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Music Videos and The Lack Thereof

By renai42 in Culture
Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 03:28:55 PM EST
Tags: Music (all tags)

In Australia there is a tradition which has developed over long years of consistent ABC television programming. Every Saturday and Sunday morning you will find a huge number of tired, pyjama-wearing and very often hungover young people glued to the television. They're not watching Pokemon or Astroboy. They're watching the music videos to their favourite bands, which are played weekend mornings in the top 100 order. Before the 100 are played, there is often a guest programmer who programs clips from the archives. Guest programmers have included bands like Green Day and Rage Against the Machine.

Now I've been watching the clips to my favourite bands for a while. Bands like Radiohead and the Smashing Pumpkins produce innovative, interesting clips that go with the theme of the music. In the case of Radiohead, thinking up the script to some of their clips must have taken quite a lot of creative inspiration - they really make you consider both the song and the message they are trying to get across.

My question to Kuro5hin is: why aren't these film clips being marketed as strenuously as the music is? If you're a fan of a band, you would definitely like to collect their film clips. They reveal quite a lot about the band's philosophy, and quite often take quite a lot of time to make. Some bands spend a lot of effort on their clips - others only record one of their concerts on video tape and use it as the backdrop to their music.

In the case of an Australian band, Ammonia, I read that they had spent 3 or 4 days recording their film clip. Certainly some film clips I have seen would have required a huge amount of time to render some of the graphics, act out the script, and make sure the clip itself fits with the vibe of the music.

So why aren't bands marketing these film clips like they could be? I've been to a number of music stores in my time, and there are always only a couple of band's video clips on offer, and typically popular bands such as the Spice Girls. It seems to me if bands put out a video with all of their clips, then they would sell quite well. The mere fact that MTV is so popular illustrates the selling potential of music videos. All of the band's fans would buy the video of a matter of course, and viewing of the video would be much more widespread, and not restricted to randomly catching the video on MTV or early morning Australian ABC.

I'd love to hear Kuro5hin readers comment on this issue.


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Music Videos and The Lack Thereof | 15 comments (15 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
passive medium (3.54 / 11) (#1)
by mebreathing on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 06:57:15 AM EST

Check out Launch.com. They have tons of music videos online for your perusal, often several per band.

But to address the point, music is often thought of as a passive medium. It's listened to on the sideline, the condimint of what is actively being done. Music videos take a passive medium and try to make it active. You can't do something else while watching music videos, just stare at the screen. Since so much popular music is just mindless drivel idiot pop, it's hard to keep people's attention with just "cool shit to look at" and a catchy tune. Music that engages the listener with lyrical quality and rewards the listener for active listening is better suited for music videos, but this kind of music makes up a small portion of what's popular these days.

Re: passive medium (2.00 / 3) (#4)
by fluffy grue on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 12:35:51 PM EST

Hey, thanks for the launch.com pointer. I've been looking all over the place for somewhere which does something like that. Maybe I can finally find the Cibo Matto videos (Sugar Water and Know Your Chicken) which are both brilliant in their own rights but Cibo Matto's site only has 5-second clips of both of them.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Re: passive medium (2.00 / 1) (#9)
by Smiling Dragon on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 12:29:14 AM EST

Aye, but don't forget that (admittadly not all) music videos tend to not be overly plotful, you can actually half watch it and not loose out on the overall effect.

As for MTV, it's like a radio station with no ads - spot the appeal.
-- Sometimes understanding is the booby prize - Neal Stephenson
[ Parent ]
Re: passive medium (4.00 / 1) (#10)
by codemonkey_uk on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 06:11:37 AM EST

"As for MTV, it's like a radio station with no ads - spot the appeal." - Smiling Dragon

Cough. Splutter. Ahem.
Are you watching the same MTV as I am?

"The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell
[ Parent ]
Re: passive medium (4.50 / 2) (#12)
by Dolphineus on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 01:35:33 PM EST

"As for MTV, it's like a radio station with no ads - spot the appeal." - Smiling Dragon Cough. Splutter. Ahem. Are you watching the same MTV as I am? - Thad --------- I think Smiling Dragon meant MTV is like a radio station with no songs ...

[ Parent ]
One reason : slow sales (4.11 / 9) (#2)
by mihalis on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 11:18:47 AM EST

My girlfriend buys advertising for music products, and the truth is that music videos just don't sell very well. Of course some individual titles do well, and different music genres tend to differ in how much the video product will sell, but overall it's not a big market.

