The rise of music video

film crew just visible in foreground watching 3 men walking down a cobbled street between houses painted in bright pastel colours

BBMak video shoot, Puerto Rico, 2001. Courtesy of Steve McNally.

Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' video of 1975 is usually credited with giving birth to the modern music video, due to its use of new video tape technologies and its influence on record company promotional strategies. But several years before that the Beatles made a number of short promotional films that were music videos in all but name.

By the mid-1960s the Beatles had become disillusioned with touring and were unwilling to undertake the kind of promotional activities on television that their international profile demanded. As a solution the band recorded a string of promotional films designed to be broadcast by television stations across a number of international territories. An initial clutch of videos in 1965 ('We Can Work It Out', 'Day Tripper', 'Help!', 'Ticket To Ride' and 'I Feel Fine') were immediately used by British pop programmes such as 'Thank Your Lucky Stars' and 'Top of the Pops' and 'Hullabaloo' in the US (Mundy 1999:206).

These films were significant because they allowed the Beatles complete control in how they were being visually represented. They also broke with the conventions of how pop acts had traditionally been represented on television. Pre-recorded TV clips up to this stage had generally taken the form of bands miming to their songs in a studio or stage setting. The colour clips produced for 'Rain' and 'Paperback Writer' in 1966 continued this practice by using footage of the band performing, but there was a major difference: these sections were filmed in an unnatural outdoor setting and were intercut with images of the band in more relaxed poses or wandering around the gardens of Chiswick House, London. Subsequent clips for 'Penny Lane' and 'Strawberry Fields' directed by Peter Foldmann moved even further away from representations of naturalistic performance, showing the band in a variety of situations such as riding horses at a surreal outdoor tea party and painting a piano. The way these early videos rejected the usual means of showing performance, along with their innovative use of editing (such as fast cutting and close-ups) and post-production (such as colour inversion and saturation) techniques provided a template for music video that can be traced through to the present day.

Music video has now become such a crucial component of the promotional strategies of the global entertainment industries that it is impossible for a popular music act to achieve major commercial success without an accompanying video clip. As the importance of the video has increased, the number of videos made and the budgets accorded to them have also risen dramatically, particularly since the 1980s. Although the first promotional videos appeared intermittently as early as the mid-1960s, from the late 1970s onward investment in this media form by record companies rose steadily. It has been estimated (Banks 1998) that from the early 1980s to the early 1990s, the average budget for videos increased from around US$15,000 to $80,000. By the late 1980s, 97% of songs on the Billboard music chart had accompanying videos and the US record industry alone was spending upwards of $150 million per year on their production. The late 1990s saw a further increase in video budgets to the point where it became common for individual videos in genres such as contemporary R&B and hip-hop to command production budgets of $1 million (Zimmerman, 1999).

Video has also played an important role in the creation of a global market for popular music. Specialist music-television broadcasters have become powerful players in the international media market, and the proliferation of specialist cable, digital and satellite channels has greatly widened the platform on which music video is shown. The major music television broadcaster MTV (Music Television), for instance, transmits to 83 countries and reaches nearly 300 million households worldwide (Klein, 2000:120). Similarly, Rupert Murdoch's pan-Asian company Channel [V] claims to reach around 70 million households in China and India alone.