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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