||Report: Music-Videos and Directors
| ||Jesse Hietanen, Finland
Marko Mäkilaakso, Finland/Germany
Denis Goria, France
The Story so far:
Initially developed by the music industry to support the record sales, the music videos contemporary evolved into a booming industry of it´s own, equally valuable to the business as cover arts and the like. Nowadays, these short movies have become vital to bands for representing and establishing themselves, thereby increasing the sales. That's why it´s no wonder why so many directors and production companies have specialized in producing music videos, thereby creating milestones and memorable pieces of visual art, adored and devoured by fans around the globe.
It´s hard to define when the literal first music video actually aired. In 1890 it was a common fashion to underline music with pictures. Back then hand drawn pictures where projected to a screen behind the artist while his performance, which could be considered the first attempts of creating a music video.
But most likely it were bands like The Beatles that created the first music video. As well as Sonny & Cher or Bob Dylan, could be considered pioneers to the genre of these popular promotional spots in the 60's. Still, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" is often referred to as the first "real" music video due to the fact it made use of the later common characteristics that defined a music video later on.
In the early 80's, the music video became a popular tool to the music industry to promote and support the sales of their signed artists. Actually driven by the stagnating record sales, releasing a literal avalanche many musicians and artists got caught by.
An undisputed milestone of those days was Michael Jackson´s video to the song "Thriller", with a full length of 15 minutes and an enormous amount of special effects came close to a motion picture. So it was just a matter of time for other artist to try and excel Jackson´s masterpiece. Duran Duran tried with a mind boggling budget of a million dollars for their "Wild Boys" video back then.
Even though the music video producing industry still wore it's diapers at that time, the triumphal march of music television stations made things grow to what it is today. The success of TV stations like MTV and VIVA or formats like "Ronny's Pop-Show" and "Formel Eins" (from a german point of view) made bands and producers realize the value a good video had on the popularity of a song or artist, increasing the sales enormous. Due to this, the fight for the most startling, successful and also most expensive video had begun.
Behind the camera
Director to music videos and motion pictures - Marko Mäkilaakso – considers the birth of music television as the crucial point, too: "I think the birth of MTV changed everything and made music videos mainstream, so that was for sure the most important thing to the genre, in my opinion."
From the initial „Performance-Videos“, where bands were shown performing their songs, the genre developed into several directions. Next to videos that tried to underline and support the content of the song visually, the exact opposite could be found as well. While the evolution proceeded, the use of special effects became inviting, leading to one of the most memorable videos in the history of music video production. Created in an innovative comic style, Norway´s A-ha had their greatest success with the song "Take on me", which only a year before failed to succeed. With the video to support the track, it became a worldwide hit.
By the time, the boundaries to the director´s imagination were teared down. While some would use computer generated effects, others would pursue by using an artillery of pyros, shock elements and surrealism. It's a fact that the aesthetics of a video is judged by the viewers. Nonetheless if watching some of Cradle of Filth's blood-thirsty excursions into the world of horror or one of the excessive dance-massacres of Madonna> or Justin Bieber it's a matter of personal taste which kind is preferred.
Certainly the quantum-leap in development of editing-software made a great deal to explain why the quality was raised over a short period of years.
"It´s probably PC and Mac based editing software. A lot of music videos are made with small budgets and this innovation made it possible for almost anyone to make videos." Jesse Hietannen states to the question what he personally considers the most important aspect to the genre.
His colleague Denis Goria agrees to this: "I think it was done by Michael Jackson himself, the way the storyline was integrated to the video itself, it brought more emotions and made the music video turn into a mini movie. Even if you are not fan of a band or the music, it makes you watch the video as a movie waiting to get the final cliff. I would say, that was a revolution, so far from the "Scopitone" in the 50's or stupid band performances early in the 80's...
Regarding the technology aspect, I think the digital workflow has permitted more freedom in the creation, nowadays, I'm exclusively working with Abode Premiere and After Effect.
On the other hand, YouTube has been a great tool to promote the videos and the bands. Unfortunately, technology can have good but also bad effects. Regarding YouTube, Fans found the way to grab videos from it, even in HD format. And they re-upload the file on their personal YouTube channels, which makes multiple links, and unfortunately reduced the views on the official link, and makes the views not so big it should be, and in a way, reduced the potential of the bands. There are so many examples when unofficial links have more views than the official link! I still didn´t get why they are doing this!"
