How to Make a Viral Video (Step 1 - Lose a Competition) : Durham Academy

Chosen because Durham Academy's XIV Hours a cappella group performed this piece at a national competition — and lost. So the school helped XIV Hours create an awesome, courageous video, turning lemons into gallons of lemonade, going viral in the process.

This article was written by Leslie King, Director of Communications at Durham Academy, for the school's website and is reposted in full with permission. InspirED was wowed by this video, and couldn't have told the story any better than Leslie did. Thank you for the permission to cross post. Not only did this video get InspirED's attention, it also got the attention of Inside Edition, Huffington Post, and MTV, among others.

Last winter, DA a cappella group XIV Hours created a performance piece for their first national competition at the International Championship of High School A Cappella – a meditation on the unhealthy sexual relationships and gender stereotypes contained in the messages of popular music and culture. The themes were rooted in an ongoing campus-wide dialogue about respect. It was a powerful performance, and while its message won accolades from the judges, XIV Hours didn’t advance in the competition, which was deflating.

“We were all dejected and sad on the plane riding back to Durham when (Upper School music teacher) Mr. Meyer came back to our section and said ‘You all we’re gonna do a music video, because what we're doing is too important to just let it go,’” said Brooke Joynes ’15. “And after he told us that, the whole atmosphere changed on the plane for us. We were so overjoyed because it meant that we weren't going to let some judges stand in the way of what we all worked so hard for and believed in so much.”

Over the summer, XIV Hours went to work on a long-form music video dramatization interpreting those same themes through characters played by members of the group. They were committed to inspiring conversation on a larger level about relationship expectations and the mixed messages teens navigate through the music they listen to every day. But they were under a tight timetable – more than half the group had graduated in May and was headed off to college. “This project was really big and really tiresome,” said videographer Brad Hodgin ’15, “but also so rewarding and so much fun. I'm just glad that other people get to see what we created.”

The video dramatization mimics the structure and themes of XIV Hours’ ICHSA performance:

Act One asks: what if people actually said in real life what "club anthems" discuss? The overtly sexual nature of some of those lyrics, when sung by teens, can be uncomfortable to hear or watch.

Act Two follows a couple whose relationship is intentionally vague, and is complicated by the fact that they are dealing with weighty decisions at a young age and may not be communicating with each other clearly.

Act Three shows the fallout from hookup culture: broken hearts and loneliness. In a breakthrough moment, our characters realize that open communication and holding each other up, rather than tearing each other down, is at least a start toward navigating relationships safely.


The experience of shooting the music video itself impacted students on multiple levels.

“It was honestly a life-changing experience. For me, being the girl that was harassed in the club by all the guys in the group singing pop lyrics at me, I truly felt the effects that that kind of culture has on women,” said MacKenzi Simpson ’16.

“I had this realization through the process and made a point to give songs a harder listen, and be respectful of the sexuality of each individual,” said Andrés Rosa ’15.

“I feel proud and accomplished to have been a part of such an amazing, talented group of people,” said Megan Pottenger ’15. “I feel like I learned a lot about how detrimental hookup culture and miscommunication can truly be, and I think we were able to show that in the video.”

“Lost in the Game: A Musical Story of Relationships, Sex and Gender Politics” made its DA debut Tuesday at an Upper School assembly, with music teacher and XIV Hours director Michael Meyer providing introductory context about the project. The video was shared with the larger DA community on Facebook the next day. So far more than 2,500 people have heard their message on Facebook, and more than 2,300 have watched the video.


“Now that it has been put into an artistic piece that can be played over and over until people truly understand the message makes me proud,” said Sofia Velazquez ’15. “I hope that through this commentary on lyrics many others can start a conversation and open up this issue to their surroundings as well.”

“For me, the video was amazing because it proved to us that we could use music, something that we all loved, to make a bigger statement and share a message. To be a part of something bigger than our group is a fantastic experience,” said Kiran Nagar ’16.

“The process reminded me how lucky I am to be at a school where the students and teachers genuinely care about each other and are passionate about things,” said Thea Lance ’16. “The fact that we were able to touch people with our music means everything to me.”


“Although there were numerous times where I didn't think that the video would be finished at all, I'm so happy that we did it,” said Joynes ’15. “Michael Meyer is truly a genius and Durham Academy would be hard pressed to find a more dynamic, passionate and loved teacher for the music department.”

“I couldn't be more grateful to (Michael) Meyer, for everything. He has done so much for his group this year, and we couldn't have done any of it without his careful guidance and care,” said Marie Li ’15. “I will sorely miss this group, and part of me is admittedly a bit sad that the video came out, only because it means that the year is truly over.”

"Each member of this group has a special place in my heart. This project was something I'll never forget,” said Braden Saba ’16.

Congratulations to our talented, creative faculty and students who collaborated on this work:

XIV Hours 2014-2015

Derek Brown ’15
James Daubert ’15 (played by Morgan Jones ’16 in the video)
Brad Hodgin ’15
Brooke Joynes ’15
Veronica Kim ’16
Thea Lance ’16
Marie Li ’15
Kiran Nagar ’16
Thomas Olson ’15
Megan Pottenger ’15
Andrés Rosa ’15
Braden Saba ’16
Ariana Sheeks ’15
MacKenzi Simpson ’16
Sofia Velazquez ’15
Geri Williamson ’15

“Lost in the Game” was recorded and edited by Brad Hodgin, Derek Brown and Upper School music teacher Michael Meyer. Musical arrangements by Michael Meyer. Vocal percussion by Derek Brown. Audio was recorded, edited, mixed and mastered by Liquid 5thProductions. Special thanks to Piedmont Restaurant, where the video’s opening scenes were filmed!

If you like this post, you'll love our newsletter, the Daily Jolt. Sign up here.

Related Posts