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A Letter Without an Envelope

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A Letter Without an Envelope

by Andy Stewart.

The days of releasing a single without a video are over. They were 30 years ago.

So why are so many people still scrambling to make a last minute video for their latest music release, or worse, shrugging their shoulders and doing nothing? Video-less single releases are a great way to sink your song like a rock. It’s astonishing to think that in 2018, video content is still seen by many as an ‘option to attach to their music release’, rather than a necessity.

In my book, a music release of any kind – be it a single, an EP or an album – is doomed to failure if there’s no video content to connect it to the all-dominant visual world.

The video-less release is like a letter without an envelope. You wouldn’t post something in the mail with no packaging, address or stamp on it, and expect it to arrive at its destination would you? It’s the same with music… has been for the last three decades, probably longer.

But still the paralysis persists. Too many people think they can get away with having zero video content of things like conventional videos, making-of docos, Facebook messaging of upcoming releases, gigs and so on. In one case recently, a band I was mixing even contemplated refusing to provide the media with band shots – stills I mean!

“The music will draw them in,” they said. “They won’t be able to resist it!” They did. It flopped.

In an age where YouTube rules and access to a global audience has never been cheaper or more streamlined, you’d think people would be all over their video content by now. Many are of course, and there’s some absolutely fantastic work done by video artists and musicians alike (often on a shoestring budget). But significant numbers remain resolutely stubborn in their resistance to this now long-established norm. The fact that this issue is even up for debate amongst some of my clients is truly gob smacking. Seriously, is this 2018 or 1978?

Cheaper By The (Several) Dozen
We all know this argument by now, surely. Back in the day when a camera cost tens of thousands to purchase and required a DOP to operate it, video releases were understandably the preserve of big bands and record label releases. But now cameras are in your back pocket requiring no expertise. There’s no film stock to buy, no processing required, no physical cutting on layup machines… it’s a piece of cake, relatively speaking. The costs are a tiny fraction of what they once were, and in some cases, they’re actually zero.

So there should be no excuses left, not a single one. Anyone interested in growing a fan base should understand by now that without being seen, they won’t be heard. It’s that simple.

A Song That I Used To Know
For many, this subheading alone should be enough to recognise whose video I’m about to mention. Six years ago now – yep, it’s been that long – a friend of mine who goes by the name of Gotyé put out a great song called Somebody I Used to Know. The song was great, the video was too, but what was most fascinating about it was why it became a global phenomenon.

The album we worked on won Grammys, and the hit single was copied and covered, mocked and parodied the world over more times than anyone could count.

What made it so successful is impossible to quantify now with any certainty, but from where I stood back then, it seemed likely that without the now iconic video on board the song couldn’t possibly have had such a massive impact. Take the video away and who knows what might have been.

The point is that without this fantastic visual interpretation of Wally’s spooky duet, it’s possible (or perhaps even probable) that the song wouldn’t have gained anywhere near the notoriety it did (and we’d still have our old kitchen). If Wally had, for instance, done a video of him morosely flicking through his record collection looking for all the missing vinyl his girlfriend stole, maybe people wouldn’t have even liked the song. We can never know for sure.

Sometime later, a few years ago now, I worked on an album with Paul Kelly, and like Wally, Paul put out a video with a song off the album called New Found Year, which I loved. I was probably biased because I also sang and played drums on the song, as well as mixed it. But putting that aside, it was still a really nice track, from an artist who most people in Australia knew.

The video was terrible; thrown together by a third party who seemed determined that it have no impact at all – malicious damage I called it. Needless to say it was a statistical flop. Good song, but the video did it no favours whatsoever. There are countless other factors at play here of course, which inevitably impacted on the trajectories of these two otherwise unrelated songs: the age group of the audience, the nature of the music, the age of the artist to name but a handful.

Nevertheless, one billion views on YouTube alone (1,083,347,414 on the day I wrote this article), as opposed to 13,165 is a compelling discrepancy in the figures.

Perhaps it’s a meaningless contrast, and by some measures it is. But from my perspective they were simply two really good songs by popular Australian artists, only one of which had a good video.

Cheap & Awesome
I don’t get involved in making videos for people generally. I’m a record producer, a mix engineer, a mastering engineer, a DIY home designer and builder, a father, a husband, a hobby farmer, a volunteer firefighter… but I don’t make videos for people (though perhaps I should – I have so much spare time!). I might throw ideas for a video around during mixing sessions occasionally, but that’s about as far as my involvement ever goes.

But I’m a huge advocate for a great video-clip. I know that’s easy to say, hard to do, and perhaps it’s no different to me saying something stupid like: ‘I’m a huge advocate for smash-hit singles’. What I can say with supreme confidence is that those who still hold onto the notion that a video clip is ‘optional’ are kidding themselves, and doomed to failure as a consequence.

Get out there with whatever technology is within your (typically easy) reach and start rolling film (well, not literally). If you don’t have any ideas for a clip, don’t let that stop you filming stuff. Just shoot things… try out the iPhone in your pocket, the GoPro in your drawer… stick it on the dog’s collar or tape it to your $50 Aldi drone. Experiment like you would with audio, and stop telling yourself and others that you don’t know anything about it. Who cares?

A mate of mine with nothing but an iPhone running in Slow-Mo mode did one of my favourite video clips of recent times. It was one continuous shot of a seagull floating on the water near his boat. The sun was glinting on the surface and it matched the music beautifully. It was mesmerising… and cost two cents (an estimate based on 50% of the phone’s battery recharge).

A second clip worked off the same basic principle – one shot, no edits – only this one was of the sun and a summer breeze blowing through a lace curtain. It looked so good I thought I should take up filmmaking… There was just one problem. My Samsung caught fire and now I’m back on the old iPhone, which has no storage capacity!

Andy Stewart owns and operates The Mill in the hills of Bass Coast in Victoria. He’s happy to respond to any pleas for recording or mixing help… contact him at: andy@themillstudio.com.au
This article first appeared in CX Magazine August 2018 – print and online. CX Magazine is Australia and New Zealand’s only publication dedicated to entertainment technology news and issues. Read all editions for free or search our archive www.cxnetwork.com.au
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