I’ve been thinking about music videos a lot, lately.
A group of La Salle students approached me one time, lamenting how their professor completely bashed the medium they loved. “Any idiot can make an MTV,” he said, and for a bunch of kids whose ambition was to make a living creating videos to songs they loved, the statement was completely disheartening. The professor was kind of right, even though he committed the cardinal sin of calling music videos “MTV”s (that’s a channel). Any idiot can make a music video, but not just any idiot can make it well. That was the beauty of it.
The music video was and never will be considered by the academe as a form of art, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I would go so far as to posit that the most exciting time in an art form’s life is when people aren’t taking it seriously. When snooty critics aren’t making dissertations on a medium, that’s the perfect time to come out and play.
As a result, music videos were the calling card of the young, the visionary, the (this is the most overused word ever but it was always synonymous with the MTV generation) edgy. It became the modern experimental film, taking inspiration from everything from the Lumiere Brothers to Stan Brakhage, video installation to TV commercials. It spawned an entire generation of mavericks who eventually changed the face of cinema: David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network), Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo, Never Let Me Go), Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Her), Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep), Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Under The Skin) Dayton/Faris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks) and a host of others.
I remember being 15 years old, watching MTV the minute I woke up, stumbling onto Chris Cunningham’s brilliant “Only You” Portishead video while eating breakfast. Seeing Spike Jonze’s Beastie Boys “Sabotage” promo for the first time as an MTV Buzz Clip and being blown away. Staying awake from 3-5AM on a Monday morning so I could catch Matt Pinfield show music videos by Guided by Voices, Girls Against Boys and Pavement on 120 minutes. Something big was happening right under our noses, and most only took notice when the seeds were in full bloom.
In the early days of Pinoy videos an MV was given to bands as a nice reward for making the song a hit: Teeth’s “Princesa” and Eraserheads’ “Ang Huling El Bimbo” are number one on the charts? Give them a music video! Eventually they learned that music videos worked best for those who needed to be introduced, and the golden age of the Pinoy music video was born. On Channel V’s “Sigaw Manila” you’d be able to watch Robert Quebral’s fun work for people like Francism and Parokya ni Edgar, Louie Ignacio’s glossy pop pieces and Lyle Sacris’s dark and gritty work that defined a whole movement of music. Thanks to them and a few brave others, people like RA Rivera, Marie Jamora, Avid Liongoren, Topel Lee, Pancho Esguerra, Treb Monteras, Wincy Ong, King Palisoc and me (and many others I may have failed to mention, please don’t kill me) were inspired to carve out film careers by making music videos.
So what happened? The fall of the music industry did. When piracy came in and decimated the labels certain luxuries had to go, and the music video was definitely a luxury. From budgets ranging from 250,000 -500,000 Pesos music videos now average at a budget of 50,000 Pesos. This means nobody gets paid. I wouldn’t be surprised, even, if most filmmakers shelled out their own money to get music videos made.
The irony is that there is no better time for music videos than now. At the click of a few non-buttons you can watch any music video ever made on your mobile phone, and because of Youtube CPM’s and iTunes Store Downloads people actually pay for music videos now. So why the smaller budgets, the seeming lack of talent? Maybe it’s the end of serendipity. We used to have MTV and Channel [V] on in the background all the time, and that used to be our main source of music discovery. Now it’s the other way around – we discover videos for the music we love. Maybe it’s the proliferation of MP3s and Music Apps where music without the frills has once again taken center stage. Maybe it’s how the consumption of music has become so niche and specialized that there hardly is a common music culture anymore, thus the fall of radio and music videos by the wayside. But then again, maybe it’s not. I’m trying to figure that out myself.