The Most Common Problem with Music Videos

band lights
Image source: 10out10.co.uk

Last year, a study showed that more than 1 in 4 people are persuaded to buy music because of a music video. So why are so many done so badly?

Lights. Camera. Action!

That’s the best way to do a music video, right? But I’ve never met anyone who cited their favourite music video as being one where the band jump around in front of a bunch of lights, despite the fact that it’s a style so frequently used it’s almost iconic.

Even though I’ve not listened to blink-182 properly since I was 15, I’m still proud to say that ‘The Rock Show’ is probably the best music video I’ve ever seen. I’m aware that it might sound like I’m speaking of a time long gone by, but over recent years there’s been a flare of two bog-standard types of music video to suit every band that classes themselves as alt/pop/punk/rock: performing your songs in a room filled with strategically placed lights, or tour diary style videos. There was none of that lack of originality with ‘The Rock Show’.

I wish this were a problem that’s confined to merely “up and coming” bands, on their first or second single, but it’s a far more widespread epidemic. A big label, big management, and big PR company, and somehow the result of all this combined effort results in nothing more than a better version of the video your mates in college made.

While I’m not trying to discredit the intricacies of shooting a video of a band in a room filled with lights – genuinely, some of those shots look impressive – it feels like a get out of jail free option. If you’re going to put that amount of time into shooting footage to accompany a track you’ve probably spent days or weeks working on, I want to see something as brilliant as what I’m hearing, and more often than not, I find myself let down.

Tour diary-esque videos are another way to lose my interest rapidly. Tour diaries are brilliant, especially when it comes to bands that get up to things more interesting than ordering a dozen pizzas, emptying a mini fridge of alcohol, and getting locked out of their car – if I wanted to watch that I could walk into any city centre on a Friday night. But cramming a mediocre weekender tour into three and a half minutes, minus all the speaking, is an impossible task to do well. Save tour diary footage for tour diaries, and even then, make it good.

Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church’ is a perfect example of how a music video should be done right, and how it can lead to success. In the wake of Russia’s anti-gay legislation, the clip depicts a gay couple being chased by an angry mob, and after being posted on social networking site Reddit in September 2013, the video saw tens of thousands of hits in one night. With all the online hype surrounding the video, it eventually came to the attention of Radio 1, receiving air play from Zane Lowe and multiple live sessions on the show. His album went on to reach number 5 in the album chart.

YouTube is a powerful tool – in fact, a 2015 study showed that 55% of people from around the world found out about new music through the website, beating Spotify’s 31%. However, a song doesn’t need a music video for it be shared around. One musician in the study said: “we have always sent just our tracks via SoundCloud but it turns out even if it’s just audio, people are more likely to give you a go on YouTube. I think this is because people are so used to using it and trust it.” So why are music videos still so important?

Well, of the 26% of participants who said that a music video would encourage them to purchase an artist’s music, the most common reason given was that it grabbed their attention, or that it expanded on the music and the two medias worked together. Last week I was listening to a track from any number of alt-rock bands, and I started scrolling through my Twitter, somewhat absent minded. When the song finished but the band didn’t, I clicked on that I was listening on YouTube, not Spotify, and I’d totally ignored the music video. So, I put it on to watch it again, and I realised why I’d ignored it. It was boring.

Music videos can often be a straight-up, unabashed, PR tactic. There’s little debate that this is exactly what Taylor Swift’s ‘Bad Blood’ was, with all those stars drawing in views from different fan bases that otherwise wouldn’t have given the song a listen. This meant that there were exponentially more people talking about the video, and subsequently exponentially more people discussing it online. It worked perfectly.

So, how can anyone do a music video properly? I’m not saying it has to tell a deep and meaningful story, I’m not looking for something that’s going to change my life, all I want is something compelling enough for me to not flick between tabs or open Twitter whilst I’m listening. Maybe, if it’s really good, I’ll even share it on Twitter afterwards.

Frank Turner’s ‘Mittens’ is the best example I’ve seen recently, though he’s always been a solid go-to for promising music videos. To be brutally honest, when I first watched the video I was somewhat unnerved and more than a little creeped out, and from the reaction I saw online, I wasn’t the only one to think that. Even Frank conceded to the fact that it was a bit bizarre. It didn’t need to be fast paced or no-expense-spared – it just needed to be captivating on some level.

Of course, clever videos are bound to get you far too, and James’ ‘Moving On’ was one that particularly struck me on that front. I’m not a big fan of animation, but I am the sort who cries easily – once at a Nationwide advert in the cinema, would you believe – and as the story is told out through characters made entirely of string, I found myself welling up at how they’d managed to portray the circle of life and death with a few minutes and some wool.

The most disappointing part of an unimaginative video is when a band with real talent produces one. More often than not I wish they’d not bothered filming it, and had instead saved the money and put it towards another single, but it would appear that four people dancing in front of big lights is a necessary evil of the industry. To me, it just screams a lack of creativity, no matter how well crafted the track itself is.

A music video should compliment – or perhaps deliberately contrast – the music. It should reflect as much of the band as the songs themselves do – it’s another outlet for creativity, and I’d actually rather see a PR agency step in and manufacture a good music video than see a band’s originality become a silhouette in front of a big light.

I want a music video that’s exciting, holds my attention, and if it scares me a bit in the process, then so be it.

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