BACK FROM THE DEAD! The Return of the Music Video

by Barney Miller
HOOLIGAN Senior Editor/Partner

I love commercials. I love advertising. Some of the best spots are actually considered works of art — some even end up in museums — the creative is that good. As an editor and filmmaker, I’m proud to be part of that culture and lucky to work in a field where I’m still excited — socially and creatively. Anyone who complains about having a job like this, especially in this economy, should have their heads examined — seriously!

That said, there once was a parallel industry to the commercial-making world. It existed up until about 5 years ago and was as creative and as exciting as any good advertising.

Of course, I’m talking about music videos.

While never as lucrative, there was a time when you could become an editor, a director, a producer, etc. in the music video making business and, all the meanwhile, you could be proud of your work and pay the bills doing it. It was an industry that connected people’s love of film with their love of music. It’s the world that I grew up in as an editor.

To be sure, it was a marriage conceived in the business world. A marriage of convenience. Music videos were sort of like commercials: they sold records instead of soap. But some bands and artists weren’t interested in being exploited in that light on commercial TV. Some thought it cheapened their music and lowered its status to a “product” (see Pearl Jam). And maybe it did at first, back in the 80′s as MTV off. But as “alternative” and “indie” music (or just GOOD music) dominated the scene in the early 90′s, something happened. The merger of music and motion picture was suddenly yielding some of the most captivating work ever put on the small screen. Music videos were pairing some of the generation’s most innovative visual artists with songwriting and musical greats. Truly magical work was the result.

You know the story after that . . . mp3′s caused the collapse of the entire record industry model, (which I’m NOT lamenting); and less and less videos were airing on TV because a 3-minute video simply couldn’t command enough of an audience for advertisers to be sustainable. And bam. Here we are. 2011. MTV? Well, they took “music” off the logo. It’s all about “reality” now. Almost 24/7.

Courtesy of

Of course, today music videos are still around in other forms. They still play them in Europe (so I hear). Lots of young indie bands have indie friends with their own video equipment (maybe they took a few film history lessons in school) who can create some pretty amazing work that’s all pretty accessible online. I’m really not trying to downplay all that, but the fact is, music videos just can’t be seen on a mass scale anymore (unless your video is quirky enough to go “viral” on youtube). The passion nor the budgets to follow the great work of MTV’s golden age of the 90′s simply doesn’t exist anymore.

I still work on one or two videos a year. It’s usually a labor of love — for cost or less. Over the last decade I’ve had the honor of working on videos by artists I love: Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Jimmy Cliff and most recently Ryan Adams (one of our greatest living song writers, in my opinion), which you can see HERE. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the days when you could turn on MTV and watch great musicians and great filmmakers doing great work — almost all day long — as opposed to Jersey Shore marathons.

Here are links to some of my favorite videos of all time. I think these still hold up. Enjoy!

Lauryn Hill — Doo Wop That Thing
The most innovative use of a split screen — plus with perfect retro styling that rivals Mad Men.

Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop That Thing from Art Department on Vimeo.

Bjork — All is Full of Love
Chris Cunningham. Still stunning over a decade later.

Metallica — The Unforgiven
Directed by Matt Mahurin. Maybe the Stairway of Heaven of the 90′s. Still beautiful.

Janet Jackson — Got ‘Til It’s Gone
More retro styling. Janet Jackson gets the Mark Romanek treatment. Great editing again.

Jay Z — 99 Problems
Romenak again. Not 90′s but maybe one of the last great videos ever. Jay Z.