(In this guest post, our friend Booker both features some of the metal videos he has enjoyed most during 2013 and offers opinions about the evolution of music videos generally and about their proper use — and misuse.)
Okay, so I’ll warn you up front, I don’t know where I’m going with this post. Also, it contains some NSFW imagery. Blind leading the blind through the land of boobies? Or probably more likely: a rambling fool preaching to the much more knowledgeable choir? Sound good? Okay, let’s go…
This all started with a few videos I’ve seen that stuck with me recently, which set off that dangerous process called “thinking”; particularly hazardous in the hands of the uninitiated. First up, there’s somewhat of a process of déjà vu here, in that Andy Synn has previously posted a foray into the art of the music video about 2 years back which is still just as relevant today:
Let’s get into some of the video goodies that perked my interest – some of these have featured on NCS before.
One is Rotting Christ’s “Χ Ξ Σ”:
If I were to make a list of favourite music videos for the year, this would be right up there. A great visual accompaniment to the song. When you break it down there’s actually some simple elements at play here: the stripped-down black and white pallete, allowing some neat metaphorical use of light; the variation on the “storyline with band also playing” theme (which Andy talks about in his post), but with the twist that the only “band” on show is the vocalist’s mouth and chin (hell, he could be Islander!); the religious imagery of Gustave Doré and the like — all that religious artwork is twisted stuff, which ironically makes it great material for metal videos. Also, the strange psychological element of the video where nothing happens per se, and there’s only ever a lone guy in the shot with no human interaction, but you get the feeling he’s just gone through some profound realization, and having no idea what that is leaves an unspoken mystery in the air. Simple elements done well that add up to a great video.
Another video that stuck with me was Uneven Structure’s “Frost/Hail” video:
Now, on the one hand, this video is quite formulaic: band playing in place X + strange/profound/disturbing storyline Y, finishing with reveal/conclusion Z = music video. Where X = castle, desert, clifftop, warehouse, forest, etc. The music in the video consists of tracks 2 & 3 from their excellent debut album Februus, and the video storyline actually follows from their previously released video to track 1, “Awaken” (the whole album is really an album-length musical movement; somewhere I’d heard they were planning videos for each track).
In this video at least, they’ve ditched the band playing in forest in the “Awaken” video and opted for a blackened studio, and the storyline Y forms a much greater part of the video. But what impressed me, and I think would impress most viewers, is just the sheer quality of the visual composition; someone obviously put a lot of effort into those CGI elements, and even the footage of the band playing is a clear head and shoulders above most videos in its production quality. They also work the album cover artwork into the piece, providing some degree of coherence with the album itself, and it filled my heart with warm fuzzy feelings to see the kid from The Orphanage has grown up and got some new threads:
(In case you’re wondering, I’m pegging ‘reveal Z’ as happening here at the wider panoramic shots toward the end of “Frost” around the 5:30 mark)
The other video that has stuck in my mind recently is this one for Septicflesh’s “Sangreal” (note: this one is NSFW):
Now I know what you’re thinking, and no it wasn’t just the breasts! The thing is, when I first saw this I thought it was the official video from the band – but no! Once I actually bothered to read the accompanying text, it’s actually a fan video. On the one hand, if you’ve seen their video for “The Eldest Cosmonaut” video, or the album artwork for Christos’ side project Chaostar’s first album, you’d know that Septicfllesh are no strangers to the use of breasts in their work. And besides, this isn’t mainstream music, so I guess to me it didn’t seem out of the question that they’d do a video like this. Another aspect that fooled me was what seemed to be a tie-in of the kind of photomanipulation work that Seth Siro Anton does:
But the video actually originates from an art group called Octopulse. One of member of the group, Trëz Orb, produces artworks in a similar photomanipulation style, and according to his website has also shared exhibits with Seth Siro Anton. But even with these similarities aside, the video is certainly high enough quality to easily be an “official” music video, and not at all like the ubiquitous “fan videos” up on YouTube with a simple slide show of images related to the musical concept, or something equally mundane. And it was stumbling across this high quality fan video that got me thinking….
No doubt, there are parallels between the evolution of the music business, as far as recording, mixing, and distribution are concerned, and the progression of the film industry over the last few decades. On the one hand, with advances in computing power, falling price per processing power, and competition in digital music software, we’ve seen something of a revolution, where making music is now in the hands of the masses. There’s been a real levelling off of the playing field where a record company deal to cover the cost of spending weeks in the studio isn’t necessary any more.
If you’ve ever seen the Sound City documentary by Dave Grohl (not metal, but a great music documentary), there’s an interesting development where they set out to make a doco about this studio that had been the site of so many classic albums, only to find themselves covering how the music industry has changed (which is the real reason for the closure of said studio).
