The History of Music Videos – From Elvis to YouTube

Music videos have been around for quite some time, and they have evolved in many ways since their earliest inceptions. Changes and advancements in technology, as well as in the ways that we access our entertainment and music, have forced music videos to change in even more ways. Here is a brief history of music videos, along with a look toward the future and what we may be able to expect.

The first music videos weren’t the short little clips that we now know, capturing one song. Instead, they were entire promotional films. Images of The Beatles and all of their feature length movies, as well as the dozens of movies that Elvis Presley appeared in, all come to mind. These movies had many songs in them, and had plots and acting as well.

There was no platform for short music clips anywhere, however there was an outlet for movies and so this was the channel that was used. Then live performances on shows such as the Ed Sullivan show became popularized. While there was no production to these, because these were clips with only one song performed they were much more similar to the music videos of today than the promotional films were.

Then along came MTV, and the true evolution of the music video began. Now musicians and record companies had a platform where they could showcase their latest efforts, in any artistic form that they wanted. Videos of this era quickly became extremely extravagant, with millions of dollars poured into production and planning.

Think about a video such as Thriller by Michael Jackson. The video was extremely well produced and directed, and it was amazingly intricate and artful. It’s one of the most recognizable music videos of all time, perhaps the single most, and it shows the level of effort and spending that was popular at the time.

The peak may have come in 1995 when Mark Romanek directed “Scream” for Michael and Janet Jackson, the most expensive music video ever produced, weighing in at $7,000,000. Madonna holds the next three spots for budget busting videos with price tags ranging from $5,000,000 to $6,100,000.

Romanek along with other video directors such as David Fincher, launched successful carreers directing feature films as a direct result of their video work. Michel Gondry is another great example. His work with such bands as The White Stripes, Bjork, and Foo Fighters helped him to establish Partisan Pictures which produced the such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind, Rewind.

However, as the music video industry became saturated around the end of the 1990’s, the spending on music videos decreased. This also coincides with the drop off in record sales as time has gone on. The drop off is a result of many factors, including new ways to enjoy and access music such as MP3 players and iPods, along with free online radio stations and of course illegal music downloads.

With less revenue and potential, there was less reason for record companies to be so extravagant with their budgets. That’s not to say that all of the spending and all of the creativity are gone. There are of course still plenty of high quality music videos, and big budget ones as well. However, by and large the focus has shifted a bit. Not to mention the fact that MTV no longer shows videos like they once did.

So many people today watch their television and movies online through sites like YouTube and Hulu that the way entertainment is presented to us is changing by extreme degrees. In the future, as the medium evolves to keep up with the times, it would not be surprising to see the medium completely divorced from television as we know it.

Instead they will be distributed on YouTube and through Facebook, MySpace and other online platforms. Artists may even be able to put up interactive music videos and albums on their websites, where users can choose what they want to see and how they want to see it. It’s just one of the exciting possibilities for music videos of the future.

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