What does it take to make a major label music video?
Los Angeles Music Video Festival’s line-up spans the spectrum from videos produced by students to those put out by major labels. While there’s considerable difference in how videos are produced at each end of that spectrum, there are always the dual aspects of what’s needed to make a video (time, money, equipment) and the artistic integrity of what is produced. What does it look like when a filmmaker is fortunate enough to be armed with a sizable budget, along with a mandate to produce something amazing that both the label and the public will love?
While the budgets for big blow-out videos are no more even for labels, whose financial picture has transformed considerably over the last decade, they are still in the position to offer the most financially as far as music video production is concerned. The factors of money and art are constantly being balanced, as are the reactions and habits of consumers. That balance was explored during LAMVF’s “Art & Commerce” panel, where a group of six producers and commissioners talked candidly about their experiences balancing the two, giving us a fascinating glimpse into the things they think about when they approach a project.
Here are a few highlights about major label music video making from their conversation:
The battleground with the most obvious symbolism is product placement. For music videos made under labels, product placements can form significant parts of a video’s budget and are a definite reality. Devin Sarno, the Head of Video at Warner Bros Records, describes the process as one where once a director’s initial a treatment, or vision for the video, is selected by a label, they will then discuss with a band what brands they are comfortable with, reach out to the wider selection of brands, narrow them down and return to the director with the brands that need to be incorporated into their original treatment. Sometimes this is fairly straightforward and nonintrusive, other times having to incorporate two extremely disparate products can seem “nearly impossible” and sets a real challenge for the director.
Yet, it seems that by and large directors have come to welcome the opportunities that come from the budget bump for their production and allow them to realize parts of the vision in ways they could not have before. Ultimately, it falls to the video’s producer to create a balance between a director’s creativity and collaboration with the artist and the label’s product placement requests. Music Video Production Association President Fuliane Petikyan’s advice is simply, “if you want to make a video, don’t fight the product placement. Know that your executive producers are fighting for you, and a lot of times it’s the difference between if it gets made or not.”
It is all balance.
The bias against dialog is real. Intriguingly, one of our habits may be having more of an impact. Apparently, research suggests that consumers don’t like their music videos being “little movies” with dialog or other additions or breaks in the music because they like to playlist them and don’t want the music interrupted.
The nebulous idea of “going viral” is also something that looms large in the imagination. Yet it’s also impossible to plan with any certainty. Moreover, “each video is a chapter in the story of who the artist is,” as Video Commissioner at Atlantic Records Alex Bittan argues, “and focus on ‘viral’ loses sight of the long term career of that artist.”
On the other side of the equation, there’s us; the fickle public watching the videos. As Sarno explains, there is an overwhelming availability of data on everything down to how long somebody stays on a video before clicking stop or closing the window. When you can see exactly how many people you lose in the first few seconds, it’s tempting to want to do something about it. “It can be daunting, but you can’t change how you do everything based on that. That can’t drive creative.” He says, letting everyone in their room who had uncomfortably been holding their breath waiting for the other show to drop exhale. “Just having all of that information is fascinating in some respects and sobering and depressing in others.”
Photo Curtesy of Los Angeles Music Video Festival