As music-related film has evolved into short films, live videos and more, LBB’s Nisna Mahtani asked experts from Florence, Stillking Films Prague, MCM, Rattling Stick, REVERSE and OB Management about the shift
Iconic music videos make you remember a song for all the right reasons. In this realm, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’, Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Humble’, all come to my mind, at least. But the music video industry has shifted, incorporating social media, entwining with elaborate films and even presenting in the form of live-streamed gigs.
So, where did this shift come from? And what’s next in this space? We spoke to experts in the field who broke the process down for us.
Short-Form Video Engagement
With Instagram Reels, TikTok videos and YouTube Shorts, there’s an endless supply of short-form video content for viewers to engage with. With many large platforms offering partnerships, “music artists have to put themselves forward in a very visual way,” says Ryan Kincade, head of music at Florence. “The appetite for visual content is huge, especially content that can be exclusive to a platform or partnership — this is the lifeblood of an artist’s career, so they really rely on a team of collaborators to bring their brand and vision to life.”
Vanessa Beletic, director at Rattling Stick, agrees with Ryan, “I’ve had artists/musicians tell me these super short-form videos (TikTok) are something their record companies ask of them because that’s where future fans come from and where a lot of new music discovery takes place.” It’s no doubt that viral songs on TikTok grow organic audiences and Instagram Reels are “prioritised on the platform”, so the exposure factor is an important opportunity to seize in this space.
"The more 'personal' level between fan and artist," is what REVERSE's director Johan Stahl credits to the emergence of short-form video production in this space. "It’s a whole new ecosystem. Traditionally, you’d get your song on the radio and do a couple of magazine and newspaper stories, now it’s a multifaceted content monster you need to feed if you want to stay relevant and top-of-mind as an artist today."
OB Management director's agent Sam Davey believes that it's about how the audience views content. He says, "Gone are the days of creating a music video with a six week run out before the single is released. Everything is far more reactive with the rise of platforms like TikTok, where the most successful posts are the ones which tap into everyday life and present the artist as real and relatable. This content is much more immediate and stripped back and doesn’t always require a huge production budget.
Sam continues, "Socials are driving music sales over radio or YouTube now, so having a consistently successful presence in that space is more important than ever. An artist can build a following and connect in truly authentic ways with their audience through their social platforms without the huge marketing outlay of a big record label. This isn’t to say we aren’t seeing the commissioning of larger scale videos, but what we are experiencing is more of a need to consider how the social assets can elevate the overall marketing campaign. Directors more than ever are expected to have consideration of how their work will exist amongst other supporting assets."
Part of engaging with an audience in the present day is being in front of an audience’s mind. With the mammoth amount of content available online, many musicians have turned to live or live-ish performances to attract an audience. One of the people who’s seen this is Mike Canzoniero, CEO and creative director at MCM. “MCM recently produced a high-end live performance video for artist Norah Jones where she revisited her most iconic album ‘Come Away With Me’ in a beautiful recording studio in upstate New York.
“With Norah at the piano playing along with a three-person accompanying band, this required a total of eight cameras for adequate coverage. The challenge was producing the video without seeing eight camera operators all over the set, so we utilised the new eotimo robotic dolly systems on multiple cameras which allowed for pre-programmed dolly moves and focus pulls. This added gorgeous movement to shots that a few years ago might have just been stuck on a boring lock-off. Norah self-released the livestream video on her socials as a promotional event and has already had close to three million views,” says Mike.
Vanessa – who’s also had experiences with a similar production – likens the process to “putting on a stage show.” She further explains, “Live-to-tape performances are a whole other ball game and for me quite fun! It’s nothing like music video production at all. In this case, it’s almost like a director plays the role of a creative director and works with the artist to develop a look and feel, collaborating with a choreographer (if needed) to oversee stage rehearsals. Then, the entire vision comes to life. The other key collaborator is the technical director who does the actual live-to-tape calls to each camera while filming.”
Whereas Johan reflects on the aspect of realism, saying, "I think there's nothing better than a sweaty live performance — broadcast as either a full production or segments." He also says, "And there’s also a lot of interesting stuff happening mix-wise in that world — be it Atmos mixes, which Apple Music will honour with bigger royalties next year (OG 360 audio mixes). That’s going to be the next frontier, I think, with live experience becoming bigger and more present in audio and visuals, even though you’re not there, physically."
Films and Trailers
While short-form content is being used to engage the audience across social platforms, there has also been an increase in more long-form content, with artists creating a story behind new album releases. One of these artists is Halsey, who worked with Lida Ashwell Ordnung, executive producer at Stillking Films Prague, on 'If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power', a film dedicated to her album. Lida says, “The starting point was our existing friendship with a great producer Jamee Ranta, who was, at that time, producing for Boy in The Castle (LA) and the lovely director Colin Tilley.”