Of course it may be that it's the product quality that is poor (plain old boring visuals for whatever reason) and therefore demand is suppressed because people have learnt they wont get what they hoped for. However I have an unusually large collection of music video and my feeling is that it's not that simple - it's a mix of the material, plus the technology, plus the pricing, plus the (historical) poor availability.

Even titles that are the peak creative moment of a band tend not to sell as well as their most popular album. One reason I can see is that the genre only began in the VHS tape era and hasn't made a big splash with DVD yet (my impression is that most music DVDs are not using the format more than just a VHS alternative - yet). From this I can hazard a guess that other people share my view that the tapes wear out, the sound quality is not as good etc. Add to this the fact that sometimes the tapes are a collection of unrelated clips linked together by pure cheese, and you have a rather pathetic product (assuming of course you have all the music anyway).

Made-for-DVD music titles have the potential to do better I think, but only if they are priced realistically.

Anyway, some of us grimly keep buying the things on whatever format and put up with the prices, the cheese, the quality etc in search of the magic.

Here are some tapes I liked (titles from memory) :

  • Nirvana live tonight sold out - see Kurt fight!
  • Megadeth - Rusted Pieces get this and skip ALL the albums
  • Alice in Chains - Live Facelift
  • Yes - Greatest Video Hits
  • Sepultura Under Siege - Live at Barcelona - amaze your friends who think Metallica have "heavy" all sewn up.
  • Gary Moore - Emerald Aisles
  • Metallica Live Shit box set - the older concert tape with "Master of Puppets" live. If you're a 'talica fan you'll understand.
  • 20 Years of Jethro Tull
  • Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii
On the other hand, these suck even though I like pretty much all the music:
  • The Shamen - Boss vid - super cheesy with a few good bits
  • Pat Metheny Group - More Travels - ODD camerawork
  • Michael Schenker Group - dire overdubs on all solos
  • Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger live - they were bored, so was I

You can say what you like about my musical taste, I don't mind :), but remember this discussion about the video product, not individual artists.

Chris Morgan
-- Chris Morgan <see em at mihalis dot net>

Re: One reason : slow sales (4.00 / 3) (#3)
by FlinkDelDinky on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 12:09:06 PM EST

I kinda agree with you. But I think it's more than the low durabilty and poor quality of video tape. If you enjoy two bands you could buy a cd and a tape of one band or buy a cd from each band. You can play the cd anywhere (home, car, friends house, beach) but the tape is restricted to the living room of a house.

Now if you could buy a disc that had both music and video from a band that you liked I bet you'd buy that over a disc that only had music or video (for the same price). Kind of an added value.

[ Parent ]

Don't know if i would want to watch music videos.. (2.85 / 7) (#5)
by 11oh8 on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 04:03:16 PM EST

Many times, I listen to music while I am doing something else (music being passive as eric mentioned).. at these times, i don't want to divert my attention to music videos...

When I'm listening to good music and listening to it actively, I would like to concentrate on the music and not on the video... Also, most videos (even for good songs) don't really add much to the music....

Extended videos like Michael Jackson's Thriller are a good exception...


Somewhat [OT]: Why I hate videos (3.87 / 8) (#6)
by intol on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 04:40:10 PM EST

When I think of my favorite songs, each one has certain images/places/memories/smells associated with it in my mind. For example when I hear the song that was playing when I first met my girlfriend, It helps me remember the night; I can almost smell the cigarette smoke! Each song has its own seperate meaning and signifigance to me. If I heard a song for the first time after I had just broken up with my girlfriend, I might associate that song with being alone, or sadness, and everytime I hear that song in the future I might feel a little sad.

Many songs have lyrics which are ambiguous enough to be interepreted differently by different people. As a song writer I try to make my lyrics flexible enough so that another person could interepret it differently and still enjoy it. The problem with videos is this: the bands interepretation of a song may not be your interepretation. One emample of this is the song 1979 by the Smashing Pumpkins. This is a song that I loved, and had attached special meaning to... until I saw the video. It destroyed my conception of the song. Here was a song that had special meaning to me. The video featured a bunch of teenage dilinquents destroying property. It ruined the song for me. It really did. Some bands try to avoid this, E.G "Tool". Tool's videos tend to be very abstract, but the result is most of the videos tend to look the same.

One reason that some bands have quit making videos (E.G. Pearl Jam), is that it costs a LOT of money. And then the video only gets played once a week, on Sunday at 4 in the morning on M.T.V. (If it gets played at all!) And video sales are always low. It simply is not worth the hard work.

The only videos I like are ones which feature Live performances. I love these! I like to see the band perform on stage. And a video of a live performance is not going to destroy the special meaning which I have given to my favorite songs. All other types of videos I HATE.

