I could write to maybe 20 people a year and make direct responses to them. Then came email and we started getting fan emails, we’d get thousands of emails, and I could answer maybe a hundred or a couple hundred a year. Then social media came about, and now we’re communicating with hundreds of thousands of fans at a time.”
“But this has taken us back to the one-on-one connection,” he continues. “And that is something that I believe is really valuable for our fans but also for me as an artist, to be able to just really acknowledge people one-on-one and to say thank you for being supporters of my music and my message. That’s the reason I take great care when I make each Cameo and the reason why I believe Cameo is going to be around for a very long time.”
3OH!3’s mantra for using Cameo, now and later, will remain the same, Motte says. “With 3OH!3, everyone will always be VIP.”