On April 9 the new Internet-television channel Pitchfork.tv was launched. Featuring music videos, live performances and exclusive music films, the new arm of the cyber-indie giant is pretty impressive. But while launching the “channel” seems smart considering the recent success of online “television” content, it brings up a hard-to-answer question: Are music videos still relevant?
With roots reaching as deep as early Walt Disney cartoons, which used only musical accompaniment, music videos did not truly emerge in a modern form until the ’60s. At this time, The Beatles brought the world one of the best movies ever, A Hard Day’s Night. Not only did the movie push the band further up the superstar hierarchy but it also changed the way films were shot. Cutting was synchronized with the music, and the free range of multiple cameras edited together reinvented how performances were shown on the big screen.
Later, The Beatles (as well as The Monkees) would release single song promotional videos to be shown on TV, creating the music video as we know it.
The rest needs no explanation. MTV made music videos a part of hearts and souls in the ’80s and then ruined everything with TRL. Since the fall of the mass popularity of the music video, however, artists of all shapes and sizes continue to make them.
I’m always confused why bands that fall below the main-mainstream make videos. They won’t be on any television station (unless you have some major representation that can get you on MTV-U), and they seem more expensive than they’re worth. Are production costs really going to be offset by album sales? Given that when the question “Does anyone buy albums?” was posed in a class of mine where only three of 30 people raised their hands, I doubt it.
Videos became popular because it was an easy, eye-catching way to promote upcoming albums, but do they serve that purpose anymore? As mentioned before, is it worth it to get those six cent royalties off of iTunes song downloads? And with major labels dropping artists and closing off divisions, who’s going to front the costs as artists take independent routes? Sure, it’s easier and cheaper to produce a professional-looking film, but as the system seems to slowly crumble, will its invention outlive the collapse?
That was a lot of question marks.
I’m curious to see if the interest is there for Pitchfork.tv. Some of the documentary features are pretty sweet (anyone watch the one with Air?), but sitting down and watching things online, especially things longer than 50-second YouTube clips, is kind of hard. I tried watching The Thermals’ rooftop performance, but it took five minutes to load, and I got distracted and remembered it was my turn in a Scrabulous game and went to a new Web site without even noticing I stopped watching the video.
I think they should make music video games. Before the release of You in Reverse, Built to Spill had a flash game that pitted the player against lead singer Doug Martsch in a one-on-one basketball game. The single from the album Going Against Your Mind played while the game went on. I played it five times in a row and heard the song about 30 times; now that’s good promotion. Say what you will, but wouldn’t it be sweet to play a Super Mario-themed Gnarls Barkley platform?

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