Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Time for another run into the mail-bag. Please understand that nothing I write is THE answer. These are only my opinions, and should be treated as the ramblings of some dude with a laptop and the time to write this kind of stuff.

“A question I have as an aspiring MV director, (beside the obvious 'find a new career'), is how much of being successful merely relies on being at the right place?

I look at directors like *name deleted*, who are amazingly talented, but don't seem to be working much because they live in northern California. Then i look at directors like *also deleted*, who is amazingly terrible, but seems to be working all the time because he lives in LA.

Now is that just a showcase of the two parties ambition? Or a bi product of their location?"

Should I feel obliged to move somewhere to get more work? Or focus on doing the best I can and hope that the work finds me?”

First of all, I don't think anyone works or doesn't work because of where they live. There are so many factors that go into creating and maintaining a music video career - reel, representation, concept and so on (for my thoughts on those, read every other post in this blog).

The underlying question here is a two-parter. (1) Does being in LA help a career in music videos? and (2) should a given director move here to help their career?

Does being in LA help your career?
My short answer is “definitely.” The vast majority of big label work gets shot out here. A few labels are still back in NYC, but filming in the five boroughs is very costly these days. Simply for cost savings on flights to jobs shooting in LA – living in the 323/310/818 region is useful. (Note that for those in the Black Director Division - Atlanta is also a possibility.)

To a certain extent, living in LA helps all show-business jobs. Young actors who reside elsewhere take meetings with casting or agenting types and get told “Call us back when you move to LA.” Living in LA means you are in the game to a lot of people who might be looking to hire you – and those folks have a point. Show-business (whether MVs, screen-writing, whatever) takes a serious, usually long-term commitment and how committed are you if you still reside in the room with Mom’s sewing machine and your old Slayer posters on the wall?

Living in Los Angeles is like having a business card printed with your name on it, headshots or a nice navy suit to wear to an interview – it doesn’t mean that you can do the job, but people will struggle to take you seriously if you don’t have it.

Should YOU move to LA?
For directors who are NOT shooting big label jobs – staying where you are might be the plan. If you aren’t working on jobs where the commissioner demands you shoot in LA – then maybe you are fine where you are. Save your money (unless you live in the Bay Area, where it costs more than here) and stay put.

What is success for you? There are plenty of directors who live other places. They may not be making their sole living from videos – but maybe they are. If your goal is to do videos for Chingy or the Killers – you better be in LA. If a director likes doing the jobs they can get without too much stress or having to write on tracks they don’t really like – stay home. Being a part-time director and part time assistant at Paramount is very tough. If directing won't pay the bills here - you might want to stay put.

For example, I don’t know where Ben Dickinson lives but he made a great video in Brooklyn.

To the questioner I would say - Look at your reel and look at the reel of the people getting the kind of work you want to get. Not the guys writing and not getting the jobs – but the people who are booking stuff you wanna book. If your reel isn’t better than theirs – then moving won’t solve the problem.

I don’t believe directors book jobs just because they’re in the right place at the right time. That’s the defeatist “it’s not what you know it’s who you know” crap. Lots of Silver Lake film-school motherfuckas spout stuff like that, but they also complain that anyone who showers or gets a paying job is a “sell out.” Ignore those people, but it might be hard in the Bay Area.

Living in LA will NOT make you a better director. It MIGHT make it easier for you to get jobs IF you are already in the running for them now. Moving here will not jump start your career, but you might meet some bands and get friendly and meet some people and do some spec work that comes out well and so on.

The questioner added:

"a short anecdote a colleague shared on the matter of location:

Talented people with no ambition move to San Francisco.
Talented people with ambition move to NYC.
People with ambition and no talent move to LA.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on location, as I'm sure many other directors would too."
I guess. LA is full of very ambitious people. LA is scary as hell. It is THE place to be if you want a career in show business. Sorry, NYC doesn’t count unless your idea of show business is Broadway or publishing.

