Reality television killed the video star

Originally written for eVent! magazine [ep] on 04/27/06.

Music video television, first MTV in the United States and then MuchMusic in Canada, lasted for a bit over twenty years before changing into something different.  These days MTV and MuchMusic play music themed television, reality shows starring pop stars and shows like MTV’s Real World, a show basically about a group of teenagers living and sleeping together in a different city every year.

Back when I was in high school, watching MuchMusic after school was how we learned about new bands, and caught new songs.  Often after class I’d go to my friend Graham’s house and we’d watch MuchMusic for hours in hopes of catching a Radiohead video, or something new from the Smashing Pumpkins.  Now however with MuchMusic and MTV moving away from playing music videos and into reality car pimping television new bands have to find new ways to get their music out.  One could say that Pimp My Ride killed the video star.

However as music videos have become less prevalent artists and record labels have been turning towards other venues to promote their music.  One of the most popular of these has become hour-long television dramas.  Death Cab For Cutie gained nationwide fame by first having their song on the background soundtrack of the hit show The O.C. and then performing on the show at the in show hot spot The Bait Shop.  Bands like The Walkmen, The Killers and Modest Mouse would also appear on the show to perform.  The career boost that these bands received from such exposure was noticeable, and other bands and other shows have sought to replicate the success.

On the Warner Brothers network a number of the shows feature a short bit at each show highlighting the artists whose music appeared in that episode, this includes the filmed in Vancouver show Smallville.

Taking this mixing of music and television to the next level was the short-lived show Love Monkey starring Tom Cavanagh.  Cavanagah, famous for being Ed on the show Ed, played a record label executive whose main client was real life singer-songwriter Teddy Geiger.  Geiger, who just so happens to have released an album at the same time, would then need to perform his signature song at least once per episode.  The show didn’t last, mainly because it was too quirky for network television, but it’s now being rerun on MTV offshoot channel VH1.

Geiger meanwhile has turned to MySpace (MySpace.com) to promote his music, and the single featured on Love Monkey is now streaming on his MySpace page.  MySpace has become another way for artists to promote their music.  Bands’ websites have become another promoting tool, allowing bands to connect with listeners, as a venue to expose the buying public to songs and music videos.

Indeed the music video on television has become such a rare thing that music labels are slashing the budgets allocated for them, and often only the biggest bands can afford to produce them anymore.  Some artists even don’t get their videos seen until they’re released either directly to the internet, or until they appear on a DVD. 

That’s the cycle; as MuchMusic and MTV play fewer videos there’s less money for videos and thus less are made.  Since there are fewer videos to play MuchMusic and MTV focus their programming on their newest reality shows until their programming is nothing more than Xzibit putting giant bling bling rims on beaten down cars while Missy Elliot and Diddy trying to form new hip hop bands. 

Those of us looking for some good new music might just have to turn to prime time television dramas or the internet.  Sadly though just like in real life there’s still more James Blunt and John Mayer on the internet and television than there is Radiohead.