Music videos: Sound and visionaries
YouTube has revitalised the music video, says Elisa Bray – and unleashed a new generation of directing talent
Wednesday 26 May 2010
Once bands had a budget of several thousand pounds to make a music video. For the biggest pop stars, a million was not uncommon. Now acts will be lucky to get a fraction of that. Without the support of MTV, record labels redirected their funds, while the top MTV directors expanded into feature film and commercials. Renowned directors Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, and Jonathan Glazer all started out in music videos.
At the same time, a host of up-and-coming directors continued to create videos that ended up on YouTube, and now it seems labels are expanding their video budgets again. It's no surprise, given a 37 per cent annual rise in the number of online videos watched in the UK, almost all of which are viewed on YouTube, that the audience for the music video is bigger than ever.
YouTube also offers a new generation of directors the chance of being spotted. Phoebe Lloyd, head producer at the music-video production company Pixelloft, says: "It is a good time for aspiring directors. YouTube and the internet in general has had an important role to play in recent rejuvenated interest in music videos. It is certainly easier for a very talented individual with a great idea to get noticed now, because videos are watched and rated purely on their merit. A very low-budget music video with a great idea can go viral and amass vast numbers of viewers, while at the same time a large-budget major-label video may fail to hit the mark and gain comparatively miniscule exposure for the artist or band.
"Record labels are all looking for online content to draw people to their YouTube channels and band pages. And with the recent developments in technology, allowing high-quality videos to be presented in HD, we are noticing a slow rise in budgets because the visual quality is starting to count once again. It's certainly a more exciting time to be involved in music videos than it was several years ago. Fingers crossed for the future."
Sasha Nixon who is the head of music videos at the production company Partizan, says the trends within videos are dictated by which style of music is predominant at the time. "When the trend in the music world is rock and indie you tend to get performance videos, but 'faceless-producer music' tends to be more conceptual ideas. Now the musical trend is more singer-songwriter."
But for some directors it's all about inspiration. Adam Smith, better known in the industry as Flat Nose, has been art director for the Chemical Brothers for 12 years, alongside his work directing episodes of Skins, the new series of Dr Who and Mike Skinner & The Streets' promotional videos. Smith made the film of the visual show that will accompany the dance duo's live gigs later this month for YouTube "because everyone posts really badly filmed versions on YouTube from when they're off their nuts and we wanted people to be able to see it properly."
If he's made the video for a song, it will be because of a personal connection to it: "I go for music that I love that triggers some kind of response in me – to quote a Chemical Brothers song." Usually the narrative within a song dictates what he does, but his video for the Chemical Brothers' "Galvanize" took on a story-line all of its own. "It was the Arabic melody that inspired me", he says. "That got me thinking of this kid in Paris and the film La Haine. It was based around this dancing craze in LA called crumping."
Scenarios for The Streets' music are more straightforward, since Skinner's lyrics tell stories. But for "Blinded by the Lights", Skinner asked Smith not to set the video in a club, contradicting the lyrics. "I thought 'oh no'" says Smith, "but I set it at a wedding and embellished a lot of the narrative. There was a parallel narrative with the song – it doesn't necessarily always have to correlate."
Behind the Camera: rising video stars
The 30-year-old Parisian has made a video for REM, but is most championed for doing the videos for the Take-Away Shows on La Blogothèque. This live-music web series features various indie acts – including Stephen Malkmus and Vampire Weekend – performing stripped-down sets in public places that have built up a cult following.
The 26-year-old has directed videos for The Killers, MGMT and the Cool Kids. He made the video for "Time to Pretend" and "Kids" by his college mates MGMT, featuring psychedelic animation. Spike Jonze hand-picked him to work on his next film.
One of the more inventive directors out there, Farahmand has worked on a wide range of videos, from Janet Jackson to Cheryl Cole, Klaxons, Simian Mobile Disco and The xx. He graduated in Fine Arts from Goldsmiths in 2002, and recently opened a gallery in London where he exhibits young artists' work, and created the 3D sound sculpture of the debut album from The xx.
The 37-year-old comedian and sketch writer, whose The Peter Serafinowicz Show ran on BBC2, was asked by Hot Chip to make the video (his first) for "I Feel Better". The London electro-indie band contacted him via Twitter.
The 29-year-old's Michel Gondry-esque mathematical technique and unique sense of narrative has just gained him a commission directing the latest Scouting For Girls video, "Famous". "One of the most agile directing minds I have come across" says Tom King, a director at video production company Gas&Electric. "Every piece that Nick writes is original. He takes inspiration from the visual world at large and has an amazing ability to turn everything on its head to create a totally fresh way of seeing things."
With his own animatronics effects company in east London, in the past year Nolan has shifted towards directing, and came to attention via a witty short film about cheddar cheese. He is now working with Chris Cunningham, James Lavelle of Unkle and Lady Gaga for her world tour. Adrian Harrison, managing director of Streetlight Films, says: "I instantly saw star potential, and discovered that he was working with Chris Cunningham who I had signed to RSA/Blackdog back in 1996. There is little unique talent out there but I see it in him – he has the potential to be a new star director."
The 29-year-old from France made films for dance acts Justice and Simian Mobile Disco, and is behind THAT video for MIA: "Born Free" was pulled from YouTube for its violent imagery depicting the genocide of red-heads. His father is the Greek French director Costa-Gavras.
With a style that is both abstract and commercially relevant, Koja are the Swedish duo Ulrika Axen and Tobias Eiving who met on Hackney Marshes; their name means "treehouse" in Swedish. They soon started making short films and music videos, and provided Mika's tour visuals, as well as making the unofficial videos for Fyfe Dangerfield's "She Needs Me" and Micke Lindebergh's "Applebag". Axen, who is 28, graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2007, while 29-year-old Eiving worked as a composer and producer before going into film-making. "Like a breath of fresh air" says Tom King. "They inhabit a world that is magical, theatrical, inspiring and totally fantastic. They have a fresh angle on music video that hasn't been seen since the glory days of Tim Pope. As artists get bolder and more daring they need directors like Koja to really bring them to life."
Pedre, 23, has just graduated from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication with a degree in Moving Image Design and is the newest recruit to Gas&Electric's roster of directors. Her background in styling, dance and drama and her first music video – for the rising singer Rahel – is bold and colourful.
He directs videos on an impressive scale, and combines a traditionalist approach to film-making with an understanding of how fashion, beauty and art direction can be utilised to elevate an artist in the eye of the viewer. Bartleet often edits, colours and creates the visual effects for his own videos. "Directing music videos is a balancing act where one has to juggle ideas with budget and a well-rounded understanding of all the elements of production can be a real bonus. It does help for any director today to be multifaceted," says Phoebe Lloyd at Pixelloft.
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