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What was the role of music videos before MTV

4 Dec

It is a tricky task to track back the origins of music videos. The roles has been changing indeed.

If we look deeper into the history we will find Talkies (1927), which were movies with speech and sound made during the period when most films were silent. After that Soundies (1941 – 47) brought a selection of short musical films, which covered the whole range of era’s most popular styles. The major focus of Soundies was an entertainment.

Performance videos has been made in order to entertain, but also to advertize the artist. Here we see the role of music video as a promotional tool for the fist time. Few examples: Elvis Presley (Love Me Tender), Bill Haley (Rock Around The Clock), Pink Floyd: Live at Pompei, Jimmy Plays At Berkeley…

Performace videos were first seen in tv shows like Ed Sullivan Show, Ready Steady Go!, Top Of The Pop, America’s Top Ten and many others. Later on we are seeing mostly performance videos from the feature concerts.

The concert music videos has been made also to support world problems and raise money for charities and causes.

Many movies, which would include music on the purpose in order to create special feel and support the plot. (The Wild One, Rebel Without A Cause, Fantasia, Tommy, Quadrophenia, American Graffiti). Some of these films later turned into musicals.  The Wiz, Grease, Saturday Night Fever… Musical films were made on various topics and played different roles. It seems that musicians left the conventional way of advertizing only their music and just let their creativity to unfold and tell stories.

Beatles’ director Richard Lester came up with a promotional video which would not be just a performance video, but a short movie on its own: A Hard Day’s Night. This comic document story was a huge commercial success. Many other artists followed with various styles and approaches: Bob Dylan presented his video Don’t Look Back as a poem, Jimmy Cliff made a social commentary on Jamaican culture at the time in his video for the song The Harder They Come, Devo approached his music videos in alternative way to express the creativity (e.g. Jocko Homo)…

Documentaries played an important part in music industry e.g. Woodstock, Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter… The role was to inform about events, artists.

Over those years the genre music videos and consequently the role of this genre has developed quite a bit. Beginning with entertainment, progressing as a promotional tool for the musician, but also a promotion tool for causes. Playing a supporting role in the movies. Presenting itself as an art form, a social commentary or a source of information.

MTV might have influenced our perception of music videos as a promotional tool of a musician, but if we look closer we may see many of these roles from the past back in nowadays music video scene.

See the playlist for music videos 1927 – 1980:


Goodwin Andrew (11/1992), Dancing In the Distraction Factory: Music Television and Popular Culture, University of Minnesota Press


The Power Of Internet

29 Nov

Our daily dear partner.

Can you imagine the world without the internet? Personally I can, but I can also see all the problems and complications that we would have to suffer. Internet surely did contribute to the commercial business.

The internet has been invented in 1974, however, it was not the same internet as we know today. We ‘regular users’ have only started to use internet in 1992.

1992: World Wide Web released

1995: Commercialization of the internet, Ebay, Amazon

1997: The term “weblog” is coined

1998: Google!

2001: Wikipedia

2003: MySpace becomes the most popular social network

2003: iTunes Store

2004: Web 2.0

2004: Facebook

2005: Youtube

2006: Twitter

2007: TV shows online

2007: mobile web

With the invention of Web 2.0 people got the oportunity not only to watch, but also upload and interact. Youtube has brought a the biggest competitor to MTV – Vevo (channel on Youtube). Music videos became easily and quickly available online. People do not have to wait till MTV shows the programe, they can access their desired artist immediately. Time is money.

Average american teenager spends 2 hours online.

Moreover you don’t need to be a famous director to be well known with your videos. Just think, create, click, click some more and wait a bit. Amateurs were often perceived as ‘more real’ for the audience. Audience can more identify with a guy singing on the sofa in his teenage room than a rock star on the stage. They would support them, sometimes even worshiped them. Their popularity would grow fast and for free.

This is cool! Check that out! Have you seen these? Don’t miss those! (We really are trying hard not to miss anything.)

How has the development of the internet affected the role of music videos? Massively. We have definitely a greater range of artists and styles. However, who knows if that singing guy is not just another star from corporate business, who has calculated his future for him already. We have more freedom of choice, but we should not forget that we still remain victims of advertisement.


Dire Straits – Money For Nothing (1985)

27 Nov

Entertaining commentary on MTV.

Now look at them yo-yo’s that’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Money for nothin’ and chicks for free

Money For Nothing was directed by Steve Barron (Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, A ha’s Take On Me), who happened to be one of the pioneers in music video industry inspiring the media to create MTV. In 1985 Money For Nothing got MTV Video Of The Year Award.

Money For Nothing is a true commentary on MTV business as well as an entertaining depiction style of the band. It is a combination of (one of the first computer generated) animation with real performance with applied effects. All together it gives us a lesson in an entertaining way.

This was the first video played on MTV Europe. The network went on the air August 1, 1987, 6 years after MTV in the US.

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The definition of music video

18 Nov

What is exactly a music video?

