Created the Revenue Star
MTV Works With Major Record Labels to Create Stars
would have listened to Dave Matthews' [music] if I hadn't
seen him on MTV."
quote from the 1998 MTV Ethnography study supports the assertions
by many that music videos are nothing more than glorified
advertisements for artists. Since the debut of MTV in 1981,
the music world has never been the same. Image is what sells
artists these days, not music. Labels work together with MTV
to ensure the playing of their videos, leading to increased
sales of only certain artists and genres. Due to a combination
of contracts, production costs, narrowcast policies, and payola
agreements with MTV, artists of major record labels enjoy
an increase in sales, while independent and lesser-known artists
the Image, Not the Music
Kaplan brings up the point that the main purpose of making
videos is to sell an image of an artist. What people see on
MTV is what they go to the CD store and buy. Oftentimes artists
will set a certain mood in their video by attaching the song
to certain experiences. For example, Duran Duran's video "Girls
on Film" features a plentitude of sexual and erotic imagery.
Kevin Godley, the video's director, agrees that the video
was made to promote the song through sensationalism, referring
to the purpose of the uncensored version as "just to make
people take notice and talk about it" (Goodwin, 1992).
of selling artists through image is carried by the record
companies as well. Island Records founder Chris Blackwell
states, "I don't think there are any record companies now
in the real sense of the word. We're all in the fashion business.
You used to be able to sell records purely on music and musicianship.
Now it's packaging, media, television, and video" (Goodwin,
Power to Increase Sales
Video Music Awards have helped out album sales. While it does
not have the impact on retail that other awards shows do,
the sales changes are noticeable. The week after the 1995
awards, sales of various acts featured on the show increased,
including TLC, REM, and Alanis Morissette. After winning an
award for Best New Artist in a Video, Hootie and the Blowfish
enjoyed a sales resurgence as well. "It had already peaked
in its sales, but it took a major turnaround in sales this
week," contended Bobby Hall, music buyer for Virgin Megastore
in Los Angeles.
gives considerable power to MTV to control the music. They
are the primary source for music videos (Kaplan, 1987). Since
they are the biggest source for videos, record companies work
closely with the network to ensure exposure for their artists.
Exposure on MTV proves to increase record sales, so the promotional
outlet is a highly desired commodity by these labels.
to a study in April of 1994 by the joint Merchandising Committee
of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers and
the Recording Industry Association of America, 6% of respondents
credited MTV or VH-1 for their purchase selections. Out of
the 40 videos that MTV deemed "Buzzworthy" between January
1994 and May 1996, 75% had been certified gold or platinum
Records VP Abbey Konowich explains rock band Candlebox's success:
"Candlebox is truly an MTV act, with these kinds of records
the best tracking comes from MTV" After the band's "You" and
"Change" videos were added to MTV's rotation, the album neared
record-high sales figures (Billboard, 1994).
the Strong Get Play
MTV has on record sales, though it may help major labels and
mainstream music, is severely detrimental to independent labels
and less popular musical genres. MTV was attacked in the 1980's
for its narrowcast policy, where it refused to play videos
by certain black artists. They still continue this trend in
different forms, such as the specials "Hip-Hop Week" and "Alternative
Nation," shows that cater toward specific genres, while completely
ignoring others. When the popularity began to dwindle for
hard rock music, MTV canceled its program "Headbanger's Ball."
Because of this, hard rock lost an enormous portion of its
advertising space on MTV. To a lesser extent, rap lost a large
portion of its viewing audience when MTV moved "Yo! MTV Raps"
to late nights from its previous late afternoon slot. These
narrowcast practices lead to a highly specific advertising
style, in which only certain genres receive exposure.
of what is advertised does not stop there. Instead, it only
increases through payola and exclusivity contracts between
MTV and record labels. MTV entered into a deal with CBS records
in which MTV could choose 20% of CBS's annual clip production
for exclusive broadcast on MTV networks, provided they agreed
to play another 10% of videos, chosen by CBS, in light or
medium rotation. Deals similar to this are common with all
the major labels. According to these various contracts, MTV
is required to play videos chosen by the labels, in effect
guaranteeing promotions for major label artists. These contracts
constitute a form of payola, a practice that is illegal according
to the Communications Act. However, Section 508 applies the
Act to broadcast outlets only, in which cable television is
applies to more than just contracts. Channels like The Box
(a station where you call in to request what is played via
a 1-900 number) have been part of payola-like practices as
well. Large record companies oftentimes hire groups of people
to call in and continuously request song from their artists.
