How Music Videos Influenced Pop Music

© Copyright 2017 Matt Varao, Ryerson University


Matthew Varao

500 578 301

ENG 705

Dr. Tschofen and Daniel Brown

April 6, 2017

Mixing Mediums: How Music Videos Influenced Popular Music

The phrase “Video Killed the Radio Star” from the song of the same name by Bruce Wooley embodies the rise of music channel MTV in the early eighties. The creation of MTV, and the exponential growth in popularity which it received was by and large due to a marriage of audio and visual culture, making the ever popular media form of the music video. The combination of audio and visual culture in the form of music videos has influenced many aspects of popular music; those being the corporations, the artists in the industry and the shift of emphasis on the visual rather than the music itself. Music videos are a unique form of media because they show a performance of an artist that is able to reach countless viewers who are no longer limited to seeing artist only in concert, but in their very living rooms. Complimented by technology such as the Internet and YouTube, availability of this medium has increased drastically.

Music Video’s and the Corporations

Before the inception of MTV record labels would often release short video clips to promote their artists but once MTV aired its first music video on its twenty four hour music channel, the labels took notice. The major labels saw this as an opportunity to get even more coverage and publicity for their artists, so they started funding the production of music videos. The rapid growth of music videos in pop music increased so quickly that it “became considered a necessity for an artist to achieve commercial success in the pop market… Record labels continue to invest heavily in them, spending about $150 m a year on clip production by 1994”(Banks 293). The rise in popularity in which music videos received prompted record companies to funnel large amounts of money into the growing trend and place more emphasis on the importance of developing these videos. The immense popularity in which music videos were gaining allowed corporations such as MTV to extend their reach in to other markets around the world such as: Canada, Germany, China, India and Brazil to name a few. In his article Steve Jones states that “MTV had an immediate impact on popular music, visual style, and culture”(Jones 83). The expansion of MTV led to skyrocketing popularity in the industry and allowed the pop culture scene of America to be viewed by other cultures and by the same notion, allowed this visual medium to influence those cultures as well. This influence can be illustrated by a quote from Jones that states “if you channel surf to VIVA while in Germany, you might think you were watching MTV—for a few minutes, anyway”(Jones 86). This illustrates how the music video as a medium lends to the expansion of MTV and how the content shown in these videos also has an effect in influencing other cultures to adopt the same style as the American MTV network. Jones also notes that though the styles are adopted, the foreign cultures still keep aspects of their local content instead of always seeing the exact same videos as in America.

MTV’s ever growing network also stemmed from its ties to the record labels which it worked in cooperation with. The labels had immense control over the production of music videos, especially in regards to the content in the video as well as the budgets they were given and how much air time they received. Video producers have relatively little creative input when it comes to the creation of the videos, in fact they are “frequently expected to make videos that visualise scripts or storyboards developed by the label video departments”(Banks 295). This means that though the producer is making the video it is the record labels that decide what the content will be, what the audience sees and how they will view the artist, usually for the purpose of promoting and generating revenue from those artists. In this way it is clear that the corporations have a large influence when it comes to the visuals of pop music and the messages that are received via these videos by the audience. Most labels often had conservative preferences and would “encourage producers and directors to pander to MTV’s tastes by making videos that have the same visual style and content as videos that received heavy play on MTV”(Banks 296). The conservative influence of the record labels would lead to a number of overlaps when it came to the music videos, effectively repeating many of the same messages over and over again but with different artists. In this way music videos, which were influenced by the labels, influenced pop music through frequent exposure on MTV in America and world-wide.

Impact on the Artists

As music labels were putting more resources in to making music videos the artists, who were the ones performing in these videos, were also reaping the rewards of this trend. Music videos allow the artist’s image and music to be more widely consumed than ever, generating more coverage of these artists and even more fame. The fame would come from how the record company decided to market their artists and since they had much control over the market process and video production they would also have control over an artist’s image. An example of this is how, in order to market Bryan Adams, the record company and video producers made his videos in such a way as to show the performer as having a tough, manly persona (Banks 296). The level of control which the labels had over the music videos and subsequently the artists image, allowing the labels to use music videos to invent personas for their artists which would influence how their fans would see them. In addition to influence on artists already in the industry, music videos have also influenced which up and coming artists will get signed to the labels. This is because the record labels have shifted their focus from artists with musical talent to artists who look appealing. This claim is backed up by Jack Banks who says “artists with musical talent who lack a visually appealing image are less likely to receive a contract”(Banks 303). The music labels look for artists who are attractive which is pandering to the visual aspect of the music video, making the musicality of the medium begin to suffer.

Revival of Metal

Though formerly one of the most popular genres of music, hard rock and metal began to lose traction after the 70’s, until the dawn of the music video craze. During the time when MTV was dominating popular music with music videos, heavy metal was experiencing a comeback. As a genre “heavy metal was able to take swift advantage of the video music form because the visual presentation of this genre’s musicians had always been a central attraction of heavy metal with the gaudy clothing and outlandish behaviour of bands”(Banks 301). The striking visuals and wild behaviour of metal acts made perfect subjects for videos because the artists acted larger than life and put on a show that some found entertaining. One such band that was impacted by the music video medium, having numerous highly publicized videos and being notorious for their antics on and off stage is Guns’ N Roses. As seen in the picture below Guns’ N Roses aren’t a visually overwhelming band but their look is iconic in that their style mixed the glam of main stream metal with the rising punk music scene as well as it is a representation of who they are. In his autobiography, lead guitarist Slash says “we were grittier, more traditional, and more genuine; more a product of Hollywood itself than the L.A. glam scene. We were also the lunatic-fringe rock and roll band”(Bozza and Slash, 111).

