Music video

A music video (also video clip, promo) is a short film meant to present a visual representation of a popular music song. The American cable television channel MTV ("Music Television" launched in 1981), originated the format of end-to-end music video programming without any conventional programs, although the music video itself has a history dating back to the earliest days of sound film.

Music videos are primarily a marketing device intended to promote the sale of recordings. Alan Durant (1984, p.115) has criticized music videos tendency for glittery escapism, musical portraiture, which, "may fix currencies of sounds, but...may also close eyes to music seen more broadly as practice." (Middleton 1990, p.91)


History of music videos

Early precedents

Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 film Alexander Nevsky, which features extended scenes of battles choreographed to a score by Sergei Prokofiev, set new standards for the use of music in film and has been described by some as the first music video.

However, the roots of the music video can be found even earlier. In 1911 Alexander Scriabin wrote his symphony Prometheus -- Poem of Fire for orchestra and "light organ". And as far back as the 1920s, the animated films of Oskar Fischinger (aptly labeled "visual music") were supplied with orchestral scores.

The early animated efforts of Walt Disney, his Silly Symphonies, were built around music. The Warner Brothers cartoons, even today billed as Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, were initially fashioned around specific songs from upcoming Warner Brothers musical films. Live action musical shorts, featuring such popular performers as Cab Calloway, were also distributed to theatres.

Blues singer Bessie Smith appeared in a two-reel short film called Saint Louis Blues (1929) featuring a dramatized performance of the hit song. It was shown in theaters until 1932. Numerous other musicians appeared in short musical subjects during this period.

Another early form of music video were one-song films called Soundies made in the 1940s for the Panoram visual jukebox. These were short films of musical selections, usually just a band on a movie-set bandstand, made for playing. Thousands of Soundies were made, mostly of jazz musicians, but also torch singers, comedians, and dancers.

Before the Soundie, even dramatic movies typically had a musical interval, but the Soundie made the music the star and virtually all the name jazz performers appeared in Soundie shorts, many still available on compilation video tapes or DVDs.

The Panoram jukebox with eight three-minute Soundies were popular in taverns and night spots, but the fad faded during World War II.

In 1940, Walt Disney released Fantasia, an animated film based around famous pieces of classical music.

Television era

The very first short musical films made specifically for television, however, were the Snader Telescriptions, more than 1000 short musical presentations filmed for use as television filler between 1950 and 1954. The Snader Telescriptions covered the entire musical landscape. Although most of them were of conventional pop performers, there were many rhythm and blues, jazz, and country music performers. Over the years, the Telescriptions have been re-released many times as compilations, such as Showtime at the Apollo.

Other important influences during this period were the youth-oriented films featuring the then-new rock and roll genre, many of which included performances by noted rock acts like Little Richard. Among the most influential music-oriented films of this period were The Blackboard Jungle and The Girl Can't Help It.

In the 1960s, French technology developed for the aerial photography during the war was adapted to create the Scopitone, a modern visual jukebox. The Scopitone was a hit in France with fairly primitive scenes of bands playing, but when it was introduced into the US, the videos took on a vivid quality, with crooners wandering through crowds of girls in bikinis or "jungle" furs. The Scopitone also was a hit, but involvement of organized crime led to its demise, just as rock and roll was being revitalized, too late for Scopitone.

Also in the 60s, the light show became popular for live performances, combining music with abstract visuals, harkening back to Scriabin's efforts.

Film and video promos

The pioneering full-color music video for The Exciters' "Tell Him" from 1962 greatly influenced all that came afterwards.

The defining work in the development of the modern music video was The Beatles' first major motion picture, A Hard Day's Night in 1964, directed by Richard Lester. The musical segments in this film arguably set out the basic visual vocabulary of today's music videos, influencing a vast number of contemporary musicians, and countless subsequent pop and rock group music videos.

That same year, The Beatles began filming short promotional films for their songs which were distributed for broadcast on television variety shows in other countries, primarily the U.S.A. By the time The Beatles stopped touring in late 1966 their promotional films, like their recordings, were becoming increasingly sophisticated, and they now used these films to, in effect, tour for them.

Also in 1966 the clip of Bob Dylan performing Subterranean Homesick Blues filmed by D A Pennebaker was much used. The clip's ironic portrayal of a performance and the seemingly random inclusion of a celebrity (Allen Ginsberg) in a non-performing role also became mainstays of the form. The clip has been much imitated.

