Saturday, September 29, 2007

Revising History

Before you read this, you have to check out James’ post over on SRO. Seriously, this whole post is me arguing with that post, so you better read that first or this will make even less sense that I normally make. And it's pretty good, too.

James is definitely correct that MTV was never perfect. Many people in the MV community have an incredible amount of nostalgia for a Viacom sponsored Utopia where clips ran like honey and it was always “120 Minutes” (but never “Yo! MTV Raps” – hmm). James is right, we all need to let that fantasy go. “Where Have You Gone, Nina Blackwood?!?!”

That being said, MTV hasn’t always sucked. James writes that MTV was flawed from its inception, but I completely disagree. Sitting through three hours of Erasure and Lionel Richie videos to get to ZZ Top is obviously not gonna work today. But back then, it was great. I eagerly sat through the clips I didn’t like (and probably learned a lot, like sometimes it rains men, whatever that means) because it was way better than doing my homework. Would that young version of me have preferred to click and watch “Hot For Teacher” over and over again? Sure, but he might have never seen a music video once he learned he could also click and see porn, but I digress.

Early Roman sewers would seem terrible by modern standards (now there's a digression). For more info, check Those early sewers would not meet today’s building codes, but at the time, they were an advancement that allowed for urban living – where cities could grow large without disease wiping out swaths of the downhill population every summer. Early MTV, was a leap forward – but still not what viewers want today (insert river of shit joke here).

Okay, sewers may be a stretch. Watch an old music video and see how long the shots last. They hold on some angle as the singer awkwardly lip-syncs, unsure if they are supposed to faux-sing AT the lens or not – and the shot holds and holds and it seems like forever. Tastes change. What worked back when doesn’t work now – but that doesn’t mean that it sucked back then. Our perspective has changed, but the history has not.

You could argue that YouToogle is great for viewers – we can see what we want, when we want it. That certainly is progress. But what is convenient for us is not always better for the industry. It would be convenient for me if Ferraris were free, but the people that make Ferraris probably have a different view.

When MTV (and radio) pushed content at us – we passively absorbed clips we didn’t specifically search out. They shoved stuff down our throats and a lot of the time we bought it, like a pre-blue pill Neo. Freedom’s just another word for “nothing left to lose.”

The IntraTubes have not shown much of an ability to convince people to go buy an LP/cassette/CD/MP3/brain-chip implant. This new “click it yourself” model is great at getting the videos out there, but – at least so far – not so good at turning those eyeballs into dollars. Those dollars turned into music video budgets for all the clips we loved (and the ones we sat through as well).

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On the Down Low

Retirement is not permanent. Not in boxing. Not in entertainment – especially not in the rap game. Anyone who was surprised that Jay-Z released his “Kingdom Come” comeback CD after “quitting” to head up Def Jam, well, Kanye and Fiddy have a bridge they wanna sell you.

However, I was surprised to hear recently that Jay-Z has another album coming out – less than a year after his last one. I first heard the news, and I kind of groaned a little bit – we all know what can happen when a comeback is hurried into the marketplace before the audience is actually hungry for it.

I had heard nothing about this until a piece came out in the NYT about Jay-Z’s new record and its ties to the upcoming American Gangster macho Oscar bait from Ridley Scott. Apparently the whole album is “inspired” by the Russell Crowe – Denzel Washington scenery chew-fest.

“It immediately clicked with me,” said Jay-Z, who has made passing references to gangster movies in previous recordings but has never delved so deeply into the genre. “Like ‘Scarface,’ or any one of those films, you take the good out of it, and you can see it as an inspiring film.” – NYT

So far, none of this sounds good to me. It’s too soon, the album seems to be shackled to a film which makes it more of a marketing piece than inspired creation. And of course, Jigga’s last music was very underwhelming.

And I was also troubled by the over the top look of the videos for Kingdom Come. Sure Jay looked amazing selling Budweiser in that Monaco Tourism Board spot – but was that what we wanted from Hova? Most people passed on Kingdom Come, which made me question even more the motives for Jay’s quick come-back. All signs pointed to a bloated, ego-fueled disaster … then I saw ...

The clip for “Blue Magic” – all stripped back menace and desolate urban drug rhymes. This is Jay out coke-ing the Clipse – as raw and real a record as Jay has made in years (ever?). My fears went out the window – at least for this first song. This is the b/w intensity of “99 Problems” with the late-night, broken-glass beats that first got Pharrell noticed. Hell, Jay's not even in the damn vid.

The video has been added and pulled all over the web. Anyone who has a stable link should send it along to me. But you should def watch the video - my rambling will make more sense. Try onsmash or YouToogle.

Read the NYT interview and you can see that Jay seems really amped up by the movie that the album is inspired by. Jay has spent a few years being professionally non-plussed so that kind of fire seems like a good thing.

The clip – directed by Rik Cordero – feels like an episode of “The Wire” come to life with a million and one things sure to make MTV/BET nervous (but watch them still play it anyway – it is JAY after all). This video (or “trailer” ?!?) is all the things that “Show Me” was not – and that is a good thing.

Jay has been a lot of things, but he must have realized that “self-satisfied mogul" is not a persona that we are too interested in. Bigger is not necessarily better. This first track off American Gangster heads in a new direction and the video (assuming this is the “real” video for the track) is spot on perfect for the music.