There are lots of people living in Buffalo or Austin who tell themselves they would be big stars as actors/singers/stuntmen/directors if they were only in LA. But move here, and all the excuses evaporate. After you’ve been in LA six months, who do you blame that your name isn’t up in lights? I blame my parents, but I'm a hack.

LA won’t fix what’s wrong with a director’s career, but it will definitely jump start the process of figuring out if you really want to do what it takes. By “have what it takes” I mean paying big $ for a crappy Venice apartment, avoiding Scientology types and sitting on the 405 for three hours a day.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Share and Share Alike

One of the movers and shakers over on the Ville, spit, asked me the following question:
I guess what I'm confused about is the lack of a
connection between music video sales (through itunes
and dvds) and music video budgets. The itunes store
sold over a million music video downloads in little
over two weeks when it first opened, and it seems like
these days every artist on a major label is
practically required to release a dvd with live
performances and music videos. This month, a video
that I directed was slapped on to a special edition
"re-release" of a cd that had already been out for a
year. The only incentive for fans was the additional
music video, and its been selling pretty well. All
this to say that I think the demand for music videos
seems as high now as any other time in the medium's
history, and for the first time ever, record labels
are able to use them as more than just promotional
tools. Even the existence of youtube doesn't seem to
be stopping consumers from spending money to actually
own the content.

My question is, when will this new source of revenue
benefit the people on our side of the fence? It's
probably unrealistic to assume that any of the money
will ever see our pockets, but you'd think that it
might at least encourage bigger budgets. Is most of
the money just seen as a general recoup for the cost
of the video itself, is it being funneled into new
projects, or is it just helping the majors keep the
lights on?

I am not an industry sales or financial analyst, but here’s my semi-educated answer.

Since the sales of music videos on-line began, I have been writing about the issue. Even the Old Grey Lady covered it. Please don’t read my random thoughts and then NYT piece back to back – it’s embarrassing.

An organization of music video directors has also been on the case for a while as well – trying to gather the support so that they can get a piece of the financial pie. This effort by the MVDGA has even gotten some attention of it’s own. But have they received any money?

No directors have been paid for their music videos selling well. Unlike feature films or television shows – the director of a music video has no legal claim to any profits. That is what the MVDGA is trying to rectify – create an organization to try and leverage their position. The people at the MVDGA are definitely on the side of angels in my book, but their efforts have been (and will continue to be, IMO) fruitless.

When a video gets shot, a director signs a contract with the label stating that the video is a work for hire. Every bit of film on the set belongs to the label. The label grants the director the right to put the clip on their reel for promotional purposes only, but they could rescind that at their discretion. Even a snapshot of the director posing with the lead singer between takes is technically owned by the label.

Contractually, the director has no standing. A given director could fight to get that changed, but it would definitely be a big struggle to get the label to switch up their boilerplate contract to satisfy a single MV director. And that is IF the label agreed to give up money – which never happens. I can see why a director would want to get paid, but the label is very likely to just say “Pass” and commission the job with a competing director. There are lots of those out there.

Music videos have been getting sold for a long time. Spit asked about DVD and enhanced CDs – both decent-sized sources of revenue for labels. I found some sales charts for DVD content (old school stuff like Stones concerts and Creed compilations which directors are not paid for) – but none for the individual video sales at iTunes or other outlets.

Seriously, I could not find any specifics about which videos were selling well on-line. Other than that “1 million sold” announcement – not much has been written about the sales. The labels and Apple seem to be keeping those details as their little secret.

Look at the “million” announcement again (and again and again) – it is really a press release from Apple. It got tons of hype and coverage – but we all just took Cupertino’s word for it. Did they sell those videos? I’m sure Apple did – but the announcement was made to drive more sales and that is all. Who knows how many they are selling a year later? (If you have any charts or specifics, please pass them along).

I also have to believe that the rise of Das Tube and myspace is also making kids less interested in owning a video. Why buy the “BAWLLIN” Jim Jones clip when you can find it on YouTube at any computer?

