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What Are Music Videos?

Music videos are a vibrant fusion of art and sound, designed to bring a song to life visually. They tell stories, evoke emotions, and often become cultural touchstones. From high-budget productions to indie projects, they're a canvas for creativity. How do they shape our experience of music? Join us as we explore the impact of these visual symphonies.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Back in the 1940s, an experimental collaboration between musicians and filmmakers resulted in movie shorts known as Soundies. These films generally depicted jazz or pop performers singing popular tunes of the day, most likely in a studio or nightclub setting. While few people may remember Soundies today, they did help pave the way for future musical visualizations known as music videos.

Music videos primarily began as promotional films created by a music label's publicity department or an artist's management team. When in-studio appearances became virtually impossible for groups such as the Beatles, their label would often send these promotional tapes in the group's place. Early videos were not always creative, but they did showcase the artist performing an upcoming single from an unreleased album or a live performance of a current hit.

Music videos can depict stories that fit with a song or simply show musicians playing.
Music videos can depict stories that fit with a song or simply show musicians playing.

Not every musical artist from the 1960s or 1970s had a collection of promotional films or taped performances, however. Highly successful solo artists such as Rod Stewart and Elton John did have a number of promotional music videos, but many other groups relied on videotaped television appearances or documentarians to provide such material to their fan base. The idea of actually producing stylized videos was largely foreign during the 1970s.

Music videos can be watched and published on video sharing websites.
Music videos can be watched and published on video sharing websites.

In 1981, a new cable channel called MTV, short for "Music Television," made its debut, choosing a music video by The Buggles, "Video Killed the Radio Star", as its first song. Because there were so few professional videos available, MTV hosts relied heavily on promotional videos provided by a handful of labels.

As demand for professional-grade videos increased, a number of aspiring filmmakers began to collaborate with popular bands in order to create artistic visual interpretations of their songs. Instead of simply performing the tracks in a standard linear progression, bands could incorporate all sorts of images and visual effects to enhance their music. Directors could also employ a number of experimental film techniques rarely seen outside of commercials or short films.

Music videos are designed to capture the essence of an audio performance and interpret it visually. Some videos, particular those created during the 1980s, do follow a relatively linear path, combining staged shots of the band in performance with a subplot based on the song's lyrics. Others use the band members as actors in a short film, or leave the band out of the video entirely. Animation is also a popular visual device in videos.

What was once considered a throw-away element with little commercial value has now become a recognized film genre of its own. Mainstream directors such as Spike Jonze began their careers by producing high caliber videos, and many of the editing and visual effects used in many motion pictures and commercials today can be traced back to experimental music videos.

Although both MTV and its competitor VH1 have largely abandoned the video genre for other types of programming, many bands still produce cutting edge videos as a way to promote their work and create iconic images for their fans. In fact, many modern music fans consider the visual impact of a song's video to be just as important as the song itself.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the primary purpose of a music video?

Music videos serve as a visual representation of a song, aiming to enhance the listener's experience. They often tell a story or convey messages that complement the music, and can also showcase an artist's style and creativity, helping to promote the song and increase its reach.

How have music videos evolved over time?

Music videos have evolved from simple live performances to complex cinematic pieces. With the advent of MTV in the 1980s, they became a cultural phenomenon. Advances in technology have since enabled more elaborate special effects and storytelling, transforming music videos into an art form that pushes creative boundaries.

What impact do music videos have on the music industry?

Music videos can significantly impact an artist's success. A compelling video can drive song popularity, chart performance, and sales. According to a study by Nielsen, fans are more likely to purchase music after watching a related video, highlighting the marketing power of music videos.

Can music videos influence popular culture?

Yes, music videos often influence fashion, dance, and language, becoming cultural touchstones. Iconic videos like Michael Jackson's "Thriller" have left lasting impressions on pop culture, inspiring Halloween costumes and dance routines decades after their release.

Where can viewers typically find and watch music videos?

Viewers can find music videos on various platforms, including YouTube, which is the largest host for music videos, Vevo, and streaming services like Apple Music and Tidal. Many artists also premiere their videos on social media or through exclusive partnerships with these platforms.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular WiseTour contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular WiseTour contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon284243

Iconic music video example: Thriller (Micheal Jackson).

jsiegman

Actually, if a music video is considered to be a piece of music with a video, either physical or animated is inspired by the video. The first music videos were those Merry Melody cartoons. Then came Fantasia, a feature length animated music video so avant garde that it was, for a while, considered a failure. During the 40s and 50s there were a number of Bugs Bunny "music videos" (remember the one on Rossini's Barber of Seville released in 1950?) that would certainly fit in the music video genre. So when I look at the kids that think the first music videos came from MTV in the 80's, I just have to sit back and smile.--JKS

anon34288

VH1 is owned by MTV, so they are not really competitors.

anon34232

Even before the Beatles, Elvis Presley did what could be considered a stylized modern music video. Take a look at "Jail House Rock"; although it's in B&W, it is well done and has good choreography (for the day) - and it was probably done in one day and one take!

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    • Music videos can depict stories that fit with a song or simply show musicians playing.
      By: olly
      Music videos can depict stories that fit with a song or simply show musicians playing.
    • Music videos can be watched and published on video sharing websites.
      By: Kzenon
      Music videos can be watched and published on video sharing websites.