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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Do Artists Need Music Videos?
Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This past week both Ke$ha and Pink completed new music videos. The songs they completed them for, however, are already at the top of the Billboard singles chart. If you’re anything like me you’re probably thinking, “then what’s the point of making a music video?” If music videos are supposed to be promotional items, but you’ve proven you don’t need the promotion, why waste the money?

This leads to an even bigger question - if an artist can do well without a music video, has the music video gone the way of the 8-track and the cassette tape? Is it a dead format?

The answer depends on the kind of artist we’re talking about. In the case of established artists who get major radio airplay, a music video is no longer that important of a tool. MTV long ago dropped music videos from their programming, relegating them to the occasional debut between reality shows, or, in most cases, a channel that’s well into the 100s on our cable boxes, and YouTube hits don’t equate to dollars. If they did that dramatic chipmunk would be rolling in it right now.

YouTube, however, is still one of the most important places for an artist to have their work, as it’s a site where a lot of people discover new music. Artists can use it without having an actual video, though. Case in point, Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R” has over nine million plays on the site and all she has is the song playing over an image of the single cover. As strange as it may sound, people aren’t necessarily going to YouTube to watch a video, they’re going there to listen to a song. “We R Who We R” debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart last week. Clearly people have discovered it, and since you can’t go any higher than number one, the song has actually peaked before anyone has seen a video for it.

Ke$ha, however, is an established artist, and what works for her won’t necessarily work for an up and coming artist. It’s those indie acts that need to continue to utilize the music video format.

Unlike an established artist, an indie act still needs to continually present who they are to listeners. They need to always be introducing themselves to the world because with everything they do someone could be discovering them for the very first time. It’s not enough for them to just put a song on YouTube with a picture of their album cover, although that’s certainly a good start. Since these acts can’t get radio airplay they need to go the extra mile for promotion, they need to do something that will create a buzz and get bloggers talking, and more importantly, posting.

Two great examples of artists doing this are New York emcees Jesse Abraham and Homeboy Sandman. Both of them recently debuted two videos that were incredibly creative and generated a nice buzz, or in the case of Sandman, continued his amazing year of great buzz. All four videos found their way onto a host of hip-hop blogs. Abraham’s two YouTube clips, one for “Yoga” and one for “Little Bit of Everything,” are both heavy on the humor while staying within a budget, and currently have more than 4,000 views between them, while Sandman’s “The Essence,” which features a story told completely in reverse, and “The Carpenter,” which has plenty of fun with camera angles and perspective, have both been in heavy rotation on MTVu’s site. People are discovering these artists because of their videos.

This is the new path of the indie artist. They’ve always known everything they do should be about getting noticed, and that’s what music videos have always been about. When TRL was in its heyday having a video in their top ten meant constant rotation on MTV’s most watched show, and a huge boost in sales. It had replaced the radio as a tastemaker for a generation. The post TRL generation, however, doesn’t turn to MTV for their music, they turn to the internet and the old standby, commercial radio. Since the latter is not an available option for independent acts, they have to do what it takes to catch people’s attention by creating something for the former. Established acts, on the other hand, catch people’s attention on the latter, and can get by doing the bear minimum with the former.

The music video has become part of the due paying process for success, just like mixtapes and performing at open mics. It’s something an artist has to do to reach the next level. Once they’ve reached that next level there doesn’t seem to be a pressing need, or financial advantage, to creating music videos. Could you imagine Jay-Z dropping a mixtape, or Lady Gaga signing up for an open mic? It sounds ridiculous because those are phases of an artist’s career that they advanced past long ago.

So to answer the question - is the music video a dead format? It is as we used to know it. It no longer has to be a part of an established artist’s plan, while indie acts need to keep churning out creative clips to generate the kind of buzz that will get them noticed.

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.

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