Not only does the director/prod co have no legal claim to residuals or royalties, because of the contracts they also have no way to know what they might “deserve” based on sales. Apple (and other on-line retailers) and the labels are keeping a very tight lid on things.

So that answers the part about “will directors ever see money from the sale of MVs.” The other part of spit’s question asked if these sales would ever make it into increased budgets for future videos. My short answer to that would be “not now, but it might in the future.” I am not really known for my short answers …

For labels to spend more on music videos because they see an increased income stream from selling them off later, I believe these things would have to happen:

1. Labels would need to believe that they were really making money off selling individual MVs as downloads. If the sales of the videos (which the labels split with iTunes) requires additional book-keeping and the like – the money may “seem” like less of a plus to them. And how many different videos were sold to make up that million? A single video selling 300k times would attract label attention – a whole bunch of clips each selling 114 times would not.
2. Labels would have to believe that bigger videos mean more on-line sales for them. Without sales charts, I can only guess – but I’m sure the labels have a very accurate sales count. My guess is that some of the top video sellers on iTunes are cheap stuff like “Chicken Noodle Soup” or even “OK-GO” – which means that the specifics of the song or clip, rather than the budget determines it’s sales potential. Labels will spend more IF spending more means they make more. Period. Even if “Hey Ya!” were the top-selling video on iTunes (just guessing, of course) – does that mean it sold well because the budget was over $500k, or because the song was so damn catchy? My guess is the top selling videos on iTunes are the kiddie clips OR videos the catalog album charts – “Thriller”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Welcome to the Jungle.” That probably won’t make the labels want to spend more on videos.

The end of spit’s question is sort of the answer. I will re-cap the question here to save you from scrolling all the way past my own, lengthy answer-like-writing. “Is most of the money just seen as a general recoup for the cost of the video itself, is it being funneled into new projects, or is it just helping the majors keep the lights on?”

There you have it. If the labels are seeing much new money from selling music videos on DVD or on the web – they are using it to offset the fact that Tower Records is closed and once-dependable artists like Janet Jackson (and maybe Beyonce) now absorb millions and millions of promo dollars only to generate barely platinum sales.

There are lots of new opportunities for music videos. Product placement will continue to grow. I can see future videos being combo MVs and ads for particular product where the band/song/clip is paid to bring eye-balls to whatever is being sold. Some people hate product placement, but I think it will continue to evolve and get more insidious and accepted.

Since we can’t wait for Big Daddy Label to come and pay us – where else will the opportunities be?

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006


The driving force in the changes taking place in music videos is distribution – how videos make their way (or don’t) from the artist or label to the end consumer. Music consumers who watch videos only know about videos if they see them and they only know what the screen and speakers tell them – even if those speakers are on a cheap lap top or the screen is a smudged cell phone LCD. I have been writing about the effect distribution and MTV are having since the early days of this blog. Distribution is, obviously, key.

James over at the ever-useful SRO has written a great piece about the way YouTube is changing how music videos are delivered. He believes that the horrible image quality of Das Tube is and will have a negative effect on music video – both creatively and financially. He makes a lot of sense on the topic:

What if paintings could only be observed as 250 x 250 jpegs? What if your favorite band only sold their albums as 22 Kbs mp3s? You’d be pissed, that’s what. The reason is simple: the distribution quality would be detracting from the artistic integrity of work. You may not notice a song is great because you couldn’t tell from the shitty recording. You wouldn’t be able to notice the subtle nuance and brushwork that makes a painting jump from pretty good to brilliant.

The capper is that he has an embedded YouTube link (and who doesn’t love those) of a music video made using the camera function of a cell phone. Seriously, click over there now and watch the damn thing. Due to the constraints of the streaming video, you can barely tell the camera has a 12-cent Malaysian lens. I certainly wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t known.

I agree with much of what James opines – and his assertion that labels finding out they can get a video for $50 is not a good thing for anyone in the industry is spot on. However, I do disagree about a few points.

