If Psy, Madonna and MC Hammer have anything in common, it’s that music videos can be iconic for an artist – for good or ill. But as an indie artist, do you really need a music video, or is this just another frivolous expense to add to the cost of being a musician in 2020?
The short answer is, a music video is all but essential – now more than ever. It’s going to sell your song. It’s going to sell your image. And most importantly, it’s going to sell your record!
Some background on music videos or, as grandpa called them, ‘nonsense’
Not kidding – that is what my grandpa called it when he first saw Elvis gyrate those hips, and that wasn’t even a video. I can’t help cringing when I think about what he’d say to Gangnam Style! Good God! Well, Elvis wasn’t the only one making short films to go with his singles; Tony Bennett, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan got in on the action too, creating promotional advertising to take advantage of the burgeoning TV market where people wanted to see an artist, not just hear one. Then came MTV and it was goodbye audio track only and hello video. Artists like Michael Jackson started adding full storylines to their video and soon it became the norm. But only the biggest stars could afford to produce high-quality music videos for their singles.
Fun Fact #1: Michael Jackson’s Thriller video had a budget of over $1 million and he still holds the record for priciest music video ever made, at $7 million.
Fortunately for musicians everywhere, YouTube changes everything
Even though music videos did come down in price after a few years, for a long time it was still only mainstream artists who could afford to create music videos for mainstream TV. If you couldn’t afford it, at least you weren’t a sellout, but it probably didn’t matter to the 43 devoted fans you had, anyway. Then in 2005, along came YouTube. Now anybody can put up any video and instantly share it with anyone in the universe for free and get instant audience feedback, whether it’s strokes or constructive criticism or hate from the haters. Yet despite the incredible opportunities this naturally offers, for every Justin Bieber or discovered-in-the-bathtub story, there are tens of thousands more artists who fade into obscurity on the uber-popular platform. Why is this?
Fun Fact #2: With over 1 billion hits, Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ is the most-watched video of any kind in history. Grandpa is rolling over.
The whole point of music videos today
Because the nature of what makes a video go viral is so elusive and seemingly random, a lot of artists don’t experience success with their videos because they have forgotten what the entire point is. Yes, one never quite knows what precisely will turn a video from merely popular to wildly insanely must-see, but getting to the popular stage is a damn good start. What’s the point again?
A music video promotes your music by creating an audience reaction that helps people remember and understand your song. A music video shows off, and builds, your image while entertaining your audience. Packaging, branding, media, and image are everything in the music business. A music video sells product: whether it’s downloads or concert tickets, by expanding your public profile and giving you favourable (even if it’s controversial) word-of-mouth publicity on social media sites.
You need to keep these three things in mind when designing your music video where an egg turns into a sheep and then becomes a bloodthirsty vampire that drinks other sheep’s blood while throwing eggs at the camera. This scenario could work for you if you’re Marilyn Manson, but is likely to work against you if you’re Taylor Swift. Unless you factor in the controversial uproar and all that publicity…hmmm.
Fun Fact #3: M.I.A.’s Born Free is considered to be one of the most controversial music videos of our time, so much so that YouTube banned it – which is really saying something.
How to make a kickass music video if you’re an indie artist
It may seem like a no-brainer, but a good music video is first and foremost, entertaining – whatever that means to you and your genre. As an indie, you want this video to be watched, liked, and shared. Here are some tips to making a music video:
Get a reputable videographer who’s recommended to you by someone you trust, and who is passionate about your work.
Plan the video out in detail before you try to execute on it, to stay within budget.
Don’t cut corners on the cameras and lighting, nor the production quality. The level of professionalism you employ is what people are going to look at and judge you by instantly.
Don’t forget….image is everything. Crass as it might sound, the music business is about profit, and you’re the brand, whether you’re selling out bars or entire stadiums. The image is almost more important than the music, meaning if you have a well-defined image, the music will somewhat take care of itself, but if you’re all over the place, not so much.
The bottom line: If you want more exposure for your music, a good music video can help you solidify the look, feel and tone of your image such that your followers will be able to say "Yeah, that’s why I love that artist!". It can promote you and your sound in places you can’t physically go, and put your work into the hands of people who want to pay for it.
With a great music video behind you, you can truly say "can’t touch this". No baggy pants required.