The State of Music Video Credits
Posted by Adam Fairholm on September 26, 2013 in Site News
A big part of what we do here at IMVDb is catalog music video credits. We've seen close to 20,000 videos come across our computer screens in a short period of time, and from those videos we've collected over 61,000 credits.
We've spent our time with music video credit data every day for the better part of a few years now, and there's an issue with music video credits that we're noticing more and more as music videos continue to gain popularity and we continue to grow the IMVDb database. To explain, it's important to take a look at where music videos have come from and where they are at now.
The music video has always been a strange format that seems especially impacted by the technology used to deliver it to viewers. While music videos took off with the rise of cable TV in the 1980s, they eventually saw the platform that essentially created them move with the changing cable landscape and mostly abandon them. Music videos have had an amazing second act with a platform that seems made just for them - the internet - and arguably have become the dominant type of online video in terms of views and attention generated. It's amazing that as one platform died, another rose up to take its place so quickly, and that that platform was even more suited to music video distribution and viewing.
Music videos are now part of our cultural pulse in a bigger way than they've possibly ever been. They fit perfectly into a world where everyone has a tiny screen, internet, and headphones in their pocket. Big artists are eager to move some blog posts with a controversial or odd video, and smaller artists can get a toe-hold in a saturated market with a visual that makes people want to stop and watch (long enough to get the song stuck in their head). It's gotten to a point that the early ways of watching music videos seem primitive - the idea of waiting for a music video to come on TV seems almost ridiculous.
But music videos lost something in their big transition over the last decade. It's easy to forget that ten years ago you could walk into any FYE store in America and pick up a box set of the collected music video works of Michel Gondry, Mark Romanek, Spike Jonze, or a number of other directors. Ever since MTV started listing director's names in 1992 (thanks to the MVPA), every music came with a lower third that told you right there who made what you were looking at. Even though the artist was obviously the attraction, at a certain point viewers started to be subtly presented with the idea that music videos were made by someone.
Today there is no lower third - there is the description box. Whereas the lower third was a standard format across the few music video channels, the description box is a wild west that can be filled with everything or nothing at all. And while the number of videos with partial or complete credit lists in description boxes is rising, we still see a significant number of videos released every day with literally no credit information at all - not even a director name - as if the video just sort of happened.
The description box issue is compounded by the fact that music videos exist outside of where they are posted online. It's a tough mental block to get around because we are so used to equating a YouTube upload with the video itself, but these sites are just the distribution method. Music videos exist whether or not they are on YouTube, and what site a video is distributed on could change with a licensing agreement or any number of factors (we also see this frequently). The description box is essentially emphemeral, and not the right place for housing something permanent like credits.
What I've outlined above is a huge issue for those of us who believe that music videos are much more than commercials set to music. Film (and later, television) built significant portions of their industry based on recognition and fandom around the creators of their output. The examples in film are numerous (an extremely high number of directors are household names), but television has picked up on this in a big way as well, giving people like Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) and Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) creator-status with their projects. Talk to any Breaking Bad fan and they'll more likely bring up the genius of Vince Gilligan's creation faster than the brilliance of Bryan Cranston's portrayal of Walter White.
Unfortunately, the state of music video crediting is largley disorganization. The music video industry can't reap the benefits of having fans and other interested parties become fans of the industry itself if nobody knows who made what and there isn't a central place to find out. Credits are in hundreds of different places - and trust us, we know. From Vimeo description boxes to tweets to random resumes to old boxes filled with call sheets from the 1990s, music video credits are all over the place.
Although we write blog posts and record podcasts, IMVDb is first and foremost a database. If we had a mission statement, it'd be something along the lines of "to bring order to the disorder of music video information on the web". We want to normalize it, to use a database term. That's what IMDB did for films - it took what was all over the place in different formats and put it all in one place, so if you want to find out what films Stanley Kubrick directed or who was the cinematographer for Gone With the Windor what the name of that actor was, you know where to go.
The issue for us at IMVDb is the numbers I referenced at the beginning of this blog post are not sufficient for making IMVDb the resource that we envision it being. This is a product of being relatively new to the game (we've only been taking submissions for a year), and also not yet really optimizing how data comes to be listed on the site. If the problem is that music videos don't have a central place to store information and it needs to have one, we want to solve that problem, and we're close.
Next Monday we're launching a set of tools that are the start of the next big leap forward in IMVDb's growth. It's an iteration of our submission process that takes everything that we've learned over the past year and makes the data intake part of IMVDb faster, more effective, and easier for everyone.
But making these tools a success is not just a matter of users thinking they are well-designed or bug-free (although that helps), the real success is in users like you using these tools because you agree with the need to fix what I've outlined above, and you believe IMVDb is where credits should live. We'd like your support.
So, keep an eye out for that announcement on Monday. If you are or represent a production company, director, record label, or producer, keep an eye out for IMVDb Pipeline. If you work on music videos or are otherswise involved in music videos, please spread the word!
Adam Fairholm is the co-founder and lead developer of IMVDb. You can find him on twitter at @adamfairholm.
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