One – Picture quality is NOT everything
Most directors and label types are overly concerned with the look of the film in their videos. Of course, the picture should look good – but I have sat with many directors watching a clip for the first time (theirs or another directors’) and their initial comment is always about the look of the film. Not if the artist looks fat or wrinkled or if the video is boring or makes no sense – the quality of the image is paramount in director’s minds.

However, most music consumers care about other stuff. They like to see their favorite artist clearly – but they do not share the director’s obsession with pixel count. Directors often come across like that one room-mate I had in college who was sooo into the audio quality of his stereo we had miles of cables strung around the room and you couldn’t move the chair over by the window – because if you sat in the wrong spot the treble wouldn’t sound exactly right. Dude, I just wanna hear “Rock Lobster.” Relax.

Once again, better picture quality is good – but it is not everything as evidenced by the career of Sam Bayer. Technical sophistication is often downplayed on purpose by antville favorites like He Who Is Perpetually Named. Besides, to me, the biggest problem with YouTube is that the lip synch is often way off. That kills a video for me way faster than poor image quality. Though James is 100% correct about empty space being ruined on the Tube when it becomes a squiggly mass of maggoty pixels.

Two – The quality will improve, FAST
All the “new” ways to see videos these days are kind of crappy visually. YouTube, iPod, cell phones. Even the high quality mpegs of rough cuts I see from post houses are no match for digi-Beta. But that will change and fast. Picture quality will improve with lightning speed – just watch.

Within a year, I predict, YouTube will re-launch with greater bandwidth and improved picture quality. It still won’t be perfect, but the amount of data that is streaming at us increases exponentially by the year. Them there intranets change so fast, I did not even mention YouTube in that piece on MTV and on-line videos I wrote 11 months ago. I remember when MTV wanted to charge you extra to get stereo sound quality piped into your house (this was the 80s) because cable systems only pushed mono back then. Some, but certainly not all, of SRO’s valid concerns will fade as the quality of on-line videos improve.

Distribution will still be key as videos figure out how to reach viewers, new and old. Even if the image quality on a 2012 iPod (now with a 8-inch holographic screen) is 1080dpi – directors are still gonna have to find a way to get music buyers to pay attention.

BTW - click here for the discussion on SROs post over on the 'Ville.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006


In the glory days (yes, I am writing about THAT again) there was a trade publication called CVC that covered the ins and outs of the music video industry. CVC was something that insiders subscribed to so they could see who booked which video and which rep signed what hot new director.

In 2004 CVC folded and the editor started a website, Video Static, that does much of the same stuff. It is a very valuable tool for anyone who is in the music video business. The wealth of information on VS is great. It is updated every weekday and I check it on the regulars. The subscription fee for CVC was hefty so looking at some Dip Set banner ads is a small price to pay for all that knowledge.

Anyone interested in music videos, in my opinion, needs to follow the business side of the industry as well. It could be claimed that a director is an artist and he should only think of the videos, but to me, that seems like a chef opening a restaurant and only paying attention to the food while refusing to notice if his new locale is on a busy street or if there are competing restaurants near by. It’s show-business.

The list of what videos get added every week is, by itself, a great learning tool to see which way the wind blows.

This is the path of modern media. Publishing information on paper and sending it through the mail (the old, CVC model) just doesn’t make much sense in 2006. For something as finely niche tuned as Video Static (or this, depressing blog) – the audience is never huge. Music video as a whole seems to journeying on this same path with smaller (but hopefully more fervent) audiences for every niche. Is MTV-Screamo or BET-Hyphy on the horizon? If so, you bet Video Static will have the science.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Mystery Artist Returns

The photo here will represent our Mystery Artist (just as it did the first time around) - but rest assured the person in this story was not Elvis. Once again, MA is a male - but next time it could be a female or even a group. The craziest person in the story is not really the artist, but you'll see ...

Several years ago, a project came up with a big-time rapper. The budget was big and they wanted a massive video that would break through the clutter on MTV and definitely get the artist noticed.

