An insight into making music videos

Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Liz Henry explores the trend of the music video as a creative vehicle…

Last week I attended the Music, Video, Art? panel event being held as part of exposures festival. The event exhibited work from a spectrum of visual disciplines with videos from our guest speakers – Max Hattler, Ian Pons Jewell, Ollie Evans and collaborators Ewelina Aleksandrowicz and Andrzej Wojtas. Between them they have directed videos for the likes of Tinie Tempah, The Klaxons and Basement Jaxx so there was plenty of advice to be shared.

The event kicked off with a screening of each of the artists’ work. Thrown in were some impressive abstract concert visuals, moody conceptual video art and some poppy, tongue-in-cheek music videos. This disparity in style and the artists’ influences were then explored in the panel discussion which followed.

The panel…

Ollie Evans likes pop art, visual one-liners and what he terms ‘crass visual’. He has directed videos for The Noisettes and Foals. He is influenced by comedy and aspires to direct live action comedy.

Ian Pons Jewell has produced several short films alongside his music videos and is currently signed as a director with Pulse Films.

Max Hattler makes videos born from his background in visual art (he was awarded a MA in Animation form the RCA) and shuns performance art in favour of abstract moving image.  Predominantly, Max produces concert visuals, designed to complement the kinesis of the live band.

The collaborative duo, Ewelina Aleksandrowicz and Andrzej Wojtas came to music videos from video art. Their practice plays a lot with tempo and its opposing extremes; the dead slow and very fast, ‘glitchy’ moving images.

The discussion…

Asked how much collaboration was involved between the recording artist and the video director, the speakers said it depends on the recording artist. Ian Pons Jewell’s video for DJ Shadow was completed without any contact with the musician and whilst this granted artistic freedom, it also felt a little disjointed.

How, in that case, do directors keep the process organic when their work in so heavily controlled? Sometimes it seems bands will approach directors with a very tight brief and at other times the process is more fluid, providing space for a lot more artistic collaboration. Either way, working in such a tightly monitored artistic environment can prove problematic and when a recording artist clashes with a director, the outcome can be very unsatisfactory.

Ewelina and Andrzej prefer to deal directly with the recording artist, building a rapport with musicians to deliver a far more collaborative visual concept, whereas in Max’s case an idea for a video is often brewing in his head before he ascribes this to a track. He describes his production process as ‘organic’ and built on not so much ‘a thought process but more of a making process.’

It would seem there is a balance to be struck between delivering a product objective enough to satisfy the recording artist and appeal to a broad viewing public yet personal enough to convey the director’s individual style and unique selling point. And herein lay a word of warning from Ian, ‘it is important to pick and choose and to turn stuff down; if you compromise too much on your own creative style then you risk working on some pretty rubbishy music and you miss out on developing your own style. It is much nicer to be approached by a singer or band because they recognise and like your specific directing style.’

Despite forgoing some artistic freedom, being signed to a production company it would seem, is a great way of accessing a ‘slush fund of money’ to make videos and develop your artistic signature. Besides this, being signed quickly facilitates your access to bands – bands you just couldn’t otherwise get at.

The burning question…

‘Can you make a living and survive off the income you receive through making music videos?’

The short answer is sadly ‘no’. Ewelina and Andrzej have had to do a lot of commercial stuff to survive which they reassured us wasn’t altogether a bad thing. ‘It gives you the chance to practice and develop your technical expertise with a healthy budget’. At the moment they are working more for publicity capital on YouTube and less for financial capital.

Ian’s answer was sadly no more encouraging. ‘I have never yet received a pay cheque for any of my videos and supplement my income by producing corporate videos, wedding videos and have done the odd stint waiting tables’.

Maybe less of a compendium on how to make it in the music video-making industry and more of a brief insight into the lives of struggling artists, the evening nonetheless reminded me of the importance of the music video as a promotional tool and its unique synaesthesic value. And if it weren’t for this event nothing featuring Tinie Tempah would have ever entered my music collection.