A Case Against Web Music Videos


Recently an old friend of mine made a post on Facebook about how deeply he disliked the music of a new and somewhat well-known underground band. Being a fan, I commented back asking him if he had ever sat down and listened to this group's music. He wrote back "...of course not, I just watched one of their videos on YouTube." When you watch music videos in our distracting web 2.0 world, how often do the tunes really sink in?

Don't get me wrong, I think the web is a great way for musicians to gain exposure they wouldn't have otherwise. But I also think that most people aren't really connecting with the music they hear in web-based music videos. The viewer is distracted by visual stimuli like interface graphics and advertisements. Many people will start to read other viewer's comments about the video before they've watched the whole thing themselves.

Is this behavior bad for the artists? Not really. The artists are still spreading the word around about their music. The director of the video wins too. They get to show their visual interpretation of the music to a larger audience. The side on the losing end are the viewers. They're ingesting these really poor sounding videos while being completely distracted, and they're still judging whether the music is good or bad art.

Watching web videos of music that you already know you like has an opposite effect. You recognize immediately that the sound is really bad, but you savor the ability to call up the videos so easily. This setting doesn't translate as well for new music. If a visual gimmick doesn't hook the viewer into the video's storyline, then they likely won't be interested in listening to lyrics or hearing how the musical composition unfolds.

One final proviso, and I'm not really contradicting everything I've said so far. I love music videos, and I really like watching them on my computer. In fact, someday I plan on producing a few music videos of my own. My point is that you shouldn't judge new music until you've heard it a number of times in a proper listening environment. Sometimes music requires repeated listening before you can really appreciate it.

Do you rarely find new music that moves you? Do you think you're putting enough effort into listening?

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I avoid watching any music video especially the big-celebrity ones – for me a music-video is supposed to bring more context and perspective to the song from the singer / writers point of view, and sometimes these videos just kills the whole song that I cannot even relate to this song anymore (and the video sometimes will not even be remotely related to the song)…  

One of the problems is that most posted videos of up and coming groups are taken by a boyfriend/girlfriend/uncle/mom/dad with a camcorder - or by themseleves sitting in front of a webcam - with the sound coming through the built-in ...if you're lucky, they used a tripod...if you're not, they used their phone. If the performance was outside during the day you might get to actually see the group performing, if it's at night or in a club... needless to say, lighting can also be problematic.

So, sound, camera work and lighting are all compromised and in turn compromise the viewers experience and the artists' impact on that viewer.

The artist has to get out of the mindset that "I gotta have a video" and that anything that they can sort of see and hear is better than having nothing at all.


I absolutely agree... it does take repeated listening before you can really appreciate new and unfamiliar music. Back in the days of vinyl records and cassette tapes my selection was very limited and I used to listen to the same artists and albums much more often than today. Radio and exchanging mixtapes with friends helped discover a lot of new music. With the guidance of a good DJ and a friend's good music taste it was easier to appreciate new music. Music videos, and shows like MTV's 120 Minutes helped me discover a lot of great new music, too. Music videos are powerful. They can make you love really bad music because you get attracted to the performers or the videomaker's vision. But they can also make you dislike music that you would have loved otherwise.

When Music Television stopped presenting music, when radio programs I used to listen to disappeared, when Fraunhofer's mp3 first entered the scene which  allowed me to compress my 500+ CD collection to just a few CDs and later made it so easy to add many new downloaded albums, I collected music but began to lose attention to individual tracks and artists, and ultimately stopped appreciating music as much as I used to.

A few years later I found a solution for myself. I got rid of all digital music and started over again from scratch, with a few selected CDs and vinyl records, seeking out people who share a similar taste, mixes/mixtapes, and following the history and paths of my favorite artists to find out who they collaborated with and who influenced them etc. Social web services like Last.fm (and myspace as well) helped to discover people with similar tastes and new music as well.

But generally I do think the sheer incredible amount of available music worldwide has made it more difficult and time consuming to separate the wheat from the chaff these days.