Going in, the label person let us know that the concept needed to be a larger than life party, but not stray to far from the raw “street” feel that the rapper had established as his persona. For some reason, we were dealing with a different label person than the commissioner. I’m not sure why the switch, but everyone should have noticed that detail up front.

We pitched a couple rough ideas and the artist responded to a party on a big white yacht. This was actually before “Big Pimpin” so that idea seemed a bit fresher at the time. The big-ness of it also appealed to the artist. At least that is what the label contact told us. We never spoke to the artist (warning sign #2 ignored) but the label person said the artist was completely involved, reading treatments and so on. The Artist was too busy to get on the phone, but he liked the direction we were going. The label person even passed on a few suggestions from the artist that were incorporated into the concept.

The concept started out in LA, but then the shoot shifted to Miami. This added lots to the budget, but the guest artists were gonna be in Miami – so maybe it would work out. We worked and reworked the details – and the shoot was even pushed back after all the details took longer to pull together.

The shoot day rolls around and production is set up on the dock outside Miami. The boat was there and the plan was to shoot some stuff on shore before the MA hit the Atlantic. Our dock was far from the marina – almost making it look like a desert island. Every detail was lined up and shit looked good. The crew polished the big picture yacht while camera department made sure the camera boat was ready to roll. This was a huge shoot with dozens of extras, a crane, two 35mm cameras - the whole nine.

The label person clucked and clucked as the artist was 15 minutes and then 45 minutes late - spinning calls on her cell phone to his handlers. This is not unusual and everyone else remained calm. The amount of money burned by late artists is always a shock to me – even when you expect it going in, it is still surprising to see an artist hamstring his own video by missing a fifth of the shooting day. The guest artist arrives and we get them into make-up while we wait. Anyway, this is all normal, then we see the SUV pull up with, what we assume is, the artist inside.

The SUV stops at the end of the dock, but no one gets out. After a few minutes of presumably staring at the yacht, a single person gets out. This is not the artist. The SUV pulls away as the director and producer go over to talk to this “not the artist” person. The label person was now nowhere in sight, which no one really noticed at that moment.

The producer talks to this person who got out of the SUV. It is the artist's cousin or something and the guy is nervous as hell. The Artist has left and will not be coming back. Apparently, the Artist is deadly afraid of water and boats. Never been on one in his whole life. Never, ever. That’s right – our whole boat concept was worked and re-worked for an artist that absolutely refused to get on a boat.

For a few minutes no one could find the label person who had been our sole contact. All the times the artist had been too busy to talk to the director or producer came rushing back. All the mistakes and BS became evident like the end of The Sixth Sense. We finally talked to the now very unpopular label person and it turns out they had been directing all our creative changes. The artist had heard absolutely nothing about the idea until the morning of the shoot when he had gotten into the SUV and saw the treatment for the first time. No one had told the guy he was going to be on a boat for two days.

The label person had never checked with the artist. They simply told the rapper "don't worry it will be hot" until they realized their error. The label dweeb even kept the knowledge a secret after they found out that morning – not telling anyone and pro-longing the wasted time and money. The shoot got cancelled. The label person was apparently trying to prove how they could do the commissioners job as well as their own – and kept up the facade that the artist was on board (ha, ha – a pun) with the concept.

The label didn’t want to pay the cancellation costs because they believed the prod co was at fault – a belief started by the less than honest label person. After the exec producer threatened to share with the label boss types the messages the non-commissioner person had sent from their Motorola 2-Way (remember those?) pretending that they had been in touch with the yacht-a-phobic artist, the label person realized it was in their best interest to work to get the prod co paid what they were owed.

The artist eventually did a video for the track, at a different prod co that had nothing to do with boats.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Great work if you can get it …

Over on the mighty antville, there was a discussion about commissioners and commissioning of jobs. Read the post, and the 100 plus comments here.

Refused TV is a production company in LA with a stable of directors. The head of Refused, Cathy Pellow, is also a free-lance video commissioner (who works mostly with Atlantic, I believe). I have written before, more generally, about the role of the director's rep.

