Ever since the advent of MTV, music video programming, for better or worse, has been one of the most important ways for new artists to gain critical exposure in the marketplace. The means of getting this exposure, of course, is through the music video clip that is the major component of most music video programming outlets like MTV.
But MTV isn't the only music video outlet. There are scores of national, regional, and local programs which either play music video clips or give video exposure to music acts through live performances, interviews, or promotional contests. Still, time is a big obstacle.
"The average video show is weekly and 30 minutes long, and we receive enough new videos in any given week to fill an hour," says Telemotion's Aron Golds, whose company works with major and indie record labels in sending their videos to music video tv outlets, and video "pools" like Rockamerica which service clips to nightclubs and stores which also use music video programming. "Shows have to decide what videos to use, and then carry over the leftovers to the next week--when they get that many more. So there's a real glut of videos out there, and with the prices of video production coming down, it will only exacerbate the flood. But videos can give a lot of attention to bands that they otherwise might not get."
Golds suggests that when a band makes a video, it must first take into consideration that it will be played on television, "so you have to make it good television regardless of the budget, and you need to follow-up with the producers of the shows--because they can't watch all the clips that they get. You don't need to go to a service like us--small indie labels can service videos on their own. But most times we find that they don't know the nuts and bolts. For instance, they think they can service VHS videos and get play, when most programs require three-quarter or beta tapes--which are considerably more expensive."
If the video quality is good enough, though, chances are good enough that you can get it programmed somewhere, at least according to Michelle Miller, head of Power Play Music Video Television, which produces varied music video programming and syndicates it internationally. "If you don't have a video and want to get on TV, take one of your better songs and create a simple performance piece," she says. "But do a high quality product--film being much better than videotape--though you can probably get played anywhere if it's good, at outlets like ours, major regionals, or smaller video shows all over the country. We'd play it, and labels would see it."
Miller's company will also produce video clips for bands, as will Music Link Productions, a Denver-based company which also produces three Denver music video programs: "Music Link", for alternative rock; "BPM", for techno-rave; and "Punk TV", for punk and ska. "Music Link" is on six nights a week on the local PBS affiliate, making it one of the most high profile regional music video shows.
"We just produced a video for a local punk band and of course, since we made it, we're playing it!," says company president Mike Drumm. "But it gets trickier if you're not on a major label, since it's so competitive with all the videos out there. We don't have unlimited air time like a radio station, so if somebody just calls and says 'We have a video,' it won't mean that much--though if you're from here we'll be far more interested, even if there isn't a big push behind you, because we support the local scene. But if a band is really organized and professional in its presentation--with a CD, press kit, and video--it's a definite plus. You have to have a big profile in terms of promotion, because so many bands are represented by major labels with people who specialize in it, and how many bands are there? Nine billion? Just because you're from a band, so what? Maybe a few girls like you, but you have to be able to package yourself professionally, and if you can network into the music video community, that will help a lot as well."
Whatever you do, "Don't just sit around and wait for things to happen!," declares Bernie Cyrus, executive director of the Louisiana Music Commission, who also hosts "New Orleans After Midnight," a weekly entertainment show which features Louisiana music and runs on the New Orleans NBC affiliate. "Start your own show if you don't have one on the local access cable station or on regular cable," adds Cyrus, who did indeed host an acclaimed Louisiana music show previously through the city's cable system. "There are opportunities available to you today that we never dreamed of back in the '70s. I've read so many stories where a band plays on Conan O'Brien and their record takes off! But you have to be very media savvy in the business now: One person in your band should be designated as publicist--if you don't already have one--and should try to get as much print ink as possible. Do free gigs for publicity, but make sure you get guaranteed media exposure so that when a TV camera crew comes by, you get on. And don't be afraid to get to know media people: Reporters are most accessible, because they're always looking for a good story, and there's always a certain amount of fluff in any news show and music fits perfectly--especially if it's tied to a charity event."
Cyrus notes, too, that the morning shows are always looking for entertainment programming. "You can get on the local news shows, even if you only have a CD," he adds. "You can get them to put up the graphic and play the music while they present the events calendar." Drumm will also let local bands who don't have videos still spotlight their CDs and guest-host Music Link programming. "But obviously," Drumm says, "bands should have a video to be on a music video show."
One resource that is useful for bands that do have videos is the music video trade publication CVC Report, which charts the activity of music videos as they are programmed on music video outlets around the country. "We have a master contact list of outlets from MTV and BET to the smallest--including nightclubs and pools," says the magazine's Michele Berkover. "Subscribers get that list, with eight or nine pages of addresses and phone numbers of all the music video shows we deal with. Or we can send you a sample issue so you can see the playlists of the shows we track, to see which shows play which kind of music that's similar to what you play."
Berkover offers a good case in point: "We just had a great success story with a very small indie label, Deep Elm, which is operated by one guy and has mostly local New York bands," she says. "One band, Walt Mink, had been bounced around by the major labels and had an album in the can that was never released, which Deep Elm picked up and put out, and got a New York University film student to put together a video for the band for $600--which is really cheap, but the film student liked the band and wanted to do a good job. The label head couldn't afford to subscribe to CVC so we gave him a special six-month rate so he could at least get the master list, and he did what we suggested--looked through the magazine to see what people played, and I gave suggestions and he called first to see if there was interest--because he couldn't even afford dubbing and postage. But in the new issue of CVC, the video made the chart! So he sent the video to the people who were most interested and they dug it--and a small underdog band managed to get the word spread about their video!"
Clearly, then, you can do it all yourself--or at least most of it. But labels and artists will also turn to video promoters, who are much like radio promoters in that they try to get their product (in this case, video clips rather than recordings) played on programming outlets (in this case, video shows rather than radio stations).
"If bands can't do it themselves, they should find a promoter who has the contacts to get to the programs and position their product in a favorable light," advises Craig Bann, VP of promotion and marketing at AristoMedia, a Nashville music video promotion firm specializing in country music videos. But in addition to getting the video clips played, a promoter can do other things to get an artist exposed on video outlets. Working in conjunction with tour dates, for instance, AristoMedia last year set up promotions for country singer Toby Keith at video outlets six weeks in advance of his tour, which involved servicing of Keith's current video, an "electronic press kit" (EPK) including a "Barbara Walters-type" interview, and several tickets for each date for the shows to use as giveaways. "Sometimes labels will ask us to send out CDs as giveaway items, usually with video play--but not necessarily," adds Bann. "But it's important to have a current video to push--because, again, they are video shows!"Back to magazine