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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don't mind me if i borrow "Das Tube" every now and then... ;)
That actually looks like a transmission line, but maybe it's at a substation, where transmission meets distribution.

Ok, I will shut that part of my brain off now :)

As an everyday music video consume, whose habits in watching videos dramatically changed after the YouTube invasion, I would like to add a few things:

You say, that there would be an improvement in YT's picture quality.
OK, but then it won't be free anymore as it is now. I think many record companies not sueing YT because the quality of the uploaded video is shitty, and if someone gets the video from there, he/she might buy the released version as well - to improve quality. If all the vids up there would have even a low VHS-resolution (320x240 - or higher) now there would be absolutely no motivation for the ordinary music-video-junkie to buy it in the shops. That's why YT would give up its freebie-attitude towards viewers, then automatically lose some popularity.
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