Case Studies

Can a Music Video Make or Break a Musicians Career

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock


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Can A Music Video Make or Break A Musicians Career

The music video had humble beginnings back in the 1950s and 60s, with Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Bob Dylan producing short films for television promotion that complimented their latest single, which also helped to promote their movies that were produced at the peak of their careers.

The ideas of these short videos was based on the model that was used by musicals of the 50s, where the best individual songs were taken to be used as promotional advertising on television. This was the time when televisions were becoming more affordable to mass audiences, and were beginning to rival radio; therefore the songs required a visual element in order to be advertised.

In the case of Bob Dylan, his promotional film clip for Subterranean Homesick Blues, which was produced as the starting sequence for his documentary film, Don’t Look Back became the first film clip that could stand alone for TV promotion, and was specially produced as a film clip. It was not simply footage cobbled together from snipping live recordings, nor was it an integrated part of a larger documentary.

In 1981, music promotion changed forever with the launch of MTV onto US airwaves. It started the very new and unusual trend of having purposely made videos made to play on TV. Such things are commonplace now, but before The Buggles ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ video launched the largest music promotion tool of the decade, producing purpose made music videos was seen as something for more artistic bands that needed impressive visuals, as their music was not seen as good enough to stand as just an audio track.

Soon after MTV’s launch however views began to change, as artists that had videos to play on MTV became more popular than those that didn’t. Producing specific music videos for singles began to become the norm as MTV was gaining a large audience from the younger demographic that were the biggest consumers of records and concert tickets.

In the 1980’s, it was still only featured artists and the biggest new pop and rock with the backing of a record company that would have budgets to produce what was essentially a short film for their singles. The music video was definitely only for the mainstream artists, acts that had already made profit, and would confidently return the investment of a music video budget for a single or two with the profits of said single.

For this reason, fans of more alternative or underground genres such as heavy metal were not fans of music videos as they recognised that their favourite artists were not getting the attention they perhaps deserved. As music videos became cheaper to produce and rock and metal artists were beginning to get more commercial success they began to produce music videos that were specifically produced for play on mainstream television.

Fans of non-mainstream music were still of the opinion at that point that their favourite artists should not be making purpose produced videos, as this would be ‘selling out’ to the corporate promoters that will, (in their view) dilute the content of their favourite bands in order to market them to a wider audience.

The heavy metal band Metallica caused controversy with their fans when they decided to release a purpose made music video for their single One in 1989. Their fans claimed that Metallica should remain in contrast to what most other artists by this point, were doing to promote their music. However by 1996 with the launch of MTV2, in the US, most recording artists, regardless of genre were producing music videos featuring some kind of artistic visuals or mini story to promote their music. MTV2 was designed to play less mainstream music for the growing alternative audiences, and making music videos to compliment single or EP releases became the norm.

The music video in the 80s and 90s was something that could only be done by a major artist, and indeed the budgets to produce such videos became astronomically expensive. Michael Jackson’s video for Thriller back in 1983 was the first video to be produced with a budget for over $1million. Jackson went on to produce four videos in total that exceeded the million make and still holds the record for the most expensive video ever produce for his single Scream featuring Janet Jackson, which had a production value of $7million. The main drawback of the MTV generation of the 80s and 90s did not see smaller artists with a limited amount of funds being able to compete with big artists to promote their music on the vast commercialist networks.

However in 2005, a revolution occurred that would change the face of music promotion as MTV previously did in 1981. This was the launch of the video sharing site YouTube. This allowed any subscriber to upload any video to the site and share it with the world for free. With free worldwide promotion at the fingertips of artists, the independent scene exploded with new artists becoming popular with funny and artistic videos going viral.

TV promotion soon began to take a back seat when the record companies discovered that the audiences were moving to online sites, and audience figures could be more accurately measured. However, it was the independent artists that were only armed with a single to promote, a couple of digital SLR’s to film with and a ‘director’ (often a film student) with a good idea that were becoming popular on YouTube.

YouTube allows for instant audience measurement and feedback and artists were soon discovering the true popularity and the views of their fans. Reading public forum comments allowed artists to shape their visions. Most comments offered from the largely anonymous public ranged from insulting, abusive, over-flattering, vague and simply controversial for controversy sake. But there were always a few that helped the artist get the gratification they wanted for their work. The music video was helping them reach a level they have never thought of achieving before.

The novel music video became an instant hit with YouTube viewers, the short runtime kept their attention whilst online and the sharing option meant the video was spread across the world faster than wildfire. Even the most obscure music videos can even pick up some television exposure on shows that feature internet videos such as Rude Tube or Adam Buxton’s Bug.

This was most evident in 2012, when South-Korean pop sensation PSY became the first video to reach 1billion views on YouTube, becoming the most watched video of any kind in history, as well as being the first K-pop single to chart number 1 in Europe, Australia and North America, which is astounding since the majority of the lyrics are in Korean and the only line in English is “Hey, sexy ladies”. This video has propelled PSY’s career to levels that were simply unheard of.

Today, it is simply not possible to have success of any kind without using the internet and social networking to the full advantages. The music video is almost essential to advance a musicians career. If a musician has the means and capability of making a video, they most definitely should. The music video may seem pointless if not for the promotional purposes, but life is made more difficult to promote music without one.

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