10.4185/RLCS-2016-1098en | ISSN 1138 - 5820 | RLCS # 71 | 2016 | |
The post-television music video. A methodological proposal and aesthetic analysis
Ana Sedeño Valdellós [CV] [ORCID] [GS] Associate Professor. University of Malaga (Spain) - email@example.com
Translation by CA Martínez-Arcos (PhD in Communication from the University of London)
1. Introduction: the need for the study of the post-television music video
While quantitative analysis is a leading trend in the current epistemology of communication, the need to combine qualitative and quantitative methods is still an open debate. This work aims to offer, with its necessary limitations, an example of the possibility of merging the two approaches. For this reason, it seems necessary to highlight the utility of quantitative methods for the classification and treatment of data through statistical measures and the visualisation and comparison of results. However, quantitative methods have not played a protagonist role and do not represent a relevant aspect in the so-called films studies, despite the fact that they can provide precise analytical keys. For example, the analysis of the production aspects, narrative and genre evolution of groups of films or of a period of film history could be seriously addressed from a quantitative approach.
An in-depth reflection on this subject would take us very long so we can only assert the need for a public science that is not a slave to methodology and builds a reflective communication science (Gaona and Sendín, 2009: 35), based on socially committed knowledge.
To continue with the process of qualitative immersion (Neuendorf, 2002) in the study of the music video, and in order to reflect on the scope of the application of quantitative analysis to the music video, this article presents a study of the music video based on the examination of the average shot length (ASL), following earlier approaches (Sedeño, 2015). This effort is complemented by the analysis of other qualitative variables such as the relations between visuals and music and between visuals and lyrics, the percentage of inclusion of close-ups of the singer or band and the type of music video (performance, narrative, concept or mixed).
Therefore, this study aims to combine quantitative and qualitative methods in the analysis of the discursive structure and production features of the music video as an audiovisual genre and its place in contemporary aesthetics.
2. The contemporary music video: a second stage of aesthetic development
In recent years the contemporary cultural scene has established new conditions for the ecological system of the media. A characteristic feature of this condition is the convergence in the digital audiovisual language of all audiovisual practices, as well as location in certain formats. This renovated map of processes and formulas of audiovisual interrelations establishes new ways of intermediality and transmediality, which are part of a new stage in audiovisual aesthetics and new media conditions, which according to John Richardson and Claudia Gorbman (2013: 20-31) are the following:
These conditions affect all cultural industries, including the music industry. Although music artists and record companies continue to produce firstly the musical content and later the visual content as promotional support, the balance is changing and there is a growing trend towards the use of all possible formats (expanded video, fan video, short version, full version, etc.). As Fabian Holt (2011) points out, the music industry is experiencing a turn towards video, which denotes the, sometimes unknowable, variety of visual productions around a song, including all the different formats (teaser, promo, etc.) and amateur productions (fan-version video, lyric video, etc.) that are produced to accompany the so-called official music video. The music video has changed due to its online presence and its remediation of content in many facets, which performs the dual role of visualising music and musicalizing visual content (Korsgaard, 2013). The music video is being adapted firmly to the new digital narratives and transmedia phenomena, and it has been used to test various VFX (visual effects) generated by the post-production and photo-composition industry.
The music video is positioned as one of the central formats of the renewed audiovisual sector, due to its ability of adaptation to different digital distribution channels and its capacity of hybridisation with other formats and proposals. However, there is still no such thing as a theory for the contemporary music video. This music promotion format has been conditioned by an industry that is in constant change and therefore is not interested in conservation. This situation continues to exist in the second stage of development of the music video as an audiovisual genre, which circulates over the Internet, and could be called the post-television music video.
This format has been subject of numerous content analyses. From its birth, with the arrival of television (in the early 1980s), to its consolidation (in the late 1980s and early 1990s), academic studies around this format have focused on the analysis of its violent and sexual content, and its representation of urban subcultures. Wells and Hakanen (1991) concluded that younger audiences, especially girls, use the music on the radio, CDs and music videos for emotional purposes, as a way to relax and calm themselves down. Toney and Weaver (1994), for their part, found out that there were gender differences in preferences towards hard and soft rock, but also that gender was hardly relevant in the construction of emotions when watching a music video. Other authors such as Ann Kaplan (1987), Simon Frith (1988), Andrew Goodwin (1992) and Fredric Jameson (1991) have analysed music videos from the perspective of postmodern cultural theory.