Given the key place computers have in our working lives, it’s no surprise that a similar process has been at work with film/video creation: The plummeting cost of video equipment, coupled with increases in recording quality and the availability of software and processing power to manipulate video on an average computer, have certainly changed the landscape of film-making. Neil Blomkamp, for example, landed his break with District 9 off the back of a five-minute short film Alive in Joburg. Similarly, a look around what’s on offer on Vimeo these days (apart from all the soft porn that seems to have proliferated there) shows some seriously classy works up there, with the best sci-fi:
This development suggests to me that in fact we’re much more likely to see videos like the one for “Sangreal” in the future, and similar opportunities for a band like Uneven Structure, signed to a small record label, to make a top-notch video for a song off their first album. With sites like Bandcamp and “free” social marketing via Facebook, etc., it’s just as easy to hear a new release from an unknown band as it is to hear one from a big-name band signed to a major label – provided you ever know they exist amongst the mass of material out there. And I would say that a parallel process is at work with videos – there’s been a levelling of the playing field where newcomers can put together something that stands up proudly against the bigger business offerings. I’d go so far as to say that the Uneven Structure video featured above stands up to anything from a major label/band combo, and that really is symptomatic of how the playing field has been levelled.
I’d also add that I think the film industry rule – that a big budget doesn’t necessarily mean a good movie – is equally applicable to the creation of music videos. When it’s done well, a simple music video can really resonate. Take the video from the Russian group Biting Elbows, made entirely with Go-Pro cameras, which Islander featured on the site earlier. And I think putting the ability to do something like that in the hands of the masses is a good thing.
But another observation made in the Sound City documentary, voiced in some shape or form by various other commentators, is the slightly-smug “looking down from my high horse” observation that with the rise of digital music and home recording has a proliferation of mediocrity. I recall someone even saying that maybe some people are making music who really shouldnt be doing so, interspersed with audio of auto-tuned vocals. I’m much more a live and let live kind of guy – if people want to do it, let them have the thrill of making something, even if it is crap.
When it comes to fan videos, therefore, I think we’ll be seeing more glaringly bad amateurish fan videos, with the occasional gem such as “Sangreal” above, and also ones that occupy a middle ground and aren’t great but do have some flicker of redeeming creativity, the kind of “film school practice video” such as this offering to Rammstein’s “Amour”:
But fan videos aside, even with some simple video equipment practically any band can now put together a “band playing in scenario X”-style music video, and we’ve certainly seen a proliferation of those. Add in a little extra effort and maybe you can also produce a storyline Y and reveal Z. Here’s the rub: With more or less anyone able to make a music video, and worldwide distribution via Vimeo and YouTube, I think this really changes the idea of what a music video is. Strangely, I think most bands don’t ever ask themselves “what are we actually making a music video for?”, or “what do we want/hope to achieve by making one?”. I suspect for many there’s simply a “we need a music video” approach, and so a video is made without the “why” being addressed.
I can understand why, 20-odd years ago with the rise of MTV and similar channels, music videos became a thing, particularly with TV being a medium where you just had to watch what was broadcast without a lot of interactive control, and a crowd effect where, once a certain number of bands were making videos, choosing not to make one could represent a loss of exposure. The potential audience was such that spending huge sums seemed completely justified (see this article and then consider that videos of similar quality can now be made for a fraction of the price).
But in today’s world where we are able to start/pause/switch-off a video at will, I do find myself wondering what the point of the video is. On the one hand, I don’t think a creative endeavour necessarily needs a “point” to exist – we make things because we enjoy the process. But I struggle to believe air time on a TV channel amounts to much at all these days, which leaves the online environment. Despite writing this rant about videos, in all honesty most of the time when watching a video I find myself thinking “I’m a music lover, really I’m just here for the audio”. A band could easily just embed audio or create an audio-only video showing the album art, and then focus their creative efforts on making more music. Maybe some bands feel the need to create some moving images to go along with the sound, and I’m guessing it’s from this need that the lyric video has proliferated to the widespread use it has today (although, it seems to be something limited to the metal genre).
Probably the only real benefit to having a music video these days is the potential marketing effect of a well-made video. A well-crafted piece is certainly the only time I watch a video and actually watch the video. When a band produces something that stands out, and in turn it gets shared around or highlighted in posts like this, then the social marketing aspect kicks in and can expose the band to new potential fans. How many people ever would have heard of Biting Elbows were it not for their Go-Pro video, for example? Of course, people also have a habit of sharing not only the good, but also the shocking (so videos like Rammstein’s “Pussy” and Cattle Decapitation’s “Forced Gender Reassignment” get exposure) and the hilarious (e.g., Seth Rogan and James Franco’s recent parody).
When the ability to make music videos is in the hands of the masses, it seems to me the real “point” of the video changes: A band can make whatever they like simply for their own enjoyment, a visual accompaniment they feel fits the music and is a worthwhile endeavour in itself; a “we’re doing this because we want to” approach. Or they can take a “video as marketing” approach, and attempt to create a truly noteworthy video in order to stand out from the crowd. But now it seems to me that the alternative — the mediocre “band playing scenario X” video, and even the “plus storyline Y” theme — has become over-saturated, and it’s potential as a marketing tool sapped. But then again, I’m just a fool rambling on the internet….