Since the launch of MTV in 1981, the music video has played a central role in music marketing. So much in fact, that even back then there was large cache of artists, ranging from Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran and Madonna, who owed a great portion of their commercial success to the rapid-fire editing and sexual nature of their videos. However, over the years, the music video has evolved.
In 1985, Dire Straits released the video for "Money for Nothing." Though the song went on to become an international hit; it’s quite likely that their pioneering use of computer animation in the video had more to do with its success than the actual song playing in the background. The same argument could be made about the music video for “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel. What's interesting to me is that the novelty of these videos is reminiscent of the lengths that artists will go to today in order to ensure that the videos they upload to YouTube will go viral.
From Art Form To Viral Engine
From 1992-2004, the music video became increasingly embraced by the up-and-coming directors of the time – Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, and Hype Williams – and it further evolved into more of an art form than a marketing medium. But, with the decline in revenues at major labels in recent years and the fall of the MTV giant, no one has had access to the funding necessary to produce art-driven music videos. With the onset of the digital age though, we’ve seen the music video increasingly evolve back to its roots as a pure marketing medium.
After all, doing whatever it takes to get your video viewed as many times as possible can only be a good thing – right? With the posting of the “Behind the Machine” TED talk yesterday; where Adam Sadowsky sheds light into how he helped OK Go engineer another viral music video; it got me thinking. At what point do you take something which has always been a marketing medium and turn it into nothing but marketing? To me, that’s exactly the problem that OK GO’s music video for “This Too Shall Pass” represents; it feels a bit too much like the time-suck equivalent of Charlie Bit My Finger or The Laughing Baby.
As the tagline for the video on College Humor reads, “If OK Go broke up; I'd be more disappointed that they were no longer making music videos than I'd be that they were done making music.” This is not to decry to loss of the music video as an art-form either, because that’s not the point; especially since it was only an “art” for a very short period of time. The problem that I foresee though is the underlying aspect of too much marketing and not nearly enough music.
Yes, I imagine that the OK GO video was extremely successful and got them lots of press. In terms of any video getting 13,766,406 views—like they have—it’s still a rather impressive feat. The music video served its core purpose of going viral, reaching a wide audience, and re-energizing enthusiasm for the band; it likely even boosted sales of the song. But, I think we’re getting close to the point where the marketing of the music video overrides the song in it to the point where the only thing that it motivates is more views, leaving fans with little interest in actually acquiring the song playing. Since, after all, the song itself is boring once you take away the flashy effects, machine contraptions, and the marketing hype.
What are other examples of a case where an artist's music videos have become more marketing and not enough music? —Kyle Bylin, (@kbylin)