What do you guys think?

Re: Somewhat [OT]: Why I hate videos (none / 0) (#14)
by Demona on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 08:06:00 PM EST

You have summed up why, when MTV actually showed videos in the days of my halcyon youth, whenever there was a new song from a band I liked, I shut my eyes and LISTENED the first time the video came on.

[ Parent ]
Music Videos (2.85 / 7) (#7)
by Bad Mojo on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 05:25:47 PM EST

Most everyone I know who enjoys music, likes music videos. But in the US, there isn't any way to get them. MTV doesn't play them, and VH1 and CMT only play a small section of the wide variety of music out there.

I picked up a Bjork cd ("All Is Full Of Love" remixes) and it had a music video on it, very nice. But few record companies seem to care about this. People are buying CDs and they see no reason to offer anything new until their industry needs a shot in the arm. Not to mention that while a CD will play in almost everyone's CD player, a music video CD won't.

Maybe this will change once DVD players are more common than VCRs and people can buy a music/video CD that works in their car and in their DVD player. That would rock.

-Bad Mojo
"The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure pure reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!"
B. Watterson's Calvin - "Calvin & Hobbes"

Re: Music Videos (3.00 / 1) (#13)
by fonetik on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 01:39:32 PM EST

The videos that I have found on Launch.com is great. There are videos that I didn't know existed for songs that I can't even find on napster. (Kristen Barry - Created, still looking for it.) An a lot of the videos that you see too much on MTV too. It's a pretty speedy site too. 300k/s clips load up as fast as my side can take them. Best of all, I've never paid a cent. Not even my email address. (I signed up Bob@aol.com. That poor guy gets all of my spam.)

A thousand compromises doesn't add up to a win. -Aimee Mann
[ Parent ]
They're a marketing tool (4.20 / 5) (#8)
by Spinoza on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 06:44:42 PM EST

They're marketing, and hence they are not usually marketed. The primary purpose of most music videos is to sell an image. Whether they are trying to make some uncharismatic thug of a rocker look deep and thoughtful, or infusing the latest girl-group with that sense of freshness and fun, they are just a way of distracting you from the fact that the music is just the same tired old drivel that the industry churned out last year, except with a different beat and in cargo pants.

While I do accept that there are exceptions to the rule (ie. the work of Spike Jonze is usually quite amusing, and original), in general music videos are repetitive, over-produced, under-thought and above all exploitative. Try watching the videos with the sound muted. You'll notice the insane amount of cuts...seldom does a shot last more than two seconds. This makes the clip seem fast paced and interesting. It also makes the choreographer's job easier, since the video can be written as a set of two-second dances (or gyrations), rather than a single, cohesive whole. Pay attention to the construction of the shots. Notice how the camera tends to follow breasts like an obsessive compulsive pr0n addict?

Of course, it might be a little unfair to concentrate solely on the output of major record labels. There are numerous independently made video clips. Some of these are quite good. Most aren't. In any case, I don't think music videos are something I'd mourn the loss of.

Re: They're a marketing tool (none / 0) (#15)
by andyf on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 08:29:47 PM EST

You must not watch the same music videos that I do. Radiohead, for example, makes incredible videos. A lot of time has been put into them, sometimes a lot of editing (digital?) like in Street Spirit. Other bands, a bit more pop-ish, like Foo Fighters or maybe Everclear, still produce excellent videos, that are not boob-centric. I'm not arguing with you when it comes to Britney Spears videos and the like, but I do think that there are a lot of good videos by fairly popular artists. They're visually entertaining and yet still add something to the substance of the music.

[ Parent ]
(3.00 / 1) (#11)
by davidduncanscott on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 11:14:38 AM EST

I think you're all missing another important point: AFAIK, the majority of videos are not made by the band at all. I'm sure there are exceptions, but by and large the video is the vision of a director and producer and whatnot, which makes sense (most bands have a hard enough time figuring out how they should sound, much less how they should look).

To put together a coherent "album" of videos, one that shows some continuity, would involve grouping them by the people who made them, not the people who appear in them.

I might add, BTW, that this is why I despise MTV and its spawn -- they have further diluted an already diffuse medium by bringing yet another creative team into the act. I'm not sure that a great video can save a bad song, but I'd bet that bad videos have killed (in a commercial sense) good songs. They've created a pitfall for the unwary, another major expense for the band (or the record company, depending on how you look at it), and given us little in return except Downtown Julie Brown.

Music Videos and The Lack Thereof | 15 comments (15 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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