By Elizabeth B. Christian
Last month I did more ranting than raving about MTV’s move away from music video and into soft porn reality shows—but the truth is the Viacom corporation, which owns MTV Networks International, also owns dozens of other television channels devoted to music, and many of those do actually devote many hours of each day to music videos in such locations where they expect the best bang for their buck as the saying goes.
Viacom also owns a host of other media including Internet and gaming brands, in which music (through both sight and sound) play a key role. It may not be YOUR MTV, but I would venture that at least of few of you Gen Xers have been to a website, listened to a commercial or played a video game and heard a song in the background that took you to a familiar place that made you instantly revisit your glory days in your mind—and you might even have made an online music purchase as a result. That being the point! Cha-ching!
Regardless of the fine tunings going on in MTV, the path it blazed 30 years ago did lead us to where we are today. Music will never JUST be an audial experience for our children or our grandchildren. It’s now a full-body experience of lights, colors, flashes, sounds, actions and usually some words.
In the days before the Internet, up and coming bands would create buzz by playing local clubs and getting on their local radio stations if they were lucky. Today, those same bands get attention much more quickly by taking to YouTube and posting a video, then posting the link on a social networking site like Facebook or Twitter in hopes of going viral (Voila—Rebecca Black’s “Friday.”). MTV was the filter for my generation. My teenagers and my college students are their own filters. I have mixed feelings about that. As a mom it bothers me a little. As a journalist I’m kind of OK with it. I think the best filters, though, are parents who pay attention to their children and talk to them about the world rather than hiding the negative from them. The Internet’s endless—there’s no use fighting it; better to negate its influence with the truth than to pretend it doesn’t exist. For those who disagree, there are hosts of filters out there with varying degrees of reliability and censorship. Your call.
Technology and time have changed the quality of music and the staying power of celebrity—for good or ill won’t be decided in the length of this blog.
One of the biggest problems that the Internet, specifically YouTube, continues to be involved in are copyright infringement violations. Thousands of unauthorized music videos are uploaded onto the site every day, but its representatives are quick to say it works diligently to take down all violations it finds. YouTube is working to transform the site into something profitable, like iTunes or Amazon, where viewers can purchase music while perusing videos. The only videos I see on television anymore are on Disney when watching shows with my children (Disney has become a pop music marketing genius in addition to everything else, in case you haven’t noticed.).
One of the most interesting things I find when I do see the occasional video via the Internet these days is the disconnect between many songs and their videos. Songs from the ‘80s for the most parts had a literal visual interpretation. Today's videos oftentimes feel like pieces of postmodern symbolic or nihilistic artwork, and you’ve got to figure out the message (Have you seen—well, any recent Gaga video?).
Again, I’m left wondering if I am simply too old or not dark enough to understand.
Watching YouTube, I think to myself, “downloading the MP3 of this simply won’t do.” I must decipher the lyrics of this CD and its cover art for weeks until I give up, realize it really never meant anything in the first place except more music sales...
Final blog: Music sales with the economy on the skids: With the GDP at zero, are record producers singing the blues?
Elizabeth B. Christian is assistant professor of journalism at Louisiana Tech University. Her book Rock Brands: Selling Sound in a Media Saturated Culture was rated "Highly Recommended" by Choice.