However, there are few studies about the music video from the perspective of textual analysis, which aims to characterise its formal features. Andrew Goodwin, in Dancing in the distraction factory, Music Television and Popular Culture (1992), which was published a couple of years after the decade of consolidation of the music video as an audiovisual format and genre, has proposed six distinctive conventions within a music video. They include the relationship between the visuals of the video and the genre to which it belongs and its cultural and aesthetic imaginary. He argues that there is a relationship between the visuals and the music in terms of emotional tone, and between the visuals and the lyrics, in terms of amplification of the lyrics. Goodwin (1992) also points out that the music video is characterised by the use of multiple close-ups, medium-shots and its focus on the frontman, as a response to the demands of record labels. Finally, the author highlights the tendency of the format to include intertextual references (to movies, TV shows, music and other videos), as it has been confirmed by some research studies carried out in the 1980s and 1990s. Sometimes, the music video has been described as the defining format of contemporary audiovisual aesthetics due to its renewing character (Calabrese, 1989: 194). John Fiske has also insisted on the postmodern nature of the music video, and has defined the style of the music video as: “a recycling of images that wrenches them out of the original context that enabled them to make sense and reduces them to free-floating signifiers whose only signification is that they are free, outside the control of normal sense and sense-making and thus unable to enter the world of pleasure” (Fiske, 1987: 250).
However, in recent years the academia has shown interest in deepening the study of the music video, which has undergone numerous analytical approaches that explain its transition from television to digital media production and distribution on the Internet. Peverini (2010) describes the context in which the music video has developed in recent years: the multiplication of distribution channels and the resulting increase in audiovisual competition for the audience and the budget reduction for music video production are factors that should be examined in the study of the new stage of the music video. Moreover, as Selva (2012: 4) indicates, “the use of the Internet as a dissemination channel for music videos has repercussions on many of their dimensions, including its formal aspects”. For his part, Vernallis (2013) carried out the broadest, although not systematic, comparative analysis of the music videos produced in the 1980s and recent years. He describes changes in aspects such as colour, materiality, musical micro-rhythms, production and editing, the narrative and structure of the video, the type of performance, intertextuality and the remediation possibilities. Korsgaard (2013) also considers that the music video has been transformed. Peverini (2010) considers that currently the debate about the aesthetics of music videos is open more than ever and this “involves not only the technologic innovation and digital dreamscapes, but also deeper dynamics, where the body of the performer and the gaze of the viewer/reader collide” (Peverini, 2010: 150).
Following this research line, this article aims to provide a characterisation of the post-television music video during, what Vernallis terms, its second stage of aesthetic development, in Music Video Transformed (2013).
The following section describes the nature of the variables that have been analysed in the sample, in order to understand their scope and importance as parameters.
3.1. Average shot length (ASL)
The “average shot length” (hence ASL) is a quantitative measure that indicates the average duration of shots between cuts in a music video. It is calculated by diving the total run time of the music video between the number of shots. The general ASL of the videos included in the sample (gASL) is shown in the first column of the results table. This measure was used for the first time by Salt (1974): his seminal work, Statistical Style Analysis of Motion Pictures, considers such variables as shot scale, camera movement and angle of shot to be very important in the description of the basic characteristics of movies. Since then, these empirical analyses have been diversified to identify patters in dimensions such as genre, time, narrative, scene type, etc. Other studies with different perspectives are Attention and Hollywood films, by James Cutting, Jordan Delong and Christine Nothelfer (2010), and On shot Lengths and film acts (Cutting, Brunick and DeLong, 2010).
This study calculates the videos’ ASL to compare the different types of music videos: performance, narrative, concept and mixed. This is to determine whether there is any relation between a music video’s ASL and type.
3.2. Relationship between music and moving images
Another important criterion is the relationship between the musical elements and the visual effects, in terms of audiovisual interaction possibilities. Simeon (1992) proposes three types of correspondences between both types of elements: kinetic, syntagmatic, and content. Kinetic correspondence refers to the musical tempo in relation to the speed of the action. It normally occurs in music videos that include choreographies or formulas that reflect the musical tempo through changes in visual parameters (changes of shot and camera movement, etc.).
