On August 1, 1981, MTV began broadcasting on cable television. The first video released was highly symbolic: The Buggles’ The video killed the radio star. The era of music videos had begun. The genre would become central to pop culture. In the 1980s and 1990s, it spawned pop’s most recognizable stars, introduced a generation of cultural icons, and colonized the eyes and ears of its viewers, as songs became inextricably associated with the imagery from their videos. But this culture began to decline around the arrival of the Internet, if not shortly before.
“First, music videos on open channels disappeared, as record companies tried to recoup their piracy losses by charging large sums to air them, so they could only be seen on pay-TV. There was some competition for audiences, although it was still light years away from movie, sports or documentary audiences. But the hottest Latin music videos have always been a good late-night option for porn-free platforms. This lasted until the arrival of YouTube, which almost completely put an end to these music video channels”, explains Javier Lorbado, who was director of the famous Spanish music studio Sol Música from 1997 to 2014 and now works as a specialist. independent of digital communication. for artists, record labels and managers.
YouTube was born in 2005. It is now the second most visited website in the world after Google. With the arrival of the platform, as Lorbada recalls, “the ways of consuming videos have changed, just like for films and television series when Netflix appeared”. This caused MTV to go on “a desperate run, completely changing their concept and forgetting that the M in their logo came from the word music. He tried reality shows, contests, series, films, until he got to what he is today, a platform for all kinds of programs aimed at teenagers and young people. . Almost anything is fine, as long as it’s attractive to advertisers. »
But a new paradigm shift arrived from China at the end of 2016. During the pandemic, TikTok became the most popular social network in the world. Now the platform is threatening to set new rules for the music industry. Artist Halsey has publicly stated that her record company has banned her from releasing her new song “unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok”. She joins a long list of stars who have criticized such demands, including Florence Welch, Ed Sheeran, Charli XCX and FKA Twigs. “They are forced to constantly generate content to satisfy the current neoliberal machine. It’s always been like that to a certain extent, but I can imagine that now it must be really exhausting and hard to bear,” says Luis Cerveró, music video director and founder of Barcelona-based production house CANADA.
From Rosalía to Pink Floyd, the new viral video
Other stars, however, have embraced the platform, fully aware of its marketing power. In March, Rosalía released her album Motomami with an exclusive performance for the social platform, including live performances of her songs and interviews with her famous friends. Although Gen Z is TikTok’s primary audience, idols from other generations have also started experimenting with the platform. Most unexpectedly was the news this week that Pink Floyd have made their entire catalog of songs available on TikTok’s sound library, and they will start posting exclusive videos on the platform regularly.
“It’s increasingly common for people to discover music on TikTok, and if you’re not present there, you’re going to close out a huge promotion opportunity. A new generation of users who may not have never heard of Pink Floyd could now discover them”, explains Laura Estudillo who, after having worked in communication at Warner, founded the Panorámica agency in 2017 and works with artists like Chanel and Alizzz. Estudillo adds that “the most important thing is that the artist feels comfortable with the content he shares. If they do it halfheartedly, or if it feels forced, audiences will notice, and that can be counterproductive on platforms like TikTok. The big appeal of the platform is its unprecedented ability to make things go viral. Without even having any subscribers, the algorithm can make you a star, which will be reflected in YouTube videos, Spotify streams, and ticket sales.
But it also brings a paradigm shift to the video format. “TikTok creates a serious attention deficit. They extend the life of videos, but they don’t perform as well as short ones and you still can’t download an entire song. For the artist, the content he creates on the platform is a plus. And in the best case of TikTok’s success, having it go viral given the competition is almost a miracle,” says digital trend expert Ainhoa Marzol. If you had said years ago that content consumption would be in a vertical format, I wouldn’t have believed it,” adds Laura Estudillo. “Now even festival screens are adapted to the story format.” As a social network, I prefer Instagram, but without a doubt, TikTok is key right now,” says musician and performer Bea Pelea. “It allows you to create cheaper, more accessible audiovisual content that can boost quite important.”
