December is typically a slow month for music news, but this week was given a jolt of life in recent days when country icon Garth Brooks announced he will be touring next year for the first time in over a decade. When I initially saw this headline I first spent thirty-sixty seconds in a fanboy daze of the return of the man who delivered “Standing Outside The Fire,” and when that buzz began to die down I headed to YouTube in search of the song’s official video. After multiple searches, some including the term ‘HD,’ the best version I could find was this:
A little rough, right? And this is a music video that received a lot of recognition when it was released. Can you imagine how rough non-signature videos are being treated in the digital age? I continued searching the internet for a higher quality version of the video, but eventually realized my only option was to skip the clip altogether or settle for the video above. I settled, and I’ve been kicking myself a little bit ever since.
Call me crazy, but in an age where essentially every song ever recorded can be downloaded in less than fifty key strokes I can think of no reason for the history of music videos to be so poorly preserved online. YouTube is now the number one method of music discovery, and more importantly there is money to be generated from viewers having access to your entire video catalog. Streaming is a growing part of every label’s revenue stream, and to not take full advantage of that feels like a missed opportunity. Labels lose out on potential income, artists miss an opportunity to have their music introduced to potential new followers in the best quality possible, and fans miss out on the ability to experience these clips the way they were meant to be enjoyed.
Ever since the age of social media every company seems to have found a new level of respect for how people view their image, so why do so many artists and labels allow themselves to be so poorly represented in the video marketplace? Whether the videos are never uploaded in the first place, or if they were uploaded years ago and never updated as the capabilities of YouTube evolved, there are countless examples of poor respect for video content in music industry. One excuse may be that studies today show the lifespan of new videos decreasing rapidly, but I do not believe that rule should be applied to clips involving music. People connect with music in a way that is completely different from every other form of art, and even though the way you’re receiving the audio may originate from a video the connection being made is still just as strong as if the song were coming from your stereo. People use music to set the mood, keep them company, motivate them, lift their spirits, and a million other reasons in between that keeps them coming back to the same artists and tracks over and over again for years.
Music videos do not have the same characteristics as most viral videos, but many do possess the potential for high virility if marketed correctly. Music videos, like great songs, are something people will share with friends and family for years to come. When future generations study the music of the past, videos will play a large role in understanding not only the song, but the culture that inspired it. That is, after all, what music videos represent. Whether or not you want to admit there is no denying the influence Miley Cyrus has had on pop culture in 2013, and a large reason for that impact is owed to her music videos. “We Can’t Stop” presented the reinvented Miley to the world, and within days the clip racked up tens of millions of plays. “Wrecking Ball,” which followed a few short months later, did even more impressive numbers while featuring a far more naked Cyrus. Some of us laughed at the clip, others found their new pop idol, but regardless of where you stand the song changed how you viewed the world. For days, if not weeks after you and friends joked about Miley, her twerking, and all the teens online trying to copy their newfound heroine. Her album, Bangerz, did none of that, and almost soon as it hit shelves it was no longer part of the conversation. That’s not a slight against Miley, but simply listening to her ‘wild new style’ is not enough to generate the type of headlines made from singing the same material while straddling construction equipment in the nude. The album may (probably) be forgotten, but the videos live on for as long as sites like YouTube exists, and they will continue to be a topic of conversation every time someone talks about culture in 2013 until the end of time.
In an effort to be completely honest I feel I must admit to be a child of a generation who grew up with shows like MTV’s Total Request Live dominating their after school activities. As someone growing up in a small Midwest town, videos were my window to the world, and I believe they can still serve that purpose for millions of people today. Yes this includes videos currently being released, but without preserving and taking the time to appreciate the visual content of the past we’re missing out on a big part of our shared cultural history that deserves far more respect than it has ever been given. Remember when fans of rap started wearing their pants backwards in the early 90s? Music videos taught them that. The “Thriller” dance you see people perform at weddings? Music videos taught them that as well. Twerking? Well, you get the point.
We live in an age where the history of almost everything is available within a few clicks, and as we continue to move forward technology will only grow more advanced, with video content leading the way we engage with the world around us. Labels and artists taking the responsibility into their own hands to upload and maintain older video content is going to be key to preserving the history of music, and it would be a shame to see the countless music videos that once entertained millions lost in the digital shuffle.
Written by: James Shotwell (Follow him on Twitter)