Syntagmatic correspondence refers to the way in which the music segmentation “fits” the video’s segmentation. This correspondence has to do with changes of mise-en-scène during changes of section (from verse to chorus, vice versa, from chorus to bridge, etc.). It is common in mixed music videos.
Content correspondence refers to the direct sound references that are shown (especially the lyrics). This type of correspondence is related to the lyrics/visuals relationship criteria.
We are aware that each of these categories could be extended, however, this would mean complicating a category that we believe describes well, at this level and in general terms, how the music video, as a current audiovisual format, presents the relationship between audiovisual elements.
3.3. Musical genres and music video types
As mentioned by Goodwin in his 1992 book, the direction of the video clip (in terms of themes, iconographies, types of videos, etc.) depends on the genre of the song.
This criterion is useful in the study of how the music industry deals with the creation of imaginaries or, using a more current term, how it develops a storytelling, which is the discourse proposed to the fans of popular music, and is a decisive element in the construction of the music business.
From this perspective, it is important to highlight the need to know the type of video clip mainly preferred by producers and the music industry, because this reflects part of the imaginary of popular music: the descriptive video clip. As Sedeño (2002) pints out, the descriptive video clip “shows the singer or band performing the song after which the video is named, on a stage or in any other place (real or virtual)” and also refers to “the music videos which show live performances or concerts” (2002: 51). In this case, it is important to mention that descriptive videos are divided into performance videos (show the singer/band performing in a concert or simulating the performance for television) and concept videos (based on aesthetic experimentation around one or more visual codes). Finally, we have the narrative music video category, which refers to “those music videos that contain at least one narrative programme, even it is very simple and even if it is not made up of different attached or subordinate narrative programmes. The narrative programme is defined as the succession of states and changes related to a subject and an object, the ratio of steps and changes of state (relation between one subject and one object, and another element)” (Sedeño, 2002: 65). On the other hand, this type of music video, which has inherited the legacy of musical cinema, is defined in opposition to the other two, although with a narrative that is subjected to the musical narrative (Caro, 2014). Caro points out that the narrative video clip has to contain a diegesis, even if the narration on the music video is weak.
On the other hand, the mixed music videos (concept/performance and narrative/ performance) have been preferred by the music industry due to their ability to combine performance with other elements. Therefore, the mixed music video is more likely to be among the first group, the most-viewed videos, given that they are proposed by the music industry as an aesthetic canon for audiovisual production and for the relationship with the fan/viewer. Mixed music videos allow for the expansion of the meanings of the musical discourse of the specific genre and of the lyrics with a narrative element or message, without renouncing to the physical presentation of the artists, thus maintaining the advertising objective of the music video as an audiovisual promotional format.
3.4. Relationship between lyrics and visuals
The lyrics/music relation is examined to determine the relationship between the lyrics and the visual contents of the music video. Previous studies (from the 1980s, which was the period of consolidation of the music video as a format) have pointed out that song lyrics are not a decisive element in the conceptualisation and production of the music video and that illustration is not the preferred type. So it seems inescapable to investigate whether this situation remains the same during this second stage of aesthetic-development of the music video.
Andrew Goodwin (1992) is the author who has contributed the most to the understanding of this relationship. He proposes that a music video can connect with the song through illustration, amplification and disjuncture. Illustration occurs when “the visual narrative tells the story of the song lyrics” (Goodwin, 1992: 86). Amplification is when the video introduces visual actions that are not included directly in the lyrics. According to Goodwin, most music videos are in this category, since they need to build a sense that goes beyond the song lyrics. Meanwhile, disjuncture occurs when lyrics have no apparent relationship with or contradict the images: “when the author refers to a meaning of the song that is different than what can be inferred from the video’s images” (1992: 88).
3.5. Use of close-ups
It is interesting to evaluate the moments and sections where it is necessary to show the physicality of the frontman or singer (whether the video is based on performance or narrative). This has an anchoring effect on certain moments/sections of the song that sometimes contain a narrative element, or sometimes only intend to highlight part of the lyrics. Thus, the study involved the counting of the number of shots in general, and of close-ups, in which the singer appears.