The need to shoot music videos
In April, indie musician Javier Carrasco, better known as Betacam, asked on Twitter: “Does it make sense to film music videos in 2022? Can you afford NOT to film them? After sharing her video for her song sad north america, he posted: “I lost a lot of money doing this, and for what? Nothing. Moral: don’t force yourself. Do the bare minimum: a few dances for Instagram and TikTok and call it a day. Other artists chimed in to agree with Carrasco’s Twitter feed. Today, Carrasco qualifies his statement: “At the beginning, when you start, making a music video is something new and exciting, but the more the years pass, the more difficult it is to dive head first. It’s always laborious, extra work, but in the end, I think it’s worth it. It’s still a wasted investment, like everything else in music, but it makes you stop for a moment and poke your head out of the sea of daily and weekly new releases,” he says.
Logically, the economic benefits vary according to the popularity of the artist. For independent artists, budgets are very low: between €1,000 and €5,000 per music video, while a 30-second commercial can cost €180,000 on average. It also creates frustrations among quiet musicians. “I would have liked to record more videos, because they are important to me, but I want to do cool things, in tune with the times, and our economic possibilities do not allow it”, explains Bea Pelea. The business is also hard for the producers: everything is done as a favor. Luis Cerveró admits to having stopped making videos in 2018, when his first child was born. “A week before, I had finished filming my last, but since then I have decided that I will only leave the house to do paid work.” This video had a budget of €6,000, but it’s almost always assumed that the money goes entirely to production. “Nobody gets paid, neither the cameramen nor the make-up artists. I’ve been paid twice in my life to make a video, and I’ve made over 60 of them. Once very early in my career, I shot a video of Niños Mutantes and I kept all the budget, because I really needed it, and the other time was when I made the second video of Pharrell Williams [Come Get It Bae] because I felt really stupid to shoot the first [Marilyn Monroe] and not charge anything for it. Cerveró was one of the most sought after independent music video directors of the millennium and he worked with international artists such as Battles, Liars and Javiera Mena.
“For an artist, it is essential to keep thinking about having as many videos as possible of all his releases”, explains Javier Lorbada. “It may not be so important anymore to have a big budget to make an old fashioned music video with amazing photography, makeup, hair, lighting, special effects and editing. The digital world constantly demands new content in order to gain greater visibility and reach as many viewers as possible. This forces artists and their companies to constantly release new music videos of the same song. In addition to the music video, many have lyric videos, visualizations, duets, studio, home, acoustic, rehearsal room versions. The truth is, this strategy works. The more videos you have, the better results you get.
“If we speak in economic terms, it is very difficult to make a profit,” explains Laura Estudillo. “You have to be very well positioned to be able to monetize it. For labels that cover the cost, it’s also hard to recoup their investment, but they usually have more muscle to set up digital marketing campaigns that help them get views. There are more and more artists who decide not to make videos, but it is still a good promotional tool. You can get more attention in digital media if you post a song with a video. You can promote it across platforms by adapting the format to small or vertical clips and most importantly, it continues to be one of the most effective tools a band has to introduce themselves to an audience. I think of Rosalía or C. Tangana as current references of Generation Z who knew how to build a very powerful iconography around their image, and the importance of their videos is undeniable. If the platforms make it possible to give another dimension to the artist through photos or stories, music videos continue to have the strength to place the artist in a utopian dimension, very aspirational.
“In the 1980s and 1990s, the music video explored itself as an art and played around with it a bit. But I think all of that is outdated today. Its function is more aesthetic. It serves above all to mark or underline the tone that the artist wants to give to his own image”, specifies Ainhoa Marzol. “But I don’t think it’s going to go away. Music is a sentimental industry that really likes to do things the way they’ve always been done. What I think is that the form will expand. We are already seeing videos adapted to Spotify, others with key moments to play on TikTok. If the metaverse goes anywhere, I would imagine more interactive music videos inside, maybe similar to video game format albums, like Wild Hearts of Sayonara“, concludes the journalist.