All in all, “Blue Magic” seems like the perfect comeback video – and Jay (label prez and artist) didn’t have to pay a million bucks for it either.

Update - over on antville, spit posted this link to photos from Pharrell's blog. These images apparently show the "real" video shoot being directed by Hype. Sigh. My enthusiasm is waning as I see the glossy cars and flashing light sets. Who knows if this glossy stuff will be intercut with the b/w drug stuff or if this trailer is really just a teaser to up the street cred.

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Friday, September 07, 2007


If you work in music videos you have probably had this conversation with someone – perhaps a relative, someone older than 25 or pretty much anyone not in the “tween” or “hipster” demographics. They are the Normal People.

What do you do?

I work in music videos.

Really? I love music videos! Which ones have you worked on?

(Name of most recent job)


{Blank Stare}


(Name of larger, more famous job you worked on months earlier)

{Blinks, then more staring}


Lot’s of videos. You probably haven’t seen them. MTV hardly shows videos anymore.

You know what video I like? That one where Michael Jackson turns into a werewolf. (Or perhaps they will cite the one where the Pearl Jam guy jumps off the balcony or the one where Puffy parties and drinks champagne.)

Let’s face it, normal people don’t watch videos. They did when they were in the right age category – but they’re not anymore. Normal people will complain that MTV has changed (which it has) – but regular people “age out” of the MTV demographic, just like kids age out of watching Nickelodeon. Normal People don’t know much about videos, and they are fine with that.

For those Normal People who think that they love music videos but yet can’t recall a single video since Peter Gabriel Shocked the monkey (and no, not the LCD Soundsystem one) – the AP has given them the 411.

Maura at Idolator linked to the AP article about the falling budget-scape of the MV world (you may have heard about that).

Stavros Merjos, founder of HSI Productions and a longtime producer of videos for acts ranging from Britney Spears to Will Smith, doesn't expect to ever see another $2 million video: "The record industry as a whole has shrunk. There's not as much money to throw around."

Merjos sees the effect particularly in hip-hop, where sales declines have been the steepest and extravagant videos by the likes of Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Diddy and Jay-Z used to be commonplace. "You were expected to have a big video if you were a top-flight or a serious up-and-coming hip-hop artist," says Merjos. "They're not doing the size that they were doing in the heyday. - AP

This got me wondering. This article is clearly written for Normal People – who barely think about videos and probably believe MTV is still running episodes of Singled Out, Austin Stories and Cribs (oops, they still ARE airing Cribs) instead of their beloved Banarama clips. I don’t begrudge those Normals their lack of interest in MVs, I have trouble sustaining my own interest at times. But if the level of music video knowledge and interest implied by this article probably doesn’t come with much “giving a shit” about budgets on the part of the reader.

Big ups to the AP for dropping the mad knowledge on the Normals, anyway. Next week, an article on how they really made Lionel Richie dance on that ceiling.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Stacking Chips

Not to start this down the road of the Mac/Win wars, the Sunni/Shia thing is bad enough – but Apple announced some new products and it started me thinking.

It seems that only ones really winning in the new music marketplace are at opposite ends of the (perceived) quality spectrum. On the “low” end is Koch Records – a record label that was once the 99-Cent Store of labels, but now seems to have a new hit every couple of weeks.

On the high-end is Apple and their own 99 centavo mercado – iTunes. They make a cut for every song (and video and ringtone) they sell – all without having to spend the kind of promo dollars that labels do. Would you rather pay for four (seven?) expensive videos for 50 Cent and then hope he beats out Kanye (and Kenny Chesney) for enough soundscans to pay back the dough spent up front or run a website that cranks out the same profit no matter if people buy a song on Sony or Warners?

Sure Apple pays a lot to advertise their iWorld. And they use music videos to do it. The Feist clip I like turns up on the ads to the new ChunkyNano. Watch the commercial and see that at the end there are links to buy the song and to buy the video. Anything that helps the artist sell music (at least via iTunes) is good for Apple. And all the things that don’t help the artist, are of no concern to Apple. The Cupertinians get much of the reward with none of the risk. Is it my imagination or does that seem to be Steve Job's God-like fingers pinching the whole music industry in that photo?

Apple has almost no challengers in the mobile music market. They seem to have a monopoly on the way music is played, Apple's desire for memory is THE thing that drives the computer chip market and other giants of commerce are teaming up to form a company (that will probably get its ass kicked) to try and get in on the business that Apple is dominating – just because the business is so damn profitable.

The new Apple devices will allow users to download songs directly to iPhones and TouchPods using wifi. Users will pay once for the song and then again for the ringtone of the same song. The videos on the glossy iPhone and iPod screens look better than they do on YouToogle – and the iPhone has its own YouTube which even looks better than the regular one. Seen through Mac-colored glasses the music industry (and video especially) looks pretty damn sunny. But that is just from the Steve Jobs POV.

As the music industry takes on water and tries to act like there aren’t pieces of iceberg all over the deck, Apple is still riding the wave of the one thing the music industry has in excess – cool. Music and music videos are cool. That used to make us rich. Now videos make Apple rich while the rest of us work hard to turn a profit creating videos and wonder why we didn’t buy more shares of Apple before the latest announcement.

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