The Length of a Song Should Not Dictate the Length of Its Music Video
I review a lot of music videos here on Rocks Off because I remain completely fascinated with them, since the days when I was a kid glued to MTV trying as hard as I could to understand exactly what was the meaning behind Metallica's "Unforgiven." I still believe that short musical films are the best way to appreciate music, and prefer them over most live concerts.
Even though you might think the art form is on the decline with the music video channels all but abandoning the medium, I can tell you that it is indeed alive, well, and in many ways better than it ever was before.
That being said, there is one area where many otherwise stellar music videos seem to fail, and that is in the length of the video itself. Too often the video seems to be handcuffed to the length of the song, and frankly there is no need for that.
First off, let's talk about some great music videos that show this perfectly. There's Meat Loaf's epic "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)." In the film, Meat plays a Beast-like character that falls in love with a beautiful woman that seeks shelter in his castle during a storm. He uses magic to fulfill her every desire, but hides from her afraid she will find him repulsive. Eventually he confronts her, and the power of love transforms him from a monster into Meat Loaf. Amazingly, she still stays with him anyway.
It's a Jim Steinman song, so there's no surprise when you find out it's 12 minutes on Bat Out Of Hell II. The music video is just at seven minutes, with a very short non-musical opening. Big deal, right? They cut an epic down to something much more manageable for rotation. True, and they did sacrifice a lot of the best parts of the song to get it there, but do you really think that there was enough action in that song to justify almost doubling the video? Even Disney pads Beauty and the Beast with several different subplots to cover what is really a very bare bones tale.
Here's a better example, Tori Amos' "Crucify." That version of the song is not the version on Little Earthquakes. The video shaves off a good 30 seconds worth, and sacrifices my favorite lyric from the tune in the process. Yet it is absolutely necessary because there is simply not a whole lot going on in "Crucify." It's mostly camera tricks and fun performance shots. Certainly there isn't a compelling drama unfolding or anything.
What I'm trying to get at here is that the first rule of editing a movie is that if you love something, cut it. Cut it to the freakin' bone until what is left is as lean and deadly as Aeon Flux. What's that? Music videos aren't movies? The fuck they're not.
In fact, the best way to think of music videos is as if they were film adaptations of songs, no different than Peter Jackson doing Tolkien or Uwe Boll happily whizzing on every video-game franchise he can point his dick at.
I mean, it's not like the bands are calling the shots on these videos most of the time. Fully half of the videos I've reviewed this year not only were filmed without the band's input on the product, they were filmed with the band nowhere near the damned thing, period.
Some director like Chris Kenworthy or Alicia J. Rose takes an idea, adapts it to the song or vice versa, grabs some actors, picks a location, and off you go. Most of the time it's not only filmmaking, it's guerrilla indie filmmaking at its finest.
Still, time and time again I see even obvious geniuses like Kenworthy or Kaitlin Grassman allow themselves to be hamstrung by the length of the source material. Maybe this is left over from that horrible period when the art was seen only as a commercial for an album and not as a legitimate separate art form.
That horrible middle period between when record companies would just throw insane people with cameras at a song and take what they got and the dominance of YouTube made the music video into nothing more than a commercial. Yes, it is a way to help sell the song itself, but it's also more than that.
It is a visual interpretation of an audio work of craft, not just marketing at maximum volume. The difference is subtle, but it's the difference between relevancy and irrelevancy.
I hope my plea goes out there to the many music-video creators whose work enters my inbox. When you make a music video, you have made a film, and sometimes films need to be trimmed in order to reach their fullest potential. This is the age of YouTube, and your audience isn't just listening to the song in the car, they are watching a video on their computer. Unlike simple listening, the nature of the medium means they can't do anything else .
Don't take your chances in the ADD world by being boxed in by a song's length. It has nothing to do with what you're doing. Find the heart, and cut straight to it.