A few weeks ago, I released a music video in support of my latest album. It was nothing special. A live performance with lyrics laid over top, intercut with some Super 8 footage shot in and around my town, that was released without any press push of which to speak.
It’s since garnered some views and is a piece of work that I am proud to have created and sent into the world, but it no bearing on the sales of my new album or my profile as an artist. It was a video that a few of my fans, friends and family watched and one that will live somewhere on YouTube forever.
I knew as much going in and throughout the effort of scheduling, shooting and editing the video, it had me wondering why in 2018 do album campaigns still rely so heavily on music videos?
If so many of them don’t really have much of an impact at all, why do we continue to view them as a necessary tool in the cog of an album’s promotional machine?
To give you an insider’s peek at the way an album rolls out, it goes something kind of like this: Two months prior to release, the label or band finds a press partner to announce their new album. With the album is a piece of content, usually a song. A few weeks after that, the label or band finds a different press partner to announce a different piece of content, usually another song, often paired with a full tour announcement. When the album comes out, the label or band finds yet another press partner to premiere the entire album. That is, to stream it or link to a stream exclusively on their site. After the album is out, the label or band rely on more content to keep people talking about the album. Live sessions the band has recorded, interviews, remixes, etc. This is where music videos enter the picture.
Somewhere after the album’s release, the label or band will premiere a music video. It will be one that they’ve no doubt spent a lot of time and usually a good chunk of money on and, if they’re lucky, one that will capture the zeitgeist if even for a day, or one fickle news cycle in 2018.
The thing about videos, though, and what sets them apart from so much other content is their cost.
From shooting to making sure everyone on set in comfortable to cutting, making a video tends to be a costly endeavor. Of course, you can shoot on your phone, ask your crew and/or extras to work for free and bring their own lunches, and edit on iMovie, but like anything else in life, you get what you pay for. A video that costs nothing is generally going to look like a video that cost nothing.
In my many years in the record business, I saw tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the creation of music videos. Many of them were beautiful, some were downright ridiculous, but they all worked toward the same theoretical aim – to sell more records. And most were all but forgotten within a few weeks of their premiere.
Why then do bands and labels continue to sink valuable time and resources into the creation of these videos?
For the bigger artist, the music video is still an important endeavor. A video from Kurt Vile’s latest album, for example, has almost ten million views as of this writing. No doubt some of those people who watched the video were hooked enough to go out and buy a copy of the album but what’s even more likely is that scores of people who had yet heard of KV were now turned on to him.
But does the same hold true for the smaller artist?
What’s far more likely, however, is that beyond a smaller band’s small circle of fans, few people will watch their music videos and they will most likely live in YouTube purgatory eternally.
Sure, there is always the case of the little band whose video goes viral and sometimes catapults them to another level of recognition. But that is far more often the exception rather than the rule.
Most bands’ videos will end up like my most recent; stagnant after a few hundred or a few thousand views.
As counterintuitive as it may sound (and how deeply it may contradict what I’ve just written), none of this is to say that anyone needs to stop making music videos. In fact, quite the opposite. With the proliferation of video culture and the ease with which we can reach the entire world, it can be argued that creating music videos and filmed content is more important than ever.
But like any art form, we should continue make videos for the right reasons. I keep making music videos because I find them to be more valuable as a form of expression, as an enhancement of my musical vision, than as a marketing tool. That if I’m going to spend money marketing my album, that money would be better utilized putting gas in my van in order to tour.
To have a visual representation of the music you create is just another facet with which to consider your art form. Thus, keep making videos. Make them for nothing. Spend lots of money on them. Scheme a good concept and make it a reality. Rent a studio. Enlist your friends. Tie a GoPro to your dog’s neck. Fuck it. Get crazy. Make something amazing. But if you’re just looking for content to promote your album, there are millions of podcasts in the world that cost nothing to talk about your album on. I’m sure some of them would love to have you.
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