As graduate of the "London Univerity of Arts" and director to music videos for bands as Indica, Jesse Hietanen and his production company Ambience Studios provide international bands with visual artworks since 2008.
Asking him to state his personal all-time favorite video ever, he said: "It is very difficult to pick my favorite music video, but I can name some of the best, "Street Spirit" and "There there" by Radiohead, "Ava Adore" and "Tonight Tonight" by Smashing Pumpkins and also "Imitation of life" by REM is really good as well."
Marko Mäkilaakso, who created videos for Apocalyptica or Indica (i.e.) had a hard time, too, naming his favorites. "That is a tough question to answer, just like what is my favorite movie of all-time? To name one would downgrade the others equally as good music videos or movies. There have been certain music videos which have had a big impact on my life for whatever reason at the time, so I would give four videos which in my mind are great and deserves to be in the list of my all time favorite videos!
Michael Jackson - "Thriller", directed by John Landis - Beastie Boys - "Sabotage", directed by Spike Jonze - Fatboy Slim - "Weapon of choice", directed by Spike Jonze - Meat Loaf - "I would do Anything for love", directed by Michael Bay."
French director and photographer Denis Goria, who worked with bands like Bands Nightwish, Pain and Indica didn't have to think long to name his fav´s: "There are many videos I like, such as Lady Gaga "Paparazi" and "Telephone", Metallica - "All Nightmare Long", and 30 Seconds to Mars "A beautiful lie" and "From Yesterday", But I would say Michael Jackson's "Thriller" is the one I will always remember so far. Not only because John Landis is one of my favorite movie director, but mainly because that video has a soul, a great story and this video brought something new in the business back in that age. The production, the dancing part, the acting, everything are perfect."
This naturally led me to asking, which of their own creations are considered to be their favorites.
Jesse Hietanen: "I'd say it's "Valoissa" by Indica. Even it's a pretty cheap looking video without any effects it has something special about it. Something that is hard to capture, but that time we did it, also thanks to the girls that we're great."
Marko Mäkilaakso replied moderate: "None of my videos are in the level of masterpiece, but there are some videos I still enjoy to watch like Apocalyptica feat Cristina Scabbia - "S.O.S" and Uniklubi - "Huomenna", for example. "
Denis Goria, on the other hand, found it hard to pick one: "Oh oh, here is a tricky question!!! I think I am too young in video production to get my MasterPiece. And I think it will never happen!!! Of course there are some of my videos I like, such "Monkey Business", "Great Pretender" and yet unreleased Astings "High Heels" and Aura "IX O". The thing is, due to the Piracy and illegal downloads, bands and label because of the low sells (we are far from the scores of the 80's), don't have the budget anymore to bring a huge and epic design for video. It's like shooting in your own feet!! Metal Fans don't get anymore huge video because of the low sells, and we (director and bands) are doing low-budget/quality video. That's why, we are coming back to the 80's and doing often just classic Band Performance video. At least, it is the only way to produce a quality video, but, it is boring for us and for the fans!! I am now working on a project for a Swedish band I really like and discover this year. If my vision of it could fit with the budget, I think we could enter in pre-production very soon. Maybe that one could be a simili "masterpiece". I say "simili" because it would be done with tons of CGI effect, and people who knows me, will tell you I am not so fan of this technology. But how could I bring a band in a world of chaos when that one doesn't exist without the CGI renderings! It would cost hundreds of thousand Euros to build it in live!"
In front of the lens
A vital ingredient for the success of a video is – as mentioned by Jesse Hietanen – to caption a special "extra" which cannot be added during post-production but has to emanate from the performing artist self. "To me it is very important that the artist feels comfortable. It is very easy to spot artists in music videos if they are not comfortable with their role or if the part they are playing is too difficult.", Jesse tells me.
Looking at the "Valoissa" video he produced for the Finnish all-girl band Indica, confirms this fact. Wouldn't it been for the ladies to actually enjoy the shooting, the looks and feel of the casual party amongst friends would've never been as authentic.
