What’s the secret to success for a bare-bones acoustic performance video?

That’s the subject of today’s installment of Why It Worked

Jon Poppii gives chills with no-frills cover

I had never heard of Jon Poppii when one of his videos appeared in my Reels feed.  It surfaced “algorithmically,” as they say. Meaning it was recommended to me. 

The Reel had an immediate visual appeal that made me turn up the volume to listen, and I’ll discuss those specific visuals below. Once I was listening, I was captivated by the sound, which I’ll also describe below.

Lastly, my impressions were then confirmed when I noticed the social proof: 650k likes, 24k shares, and 3k comments. Those metrics have all gone up considerably since then. 

Check out the video, and then scroll down to see if you agree with me on why it works:

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Could any musician make this video?

This is the first installment of Why It Worked, and to kickstart this content series I wanted to examine something simple. Deceptively simply.

Not an elaborate or expensive production, or a video that takes years of camera skills to create. No, I wanted to begin by analyzing a social post that might make your average artist say, “Hey, I could do that!”

But there are many subtle elements that make this content shine brighter than most guy-with-guitar videos.

What caught my eye? 

Instant genre recognition

You immediately know this is a solo performer with an acoustic guitar. It screams “sensitive singer-songwriter” before you’ve heard a single note. 

But there’s no shortage of acoustic guitar performances on TikTok and Reels. There had to be something else happening here to make the video instantly stand out, and it was…

The stylish use of a few colors

I don’t know how premeditated any of this was, but I’ll bet Jon paid some attention to the pairing of colors on screen. 

Blue hat with blue artwork on the wall. Yellow artwork with yellow font for the lyrics. The dark gold sweater with the amber wood of the guitar. 

The colors pop AND have a sense of balance.

The negative space

There’s a very intentional framing with Jon in the center, but with plenty of room to let the wall art above his head do some of the “vibe” work I mentioned when discussing colors.

This negative space also creates a sense of physical space, which — once you’ve unmuted the video — gets filled with the beautiful singing. 

It’s a nice contrast to so much vertical content where the video frame is crowded by a close-up and frenetic action.

The minimalist font

I already mentioned the work the font’s color is doing, but the small, simple font choice also allows the text to appear in a single line, contrasted against Jon’s sweater. It’s a minimalist, unobtrusive, vintage vibe that I found quite effective. 

The lo-fi fade

Not to sound like a Coen Brother’s film, but the fade effect adds a light haze that ties the room together. 

It’s a nice subtle touch to emphasise the vintage vibe. 

The obscured face

Normally a clear visual of someone’s face provides an immediate sense of connection and humanity. That’s not what creates the connection and humanity in this video. 

Rather, the singer’s gaze is on the floor, head tilted downwards, with the eyes sometimes hidden by the brim of a ball cap. 

So why does it work? I think it creates a sense of coyness or mystery. There’s the expectation the singer will look up at us… but the song is too important. In a weird way, I feel like the LACK of eye contact puts more focus on the feeling. 

The static camera

This one defies a lot of the standard TikTok logic about motion and clutter and quick cuts. 

Instead, here the motionless camera (maybe on a tripod, or propped on a bureau) invites us to be patient and slightly voyeuristic as we watch someone do something both simple and magical: perform in their bedroom. 

Magic, of course, because it sounds great. So let’s dive into the audio part of it!

What caught my ear?

I think it actually IS live

It’s always tough to tell with these kinds of vertical performance videos whether they’re truly “live.” Lots of artists lip-sync and try to make it look live afterwards.

That’s totally fine. I’m not knocking that approach. In fact, lip-syncing allows you to worry separately about the audio and video, rather than having the pressure to capture both at once. 

But something about this video feels vulnerable, real, live, in the moment. If so, well done, Jon!

It’s a… cover song

As an emerging artist, performing a familiar song will generally attract more strangers’ attention than an original. Actually, that can be true for superstars too.

The cover tune already has proven value. In the case of this song by Aurora, Jon takes it somewhere new with the stark arrangement that leaves room for an emotional delivery. 

And when a video is only 15-30 seconds, doing a cover song doesn’t feel so abrupt because listeners already know the parts that are omitted. 

Just the pre-chorus and first line of the chorus

The usual wisdom is “do the hook” or “sing the chorus.” Here Jon makes the interesting but effective choice of singing the part BEFORE the hook and then only half the chorus. 

I’m not exactly sure why this works, tbh, but I think it creates a sense of anticipation. The pre-chorus melody has an unsettled nature. Then you get to hear the catchiest part of the chorus before it cuts to loop back to the anticipatory section. 

The sense of incompleteness probably drives repeat views. 

Nice room sound

Whether or not the reverb/ambience is natural, or added in mixing, the SOUND of the video is warm, natural, and convincingly “real.”

Incredible voice and feeling

I hope I’ve implied along the way that the success of this video is really about a great performance. Not just the look. 

The visual choices compelled me to pay attention. But if I’d been compelled to pay attention to bad or mediocre music, Instagram wouldn’t be recommending this video to many more people, would it?

To put it simply: This video ONLY works because its foundation is a talented musician doing a solid performance. 

The bells and whistles? 

Social proof

I mentioned this earlier, but the video had already racked up stats by the time it was served to me in my feed. 

Success breeds success. To paraphrase a little Psychology 101, there’s a social risk to embracing and recommending unproven things. So when you see something already going viral, you can hop aboard with fewer reservations. It’s easier to follow a trend than to set a trend, in other words. And that plays out in subtle ways when we view social metrics.

I’m sure some part of me, even if subconsciously, was convinced by the likes and comments. I didn’t LOOK closely at those numbers while consuming the content. But you’re probably familiar with the way your eye notices “ big number” in the periphery of a mobile screen.

The consistency of content

This is not a factor I considered while I watched this specific video, of course, but if you scroll through Jon’s profile, you’ll see dozens of similar videos. 

The approach, and thus the visual and musical effect, is super consistent. Every video is framed the same. Sometimes with different hats for a little variety. 

If you love slow, emotional cover versions of popular songs, you’ve arrived in the right place. Binge away! 

Which speaks to the algorithmic importance of building an archive of themed content. When someone falls in love with one video, they want to watch more. Which keeps the viewer on the platform longer. Which makes the platform happy. Which incentivizes the platform to share those videos with more people.

Judicious use of relevant hashtags

I’m not sure what part the hashtags played in this video’s initial discovery. 

But I was struck by how direct they were: #acousticcover #runaway #aurora

The content type. The song title. The original artist. 

Nothing else. No list of 30 hashtags. No clutter. Direct, confident. 

This cover song video by Jon Poppii is good content, but it’s also art. And art always has room for mystery. 

In dissecting this video, I’m not trying to say “copy this stuff and you’ll have a viral video on your hands.” Again, at the heart of it all is a good singer doing a unique thing. 

But if you can take inspiration from this breakdown and apply some of the principles to your own content, it may help you get closer to the mark, and sooner. 

Happy video-making!

Check out more from Jon Poppii on Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok.

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