How Music Videos Changed the Industry Forever

On the 1st August 1981, a new television channel was launched under the name of MTV (Music Television). Whilst today the station is most popularly recognised for its range of reality shows including hits such as Teen Mom & Catfish, it’s launch caused the whole music industry to change forever. And how ironic was it that the first track played on the network was ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ by The Buggles?!

In the 1970’s, music TV shows were a hit with viewers, including the BBC’s Top of the Pops or Soundstage, broadcast on PBS in the United States. So, when plans were announced to launch a new channel entirely focused on music, the common question regarding it was what would the difference be and why should I watch this new channel? Little did most people know that a whole new music genre was about to be created.

This new genre would be the successful adoption of a little something known as a music video. A music video was essentially defined to be a (typically) short video which would feature a music track alongside imagery or videography that would accompany it. With the rise of technology especially during the 80’s and beyond, these videos ranged from 2D & 3D animation to live action scenes recorded & post edited with special effects. This technology allowed bands, artists, songwriters, and production teams to not only talk about a story through the lyrics but also for these experiences to be shown visually. MTV described it themselves as ‘’you’ll never look at music the same way again’’, and they were right.

In many ways, a music video can be your typical advert on the TV or online, because the more it draws you in, the more of a memorable experience you will have with the song that was just played. People are then more likely to want to listen to that track again, and whilst the case for purchasing physical music is not as popular as it was (at least for CD’s), in its heyday people would queue up the streets of any major town or city, eagerly awaiting to buy an artist’s latest album and have the privilege of being able to listen to that experience repeatedly. There are specialist studios who can create company advertising music videos for you, regardless of if you are Joe Bloggs or the biggest rockstar of them all!

While music videos first became more widely known in the late 60’s and 1970’s, including through Richard Lester’s work with The Beatles – with the former later being awarded ‘The Father of the Music Video’ by MTV, the launch of this new television station fundamentally kickstarted a new wave for the industry. The premise of MTV, originally to just be broadcasted in the USA until 1987 (with the launch of MTV Europe), was relatively simple – music videos played every minute of the day, every day. These tracks were to be introduced by on-air presenters known as video jockeys (commonly shortened to VJs) and were typically chosen by the network to capture their target demographic, reported to be from the ages of 12 to 34.

The launch of MTV had a big effect on the success of the musicians and songwriters. After a memorable music video was played on the network, its single or album could then be found at a plethora of record stores across the country. As a result of the wide nature of music which the channel covered, new and previously unknown artists’ tracks became mainstream. A lot of famous artists and bands benefited from the promotion of their music videos including:

  • Duran Duran
  • Madonna
  • Michael Jackson
  • Peter Gabriel
  • ZZ Top

Moving into the 1990’s and 2000’s with video production becoming more economically viable, a video to accompany a music track became more of a formality rather than an occurrence and led to a range of unique videos which became memorable to people for several different factors. This included hits such as Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ which became one of the most iconic music videos in the 90’s, to Robbie Williams’ ‘Rock DJ’ where he was featured peeling off his skin to expose flesh & later revealed to be nothing but a skeleton. The reality is that even if the latter was described as ‘odd’, the song is still as memorable today thanks to the music video that was created for it.

With the emergence of technology in the last twenty years which included the rapid rise & decline  of the MP3 format, and in more recent years the huge growth in streaming platforms, the case for music videos today is still as widespread as it became in the 1980’s with MTV. And whilst streaming platforms such as Spotify or Apple Music are focused on just providing the user with the music track only, YouTube has become the permanent platform for music videos to be showcased to over 2.3 billion people over the world.

“Even if everything is now digital, who doesn’t want to have more than just the track…I would say the track is the burger and the music video is the full meal deal with fries and Coke” – Simon Cahn

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