The Beatles took the genre to new heights with their groundbreaking films for "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane", made in early 1967, which used techniques borrowed from underground and avant garde film, such as reversed film effects, dramatic lighting, unusual camera angles and rhythmic editing. Created at the height of the psychedelic music period, these two landmark films are among the very first purpose-made concept videos that attempt to "illustrate" the song in an artful manner, rather than just creating a film of an idealised performance.

Other pioneering music videos made during this time include the promotional films made by The Doors. The group had a strong interest in film, since both lead singer Jim Morrison and keyboard player Ray Manzarek had met while studying film at UCLA. The clip for their debut single "Break On Through" is essentially structured as a filmed performance, but it is notable for its accomplished and atmospheric lighting, camera work and editing. The Doors also directed a superb promotional clip for their controversial 1968 anti-war single "The Unknown Soldier", in which the group stage a mock execution by firing squad. One of the clip's most innovative features is its use of external visuals sources, with extensive intercutting of archival footage and shocking contemporary TV footage of the carnage of the Vietnam War.

Although unashamedly based on A Hard Day's Night, the hugely popular American TV series The Monkees was another important influence on the development of the music video genre, with each episode including a number of specially-made film segments that were created to accompany the various Monkees songs used in the series.

When released in 1968, the animated film Yellow Submarine was an international sensation, although The Beatles themselves had only a tangential involvement with it. Soon it was commonplace for artists to make promotional films, and bands like The Byrds and The Beach Boys were also making promotional films. Although these "film clips" were often aired on pop music TV shows, they were still considered as secondary at that time, with live or mimed performances generally given precedence.

The promotional clip continued to grow in importance, with television programs such as The Midnight Special and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert mixing concert footage with clips incorporating camera tricks, special effects, and dramatizations of song lyrics.

Other important contributions to the development of the genre include the film of the Woodstock Festival, and the various concert films that were made during the early Seventies, most notably Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs And Englishmen and particularly Pink Floyd's groundbreaking Live At Pompeii concert film, which featured sophisticated rhythmic cross-cutting.

Many countries with local pop music industries soon copied the trend towards music videos. In Australia promotional films by Australian pop performers were being made on a regular basis by 1966; among the earliest known are clips by Australian groups The Masters Apprentices and The Loved Ones.

Surf film makers such as Bruce Brown, George Greenough and Alby Falzon also made important contributions in their films, which featured innovative combinations of images and music, and they notably dispensed with all narration and dialogue for many extended surfing sequences in their films, presenting the surfing action accompanied by suitably atmospheric music tracks.

Alby Falzon's 1972 film Morning Of The Earth included a spectacular sequence (filmed by Greenough) that was constructed around the extended Pink Floyd track "Echoes". The group reportedly agreed to allowed Falzon to use the music gratis, in exchange for a copy of Greenough's footage, which they used during their concerts for several years.

Other notable Australian developments in this field are the early 1970s monochrome promotional films made by Australian musician and filmmaker Chris Lofven, whose clips for the Spectrum song "I'll Be Gone" and the Daddy Cool song "Eagle Rock" were among the best of the early Australian music video productions. It is notable that Lofven's 1971 clip for "Eagle Rock" bears a strong stylistic resemblance to the video for the 1978 hit "Brass In Pocket" by The Pretenders, and it has been speculated that original bassist Pete Farndon may well have seen the Lofven clip when he was working in Australia in the mid-1970s as a member of The Bushwackers.

The first promo clip to combine all the elements of the modern music video is David Bowie's promotional clip for the song The Jean Genie, which was released as single in late 1972 at the height of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust period. Filmed and directed by renowned photographer Mick Rock, this genre-defining four-minute film was produced for less than $350, shot in one day in San Francisco on 28th October 1972, and edited in less than two days.

In 1975 Queen released a promo video for "Bohemian Rhapsody" directed by Bruce Gowers, when they were unable to make a personal appearance on Top of the Pops. Considered a landmark in music video, it featured the complete visual grammar of today's music promos. Videos also found distribution through the early laserdisc format. Other notable contributions came from avant-garde bands such as The Residents and Devo and cult performers such as original Monkees member Michael Nesmith.