Therefore, the objectives of this text are:
We believe that the basic criteria to take into account to perform a first description of the video clip in its second stage of aesthetic-development are the following:
With regards to the sample, will work with two groups of music videos:
The following table presents the technical data of the sample (N=40): video clip’s name, artist and director.
Table 1. Sample of music videos, ordered by year and group.
Source: Authors’ own creation.
The following hypotheses guided our study:
4. Results and discussion
The following table of results (Table 2) shows the following data:
Table 2. Results.
Source: Authors’ own creation.
If we compare the general ASL, there is an important difference between the videos belonging to the Group A and Group B (most creative according to IMVDB): there is a difference between the ASL of the most viewed videos of 2013 and 2014 (2.10 vs. 2.098) and the ASL of the most creative videos of 2013 and 2014 (4.287 vs. 4.213). So the general ASL of the most-viewed videos in YouTube is almost half. Therefore, a specific and distinctive feature of these groups is the generic cutting rate: the editing of the most viewed or mainstream music videos is characterised by a very fast cutting rate (with a ASL that is almost half of that of among the videos in Group B).
The ASL are very unequal among the videos of Group B: this group of videos (selected based on the criterion of creativity), tend to belong to the genres of electronic and dance music, in which the musical theme has a less obvious structure and the physical representation of the singer or band is considered less relevant.
With regards to the music/visuals relationship:
The most viewed music videos of 2013 privileged kinetic correspondence (5 cases) over syntagmatic and content correspondence (2 and 3 cases, respectively). This trend is accentuated in this same category in 2014, with 7 cases of kinetic correspondence, 1 of syntagmatic correspondence and 2 of content correspondence, as we can see in Figure 1:
Figura1. Music/visual relationship in Group A (most viewed videos).
Source: Authors’ own creation.
Regarding the group of “best videos” according to IMVDB (Group B, Figure 2), the relation decreases and leaves out the syntagmatic category, characterised by structural elements and differences between different sections in the music video as a criterion to achieve music/visuals sync. In both years, there were 6 cases of content correspondence and 4 cases of kinetic correspondence. This makes sense given that most videos in this category are conceptual or narrative and there was only one mixed video, the one that contains the two genres. As we have already pointed out, this category of music video is the most inclined to use syntagmatic relations.
Figure 2. Music/visuals relationship in Group B (most-creative videos)
Source: Authors’ own creation.
Regarding the lyrics/visuals relationship, it is important to make some observations. Firstly, the predominant category is amplification, i.e., contemporary music videos tend to integrate elements that attempt to amplify the content of the song lyrics. This line is consistent with Goodwin’s (1992) description of the music video of the 1980s.
Here it is necessary to delve into the analysis by categories and years. As it can be seen in Figure 3, in the case of the most viewed music videos on YouTube in 2013, the situation intensifies, with 7 cases of amplification, 2 of disjuncture and 1 of illustration. Among the best music videos (Group B, Figure 4), in 2013 there were 8 cases of amplification, 1 of disjuncture and 1 of illustration and in 2014 there were 8 cases of amplification and 2 of disjuncture. The only stadium where disjuncture (i.e., where visuals are not directly related to the lyrics) dominates over amplification is the group of most viewed videos in 2014 (second part of Group A), where there are 5 cases of disjuncture, 4 of amplification and 1 of illustration. In addition, these coincide with the largest number of performance-based music videos, which are based on the performance of the singer/band and whose imagery does not allow for the establishment of elements of concept or message.
Figure 3. Lyrics/visuals relationship in Group A (most-viewed videos)
Source: Authors’ own creation.
Figure 4. Lyrics/visuals relationship in Group B (most-creative videos)
Source: Authors’ own creation.
