Sunday, 5 January 2014

Elements of a Music Video

Elements of a Music Video
Andrew Goodwin, in 1992, identified a number of key features which distinguish the music video as a form:

There is a relationship between the lyrics and the visuals (with visuals either illustrating, amplifying or contradicting the lyrics)
There is a relationship between the music and the visuals (again with visuals either illustrating, amplifying or contradicting the music)
Particular music genres may have their own music video style and iconography (such as live stage performance in heavy rock)
There is a demand on the part of the record company for lots of close-ups of the main artist/vocalist
The artist may develop their own star iconography, in and out of their videos, which, over time, becomes part of their star image.
There is likely to be reference to voyeurism, particularly in the treatment of women, but also in terms of systems of looking (screens within screens, binoculars, cameras, etc)
There are likely to be intertextual references, either to other music videos or to films and TV texts
In addition, Steve Archer in Media Magazine 8 has drawn attention to the need to consider the relationship between narrative and performance in music promos.

The key elements of a music video are:

Lyrics tend to help establish a general feeling, or mood, or sense of subject matter rather than offering a coherent meaning. Key lines may play a part in the visuals associated with the song but very rarely will a music video simply illustrate the lyrics completely.

A music video tends to make use of the tempo of the track to drive the editing and may emphasise particular sounds from the track by foregrounding instruments such as a guitar, keyboard or drum solo.

While some music videos transcend genres, others can be more easily categorised. Some, but not all, music channels concentrate on particular music genres. If you watch these channels over a period of time, you will be able to identify a range of distinct features which characterise the videos of different genres. These features might be reflected in types of mise en scene, themes, performance, camera and editing styles.

As with any moving image text, how the camera is used and how images are sequenced has a significant impact on meaning. Camera movement, angle and shot distance all need to be analysed. Camera movement may accompany movement of performers (walking, dancing etc) but it may also be used to create a more dynamic feel to stage performance, for instance, by constantly circling the band as they perform on stage. The close up predominated, as in most TV, partly because of the size he screen and partly because of the desire to create a sense of intimacy for the viewer. It also emphasises half of the commodity on sale - the artist, and particularly the voice. John Stewart of Oil Factory said that he sees the music video essentially as having the aesthetics of the TV commercial, with lots of close-ups and lighting being used to focus on the star's face.

Although the most common form of editing associated with the music promo is fast-cut montage, rendering many of the images impossible to grasp on first viewing, so ensuring multiple viewing, some videos use slow pace and gentler shot transitions to establish mood. This is particularly apparent in promos for many female solo artists with a broad audience appeal, such as Dido. Often enhancing the editing are digital effects, which play with the original images to offer different kinds of pleasure for the audience. This might takr the form of split-screens, colourisation and of course the use of blockbuster film style CGI special effects.

The music video is often described as a 'post-modern' form, a slippery term which is sometimes used to mean intertextuality, one of the post-modernism's more easily identifiable features. Broadly, if we see music promos as frequently drawing upon existing texts in order to spark recognition in the audience, we have a working definition of intertextuality. Not all audiences will necessarily spot a reference and this need is not significantly detract form their pleasure in the text itself, but greater pleasure might be derived by those who recognise the reference and feel flattered by this. Arguably, it also increases the audience's engagement with, and attentiveness to the product, an important facility in a culture where so many images and narratives compete for our attention.

It is perhaps not surprising that so many music videos draw upon cinema as a starting point, since their directors are often film school graduates intending to move on to the film industry itself. From Madonna's 'Material Girl' (Mary Lambert, 1985) which drew on the song sequence Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend and Howard Hawks' film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (USA, 1953), to 2Pac and Dr Dre's California Love (Hype Williams, 1996) which referenced George Miller's Mad Max (AU, 1979), there are many examples of cinematic references in music video. Television is often a point of reference as well, as in the Beastie Boys' spoof cop-show title sequence for Sabotage (Spike Jonze, 1994) or REM's news show parody Bad Day (Tim Hope, 2003). People see visual references in music video as coming from a range of sources, although the three most frequent are perhaps cinema, fashion and art photography. Fashion sometimes takes the form of specific catwalk references and sometimes even the use of supermodels, as by Robin Thicke in Blurred Lines (Diane Martel, 2013). Probably the most memorable example of reference to fashion photography (and to the fetishistic photography of Helmut Newton) is Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love (Terence Donovan, 1986), parodied many times for its band of mannequin style females, fronted by a besuited Palmer. 

A description of music video as 'incorporating, raiding and reconstructing' is essentially the essence of intertextuality, using something with which the audience may be familiar, to generate both nostalgic associations and new meanings. It is perhaps more explicitly ecident in the music video than in any other media form, with the possible exception of advertising. It is suspected that the influence of videogames on music videos, particularly for younger audiences, has generated more plasticised looking characters.

Narrative and performance
Narrative in songs, as in poetry, is rarely complete and often fragmentary. The same is true of music promos, which tend to suggest storylines or offer complex fragments in a non-linear order, leaving the viewer with the desire to see them again. Often music videos will cut between a narrative and a performance of the song by the band. Additionally, a carefully choreographed dance might be a part of the artist's performance or an extra aspect of the video designed to aid visualisation and the 'repeatability' factor. Sometimes, the artist (especially the singer) will be a part of the story, acting as narrator and participant at the same time. But it is the lip-synch close-up and the miming of playing instruments that remains at the heart of the music videos, as if to assure us that the band can really kick it. 

The video allows the audience more varied access to the performer than a stage performance can. The close-up, allowing eye contact and close observation of facial gestures, and role-play, within a narrative framework, present the artist in a number of ways not possible in a live concert. The mise en scene  in particular can be used:
As a guarantee of 'authenticity' of a band's musical virtuosity by showing them in a stage performance or a rehearsal room;
To establish a relationship to familiar film or television genres in a narrative-based video;
As a part of the voyeuristic context by suggesting a setting associated with sexual allure, such as a sleazy nightclub or boudoir;
Or to emphasise an aspirational lifestyle, as in the current emphasis on the latest gadgetry
Other commentators have identified some other styles in music videos, including gothic, animated, dreamscapes, portraiture, furutistic and home movie.

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