With the music industry in crisis from falling sales and file sharing, labels have less cash to subsidize elaborate videos that will mostly be seen in miniature on computers on applications like YouTube. The result has been a major shift in the art form, as artists increasingly embrace the Internet esthetic with cheap, stripped-down, low-production videos.
"The business is changing radically. It does feel smaller, cheaper," says veteran music video director Samuel Bayer, whose many clips include Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Blind Melon’s "No Rain" and Green Day’s "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," which won six awards at the VMAs.
When MTV’s award show kicked off 24 years ago, the network was ushering in a new era where the video was king: a branding tool and an art form rolled into one. Today, the channel broadcasts mostly reality shows while YouTube, ITunes, MTV.com and various other online destinations have become the dominant viewing platform for videos.
Bayer’s video for Justin Timberlake’s "What Goes Around . . . Comes Around" is nominated for numerous VMAs, including best video and best director. Starring Timberlake and Scarlett Johansson, the video has a distinctively cinematic feel, complete with a car chase and end credits.
In this way, "What Goes Around" feels old-school, like a rebellion against the new asthetic. Bayer aimed for an experience more like Michael Jackson’s landmark 1983 "Thriller" video, directed by John Landis.
"I said, ‘We gotta go big,’ " says Bayer. "If I’m going up against an OK Go video with four guys on a treadmill that plays millions of times on YouTube, how can I do something that is the opposite of that?"
In the late ’80s and through the ’90s, budgets and ambition ran high. Mark Romanek’s 1995 video for Michael and Janet Jackson’s "Scream" is considered the most expensive ever, at an estimated $7 million.
"What Goes Around" cost approximately $1 million but Bayer thinks it could be one of the last big-budget videos.
"A comet hit the earth and the dinosaurs are dying," says Bayer. "There’s a new age coming. I think those days are over with."
Stavros Merjos, founder of HSI Productions and a longtime producer of videos for acts ranging from Britney Spears to Will Smith, doesn’t expect to ever see another $2 million video: "The record industry as a whole has shrunk. There’s not as much money to throw around."
Many artists and directors are now creating videos knowing they’ll have to compete for eyeballs on YouTube. The Decemberists and Modest Mouse both asked fans to fill in the background to a video shot in front of a green screen. Jessica Simpson did a version of "A Public Affair" composed entirely of fans dancing and lip-syncing to the pop song.
"This is more a punk-rock esthetic," he adds. "It’s very exciting."
Applebaum wouldn’t disclose the budget for "Umbrella" but said he voluntarily did the video for free. Like many music video directors, he’s increasingly making most of his income through commercial work.
With budgets slashed, being a music director doesn’t pay like it once did, which could threaten music videos’ status as a breeding ground for directing talent. Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Romanek and Fincher are just a handful of video directors who have gone on to become acclaimed filmmakers.
<font size=1>Courtesy of Canadian Press release.</font>