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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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?
asian directors are FUCKED!
What about Spike Jonze though? He directs for mostly white rock groups, even though he's black and most of his early film work was about black people in Brooklyn.
His videos for "Sky is the Limit" and "Drop" are two of the all time greatest hip hop videos ever made, but at the end of the day Spike Jonze will still be white.

Paul Hunter and Noble Jones are two black directors who do great work when they direct rock videos.

If the world of hip hop and rock music videos are so polarized, then where are all the black video commissioners?
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