What that means is directors repped by Cathy at Refused have their rep deciding who gets the job. Quite an advantage for the director and it also means the production company takes the production fee on a job they have given to themselves. Directors from other companies might also be writing on the jobs as well, but it is easy to see how the Refused directors might have the, um, inside track. This is not an incredibly rare situation but it obviously has attracted some attention.

This is certainly a conflict of interest. This does not mean that the directors at Refused are not talented or that they don’t deserve the jobs they get. Jobs get steered or pushed in a variety of directions all the time, but this is a text-book definition of conflict of interest. "A conflict of interest is a situation in which someone in a position of trust, such as a lawyer, a politician, or an executive or director of a corporation, has competing professional or personal interests. Such competing interests can make it difficult to fulfill his or her duties impartially. Even if there is no evidence of improper actions, a conflict of interest can create an appearance of impropriety that can undermine confidence in the ability of that person to act properly in his/her position."

If music videos were a city government, this would be like someone in the Public Works department handing out contracts to build a bridge or repair a sidewalk to the construction company that they own. That doesn’t mean that the streets won’t get fixed – but it does make one wonder. There is certainly room for problems in this situation. No real competition means that the city taxpayers might be paying more than they need to or getting substandard work for the dollars they are spending.

In a big city – there are rules and regulations that restrict how city contracts are awarded. There are oversight committees and inspectors to insure the work is done properly. In a small town, those protections and oversight don’t exist – the system is just not that big or sophisticated. Of course, big isn’t a guaranteed protection either – the US Army is a massive entity but they seem to be blindly giving contracts to Halliburton. Perhaps Cheney is the commissioner on those ones.

Well, that is where music videos are. Friends give jobs to friends. Cousins are on both sides of the equation and sometimes romances (shocker!) exist between label types and production types. We, as an industry, are still pretty small time so no one with power seems to be overly bothered by this. Obviously, a $20k job doesn’t deserve serious policing by anyone.

The part that struck me about the discussion on antville was the “Ooh, noo – don’t talk about that” tone of the comments. Not all, but many, commenters seemed to think that this kind of debate/discussion was pointless. Some were borderline hysterical that this kind of talk was somehow wrong. It seems completely on point to me. The only way to get videos on your reel is to get commissioned. I’m surprised more directors aren’t concerned with how that commissioning is done. Getting the gig is part of the craft, after all.

Out of all this hub-bub around Refused – nothing really has been done “wrong.” Chances are the record labels are happy with all the jobs commissioned by/to Refused. It smells fishy to other directors and production companies – but they are also certainly jealous of the inside position that Refused and Cathy have.

There are many instances of similar double dealings. There are major reps that used to be commissioners at certain labels and still have excellent relationships with the artists they used to work with. In that situation, the directors now repped by the former commissioner obviously have an excellent shot of working with the afore-mentioned artist.

Some commissioners hate certain production companies. Sometimes with good reason. A director at the hated company is gonna be SOL as long as that beefing commissioner is pulling the trigger.

Some labels owe big money to certain production companies from past jobs. So much back money is owed, at times, that the label will avoid using that production company for future work (and thus avoid paying the $ owed) – even if a director there might be the perfect one for the job.

One noted R&B manager type directs many/most/all of the videos by his artists. The label doesn’t really like it, but the manager has the juice to push himself through as the director. The label asks for treatments from other directors but those prod companies are often reluctant to waste their time, because they know they have little to no chance against the manager.

One big-time commissioner, now out of the business, was known for sleeping with directors and producers that they worked with. Obviously there is lots of room for things to go sideways there – try asking your ex for five bucks, let alone a six-figure job.

Jobs get commissioned the way they get commissioned. It’s not changing now and it’s not changing anytime soon. Directors have to control the things they can – their reel and their concept. Other, political elements will always be there. Always. Waiting for the industry (or life) to be conflict free would be futile, so it sure helps to play the game.

If a commissioner with ties to other directors or production companies is taking the treatments on a particular job, you might wanna move that job to the bottom of your to do list. Like somewhere below cleaning out the gutters and organizing you Palm Pictures DVD collection.

