What Purpose Do Music Videos Serve In 2008?

“Let’s Get Really Meta About Everything Because It’s Hot Out Week” continues on Idolator, with the attention paid to music in the present day and the willingness of people to experience concerts without obsessively documenting every second giving way to the meaning of music videos in 2008 via a thinky piece by James at Shots Ring Out. He points out that the medium has effectively been exiled from most programming hours, garnered the dubious currency of “Internet-attention money” for YouTube hits, and become a “loss leader for a loss leader” in the minds of record executives–in other words, their previous status as a promotional tool for albums is hurting them, since physical product once made money on its own but is now seen by many people (at least, the people who think about music instead of bilssfully ignoring it) as promotional material for touring, merchandise, and other unpirateable things.

I think to the artists music videos are status symbols, the musical equivalent of spinning rims on their escalade. If there was some sort of MTV Cribs of the Mind I can just hear a member of the ThreeSix Mafia claiming “You’re ain’t no real baller unless you got cho’self some music videos, ya’ heard?”. It’s something the artists they looked up to did and it’s thus something they feel necessary. Just like publicists, stylists, hype men, and all the other industry excesses that are increasingly being pushed to the wayside. And I think the labels are still somewhat satisfied to indulge this excess as to the label a music video still represents some sort of potential exposure, following the old MTV formula or maybe some newly modified but flawed “YouTube hits” formula. Many of the music video producers and directors I’ve talked to can attest to the increasing importance of YouTube hits to the labels in relation to music videos.

But I think the financial failure of the music video is a uniquely label-based failure. Some clever suit needs to sit down and figure out HOW to turn the music video into a revenue machine. Somebody needs to figure out how to make music videos a profitable and self-sustaining member of the team. It seems to me that a big chunk of profitability in music is increasingly derived from licensing and publishing. Music videos, on the other hand, are seldom licensed (at best they are copied) and there’s no real equivalent of publishing in the music video industry. This needs to change, and it may require something drastic. Until somebody can figure out a way to take a music video and base a video game on it or use them in movies or television, I just don’t seem them sustaining as a commercial endeavor. Why aren’t music videos showing up in the background while I play Guitar Hero or Rock Band? Is everybody still stinging from Marky Mark: Make My Video? Why isn’t Universal playing videos between segments of the Office? Why isn’t Sony playing videos along with trailers before their movies? These companies complain about profits but they refuse to sell their damn product. I thought “corporate synergy” was suppossed to be a big deal?

The licensing-videos angle piques my curiosity in that it goes in similar directions that the licensing-songs idea does, and for similar reasons–people became conditioned to not paying for videos (or, at the very least, bundling the lower-than-$2-a-throw fee in their cable bill) early in the medium’s life, so why not turn them into the promotional vehicles they were originally intended to be–as James says, “a gateway for music to reach other mediums”?

It seems like MTV is trying to do something like this in reverse with the promotion of certain songs/creation of de facto clips within episodes of The Hills (not to mention the bands included on My Super Sweet 16–Cobra Starship was apparently featured on an episode that aired yesterday, which I’m pretty sure was behind their bouncing into the Google Trends top 100), but why not expose the creativity (and money) that went into label-commissioned clips? It’s not exactly “payola,” and I’m sure that there will be synergistic flops in the offing (I can just see Universal’s between-Office-segments bypassing demographic appropriateness in favor of flogging the further adventures of the Clique Girlz), but it could at the very least give a little tick of new life to a medium that’s flailing.

(James also talks about the Arcade Fire’s Web site promoting Neon Bible from a few months back as a possible future for the medium, although I would argue that the double-barrelled advantages of the site’s relative novelty and the fact that the Arcade Fire has a sizable battalion of crazed fans who think anything Win Butler says is genius mean that it’s a model that needs a little more testing. I’m speaking as someone who clicked through a lot of Flash widgetry in her day, and even on days that were more recent than the web 1.0 era.)

(Oh, and sorry for posting the Phil Collins clip. Feel free to suggest another video that’s properly meta in the comments.)

