Making Audiences ‘Happy’

Sometimes the best publicity happens when that isn’t your main aim. And that is what happened to Melbourne-based performer and songwriter Gillian Cosgriff when she recorded a cover of Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ on the pianos from Arts Centre Melbourne’s Play Me, I’m Yours.

People generally don’t like being sold to. When television advertisements come on, we tune out. When our YouTube selection is preceded by an advertisement, we stare at the “Skip this ad in 5…4…3…2…1” button to avoid being subject to these annoying promotional messages. And don’t get me started on promotional emails!

But maybe that is the problem. The aim of these promotional materials is to promote and sell something to an audience. What if the focus changed to actually providing a product that would entertain and provide value for the audience first and foremost before promoting?

Well, Gillian Cosgriff found the benefits of this shift towards entertainment through the overwhelming reception she has received from a cover of Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ filmed on one of the pianos lying around Melbourne streets as part of Arts Centre Melbourne’s Play Me, I’m Yours initiative. Joined by Robert Tripolino, Sage Douglas and Josie Lane, the video has rocketed to over 23,000 views in a matter of days and become an incredibly powerful publicity tool for the Melbourne performer.

“The inspiration [for this series of videos] actually came from my boyfriend Matt Saraceni and his friend Dave Zwolenski. They run a production company called Real Good Kid and had been talking for a while about filming some of my songs, mostly because I don’t have much decent footage of my work. We talked about finding a venue with a piano or filming them in a theatre but as soon as the Play Me, I’m Yours project was announced in Melbourne, Dave was onto it and the three of us went out that weekend and recorded most of it. So I can’t take all the credit!” says Gillian Cosgriff.

Throughout the whole series of covers and originals that Gillian has been posting on YouTube really took off after the cover of ‘Happy’ because the video managed to cause a different response from viewers.

“When we were first releasing the songs they were mostly being shared and liked by friends of mine, people who already know what I do. But once we released, ‘Happy’, suddenly there were a lot more people interested in the project. We had such a fun time recording the songs and the response has been so great that inadvertently our aim became to entertain people more than anything else.”

Not only were new people interested in the project, they started retweeting and promoting it to their friends – and some of these people have rather impressively-sized networks. Among the list of twitter promoters are Virginia Gay, Lucy Durack, Amanda Harrison, Bert LaBonté, David Campbell and Cal Wilson. And they have all given it their own seal of approval which certainly helps spread this amazing video.

“The response to “Happy” has been completely overwhelming. Matt and Dave really had to convince me to cover it, because even though I love the song, I couldn’t see how it would work with just one girl and a piano. The backing vocals and the clapping really make that song work. So I called in a few friends of mine to help us out and 20,000 hits later I guess that was a good idea!

“I think people love the song itself because it’s super catchy and the lyrics are so positive. I also think there’s something really exciting about seeing people playing piano on the street. You never see that – you see guitars and magicians and jugglers and all kinds of buskers, but you never see pianos. I guess that’s the beauty of the whole Play Me, I’m Yours project.

“I’ve had great responses from people in regards to my music in a way I’ve never had before, and the realisation that people will take the time to let you know they enjoy your work is the most rewarding part of the whole project for me.”

Speaking of promotion . . . Gillian is touring her new show through Perth’s Fringeworld and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Dates and booking information for the two seasons are below.

Gillian Cosgriff: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

February 5-9 at 6.30pm
Perth Midlandia – Square Space 276 Great Eastern Hwy, Midland

February 12-16 & 19-23 at 7.45pm
Noodle Palace – The Tina Arena Piccadilly Cinema, 700 Hay St, Perth


March 27-April 20 (No shows on Mondays)
Trades Hall – Cnr Lygon St & Victoria St, Melbourne