Sunday, September 10, 2006

Fix it in the mix

The Edit

Music Video is the final stage of the process the label goes through when they sign a band/singer/act and eventually put that artist out there with a CD to sell. There may be other decisions the label makes after the video – like buying bus bench ads or newspaper advertising – but MV is the last BIG decision labels make.

Why does that matter? Because that is the last chance the label has to “steer” the direction of the artist. Like adjusting the barrel of a gun, for every tiny fraction of a degree the gun barrel moves, the final destination of the bullet changes greatly. Once the video is out there – it is the last chance the label has to affect the flight of the artist, at least until it is time to pay for a new video.

The process of an artist being noticed, signed and then eventually marketed by a major label is long. More than a year and often closer to three years. In the interim tastes changes, the music industry changes. When Britney Spears became a big hit, many labels were looking for the “next Britney” – but by the time they got those pseudo Brits to record store shelves, tastes had changed and the kind of “fun and youthful dance music” that was soo hot in 2000 became “stale and lame kiddie pop” in 2003.

Right now there are lots of sing-songy hip-hop acts that sound more like nursery rhymes that angry reflections of street culture. Some examples are “Shoulder Lean,” Dem Franchize Boyz and “Chicken Noodle Soup.” That funny, smiling, dancing thing is big in hip-hop now, but just a few years ago rap was in the heart of the G-Unit gangsta periodwhere artists sold records by being hard and menacing, not by sounding like they learned their flow on Sesame Street. Times change and record labels are big, big companies that don’t change directions nearly as fast as the marketplace. If Sony or Universal commits to something in 2004, how can they make it seem like something else in 2006?

The classic movie making expression is “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it in the mix/edit.” In many ways, the music video is the “edit” for the record label. You can fix a lot with post production but you can’t change a Western into a romantic comedy. Just like you can’t change a boy band into a sensitive singer-songwriter – or can you?

Labels use music video to promote, but also to tweak and massage the artist’s image. If Nick Lachey is famous for his roots in a depilidated, gay-friendly synchronized dancing boy group and a televised marriage, and you want him to seem older – shoot a moody music video in black and white where he seems anguished and vulnerable. An older, serious female singer wants to up her youth appeal, like Jewel, have her shoot a video where she plays the role of a sexy, Mystic Tanned urban vixen who gets naked in the shower. This definitely does not always work, but for labels it is worth a try. They have already spent money on the artist and the CD that they cannot un-spend, so they try and get one more chance to mold how their new "product" is perceived.

Labels often re-think the concept they want for a video – in the hope that they will be selling what the market wants to buy when the market wants to buy it. If the label thinks they have something great (or believe they have nothing to lose), they can just do what they want to do – despite the market (like Alanis Morisette’s "angrier than anything on radio" first CD or Missy Elliot doing her own, loogie spitting thing. I believe the really big break-throughs (and profits) come when labels are willing to take a chance, but in reality, labels are MUCH more likely to choose a safe route and try to market an artist/CD like another successful product. Even if the new product isn’t much like the successful one at all, you can still try and sell it that way.

Even if the label signed the “wrong” artist, had them work with the “wrong” producer and recorded the “wrong” kind of songs (too edgy? not edgy enough?) – the whole project can still be saved with just the right music video. Or at least that is what the labels want to think can happen. And that is the magical dream that music video directors sell to the labels. "Don’t worry, I can fix it in the edit."

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Great articles and great goddamn site. I think the "Hollywood" side of music videos is the least documented. Fascinating stuff. Keep it up.
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