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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Changes in the world of music videos

Record labels are spending less on music videos, according to this great piece in today's Wall Street Journal, and hoping for them to earn a return -- rather than just serve as free promos for the album. On iTunes, for instance, labels apparently earn $1.40 of the $1.99 price of every video sold.

Here's a taste of John Jurgensen's piece:

    ...[M]usic executives also say the big video budgets of the 1990s are generally unnecessary, now that videos are most often watched on small screens like laptops and video iPods. Reality TV programming and the success of amateur "viral" videos that viewers watch and email to friends have changed the expectations of young viewers, says Monte Lipman, president of Universal Republic Records. Better and less expensive video technology has also helped keep costs down. And a big budget doesn't guarantee wide TV exposure. "For every video you'd see on MTV, there were 10 more that didn't make the cut, and that adds up to millions," Lipman says.

    Instead, labels often now focus on creating Internet-friendly clips that could take off as viral videos. They reduce budgets by shortening shooting schedules, using young directors hungry for work and often filming bands in front of a green screens, so that settings can be added later, rather than filming in multiple locations.

    "I can say that a lot more of the money is going into low-fi production," says Michael Nash, Warner Music's senior vice president of digital strategy.

    Directors, producers and musicians have responded to changing music video landscape in a variety of ways. Some have modified their production routines. Hype Williams, a music-video director best known for his big-budget videos for hip-hop stars like Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes, says he's reduced his typical video crew from about 40 members to about a dozen in recent years. He also now designs his videos to be watchable on small screens like video iPods. "In the last four months, it's all been close-ups," he says. "You have to think like that now."

    Mr. Williams, who once spent almost $1 million constructing a faux mansion in the style of "Citizen Kane" in a New York shipyard for a video for singer R. Kelly, recently was given a $400,000 budget for a video for rapper Lil Jon. He filmed the rapper in front of a green screen.

Another example Jurgensen cites is Death Cab for Cutie, which commissioned videos for all eleven songs on a recent album from different directors. Each had a budget of $10,000. The directors had total creative control -- but no access to the band members. The videos are being sold now as a DVD and on iTunes.