Forget digital media convergence. Forget convergence as a modern notion. It’s nothing new. The original convergence was between audio and visual. Since that time sound and image have been intertwined and often inseparable. To borrow a line from Fatboy Slim, “We’ve come a long way, baby.” And we’ve a long way to go.
In this essay I will initially argue that the way people access and socialise around music videos has dramatically changed. Secondly I will suggest that online music video gives unknown artists a chance to publicise themselves more than in traditional broadcast models. And finally I will posit that the music video is not in critical condition as some commentators have suggested, but instead thriving online as convergence processes in the medium are less pronounced than in other media. From this it will be concluded that music video is well placed to survive into the future, and may outlast many competing types of media.
In recent years access to music videos has irrevocably altered. For decades the only way to watch them was through cinemas and television. There are VCRs - and now PVRs - to enable viewers to control what and when they watched but these devices’ powers are somewhat superficial. For the most part, music videos were watched when they were on, and what was on was what was known. This is not to underestimate the influence of the small screen on people’s musical education. In Australia, shows such as Bandstand in the 1950s, GTK in the late-1960s, Countdown in the mid-1970s, and Rage and Video Hits in last four decades have moulded lives whether consciously or not. But these programs generally played what was popular at the time. These kinds of shows now sit on the periphery of music video portals meaning Benedict Anderson may argue the “imagined community” (1983, p. 16) has been eroded. Much has been gained however, with freedom of choice and the ability to discover new and unknown artists (or watch the same song repeatedly) through click-bait links that are strewn across sites such as YouTube and Vevo.
“...Videos appear with a scrollable sidebar of [related] videos, so users can click through from one clip to another without doing multiple searches. This mode of hyperlinking effectively replicates channel-surfing...” (Hilderbrand 2007, p. 49).
In the form of rare clips converted from old formats, shared playlists and channels, user-suggested videos and the ability to share across social media, the idea of imagined communities and channel surfing have not been lost but rather evolved with convergent media.
What has also changed in a convergent landscape is the way people use music video to promote and collaborate. Far from lamenting the death of the music video at the hands of the internet, we should praise the internet for giving it a new lease on life. Artists with small budgets can now be seen and heard. Take for example Justin Bieber. There was a time when the megastar’s legion of fans included only his mum, who uploaded his songs to YouTube. This video is the definition of lo-fi with its jerky hand-held camera, canny instrumental track, and Bart and Tupac posters in the background, yet it has been viewed over 41m times. Simply, it got him noticed.
A crude viewpoint would state this is because anyone can upload to the internet while not everyone can broadcast on television. But there is more to it:
“...There are no more boundaries between the professional producer and the consumer. We are all ‘pro-sumers’, and spaces like ... YouTube represents an enormous community that uploads, creates, manipulates content and shares suggestions and stories” (Sibilla 2010, p. 226).
It may be counterintuitive to think that without the backing of record labels, artists cannot be noticed amidst the techno-clutter. Contrarily, the internet is a rooftop from which aspiring and established musicians can shout from and even offers avenues for their fans to be in videos, as this example from US group Dave Matthews Band demonstrates: “14,334 people submitted photos or videos for ‘Mercy,’ and an untold number ... made it into the final cut” (Couch 2012).
By the sheer numbers involved, these cases prove that the way music video is used to establish careers and engage consumers has changed exceptionally.
While digital music video convergence marks a major point in the medium’s evolution, the music video itself has not changed since the 1920s when Ginger Rogers dazzled in musical short films, the 1940s when Duke Ellington charmed in ‘soundies’, and until recent times when Los Del Rio sent the world mad with the Macarena. Music videos have generally been short, attention-grabbing clips “for repeated programming on TV in order to promote songs as done on radio” (Sibilla 2010, p. 225). It is thanks to these features that it has been so successful online and on portable devices such as the mobile phone: “Music is ... especially suited to the small screen and ‘snacking’ by mobile users.” (Tom Erskine cited in Orgad 2009, p. 197). The money and viewers involved through sites including YouTube and VEVO are impressive even by old media’s standards: “...At the end of 2011, VEVO delivered more than US$100m in royalties to rights holders ... [and] is streaming 3.6b videos a month to more than 415m users worldwide” (Digital Music Report 2012). This proof despite R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe ringing the death knell four years ago: "Music video is a dead medium ... and I think anyone who refuses that is an idiot in 2008 ... [It] has been replaced by the internet in the 21st century" (cited in Sibilla 2010, p. 225). Ironically, the music video has not been replaced by the internet but has married with it to succeed unequivocally .
After music video escaped the clutches of old media like a bat out of hell, it is ready to meet future challenges of convergent media head-on. As explained in this essay, digital media convergence has reconstructed drastically the modes of creating communities and accessing music video. This process has presented artists and consumers with opportunities to amplify their voices - and images - to the world. This piece finally showed that due to inherent qualities in music video, convergence has not only been less problematic than many thought, but a blessing in disguise for a once beleaguered medium.
Has music video been rendered irrelevant during the migratory shift from television to computer? I conclude it is as relevant today as it was when MTV launched in 1981. What has changed is our freedom of choice: streaming video is music's best friend. And now, people everywhere can be the video, instead of just watching it. The internet is a visual medium; people need images to accompany sounds. Audio has not been divorced from the visual, but rather music video from old media. So is the video clip dead and buried? No, it’s alive and kicking.
Anderson B 1983, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso: London and New York
Couch A 2012, Dave Matthews Band Debuts ‘Mercy’ With Help From a Few Thousand Fans (Video), Hollywood Reporter, viewed on 29 August 2012, <http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/earshot/dave-matthews-new-video-mercy-tour-dates-366777>. Including Image 1.
Dave Matthews Band: Help Make The ‘Mercy’ Video 2012, Dave Matthews Band, viewed 27 August 2012, <http://mercy.davematthewsband.com>. Image 2.
Digital Music Report 2012, IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), viewed 28 August 2012, <http://www.ifpi.org/content/library/DMR2012.pdf>.
emimusic 2009, Simple Minds - Alive and Kicking, June 2, viewed 29 August 2012, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljIQo1OHkTI>.
Hilderbrand, L 2007, 'YouTube: Where Cultural Memory and Copyright Converge', Film Quarterly, vol. 61, no. 1, pp. 48-57.
kidrauhl 2008, With You - Chris Brown Cover - Justin singing, February 10, viewed 29 August 2012, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQOFRZ1wNLw>.
Orgad S 2009, ‘Mobile TV: Old and New in the Construction of an Emergent Technology', Convergence, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 197 - 214.
Sibilla G 2010, ‘It’s the End of Music Videos as we Know them (but we Feel Fine): Death and Resurrection of Music Videos in the YouTube-Age’, in H Keazor and T Wübbena (eds), Rewind, Play, Fast Forward: The Past, Present and Future of the Music Video, transcript Verlag: Bielefeld, pp. 225-231.