Marko Mäkilaakso also feels committed to the bands and labels he works for: "I think the most important aspect is to serve the client (label and artist) in a commercial way to give them what would help selling the artist. Music video is like a promo video or commercial and you need to make some sort of impact with it to boost the song / album of the artist. Sometimes even a crappy song with a really good video gets a lot of attention thus making it a hit and that helps the sales. Equally important is to make the video look like the band or artist. You don't want to make a good video which seems to fit better to another band."
On which he´s absolutely right.
Denis Goria: "Well, it is really hard to say, I would say maybe the production quality, the challenge to bring always something new, even if budget are getting low and lower year after year, mainly due to piracy. Usually, I wrote the story that could fit with the band and the lyrics. Then I am extremely focused on the atmosphere of the video, the design. And then, regarding the budget, I auto censure myself when sequences are too expensive to produce, and I keep the "affordable" parts to fit with it. Most of videos I hate are not because the production quality, but only because it doesn't fit to the bands! It's really important whatever your idea is great, to check if it's fit to the band's universe."
Back to the future
We can rest assured that even in the future bands and labels will spice the music with creative and sometimes comical visual excursions in order to support the sales. Living in an era dominated by computers and intelligent software, the boundaries to the director´s creativity are broad to none-existent, except for budget limitations. Yet this could eventually turn into the most challenging hurdle for directors and bands to take says Jesse Hietanen: "At the moment it looks like music videos are a dying breed. I think the biggest reason for it is that the big record companies have been digging their own grave for the last five years. The record sales went down because of piracy and they responded by buying shares of "Spotify" which is basically a legal version of piracy. Now the record companies are the bad guys that give the music out almost for free and can't even pay their own artists. Now that music doesn't sell there is no budget for good music videos. Of course there are some directors that work and always some artists that have bigger budgets in their videos, but it's a big problem, not just for the directors and artists, but for the whole music industry. And don't get me wrong, the idea behind "Spotify" is great, only the membership should cost much more and the money should be split in a way that anyone would get the fair share that belongs to them. If I have understood correctly different artist get a different amount from one listen. That is just something that bothers me a lot."
Does this mean that at some point in the near future videos might not be produced anymore, or bands actually go bankrupt? Who knows. According to a report done by the hessian Broadcast Company (Hessicher Rundfunk) online-services like Spotify and the like are to be looked upon with skepticism. The report reveals the financial aspect artist have to face when streaming there music via such portals. When usually earning about 3,00 Euros with a custom CD sale, bands and artist hardly get 0,00164 Euros when streaming it. If this proves to be right, band are facing hard times. Spotify and other services in the same vein, didn't make any statement to these allegations.
Director Marko Mäkilaakso seems to be looking more relaxed into the future: "Well, from a Finnish point of view the budgets have gone down and that of course makes a really great looking videos harder to do. Now, more clever concepts would be in order like "Sabotage" type of low budget videos, but there are not so many mainstream artist who would go for that kind of style, unfortunately. There are always demand on music videos, but now the media has changed from the golden MTV days, but no matter what happens in the future... the music videos will live forever!!"
Get to work
Spending this much time on looking behind the story of music videos naturally led to wondering, how those short movies come to live. Considering the production process from scripting, creating a storyboard, casting crew and scouting locations, one could think it´ll take ages to create.
"Well, I can start from the very beginning of the process. Usually a label contacts me to direct a video for a certain artist, if I agree to do the video the next step is to provide a treatment based on the budget the label gives me. I write the treatment keeping the budget and logistics in mind, one doesn't want to promise anything the budget cannot give. From there we lock the shooting day and start prepping the video, finding locations, crew, cast etc depending on the treatment. Sometimes you don't have much time to prep the video and all the work is done in a matter of days before shooting. Even though the budgets are small, I always try to challenge myself to make the video seem bigger that the budget really is.
The shooting always takes place in one long or half day. I've only done one video which had two days shooting schedule for a UK band called "Dirt Devils" for Sony BMG.
The shooting day is the day which I love the most, that's when you create your video. Very important aspect is to stay on budget and schedule because there is no "extra" money if things start to go wrong and if that happens, that basically means that you are fucked! I wish the budgets would have little bit air in them to keep some just in case it's needed, but that never happens.
The budgets I've been dealing with while making videos are from 5.000-30.000 Euros and unfortunately nowadays it's always under 10.000.