Modern era

The key innovation in the development of the modern music video was of course video recording and editing processes, along with the development of a number of related effects such as chroma-key. The advent of high-quality colour videotape recorders and portable video cameras coincided with the DIY ethos of the New Wave era and this enabled many pop acts to produce promotional videos quickly and cheaply, in comparison to the relatively high costs of using film. However, as the genre developed music video directors increasingly turned to 35mm film as the preferred medium, while others mixed film and video. By the mid-1980s releasing a music video to accompany your new single had become standard, and acts like The Jacksons sought to gain a commercial edge by creating lavish music videos with multi-million dollar budgets.

Some of the first American music videos of the modern era were produced by ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith who started making short musical films for Saturday Night Live in 1979. In 1981, he released Elephant Parts, the first video album and first winner of a Grammy for music video. A further experiment on NBC television called Television Parts was not successful, due to network meddling (notably an intrusive laugh track and corny gags). The early self-produced music videos by Devo, including the pioneering compilation "The Truth About Devolution" were also important (if somewhat subversive) developments in the evolution of the genre and these Devo video cassette releases were arguably among the first true long-form video productions.

In the UK the importance of "Top of the Pops" to promote a single created an environment of innovation and competition amongst bands and record labels as the show's producers placed strict limits on the number of videos it would use - therefore a good video would increase a song's sales as viewers hoped to see the video again the following week. David Bowie scored his first UK number one in nearly a decade thanks to the eye catching promo for "Ashes to Ashes". Another act to suceed from this tactic was "Madness" who shot on 16mm and 35mm short micro-comedic films.

"Top of the Pops" was censorus in its approach to video content so another approach was for an act to produce a promo that would be banned or edited and so use the resulting controversy and publicity to promote the release. Early examples of this tactic were Duran Duran's "Girls on Film" and Frankie Goes to Hollywood with "Relax".

Although little acknowledged outside Australia, it is arguable that the 1970s-1980s Australian TV pop show Countdown -- and to a lesser extent its commercial competitors Sounds and Nightmoves -- were important precursors to MTV.

Countdown, which was based on Top Of The Pops, was only seen in Australia but the program gained international significance in the recording industry in the late 1970s and early 80s. Produced on a shoestring by the government-owned ABC national TV network, its low budget, and Australia's distance proved to be influential factors in the show's early preference for music video. The relative rarity of visits by international artists to Australia and the availabilty of high-quality, free promotional films meant that Countdown soon came to rely heavily on music videos in order to feature such performers.

The show's talent coordinator Ian Meldrum and his producers quickly realised that these music videos were becoming an important new commodity in music marketing. For the first time, pre-produced music videos gave TV the opportunity to present pop music in a format that rivalled or even exceed the impact of radio airplay, and it was soon apparent that Countdown could singlehandedly break new pop acts and new songs by established artists -- a role that up until then been the exclusive preserve of radio.

Although Countdown continued to rely heavily on 'live' appearances by local and visiting acts, competing shows like Sounds lacked the resources to present regular studio performances, so they were soon using music videos almost exclusively. As the Eighties progressed, the ability to use music videos to give bands the best possible presentation saw record companies making more, and more lavish, promotional videos.

In 1980 New Zealand group Split Enz had major success with the single "I Got You" and the album True Colours, and later that year they became one of the first bands in the world to produce a complete set of music videos for each song on the album and to market these on video cassette -- the so-called video album. This was followed a year later by the first American video album, The Completion Backwards principle by The Tubes.

Realising the potential of music video, Countdown negotiated a controversial deal with local record labels, giving them first refusal and a period of exclusive use for any new video that came into the country, and with its nationwide reach and huge audience, Countdown was able to use music videos to break a number of important new local and overseas acts, notably ABBA, Queen, Meat Loaf, Blondie, Devo, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. This early success in Australia in turn enabled these acts to gain airplay and TV exposure and score breakthrough hits in their home countries.

During the 1980s promotional videos became pretty much de rigueur for most recording artists, a rise which was famously parodied by UK BBC television comedy program Not The Nine O'Clock News who produced a spoof music video; "Nice Video, Shame About The Song". Frank Zappa also parodied the excesses of the genre in his satirical song "Be In My Video".

As a response to this ubiquity some acts began to produce longform videos that were also released direct to video. Two notable examples were Michael Jackson's "Thriller" directed by John Landis and David Bowie's "Blue Jean" directed by Julian Temple. In both cases the performance of the song is bookended by a narrative sequence.


