Artist Behind ‘Trapped in Ithaca’ Music Video Dominates Local YouTube Algorithms



ITHACA, NY—Residents of Ithaca were surprised when they came across a strange advertisement on YouTube. Had they stayed to watch the entire video, they would have seen Raymond Xu’s “TRAPPED IN ITHACA,” a tongue-in-cheek clip about Ithaca’s quirks that has been a constant presence in YouTube commercials and endorsements over the course of the season. last several months.

Xu grew up in Ithaca and attended Cornell University until 2018, although he left after graduating, he returned to Ithaca at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. After spending a few years away from the city, he realized that some things from his youth had changed upon his return and was inspired to write “TRAPPED IN ITHACA”.

Xu has been posting on his YouTube channel since 2013, but it wasn’t until he posted the music video that his account started gaining traction. The song has something every Ithaca resident can relate to, playfully digging into local attractions like the Grassroots Music Festival, trinket shops on The Commons, and Moonies Bar and Nightclub.

Xu attended Northeast Elementary, Elizabeth Anne Clune Montessori School, Dewitt Middle School, and Ithaca High School before attending Cornell University for a Bachelor of Science and Masters of Engineering. Although his academic interests are in software and technology, Xu has always had a passion for music – he has been playing classical guitar since he was six years old. Xu said that his musical training and love of rap music allowed him to write “TRAPPED IN ITHACA” and other rap songs.

But music is just a hobby turned into a hustle and bustle. Apart from that, he has worked on an array of engineering projects, including as a Machine Learning Engineer at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. More recently, he is the founder of software that helps in searching and finding related information.

Xu said much of his teenage years were spent at the mall and playing basketball. But when he returned to Ithaca in 2020, he realized that the local culture of both activities had changed.

“The video and song is like a third on the mall because that’s where I grew up hanging out, my parents lived near the mall and I was hanging out there when I was probably 12-16 “, said Xu. “It was also in rap all the time, you know, when Kanye said ‘we got married at the mall,’ that was a big part of hip-hop and I thought that was so cool.”

Ithaca residents found the music video when it appeared as a YouTube ad that aired before the video they intended to air. Xu said he released the music video as a commercial because he wanted to promote his other rap music which he released after doing “TRAPPED IN ITHACA.”

“At first, there were around 500 views where people thought it was pretty funny, but after I started rapping more, I wanted to promote my channel a bit more and promote my music,” Xu said. . “So I tried a bunch of different places and created all kinds of different ads on different websites…and the most effective way for me to share my music was through YouTube ads. I got really good responses, c It was an insane click-through rate, as 16% of people who saw the ad, clicked on the ad to go to the video, which was simply unheard of in the advertising business.

According to YouTube Help, half of all channels and videos on YouTube have a click-through rate (CTR) that can vary between 2% and 10%, which shows that “TRAPPED” is indeed more successful than average.

Viewers of the music video took note of the song’s offbeat, rhymeless sound and felt that it reflected its subject matter. One commenter said, “This rap is a good match for Ithaca. It’s totally Ithaca level rap. Bizarre, not terribly rhythmic or inspired in language choices, but nonetheless quirky and endearing.

Xu said he thought Ithaca’s community feeling was unique compared to other small towns due to the large population of transient students who constantly move in and out of the area and that he wanted the feel of the song reflects that.

“Small towns tend to have this more personal, ‘get to know each other’ vibe where everyone is super friendly,” Xu said. “But I feel like Ithaca is more like New York because people come for four years and leave […] It’s colder than I think in a typical small town and I think that lends itself to the goofy, childish nature of the song. I wanted the song to match the city so the video has very low production value, kinda like I’m 13 and trying to describe life in Ithaca, it’s kind of the energy of the thing.

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