That’s a question. A music video during the 80’s was certainly understood in a different way than it is now. Here are few explanations and definitions that I could find in ‘credible’, but also other sources:

Music videos primarily began as promotional films created by a music label’s publicity department or an artist’s management team.


a short film made to advertise a popular song  – Cambridge Dictionaries


a videotaped performance of a recorded popular song, usually accompanied by dancing and visual images interpreting the lyrics. – Oxford Dictionaries


To be honest I don’t agree with neither of them. I believe a music video does not necesarrily advertise the music anymore. I tend to agree with the redefinition written by an unknown animator/ creative director Daniel Moller :

a short film integrating a song and imagery, produced for promotional or artistic purposes.


Michael Jackson – Thriller

18 Nov

His music videos changed the face of pop, Thriller has forever changed the concept of music videos.

In 1983 John Landis (The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, Black and White, Dream On) wrote and directed the groundbreaking music video of Thriller (1983), created originally to play as a theatrical short. The clip includes –  strong narrative, legendary choreography, neat special effects and spoken word (Vincent Price). It was probably maily the iconic moonwalk dance (which became remastered many times) that played the great part in the video, but it was Landis who pushed it into the story and made the clip a thrilling spectacle, which turned out to sell more than 50 million copies and spent 37 weeks at number one in the American charts. And yet it still remains in world’s charts.

It created MTV really. And it created the whole making-of business. … Landis says

Thriller got multiple awards including the MTV Video Music Awards for Best Overall Video, Viewer’s Choice, and the Video Vanguard Award – The Greatest Video in the History of the World. In 1991 “Thriller” was inducted into the MVPA’s Hall of Fame.

What else to add? Show me a person who doesn’t like MJ’s Thriller.

Was the role of the music video as as a promotional tool fullfiled in this music video? Show me a person who thinks it wasn’t.

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D’Angelo – Untitled

15 Nov

He’ s chocolate, he’s well-built and he’ s naked…almost.

The song is just another super cheesy R&B ballad. After listening to it for more than 10 seconds I would switch to another channel. However, it’s the picture that keeps me watching. Directed by Paul Hunter, specialist on selling ‘sex sells’ music videos (Michael Jackson’s You Rock My World, ‘Divas’ video for the soundtrack to the film Moulin Rouge, Marylin Manson’s The Dope Show) topless D’Angelo sings about making love to you ‘baby’ (He knows you want to). The camera pans down, the lights are perfect, we can clearly see every tiny detail of Angelo’s muscular body.  As we are watching the drops of sweat, we (ladies) are secretly hoping for the grand finale. The camera stops right before showing the manhood. How does this particular video differ from any other ones? Hunter went literally on the border with showing the line. The line was apparently low enough to provoke a series of debates when this music video was released in 2000.

This video is trying to sell the music via selling the look of the artist. Is that what the music video should do? Personally I believe it shouldn’t, but from the business point of view, this was certainly an effective move.

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Sinéad O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U

15 Nov

Simple and touching.

The song was originally written by Prince. John Maybury (director of The Edge of Love, The Jacket…) decided for a simple concept for the this music video. The music video is very intimate, during the whole time we see Sinead’s face and hear her mighty voice singing about the relationship between her and her mother. We can also see few scenes of Sinead walking through the Parc de Saint-Cloud in Paris. Towards the end even a teardrops rolls down her face (it was written that it was a real one).

The director shot a lot of footage around Paris for the video, but ended up using just a simple tight shot of O’Connor singing. It was the first time most people saw what she looked like and were surprised that she was bald. She shaved her head when she first started recording because she wanted to make a statement and not be known for her beauty.

I believe the voice of Sinead is unique. Together with the melodies of her songs, her music will sell no matter how she looks.

Although this was a mainstream hit, O’Connor was considered an “Alternative” artist at the time. The album won the 1990 Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance. She boycotted the awards show to protest materialism in the music industry.

Personally I think the music and the picture fits together perfectly. However, in a way this video surely put Sinead into the certain box. When people say her name, I imagine the exact portrait and feel from this video. Is that ok? In a way for me, she will still remain that fragile alternative artist.

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1st August 1981

15 Nov

In the beginning was the music, but there was noone to hear it. As the population grew in numbers, music grew in popularity. Men invented the radio and the phonograph, high fidelity made quite a splash, but it was full stereo sound the explosion. Soon the television came along and gave us the gift of sight, but it was the cable that gave us the freedom of choice. For a while it seemed there was nothing new on the horizont, announcing the latest achievement at home entertainment.

The power of sight, the power of sound, MTV music television!

1st August 1981 was not only the first day of MTV, but also a beginning of a whole new concept, which became a phenomenon.

J.J.: … You will never look at music the same way again.

Nina: …The first music video channel. All day, all night. In stereo.

Marc: …This is it. The world’s first 24hour music video channel…a new concept is born. The best of tv combined with the best of radio.

Talking Heads – Once In A Lifetime

15 Nov

And you may ask yourself – Well…How did I get here?  (David Byrne is singing in the song)

You may ask yourself what the hell is this music video about? Talking Heads’s leading character David Byrne is dancing or I would rather call it having an epileptic spasms through out the whole song. Talking Heads were never commercial stars, but they were very particular in a way they created and performed their music.

this song marks a change in the way bands wrote songs: jamming in the studio, recording the product, and creating tunes around improvised minimalistic riffs which caught their ears on the playback.

Eventhough you might feel like this music video is slightly demented or bizzare, you cannot deny the importance of this video for the music video history. It surely encouradged the alternative to go for it.

 The video was later exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

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