In terms of the types of music videos, it is important to highlight the following aspects: it could be said that there is a relationship between the groups of music videos (Group A/more views vs. Group B/more creative) and the types of music video. In other words, as shown in figures 5 and 6, the music videos are mostly mixed or performance-based, while concept-based videos constituted a minority. To be precise: Group A in 2013 contained 3 concept-based music videos, 4 mixed, 2 performance-based and 1 narrative-based. In 2014, this same group contained no narrative videos, only 2 mixed videos, along with 5 cases of performance-based video and 3 of concept-based videos. In the second group, Group B, in both 2013 and 2014, there was a majority of 7 concept-based music videos and 2 narrative videos. In Group B the only difference is that in 2013 there was one mixed video and zero performance-based videos, and in 2014 the remaining were performance-based. In this way, we confirmed that the performance-concept duality is repeated.
Figure 5. Types of music videos in Group A (most viewed videos)
Source: Authors’ own creation.
Figure 6. Types of music videos in Group B (most creative videos).
Source: Authors’ own creation.
With regards to the use of close-ups, the following average percentages were obtained: 34.68% (among the most viewed videos in 2013), 39.11% (among the most viewed videos in 2014), 19.75% (among the most creative videos in 2013) and 20.67% (among the most creative videos in 2014). These figures show a trend in mainstream music videos (Group A) to enter the category of performance, with higher percentages of use of close-up to frame the singer. On the other hand, the conceptual video, which enjoys greater creative freedom, uses to a lesser extent the close-up of the frontman as a production solution. In fact, half of these videos do not show the singer/band at any time (shown as 0/0 in the table), neither in close-up or in any kind of shot.
The post-television music video must be adapted to the new media that offer this format, such as mobile devices and tablets. With the reduction in screen size and the transformation of the ways audiovisual products are consumed, the music video is inclined to used techniques that enable user interactivity and participation. In this sense, changes are also perceived in the aesthetics dimension of the video clip, since it currently has to compete to capture and maintain the viewer's attention against other videos that saturate the online icon-sphere. There is a tendency to minimalism and simplicity in the mise-en-scène and a predominance of performance-based videos, which could be related to the size and resolution of the screens and the forms of consumption associated with them.
Regarding the conclusions of this study, it identified certain features of the music videos included in the sample, which as mentioned was divided into two groups: the most viewed, according to YouTube, and the most creative, according to the leading video website, IMVDb. The performance-based video type predominated among the most viewed music videos on YouTube, while the concept-based type was more predominant among the most-creative videos. In this way, the first group of videos reflects the need to reach viewers/users in a simple and straightforward way, through fast cutting, with an ASL of approximately 2 seconds. This contrasts with the second group, which aims to show more elaborate aesthetics that propose a visual style and an imaginary related to the lyrics and the music genre. Certain ASL is associated to them: the ASL of the performances of the first group is almost half the size of the ASL of the second group. In other words, it can be said that there are two styles of cutting and editing in the contemporary video.
The close-up is used for the inclusion of the singer/band in the video clip. The music videos of the first group, and particularly the performance-based videos included in this group, have the largest number of shots of the singer. In addition, as mentioned, these videos contain more stable percentages of use of the close-up (especially those of 2014). This differs completely with the music videos from the second group.
There is an overwhelming tendency to synchronise music and visuals, and kinetic correspondence is the most common type. This means that the preferred musical synchrony or relationship is based on the musical visualisation of parameters such as the basic tempo, which is made through shot changes and dancing. The syntagmatic and content forms of correspondence between musical/visual elements are not are overlooked completely but are scarcely used as an option in the case of video from Group A (the most viewed and therefore preferred by more viewers). In the videos from Group B, which were chosen based on their creativity, content correspondence is the predominant option.
With regards to the form in which the music video’s visuals fitted the song lyrics, amplification was the preferred form, which is consistent with the results of other studies carried out in past decades. Some of the particularities in relation to this variable are:
There are many issues yet to be examined around the definition of the contemporary music video. However, their study is complex because of the number of cases and the complexity to select a significant sample, which has been highlighted in other studies. The need to continue to add the analysis of quantitative data to the analysis of qualitative data obtained through content analysis, which is the tool traditionally applied to the study of this format, must be valued in order to allow advancing in this underrepresented area of audiovisual analysis.
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How to cite this article in bibliographies / References
A Sedeño Valdellós, J Rodríguez López, S Roger Acuña (2016): “The post-television music video. A methodological proposal and aesthetic analysis”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 71, pp. 332 to 348.
Article received on 28 January 2016. Accepted on 24 March.