Ande Schurr:     ande@schurrsound.com     +64 21 741 339

Music Videos: what is their place?

New Zealand Music Month is now over for another year. What did we learn about the state of our music industry? That its sales grew for the first time since 2001 – by 12 per cent in 2015 to $74.4 million. The number one source of revenue? Online streaming.

This news is a remarkable about-turn in an industry that is claimed to have lost $1.5 billion to piracy over the same 15-year period.

We might now agree, more than ever before, that music videos are necessary to give artists exposure and drive listeners online to buy their music. That’s all very nice for the artists – but aren’t music videos a dead-end street for film technicians? No work guarantees, usually for no pay and all hard work on the day? Let’s look at some facts.

A Note on Funding

Most of the money to fund artists comes from NZ On Air – the same government agency that bankrolls our local TV shows. Their Making Tracks1 scheme funds recording artists to a total of $2 million per year, which they distribute in allotments of $6000 for one music video per artist (or $10,000 to record a track and make a video).

There are 10 Making Tracks application rounds per year so, theoretically, an artist can apply 10 times for 10 different music videos per year. One thing to note – the artist must contribute $2000 of their own money in order to claim the $6000 from NZ On Air.

This requirement has its critics. While it’s a commendable push towards self-responsibility it fails to acknowledge that NZ musicians don’t generally make money from their music and therefore may not have a spare $2000 in the bank. It sidelines a portion of the population who may have incredible music talent yet struggle financially.

Prior to 2011, NZ On Air funded whole albums to the tune of $50,000 a pop (or rock, reggae, country or any other genre). A number of controversial decisions caused them to order a significant review on their entire funding strategy. Read The Caddick Report for details.

One last point – NZ On Air is not the only funding agency for music but it is the most obvious one for artists with a song they want to promote on the airwaves and internet. There are actually four agencies in total who fund music – each focused on a different aspect:

NZ On Air funds on broadcast merit; Creative NZ funds on artistic merit; Te Mangai Paho funds on language merit; and the NZ Music Commission funds on export merit.

A Note on the Artist

Not all artists are alike. Just like us, some are savvy with money and some aren’t. What we want is for those artists who have won a music video grant to understand what it takes to do it right.

Not that there is any one way. But there is a smart way. It’s with a respected music video director who has a fabulous idea that, if executed well by a passionate producer and hands-on director of photography, increases the chance of wide-spread exposure for that artist.

It helps to know what goes on inside the artist’s mind. Some know how important it is to get the music video just right. They go to the one-stop-shop film companies – such as Fish&Clips, Moonlight Sounds and Candlelit Pictures to name three.

They know how valuable it is to source unleashed creativity from a specialist. Be it the simple genius of Candlelit Film’s Thunderlips directing duo (Sean Wallace and Jordan Dodson with producer Alix Whittaker, DOP Eoin O’Liddigh) for Sheep, Dog & Wolf single Glare – a Vimeo staff pick in 2014 and winner of the Best MV Award at Show Me Shorts –

 

Or the complex artistry of director Žiga Zupančič (Producer Lissandra Leite, DOP Dan Ax) with their award-winning Water for City of Souls.

 

Some artists however, feel that they are being taken advantage of. They can’t imagine why the production company would need their contribution of $2000 on top of the $6000 funding. So be prepared to deliver them some hard truths about the cost of making them look amazing.

These artists will not understand what certain styles and looks will cost. What the difference is between shooting on an ARRI Alexa with a well-known cinematographer, gaffer and lighting truck versus shooting on a DSLR camera using house lights.

They may not realise how long the shooting day will actually be – perhaps starting long before sunrise and running late into the night. They may not realise that the actors, dancers and background talent appearing in their video for $150 per day or even for free, earn several thousand dollars for a day’s work on a tvc.

Lastly, they may not realise that the producer has just saved them literally thousands of dollars by building and maintaining great relationships with rental houses, with discounts bordering on business insanity.

Are Music Videos worth it?

It’s easy to write music videos off as being too small and fiddly to take seriously. They pay the least of any job, if they pay at all, and are very demanding of everyone’s time, with seemingly little to offer in return except promoting the artist.

However, Director of Photography Tim Flower says that while music videos do benefit the artist, they’re also really helpful to the film industry in terms of up and coming talent. Falling into the same ‘sacrificial’ category as short films, music videos return very little financially but offer rich pickings in terms of creative capital and opportunities to experiment.

Having worked on over 150 music videos over a period of eight years, Tim recently finished shooting his latest for The Veils’ yet unreleased track Axolotl, experimenting with Kowa Anamorphic lenses. Shortly after the MV he then used the lenses on a short film, which he did with confidence, having discovered the benefits – and limitations – beforehand.

It’s not easy to get new techniques and approaches ‘over the line’ on dramas and long-form series. Those formats need consistency; if you make the decision at the start to try a certain look you have to keep it. Hence the wonderful freedom a music video affords the technical department.

Producer Lissandra Leite works on two or three music videos per month alongside producing TV commercials as a freelancer. The excitement for her is in experiencing a wide variety of directors and story ideas. If she likes a director’s treatment and sees his/her vision then she wants to bring it to life and be part of something amazing. Her priority on the day is keeping the director grounded, which is all but done through a great relationship with a hands-on, experienced, DoP.

Her overall priority however is handling the artist. Some know exactly what they want down to the very clothes a dancer will wear. Others need to be told what their involvement will be. Not all artists trust or appreciate the enormous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes with the production company. They simply don’t understand how things work.

What Changes Are Needed?

If there is one thing Leite would change, it is educating the artists to appreciate the difference between a newbie director who pockets the $6000 and might produce something good versus letting a team of pros execute the idea brilliantly and reliably.

She finds it interesting that big artists with record labels apply and often get the funding at the expense of the newer artists. Since it’s hard enough to make money in the music industry, record labels here don’t bankroll music videos for their artists, unless you’re Lorde. They expect their artist to apply for one of the finite number of grants offered by NZ On Air.

Leite mentions that after 2010, Salmonella Dub decided not to apply for NZ On Air funding. They essentially said, Why should we take someone else’s money when we have our own label?

This attitude struck her as the honourable way forward for an experienced artist or group and the way the music industry would mature beyond its current state.

These issues and more should be continually considered by the funding agencies. Clearly, those who make the videos are in the best position to comment on the success of the current model.

As growth in the music industry becomes the norm again after a generation of decline, music videos are only going to become even more important. As the public’s appetite for inspired visual content to support great music nears insatiable levels, the opportunity is there like never before for technicians, directors and producers alike to grow along with it: to take the skills learned into the longer form world of TV and Film.

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