With Halsey in the driving seat of the process – Lida describing her as “a very creative visionary artist” – the idea of making her album release into a larger production meant many working hours went into the process. According to Lida, time was the challenge on this shoot. “The process had to be fast as we did not have much prep time for shooting what basically was a movie. We had three location managers on the road nonstop, taking photos and jumping on zoom calls with the director, producers and art department every day and night during the entire month.
“In the end, we shot in seven locations across the Czech Republic, including two castles, a Roman bath inside a spa city, a forest, and a quarry too! I think all these unique places really enhanced the final look of the movie which is a visual feast of textures, colours, and light, inviting the viewer to multiple locations and settings.” Part of the logistics involved factoring in covid-19 restrictions, ensuring the historic sites went undamaged and having the fire department on hand for mishaps. All in all, however, the reduced tourist numbers and beautiful locations both positively contributed to the final piece.
Vanessa also mentions Rattling Stick’s work with Haitian pop artist Kanis, who endeavoured to take an entirely different approach to her newest album. “After a few conversations, I was able to pitch three music video ideas and a set of teasers that would be the right visual interpretation of the emotional, mysterious and sexy tone of the music. With her team, we boiled it down to one.
“For the teasers, I was inspired by her story of locking herself away to make music. We created a soundscape of people from Kanis’ life calling her on the phone, leaving messages and looking for her. We layered those voices over a short visual of Kanis in her apartment smoking alone. We played it forward and in reverse, messing with time a bit. It turned out great!”
Johan is one of the people who is in "absolute adoration" of these new aspects of the process. He says, "Releasing full albums and having ambitious visual packages surrounding them is a very exciting new thing. I just did a film, 'A Crab & A Pipe'. for the Röyksopp's 'Profound Mysteries' conceptual project with production company Bacon. The only dogma was that we had complete creative freedom. The track received, 'In the Night', was perfect for the idea I had in mind: the story of a vindictive crab getting superpowers from a Professor X-type in a supermarket at night was in lockstep with the song."
"We had a live king crab from Norway flown in for the shoot, a number of other live ones – and no crab wranglers. When we shot the piece, I went for a feeling of the unexpected. Look-wise, a stylish and moody feel with lots of white highlights as an homage to ‘80s action films. We had a lot of fun using probe lenses to get all the way into the world of the crabs in the ice box. We tested different crabs for each setup, and funny enough, it was always the same 10-legged hero delivering what we were looking for. He was a natural. It was an emotional moment in the end, though, releasing him back into the sea at a nearby harbour."
OB Management director's agent Polly Millner explains how vital it is to have the artist on board with the project, to create something authentic to the music. "The first step is always for that commissioner to speak to the artist and really get into what the music is about," she says. The authenticity of the artist is super important. It’s a massively over-saturated market so it's the authentic artists that cut through. Ultimately, it’s about carefully matching like-minded artists and creatives early on in the process so trust can be built, ideas can flow, and they can go on that exploratory world-building journey together. Intrinsic to fully realising an artist’s vision, increasingly we find creative directors are attached to artists from an early stage, and we think it shows in the success of the campaigns we are seeing now."
With so many options and opportunities to flex creative muscles and create a truly unique musical experience for audiences, it’s no doubt that the future of the music video will continue to evolve. But how?
Vanessa says, “I see more artists wanting to incorporate narrative into their albums. The concept of a ‘short film’ for entire EPs will continue to grow for sure!” Whereas Ryan emphasises the use of multiple social media platforms: “We find that the multiplatform nature of campaigns has a direct impact on the kind of artists we collaborate with, and this will continue to shift going forward. Both our image (photography) and music divisions launched this year because of the demand in these areas. Cross-genre fluency is a really valuable trait for the modern creative — and for us as a production company as well.”
On the flip side, Mike pays mind to the technical side of aspect ratio, and how this will continue to be more of a given staple of the process. “The only obvious trend MCM sees is that every music video shoot these days also has a list of deliverables that include verticals with 9:16 framing (most likely due to the popularity of TikTok and Instagram Reels). As those social platforms become more and more dominant, we feel that they may eventually become the priority on set and can imagine a time when our directors and DPs envision their music video work in that aspect ratio firstly and get creative within that frame as opposed to the afterthought pan and scan approach we currently see happening in post.”
Lida mentions the timescale of projects, and how this is set to change due to the multiple formats, long-form content and creative vision of artists. “I think that music videos were, are and will be produced as the world needs music and good creative music videos to go with it. On behalf of Stillking Films, I’ve produced many excellent music videos for top international artists over the years but they were no longer than four-day shoots. So while I have to say that Halsey's music video film has been the largest we’ve produced so far, it proved to us that we’re ready to take on more “extreme” projects like this, although it’d be quite hard to top it as this one was rather exceptional! But we’re believers and we like a challenge.”
Finally, Johan looks to the emerging technology that is set to take over the space: "I think there will be augmented reality music videos and mixed performances from the real world and the metaverse. I recently saw the first VR concert that was partially in another dimension while sometimes cutting into the real show in front of us. It was something that I could see lots of potential in."