That being said – directors who are not the ones with the advantageous position should look around when they are deciding what production company to sign with. We all make our own breaks and it is a lot more fun (and profitable) to be the guy on the inside.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Schism

My last post about, the divide in the music video world between urban “street” artists/videos/directors and everyone else garnered some attention. I always appreciate the comments and emails. Even the ones that descend into discussions of what category a half-Asian cleric with a +2 Mace of Aspect Ratio falls into.

To restate my point (which I didn’t think would be that outside the box): Some of the best paid directing work is in street rap and hip-hop videos. That work is only available to directors who have their “ghetto pass” validated – and the number of non-black directors on that list is much smaller today than a few years ago – though there are some exceptions. That prompted this salient question from a commenter:

Very interesting. But why is it that urban/hip-hop music benefits more from videos than rock music? Is it a question of MTV's demographic?

In my opinion, there are a couple reasons …

One – Young people watch more videos
Young people (age 8-15) watch waaaay more music videos (whether MTV, BET, the internets or elsewhere) than older teens and twenty-somethings. Young people are more likely to be influenced by TV (videos and other advertising) than older music buyers who might respond more to what their friends like, what a hot girl likes or what might piss off their folks. Because the younger kids are more readily influenced by videos, the labels spend more on videos that appeal to them.

The audience demographic IS different between rock and urban music. Lots of the hip-hop and R&B that is selling well these days is the younger stuff – Chris Brown, Bow Wow, Jibbs, Cherish. Younger-targeted rock music – is not usually considered rock, it is often called “pop.” From Hanson to Click 5 – young rock/pop acts are categorized more with dance pop (Timberlake, JoJo, Ashlee Simpson, High School High) than it is with “older” rock like Jet or Avenged Sevenfold. People with drivers licenses simply don’t watch that many videos.

Two – Young people buy more music
Let’s face it – once a music consumer gets past the first year or two of high school, the stop buying music. Instead, they steal it. You can call it sharing, ripping or “freeing the enslaved audio files” if you like – but college aged kids pretty much just steal the music they like. A twelve year old is more likely to want to own the actual CD for his or her favorite artist – helping them feel like they are connected to the artist they admire. After age fifteen or so – most kids just wanna listen to what they listen to and save their money for weed – so they stop buying CDs and get the music off bittorrent or limewire instead.

I cannot overstate the importance of this. A band that is popular or considered cool means nothing to the label if the CDs (or iTunes downloads) are not being purchased. Many of us in entertainment industry take pride in our association with the cool or hip things that we work on. We have to, since we often don’t get paid much actual money. Us suckers might respond to the glamour of the music video world, but the labels only see the $.

Three – Urban music has a different idea of “keeping it real”
For many rock acts, (the exception being the newish theatrical bands like Killers, AFI, etc.) an expensive video does NOT really make them look cooler or get them more sales. Having a video that is too flashy or too pricey might make a band that values it’s “authenticity” or “artistic integrity” look corny and pre-processed.

For a hip-hop artist – having an expensive video is a source of pride that indicates their success or dominance in the field. Busta wants to have a bigger video than Ludacris and so on. An expensive video is a huge plus to an urban artist.

Big budgeted videos of all flavors are the best jobs for directors to get - but most of the pricier jobs are in urban and/or diva clips. Remember that directors make money based on the budgets of the jobs the do – not the status or fame of the artist. A video that gets lots of airplay garners the same payday for the director as a similarly budgeted clip that is featured only on antville and the artist’s myspace page. Directors tend to like big budgets because they pay the bills.

One of the biggest rappers around, 50 Cent, often taunts his “rival” rappers with his superior sales numbers. Jay-Z comes back from retirement and clowns Jim Jones and the Dip-Set for their weak sales. Can you imagine U2 or the Stones even acknowledging their sales to the public. Trust me, the white, rock acts know the numbers just as well, but in the rock world it is considered bad taste to discuss such things in the press. Rock acts are supposed to talk about their artistic process and all that.