What’s The Point? [Shots Ring Out]
Phil Collins – Don’t Lose My Number [YouTube]

  • februarymakeup

    The other thing is that videos are a pretty safe bet. A video is either good or bad (or neither, I suppose, but you get the idea) If it’s good, you have a video that people remember, that gets a lot of attention on YouTube, that encourages people to go find the music, or see the band, or buy a t-shirt, and thus a great deal of profit.

    If it’s bad, well…think about the last half dozen or so truly terrible videos you saw (terrible videos, not videos for terrible songs), and I would wager it has less than a direct relationship to how much you liked the band in question.

    So, once the initial cost is done, it seems a pretty safe game to play, even in the current climate for videos, which is nebulous as far as direct economic effects go.

    Also, it seems a little wacky, but James mentions how great an exercise music videos are for film students. There is some evidence that the film establishment feels the same way. Perhaps this could lead to a new revenue stream?

  • bcapirigi

    i like the way phil collims’ giant sleeve cuffs don’t cover up the white squares.

  • Anonymous

    The music video also offers the artist another form of media in which to express themselves, keeping them engaged in the ongoing promotion of their product.

    Does anybody have any data on the sales of videos on Itunes? I wonder if people actually purchase videos the way they do songs? I bought a few a couple years ago and regretted it.

  • Nunya B

    I honestly think that a good portion of the time, a video is at least partially enjoyable for an artist- it might be horrible, I don’t know, but at least some of the time artists look at video shoots as not unenjoyable.

    I doubt labels make any money at all off music videos. You can download them all in hi-res off the production companies’ websites anyway (Colonel Blimp, Partizan, etc.).

  • Janelleyo

    It seems to me it depends on the Genre. Like Phaballa mentioned, there is the N and the Disney kids who do a lot with their music videos. The Christian music channels have a lot of videos and various kinds of programming that center around videos (their countdowns, favorite picks of artists, and the metal head show that I love). Just because we’re used to getting our videos from MTV through out the 90s doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been replaced by viral YouTube videos, videos on people’s MySpace profiles, etc. I think they probably get a wider audience than they used to, even without ‘traditional’ music television.

  • alec_baldwin

    I think when they first started making them, they at least had a message. Today, I don’t know…It’s wild how relevant this music video from the 70s is to today’s issues. “Living for the City”

  • loudersoft

    Videos perform a number of functions:

    1) To help an artist “shape their image” with their “core demographic”
    2) To uncover the “mystery” behind the “story” being told in the song
    3) To connect with the YouTube generation as evidence of an artists’ ability to “relate” to “the younger generation”
    4) An excuse to help out your struggling best friend that has two semesters of film school, came up with this totally wacky idea to get $50K from your record label to help them live the dream with you

  • noz

    “You’re ain’t no real baller unless you got cho’self some music videos, ya’ heard?”

    Which member of Three Six Mafia speaks like a ESL student who just bought Juvenile’s 400 Degreez?

  • brandonsoderberg

    I was thinking the same thing as Noz, not in those exact words, but basically the same thing.

  • the sieve

    My enjoyment of music seems to have improved greatly since I’ve stopped watching music videos. (Who has time?)

    I find that when your perception isn’t coloured by the aesthetic choices of the band/label/director, you enjoy the music more for what it is.

  • BakerStreetSaxSolo

    Someone should ask Soulja Boy what purpose a music video serves in 2008

  • phaballa

    I’m surprised that they don’t mention the fact that there are some cable channels that actually DO show music videos between shows. Mostly kids’ programming, but still. The N does it, or at least they used to show entire videos between episodes of My So Called Life and Degrassi. That’s the only reason I knew Liz Phair had sold out–because the N was showing her video for ‘Extraordinary’ between shows aimed at Canadian teenagers.

    The N is also responsible for my knowledge of Hillary Duff. The N has a lot to answer for.

    As for videos making money on iTunes, I do know that the video for ‘What Goes Around…Comes Around’ sold 50,000 copies in the first four days. After that I’m sure everyone just downloaded it illegally.