The Modern Music Video

Last year I wrote an essay for my course at Uni where I argued that the music video as a medium was dead on its feet. It was over. Done. Nobody paid attention to them anymore, they’d lost their power in attracting audiences, no label was prepared to put money into them, that they were surface-level tedium, and that they were obsolete as a promotional tool.  In many cases I still maintain that these aspects are true; old ideas are recycled constantly and cheap performance videos multiply overnight. But I think I’ve changed my mind since then. I now believe that the music video is re-emerging.

After a decade of new internet services siphoning off the music video’s previous purpose, to expose and promote the band visually and to develop a band image they are able to sell, broadly the music video is still filled with the same old content, but the bands and their management are using them differently. Instead of drumming up hype before a release they are now utilising them as a means of remaining in their audiences’ consciousness. In an environment where there are hundreds of bands, nigh thousands domestic and internationally, vying for media attention, the videos have transformed from ‘ooh we have a new release check us out’ to ‘we’re here, we’re here, we exist!’. And so if a band receives any sort of attention it’s integral that they remain in the news in any way they can, and a music video serves that purpose. As Marshall McLuhan said, ‘the medium is the message’.


I have found it to be true that news outlets do frequently report on new music videos and their readerships respond positively. Typically a website reflects their audience and aims to give them what they want and it appears music videos are still in demand, no matter their merit. This baffles me as they’re habitually the same old, same old, but people are finding a new use for them and well, once something’s broke and you can exploit it in a different way, might as well.

This was all a lumpish way of saying it seems people are interested again in music videos, but why? In a world of perpetual news information why are we as an active, engaged, interactive, demanding audience satisfied with a product that was outdated nearly a decade ago?

We don’t need to learn what the bands look like, we have the simple Google search for that.

We don’t need to find out what the members of the bands are like because we have Facebook for that, which also provides an even more intimate platform. In addition are the hundreds of blogs out there making inroads to project the band and the people behind them.

One can’t really argue for the interest of a visual representation of a song because most videos are generic, and as it’s meant to be a visual representation of a particular song, why does it look like a hundred other videos? Some people could argue that not everyone can achieve the kind of representation they initially wanted due to budget and ability, so I then put forward why bother doing it at all if one can not afford it? Why do a half-assed job when that money could be used on something more useful like studio time or gas money so the band can tour?
Of course I am aware not all videos are performance videos, the majority are, but that’s to be negligent and ignore the many, many pointless abstract videos where customarily it’s an endurance test to sit through them. The similarity between the performance and the abstract video? Both are rather cheap and easy to make. Not much unique or worthwhile there.

The simple idea of watching a video just to listen to the music is a cute one, and viable, one might just want to dig some grooves, but in the grand scheme of things there are better and more efficient ways of listening to a band’s music. Streaming websites are popping up all over the landscape, Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, MOG, etc they are better and quicker and more able services for a curious listener than a single video. So that argument can be defenestrated.

The people who decide to make a video though are most likely not even the bands themselves. It’s the management or the label, they want something they can attach to their newsletters. We all know many of the big labels are run by regressive ‘newspaper’ men who do not understand how the industry is changing, it’s time for people to take a look at the more innovative labels. It’s no mistake Profound Lore don’t waste their time on videos. It’s no mistake Southern Lord don’t waste their time on videos. They’re attention is on using their resources on getting the music out to their audiences, that is what’s going to promote them best, the music, not some shoddy video in an abandoned warehouse or whatever.

I do understand, and I too acknowledge, that there are some damn cool videos out there. It comes with all entertainment that a lot is shit but there are some real gems which are worth noting. A good music video is a great advertisement and can be good fun. Mastodon’s music videos immediately come to mind; they have a surprisingly decent budget behind them and they’ve created a few videos now that are unique and enjoyable to watch, they cultivated an amusing and tongue-in-cheek sensibility around the band which appeals to fans. Great marketing.

Video makers have also shown that a good video doesn’t have to be about space travel and muppetry, as good as they are, interesting ideas like homage have been put in to play. As much as I find videos to be pointless, I can’t help but love Gojira’s ‘Vacuity‘ video which features a woman having to drag a coffin chained to her up a cliff face. There is the entirely overt reference to the spaghetti western Django, whose entire premise really was based upon the main character Django dragging a coffin around behind him, the rest of the story is a bit blah. But I also dig the more slightly covert reference to Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, where a rubber baron hauls a 300 ton steam boat over a mountain. That reference is admittedly shaky, but I like to think directors Julien Mokrani & Samuel Bodin had the film in mind.

At the risk of contradicting myself, the band Red Fang were able to produce a quality video on a miniscule budget, a thing I believe to be generally mutually exclusive, unless the video is in some very capable hands, and the video for ‘Prehistoric Dog‘ was in the hands of someone very capable.

All the videos I have linked to are great and add and build the images of each of the bands into something which a fan can hold on to and support. Yet we know these bands are great, and they know we will support them when the next release comes round. I can’t ignore that Red Fang’s video got them solid attention when they were relatively unknown but they also had the good music to back it up. We all know of some artists that have careers based on their quirky videos without the quality of their music, and with those bands you remember the video not the song. How long do you think those guys are going to be around? If they are even still around. Then compare that to how long you think Red Fang are going to be around.

It is the audiences’ fault that music videos are still being made. Label heads see that demand and fill it with mostly sub-par product. They divert resources from areas which are most beneficial like pressings or studio time or merchandise or an advance on a new record or signing an unsigned band and waste it on something that is essentially disposable and forgettable and obsolete. In the end I’d much prefer my news outlet to be reporting on a new 7” pressing by my favourite band than a new music video of an old song.

I am curious to see if there is an argument for the music video, if people still think they’re needed and worth the investment. I understand that the video-making business employs a substantial number of people, and I suppose there are quite a few who do it for free too for the fun I guess, but really how important is that sector in the grand scheme of things. Music video making has been the grounds where a few directors have started their training, and so I reckon I should be thankful of that, yet in reality that is only a handful of names. I believe there is a reason as to why MTV imploded.

Do you still enjoy watching music videos? Are they worth yours and the band’s time?

Also, you’ve seen my favourite videos, what are your favourite videos?

But please, refrain from showing me any abandoned warehouses.

– ST