In 1981, the U.S. video channel MTV launched, beginning an era of 24-hour-a-day music on television. (The first video broadcast was "Video Killed the Radio Star", by The Buggles.) With this new outlet for material, the music video would, by the mid-1980s, grow to play a central role in popular music marketing. Many important acts of this period, most notably Madonna, owed a great deal of their success to the skillful construction and seductive appeal of their videos. Some academics have compared music video to silent film, and it is suggested that stars like Madonna have (often quite deliberately) constructed an image that in many ways echoes the image of the great stars of the silent era such as Greta Garbo. Although many see MTV as the start of a "golden era" of music videos and the unparalleled success of a new artform in popular culture, others see it as hastening the death of the true musical artist, because physical appeal is now critical to popularity to an unprecedented degree.

In the information technology era, music videos now approach the popularity of the songs themselves, being sold in collections on video tape and DVD. Enthusiasts of music videos sometimes watch them muted purely for their aesthetic value. Instead of watching the video for the music, (the basis for the artform), the videos are appreciated for their visual qualities, while viewers remain uninterested in the audio portion of the performance. This is a normal sociological reaction, some say, to the increasing trend in the music business to focus on visual appeal of artists, rather than the quality of the music. Critics say that the corporate music managers, over the course of logical and calculated business decisions, have sought to capitalize on the sex appeal of females in music videos rather than in choosing less profitable musicianship-based music.


With the advent of easy distribution over the internet, a number of fan-created videos began appearing in the late 1990s and continuing into the next century. These are typically made by synchronizing existing footage from other sources with the song, often from television series or movies. Most commonly the source material is drawn from anime (see anime music video) but also including American animation series. Since neither the music nor the film footage is typically licensed, distributing these videos is usually copyright infringement on both counts. However, it is typically the owners of film footage who file lawsuits, particularly large American corporations who fear dilution of their characters (such as Charlie Brown) by such unlicensed videos.


  • 1941: A new invention hits clubs and bars in the USA: The Panoram Soundie is a jukebox that plays short videoclips along with the music.
  • 1956: Hollywood discovers the genre of music-centered films. A wave of rock'n'roll films begins (Rock Around the Clock, Don't Knock the Rock, Shake, Rattle and Rock, Rock Pretty Baby, The Girl Can't Help It), and the famous Elvis Presley movies. Some of these films integrated musical performances into a story, others were simply revues.
  • 1960: In France a re-invention of the Soundie, the Scopitone gains limited success.
  • 1962: British Television invents a new form of music television. Shows like Top Of The Pops, Ready! Steady! Go! and Oh, Boy started as band vehicles and became huge hits.
  • 1964: The US-Television market adapts the format. Hullabaloo is one of the first US shows of this kind, followed by Shindig! (NBC) and American Bandstand; The Beatles star in A Hard Day's Night
  • 1966: The first conceptual promos are aired, for the Beatles' "Paperback Writer" and "Rain". Early in 1967, even more ambituous videos are released for "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever".
  • 1970: The record industry discovers these TV-Shows as a great opportunity to promote their artists. They focus on producing short "Promos", early music videos which started to replace the live performance of the artist on the TV-stage.
  • 1975: "Bohemian Rhapsody" released by Queen.
  • 1981: MTV, the first 24-hour satellite music channel, launches. Initially few cable TV operators carry it, but it rapidly becomes a major hit and cultural icon.
  • 1995: MTV begins to credit music video directors.
  • 1996: Pop-up Video is first aired on VH1.
  • 2001: MTV2 is launched to focus on music videos as MTV has largely substituted them with other content.
  • 2002: MTV Hits is launched as MTV2 slowly starts showing less music videos.

Music video stations

Here are some of the most popular music video stations from around the world:

See also

External links and references

  • mvdbase ( Created in 1998, it is the oldest and most complete music video database on the web
  • Internet Killed the Radio Star ( A fun spin on The Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star for the internet age
  • Clipland ( Another database, covering a large selection of videos
  • Video Static ( Music video production and programming news
  • Blastro ( Large database of Music Videos ( in Real and Windows Format
  • Bogodir (, a database, somewhat incomplete
  • Launch ( Formerly independent but now Yahoo's outlet for streaming music videos
  • Music on Television ( a brief history
  • Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0335152759.
    • Durant, Alan (1984).
  • Photos from Music Video Shoots ( Behind the scenes pictures from Music Video shoots, taken by the film crews themselves.da:Musikvideo

de:Musikvideo fr:Vidéo-clip es:Vídeo musical he:וידאו קליפ nl:Videoclip ja:ミュージック・ビデオ no:Musikkvideo pl:Teledysk simple:Music video


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