Friday, February 09, 2007

The Choir

The way music videos are seen by people (a topic endlessly discussed here) today doesn’t just change the way labels/prod cos/directors profit from them – it changes what music videos do.

Obviously, music video discussion sites like this one, SRO or antville are not for the casual fan. If you are interested in what other commenters think of the long-awaited Grizzly video, whether a thirty year old film is a music video, or what technique was used on some motion control shot, you are not a normal music video consumer. And videos on the web are perfect for you.

The Intratubes are great if you want to find a particular video from the past or, a new clip that hasn’t really hit TV yet (onsmash is great for urban new-ness), or a video that will never, ever get on television. But the web is NOT good for introducing viewers to new artists. Web videos don’t reach new record buyers, but Disney Channel does.

If you are YouToogling “LCD Soundsystem” you have already purchased or downloaded all the music of theirs you care to have. If you sought out a particular file out of the billions on the world wide web, you are already a fan and watching the video on-line has no chance of turning into more sales for the musicians involved (which was the original goal of MVs, by the way).

The reason radio did (does?) rule is because it reaches new ears. MTV (back in the good ole days) did the same – sending out music that the audience may not have heard in the hopes of creating new fans. On radio/music television people can stumble across something they haven’t heard before and that is how an industry expands.

If anyone is watching a video on the band’s site, they are not exactly new fans. And that seems to be the way 85% of videos are viewed these days – dialed up by the folks that already know about the music and the artist. Like a politician making a dynamic speech in his home district, the impression might be strong but it means nothing – since the audience is already on board.

Some videos have gotten a lot of heat in the video dork community of which I am a member. The whole Death Cab for Cutie makes a bazillion $353.28 videos thing was a big story on antville and the like but very few people bought that album. The fact that all us insiders heard about the videos or watched them all a dozen times and commented on which one was best means about nothing to record labels that are busy trying to not go under or decide what the budget for the next video should be.

Music videos have become more and more like the VW keychain that Volkswagen dealers mail out to people who have just bought a new Jetta. The keychain is cool, but it is rewarding existing fans – not building new ones. No matter how cool that keychain is, it can’t convince your neighbor, or the guy across town who has never seen it, that he too, should look into buying a VW.

I love music videos and I think that they can connect audiences with artists in ways that almost nothing else can. I just wish it didn’t feel so much we are preaching to the choir.

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FYI, it's only the 'good ole days' in retrospect. surely a few years from now people will look back at this time and complain about something else.
Your points make an interesting contrast to those who proclaim that online music videos are all about discovering new listeners - the 'music video as viral' mechanism, if you like, epitomized by last year's ubiquitous treadmill YouTube video (that I've already forgotten the name of, and that of the band).
thiddy: aren't you ignoring at least one fairly important aspect: the ease of one-click "omg you gotta see/hear this" link-forwarding from one (possibly already-acquired) fan to a (potentially) new one? isn't *that* the mechanism that qualifies as viral? with a vid to link to, i'd say a label is (at least) enriching/amplifying that experience.
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