The shooting format has also changed, I started making videos with 16mm and 35mm film and now everything is digital. The editing usually happens the next day after shooting, we cut it in one day, show the first pass to the label and artist and from their feedback make a 2nd version. After that we color grade the video and it's ready for delivery. Making a music video is a fun process, fast and furious and I like that, it's nice work nowadays between movies which takes normally a long time", says Marko Mäkilaakso.
Sounds like a lot of fun with a huge amount of stress, too. But the question remains how one comes to choose a career directing videos in the first place.
Marko Mäkilaakso: "I've always wanted to make movies and for me a music video was like a mini movie. I could tell short stories visually with flashy camera moves, editing and lightning. That was what attracted me in the first place to become a video director."
Denis Goria: "First of all, it wasn't my choice, even if my studies were more focus on video production, I quickly quit TV productions to turn to photography, 12 years ago. It has been a hazard to come in music video production. That's why the first music video production happened only 4 years ago. At that time I was a photographer, and working at the same time for George Lucas' Films for the THX program in France. After I passed the training program and got certificates from the Skywalker Ranch, I've been contacted by Pain's management. I have been working previously on "Cynic Paradise" album as photographer for the booklet and the promo materials, when I got a phone call... A week later, I was in Istanbul with Peter Tägtgren and Ville Lipiäinen, filming the "Follow Me" video... and drinking some nice Whiskey. Like I said, just hazard!! After the success of the video, Ville and I have been working more and more together on other Pain videos (Monkey business, Dirty Woman, The Great Pretender), and few other bands such Amberian Dawn, Hypocrisy, Nightwish etc... So 12 music videos and 4 live DVDs in 4 years. But for now, I really like this, especially when I can add a great story and do the video as a mini-movie. But I don't forget I am mainly a photographer!"
And what lays ahead?
A dreadful and sad development has turned the once prestigious privilege into a lifeless sidekick since the golden 80´s. Imagining how many of those mini movies have never come to life due to shrinking budgets and illegal downloads and piracy, makes a fan of the metal genre – which has been a stepchild to the music business ever since- wonder what the near future might hold for us.
Denis Goria: "NOTHING!! I mean by this, and I am really sorry to be so pessimistic, but if the music market continues to decrease 20% per year, as it is at least now since few years, soon we won't get any money to produce great videos!! Recently, I spoke with different bands, and nowadays, they are producing the videos by themselves. For example, one band couldn't have a video for them new album if it wasn't my gift to this great band!! Such a shame!!! The album was on internet 2 weeks before the release date! In a short future, I think we won't get anymore jobs for videos or at least we should work for free.
I had a lot of expectations with 3D for music video, but it never happened, too expensive for metal bands!
You know, in metal business, several thousand copies sold in few months, is a great success for your favorite bands!! How can I produce a great video if 5% of those sells are used for the video!? So, that's why I am looking more into pop music at the moment, to get bigger budget, but I don´t lie to myself, it is just a patch for a short term. But I am really looking forward to see if mentality will change.
Of course, due to low-budget, we had to look for new way to produce the best video regarding the budget, and I must say the Canon DSLR technology was really useful to keep good production quality, same for the Live DVD I filmed with it (Pain, Stratovarius, Amorphis and Hypocrisy, all done with my friend Ville Lipiäinen) but again, I think it is just a patch! Even if Stratovarius reached #1 in Finland and #4 in French charts, we are not talking about heavy huge sells, as fans can watch them illegally on YouTube !!
But, it doesn´t change my mind, I still love working for music business, people are great, it's in my blood, I just hope artists won't disappear too soon and too fast for I could finally produce my masterpiece."
It´s undisputed the future of the music video is not just something to concern both bands and labels, but something we – the fans and consumers – have to think about, too. The dependence based on the interaction of consumer behavior between illegal downloads and legal acquisition defines the quality of future videos and should be thought about by any fan of any genre. Sad but true, mankind isn´t known for realizing they´re destroying what the love prior to the time it is irrevocable gone. And this goes for more vital topics – environmentalism and animal preservation -, too.
I´d like to share my deepest gratitude to Jesse, Denis and Marko for taking their time for my endless curiosity. You guys rock! Cheers Andy!