This practice can also be applied to MTV's new popular video
show "Total Request Live." In this show, all requests in that
day are tallied up and the eight most requested videos are
played on MTV. There is no limit on how many times one person
or company can vote, so the ballots are often stuffed by the
this spells out big problems for independent labels. First
of all, independent labels are unable to afford the high production
costs attached to music videos. Several labels do make videos
for their artists, but these are low-cost (about 1/6 the cost
of the average MTV video) and rarely make it onto MTV, who
plays flashy, high-cost videos. Independent labels then find
themselves at a loss due to this lack of capital to promote
their artists. Due to the contractual agreements and payola
by the large conglomerates, the independents are at a loss
to get their artists the exposure necessary to sell albums.
of the punk rock band, Offspring, demonstrates MTV's power
to promote labels and their artists. Offspring, a member of
independent Epitaph Records, enjoyed huge sales success after
their album "Smash" was promoted through music videos on the
MTV network. However, this is one of the few exceptions in
which independents enjoy success due to MTV. If MTV were to
play more independent artists, the same would most likely
happen (Banks, 1996).
Turner, president of Priority Records sums up the power of
size and money on MTV well. "It's all too conveniently becoming
a majors only situation. It's financial reasons that's allowing
them to play major label stuff. A major says to them, 'Here,
play this and we'll give you an exclusive on our video by
Sinead O'Conner or whoever" (1996, Banks).
the major labels and in turn makes their artists into stars.
MTV is well aware of the influence it has on trends and sales.
Image has become increasingly important, as MTV's Ethnography
study pointed out. One person surveyed by MTV, when asked
about the impetus behind her purchase of Natalie Imbruglia's
record, stated, "I hadn't seen or heard anything about her
[until I saw her on MTV], and she just looked really hot.
So I just bought the CD [because of that]" (Hay, 1998).
is not the only field in which the independent or minority
voice is shut out. In fact, it happens throughout the media.
What we see with MTV is related to the concept of mainstreaming,
in which the most popular and prominent voice is the one sure
to please the most people. MTV is global, and it is corporate.
In order to make the most money it must subscribe to the most
accessible music. When we look at other media such as print
or radio, we see similar results. The minority voice is shut
out by the major conglomerates, only leading to a static world
view in which the whole world subscribes. People begin to
lose their ability to think for themselves and strength begins
to lie in money itself - not art, not content, not knowledge.
Commercialism and globalization control MTV, as they do with
most other media.
used as a promotional tool for the major labels. The artists
who are featured on MTV exhibit better sales figures on average
than those not featured. Image has become extremely important
in selling records with the advent of music television, and
some artists suffer because of this. More often, however,
artists suffer due to the lack of influence their label has
on MTV. Those labels and artists embraced by the network repeatedly
fare better than those not. Todd Cunningham, MTV VP of Research
and Programming knows how MTV continues to control the music
world. "MTV viewers ultimately think that they, more than
MTV, are the most influential in what goes on in music" (Billboard,
(1996, May 13). Culture trends. Brandweek, 1.
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M. (1997, October 27). This gang controls your kids' brains.
(1998, September 26). Viewer opinions sought. Billboard,
E. (1987). Rocking Around the Clock. New York, NY:
D. (1994, May 28). In-store play outranks MTV, according to
NARM study. Billboard, 34.
D. (1994, February 5). Radio, retail, & MTV fire up sales
of Candlebox debut. Billboard, 8-9.
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