Because of this – an urban video that gets played every hour on the hour on BET is a huge boost to the artist. A rock act that got that treatment might find prospective fans wondering if they were having te band shoved down their throats.

This is not to brand urban audiences as unsophisticated. They just tend to not care about the faux- or real artistry behind and album. Urban audiences will reject a “street” rapper whom they do not find to be sufficiently gritty or real. It’s just a different flavor of real from rock acts.

There it is – the urban market is younger, and because of that they watch more videos. Younger consumers actually BUY the music that videos promote – something that labels really seem to find important. The urban consumer, besides being younger, responds to more money on the screen which leads to bigger budgets for artists trying to reach that consumer.

That is my very long answer to the question about why urban/hip-hop music benefits more from videos than rock music. Wow. I need some kind of life.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Ebony & Ivory

Side by side on my piano keyboard …

Why are all hip-hop directors black and all rock directors white? Well, they’re not – it just seems that way.

There are certainly exceptions. Dave Meyers made a career out of doing videos for Jay-Z and Ja Rule (who were as “grimy” as videos got back in the day) and directing clips for white jocks to blast out of their Camaro in the high school parking lot like Offspring, Kid Rock and Saliva. Hype did a video for No Doubt as well. It is not carved in stone – but 98% of the time white directors do rock and black directors do rap.

Don’t get fooled by R&B either. R&B is not rap/hip-hop. Many white directors shoot black artists if they are singing. Where the dividing line comes in is when you get to artists that are “street.” There is a recent trend with "photographer" directors (Mannion, Mandler, et al) crossing the divide as well.

The world is certainly not black and white. There are white rappers and black rock singers in mostly black rock bands. But videos are not life, videos are marketing. Marketers feel safer when they know which box something goes in.

A big part of a director’s job – at least when trying to get work – is to convince the artist/label/manager that they can make the artist look the way they need to. The artist needs to be cool and by extension the director needs to be "cool" as well. That might mean the director should look edgy, or arty, or intense, or street or whatever. The label feels so much better if the director represents the flavor of cool that they want their artist to have.

Look at this page with all the photos of video directors. Some are funny (Spike looks so young and vulnerable Mark Foley might send him an email) but most give you some kind of an idea of the kind of clips they do. Senor X is with some hoochies. Look at Floria’s photo – who would ever think she does weird and disturbing videos with a glammed up gothic look?

I am not pro-segregation, but it helps a director book a job with an emo band if the artist thinks the director GETS their scene. Major rappers want to feel like they are in good hands with a director who won’t make them look like corny pop-stars.

Are there two separate video industries – one for black directors and one for white? Well, sort of.

Rock videos are a mixed bag for the labels. Some bands, like the Fray, have gone platinum with almost no video play. The new theatricality in videos has brought attention to Panic!, Fall Out Boy, AFI, My Chemical Marching Band Uniform and others. For a long time, rock bands were a bunch of dudes in black t-shirts acting angry – now that the visuals are more varied, the videos seem to be a more effective sales tool. But for years, rock videos rarely got played or didn't "move the needle" so the videos were neglected and under-funded by labels.

Getting played is the first step, but labels closely monitor whether increased video play turns into increased sales. The label’s job isn’t to get expensive videos to air for free on TV, their goal is to sell music. In the rock world, spending more on a video may or may not translate into increased sales.

In the urban world, video airplay is much more closely tied to sales. Hip-Hop videos move the needle. With a few exceptions, a label will get its investment back on videos for black artists. For every dollar they spend on locations, cameras, director fees and Patron – they get back more than a dollar. That is what big corporations like – reliability.

This is why labels spend way more money on hip-hop videos than they do on rock videos. Because rock videos might (maybe, sort of, sometimes) end up bringing in more money than they cost, while urban clips almost always do.

This is why there are two, alternative worlds in music video. Black directors can make a lot more money and there is way more work out there as compared to the size of the director talent pool. Say, say, say ...

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