Why Music Videos Are Still So Important: Views from inside the industry
Some people say there’s a decline in music video quality since both the significant sums of money and MTV moved away from the genre, but music videos as an art form are as important now as they’ve ever been. They’re part of our visual language — a significant part of the culture of our consumption of music, art and entertainment… And they are also a great way to spend five minutes in the afternoon.
YouTube is the second biggest search engine over Google and the largest streaming music service worldwide, so discovering new music videos is easy. The problem is that unlike MTV, there’s under-curation in an over-saturated market. It’s easier than ever to make a video and put it online, which is exciting, but just because everyone and anyone can make a video doesn’t mean they’re GOOD, and what does GOOD mean? Well that depends on who you’re asking…
Music on the Internet is consumed and forgotten about daily, if not hourly. So from a record label point of view, an artist needs something bigger than an MP3 to get noticed. They need strong creative visuals to give them a substantial competitive advantage over their peers. Look at FKA Twigs and Tyler The Creator, perfect examples of two musicians who have made their visual impact just as powerful as their music. Music videos form a large part of an artist’s general creative vision and output. When you can stream music anywhere and everywhere a music video is a focal point — it draws your attention, or at least helps to.
“Even if everything is now digital, who doesn’t want to have more than just the track…I would say the track is the burger and the music video is the full meal deal with fries and Coke” — Simon Cahn
In some ways music videos have become just as or sometimes even more important than the artwork due to the way we now consume music. We used to buy a physical album with nice cover design, but now we consume on a plethora of platforms. Can you remember the artwork of the last track you heard? I can’t. But I CAN remember the video. It’s like a digital CD case for the track.
A video connects an artist and a listener, as well as connecting a listener to an audience. In many ways, they are an important medium for contemporary pop culture and technology. Fashion trends such as Pharrell’s hat and dance trends such as The Dougie created cultural sensations synonymous of that time in ways that are quicker and more accessible than TV and film. Who can forget Miley too?
A bad video can suck the life out of a song, and a good video can make a song become a hit. Take the example of DJ Snake’s Turn Down For What — that song had been out for a while, but it took the video directed by The Daniels to turn the song into a complete smash. Another good example would be Gangnam Style — that video certainly left the audience remembering the song.
This takes us nicely into a production company and director perspective. When Turn Down For What blew up, the directors followed this with some crazy, unorthodox short films and have just showcased their first feature at Sundance. There’s no other short form medium that has the ability to reach millions and millions of viewers like a music video. Short films typically don’t get the same reach as music videos, and they often need to be self funded, whereas a music video has (a bit of) money behind it. However there are also directors like Kahlil Joseph whose films have transcended the music video format, such as his m.A.A.d film for Kendrick Lamar or his film for Flying Lotus, which won the short film award at Sundance.
Music videos are still an important jumping off point for directors to hone and explore their creativity. They give young talent an opportunity to break into different areas of the film industry — they are still very much a way in. The media still look at music videos for discovering new talent, and those ideas are then applied to so many other things. Take the example of Bonnie Prince Billy’s video Bonnie directed by Harmony Korine, the technique in the video was then applied to a Thornton’s chocolate ad.
Many directors cut their teeth in music videos before going on to make films — Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and more recently Daniel Wolfe are poster boys for this. These are visionary filmmakers who, without the existence of music videos, wouldn’t be making the exciting and experimental work they are now. It’s an outlet of inspiration no matter where you’re at in your career — they will always excite people.
“In the last five years I’ve constantly seen all the most refreshing and exciting directing talent come out of music videos over other fields.” — Ninian Doff
If you have a smart artist and record label, then there shouldn’t be too many guidelines — music videos can push the boundaries and be pieces of pure creativity. Budgets have diminished but good creative will stand above this — look at the Eagulls video by Plastic Zoo. It was shot for next to nothing and simply features a brain rotting slowly. How great is that, and greater still that it won an NME best video award. And take Tangerine, an entire feature shot on an iPhone! But I digress, back to music videos, and to the future…
As a millennial we all want shorter and snappier content, and I have to admit, despite needing to watch videos as part of my job, I’m guilty of scrolling through many. Music videos will continue to exist and the strongest ones will survive, but there will be a surge in the evolvement of shorter pieces of music video content adapted to the different mediums (and attention spans). What is a music video anyway? There will be a much broader definition. I believe we’ll be seeing music video content made specifically for Snapchat, Instagram and Periscope. One obvious concern for this is that there’ll be even more content from an artist to add to what’s already over-whelming to an audience, but there’ll also be better curation coming from platforms like Apple Music and Spotify, making video show channels just like they’ve been doing with Beats Radio.
Spotify is now starting to make its own video content for their platform, it’s YouTube reversed. Spotify realise how important visuals are to audio and that the two go hand in hand, so we’ll see more music videos being made with these platforms. In further technological advances music videos and VR will become more integrated, accessible and so more creatively exciting. In terms of integrated branding within music videos, there will be more and more opportunities within a streamlined funding framework… But that’s a story for another time.