Why do music videos still exist now that MTV is dead?
The old answer, back in the day, was a simple formula:
(a) Band makes a music video
(b) Gives said video, free, to MTV, which plays videos 24/7, causing
(c) Everybody profits, with MTV getting bazillions in TV ads for broadcasting free content while the band sells bazillions of obscure artifacts that archeologists call “tapes” and “CD’s.”
Today is different. High school and college students today don’t buy tapes or CD’s, though for some reason they do spend real dollars on an even more obsolete technology involving massive vinyl platters created by musicians who retired long before they were born.
Today, the reasons for music videos are subtle and mysterious, given that MTV—after a corporate retreat that must have involved industrial amounts of alcohol, peyote and stupidity—stopped running free music videos 24/7 and decided to give the world Snooki, the Situation and Real Teen Moms or whatever.
Why make music videos? Here are the secret reasons no one will tell you, because I’m making them up right now:
1) Name ID is everything
Say you’re a rock band, and just starting out, as in “we just got our first gig!” means playing at your cousin’s wedding in exchange for two cases of Alaskan Amber.
To become famous, nationally, you could spend $10,000 a month on a top rock publicist and run a national ad campaign about your latest album and concert tour. Except you don’t have $5 million to even attempt such a thing. If the drummer sells his VW van, you might have $565, which could hire you a college PR student who’d write three press releases and make you a Twitter account.
Videos on YouTube, though, can give you a global audience—if you’re willing to do anything to get publicity.
Quality doesn’t always matter with music videos. Shoot the thing in grainy black-and-white, or out of focus, and people will think your brand is gritty and authentic instead of slick and corporate.
For any sort of band or singer looking to break in, name ID is the whole shooting match, and music videos are perhaps the easiest way to get your face and songs out there.
Underdogs can’t produce slick, amazing videos like today’s stars and don’t have the experience of one-time stars making comeback attempts.
Standing out, as an underdog, means taking gigantic risks on a tiny budget.
Nobody did this better than Ylvis with WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY?
2) To get their film groove on
Ever notice that pro athletes want to be movie stars, movie stars want to be rock stars and rock stars want to be pro athletes or movie stars?
Well, rock stars also want to be actors.
Filming an artistic music video, a mini-film, lets them live that fantasy.
It’s also fan service.
If you’re a 30 Seconds to Mars fanatic, putting the song on your iTunes playlist is one thing. A new music video from Jared Leto, though, is an event. He’s an amazing actual Hollywood actor, so it’s not a shock his videos are amazing.
THE KILL is a great example of music video as short film.
NOVEMBER RAIN is another classic, running more than 9 minutes without boring the audience one bit.
Honorable mention, because they get the whole KILL BILL vibe perfect: Iggy in BLACK WIDOW and every single video Macklemore has done or ever will do.
3) To achieve perfection and therefore immortality
In the studio, you can re-record tracks and mix a song for weeks until it’s perfect.
On a concert stage, visual elements let you put on a real show, though you have to pick between the stale, cold and impersonal perfection of lip syncing or the energy of imperfect live singing while you try to dance and not flub the high notes.
Music videos give you the best of both worlds: perfect sound plus perfect visuals.
UPTOWN FUNK nails this. Amazing sound and a nice variety of visuals. It’s a show.
4) To send a message
Typically, rock stars trying to do message-y videos come on too strong, and it feels like a lecture.
They’re at their best when they don’t try to be politicians—when you can tell this is something they wrote and care about, not lyrics from a paid songwriter matched with beats from a producer.
NOT READY TO MAKE NICE by the Dixie Chicks is my favorite protest / message video.
5) To make money
How does a band make money by putting music videos online for free?
Because nobody really sells albums and songs in 2015, not when your average 7-year-old has the tech skills to go online and download songs for free.
Even the biggest stars make most of their money from selling concert tickets and merchandise. Sure, some make royalties whenever Spotify and Pandora plays their stuff, or cash in for millions by selling tunes for tv ads by Toyota selling Tundras.
Concerts, though, are today’s cash cow.
Katy Perry nails this, giving people a taste of what her concerts would be like in every video: costume changes, dancing sharks, fireworks and Katy Perry flying around the stadium.
GANGNAM STYLE by Psy stands out as one of the best music videos every for getting people to become interested in seeing him live. You see this and think yeah, that guy will put on a show. I’d pay money to see him live.
U2 did this in epic style with WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME, as the band shot their music video on a rooftop in downtown LA while the cops tried to shut it down in real life. You get a gritty feel for what they’d be like, up close. I’ve seen U2 in concert and that feeling is real.