Halfin, Ross. Guns’ N Roses. (Web)

Photo credit- Ross Halfin (Web)

The style and attitude which Guns’ N Roses possess is indicative of the Heavy Metal genre in the 80’s and is part of what made them so appealing to their audience, they were larger than life personalities coupled with wild performances which made them perfect to market to younger crowds. Their most popular music video on YouTube, garnering over two hundred million views, is for their song Paradise City. The video is a performance clip, showcasing the band where they thrive best, performing in front of a huge stadium full of people. Though the footage is edited the video is very effective at capturing the raw energy of a Guns’ N Roses concert, from the writhing mass of fans to the adrenaline fueled actions of the band members the video is an excellent visual representation of the band at their best. This video is a clear example of the impact which the music video medium had on pop music especially in regards to the revival of heavy metal.

Emphasis on Visuals

The importance on music videos as a way to sell and promote musicians has changed popular music in a way that has put the emphasis on the visual aspects and performance of an artist and allowing the musicality of their works to set in to the background. An example of this shift toward a visual emphasis can be seen from examining the rock band Kiss.

Gene Simmons Brething Fire. Tax Justice Blog. (Web).

Gene Simmons Breathing Fire(Web image.)

This band is widely known for their makeup as well as the gimmicks they employ during their live concerts which are all strikingly visual. These stunts include but are not limited to: rising drum kits, exploding guitars, spitting blood and breathing fire. Above is a picture of founding member Gene Simmons performing his fire breathing routine in full makeup and armour showcasing that Kiss is a band that places high emphasis on the visual aspect of their concerts. Which is one of the reasons they have been so successful while not having many chart topping songs. Other artists have also followed suite in adding visual effects to their concerts. Where it was previously thought that music videos would lessen the attendance of concert goers, instead it was found that “Music video did not destroy concerts, but instead influenced the form and content of actual performances. Madonna and Michael Jackson both stage elaborate concerts that recreate prominent scenes from their videos”(Banks 300). Artists like Kiss began using visuals in their concerts, paving the way for other artists who would incorporate the same approach in their own concerts. Those artists used this influence in order to make their concerts more like their music videos in that the performances would be more visually stimulating for their audience

Visuals in a Digital Age

MTV catapulted the music video medium into the living rooms of every person who owned a television, similarly the website YouTube brought about the ability to watch and stream music videos to people anywhere at any time as long as they own a device that is connected to the internet. In this way YouTube is doing exactly what MTV did, it made use of the technology which was available in order to reach more people than ever before and creating a platform for the entire world to watch and share music videos. Fabian Holt states that “Video extends the range of communication, adding another element of sensuous stimulation… Video provides information and indexes cultural style, thus affecting the consumer who is looking for new music or making buying decisions”(Holt 52). The addition of visuals to music has impacted the human senses by adding another layer of stimulation with which the human brain can process information when consuming a music video. That combined with the ability to reach practically the entire world is a feat that influences popular music because so many people can consume this media where and whenever they want allowing for videos on YouTube such as Psy’s Gangnam Style to reach view numbers of 2.8 billion.

Music videos offer more to those who consume them because as a double medium they offer both visual and audio stimulation. This mixture has made them become one of the most dominant mediums, which in turn also allowed the music video to influence popular music. The rise of MTV led to the widespread usage and consumption of music videos, not just in America but all over the world where MTV-like channels began to pop up around the world. On another note the music video medium allowed the record labels more control over their artists by scripting their music videos in order to market the artist in certain way and controlling their public image. Music Videos also contributed to the revival of the Heavy Metal genre, where larger than life characters and outlandish images were perfectly suited for video consumption. This is where popular music itself began to place more emphasis on visual performance rather than the musicality of an artist’s songs this exemplified by acts such as Kiss, and Michael Jackson who would incorporate parts of these videos into his live concerts. Furthermore YouTube is playing the part which was previously played by MTV in that it is a platform that not only brings access to music videos to the home but to anyone, anywhere at any time as long as they are connected to the internet. This allows popular music videos to be consumed and to influence much larger audience groups than ever before.



Works Cited

Banks, Jack. “Video in the Machine: The Incorporation of Music Videos into the Recording |Industry. Popular Music Vol 16. 1997. PP.293-309.

Gene Simmons Brething Fire. Tax Justice Blog. (Web).

GunsNRosesVEVO. “Paradise City by Guns N Roses”. YouTube, Geffen Records. December 24, 2009.

Halfin, Ross. Guns’ N Roses. (Web)

Holt, Fabian. “Is the Music Industry Becoming More Visual? Online Video Content in the Music Industry”. Visual Studies, Vol 26. 2011. PP. 50-59.

Jones, Steve. “MTV: The Medium was the Message”. Critical Studies in Media Communication, Vol 22. 2005. PP. 83-88.

Officialpsy. “PSY-Gangnam Style”. YouTube. July 15, 2012.

Slash, Bozza, Anthony. “Slash”. Harper Collins Publisher. 2007. Print.


Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.