Music videos have been absent from MTV so long the jokes about it stopped working when we were in middle school — and the channel has found a way to show even less videos since then. The music industry is in some ugly financial straights — major labels cut artists before they can fully develop, indie labels and distributors fold along with the local record stores — and yet here is a new video out this week for the Monsters of Folk's "Say Please." It's a nice little video. But even with a singular set piece, the production values and filming wasn't cheap. Why spend this money on a video that will most likely only be viewed by fans like myself that already own the CD?
Video: Monsters of Folk: "Say Please"
Can the Web be a marketing devise that actually sells records? I watch videos on Pitchfork.com on a daily basis, and I buy records, but I'm guessing those videos mostly cue people into bands they are only going to download. What's the point of pouring thousands or even millions of dollars into a three minute ad for a product everyone is just going to steal?
One argument, I guess, is that indie kids are one of the few demographics still buying music. Grizzly Bear's latest album debuted in the top ten, not because it sold the number of albums it would have taken to reach the top ten a decade ago, but because everyone else's sales have slid so far. Even Spoon's last record charted reasonably high, pretty good for an art-pop band on Merge.
But even that demand can't justify spending a hundred thousand dollars on a video for an album that might barely go gold.
Would a pitchfork.com/tv work as a basic cable channel? I could hope. If indie music is mainstream enough to appear on the Twilight soundtrack, why can't it reach a mainstream audience without latching onto garbage? Is there not enough demand for a channel that would sandwhich Jim Jarmusch films with archival Pavement performances and the short films of David Lynch? If our culture is so fragmented that no one is watching the same thing on TV anymore, as the common belief goes, why can't there be a cable TV channel featuring in-depth interviews, performances, videos and films?
Apparently there are enough brain-dead Americans to support not one, but two pop-country music video stations on basic cable. How is this possible? What am I missing? And again, why the hell is anyone making music videos for indie artists if there's no indie channel to play them?
With an "indie" channel, at least artists could get paid by TV ads playing between the videos, instead of directly licensing their songs to products. Would it still be "indie?"
The Replacements, when asked to make a video, famously made one of nothing but a boom box playing their song, thumbing their nose at corporate rock establishment and a middle finger to "success" in general. And that attitude is what made the seminal indie acts what they were. In 2009 the meaning of "selling out" is different, if it exists at all, but I would still rather flip to channel 50 and see a new Phoenix video than hear it in a car commercial.