Music Video: Why Can’t Artists Get it Right?

Time for one of my infrequent rants.

Why is it that artists (or their technical people) constantly make a hash of music videos? Case in point: the independent, Karmacoda. They’ve just released a new video on their website. I downloaded the iPod-ready version and it looked funny. The native aspect ratio of the video, 16:9, had been squashed horizontally into 4:3 and was between QVGA (320 x 240) and the iPod standard VGA (640 x 480). The slightly larger version (“for computer”) looked correct (heads not squashed) but even it was 3:2. Here’s the real kicker in this case: it was shot in HD. That means the trouble and expense of 720 or 1080, which should look amazing, has been squandered on a lousy postage stamp. A prior music video, also shot in HD, was made available on DVD, which I bought. I knew it was going to be NTSC (480 pixels vertical), but was unpleasantly surprised to find that it was 4:3 letterboxed. This just should not be. It’s not hard to make anamorphic video these days. Again, the quality of HD was wasted on this 720 x 400 video (after cropping).

My frustration with Karmacoda stems from the poor responses to emails I sent. The first, after I received the DVD, was extensive and contained a breakdown of the technical issues with the DVD and the free version and offered solutions. I also said that I would like to buy a HD version from their site. The response was a mere acknowledgement that I had sent something. I tried again after getting this new video. Same thing. I’m giving valuable feedback and advice. As they are an independent band, I expected a meaningful two-way conversation with the artists themselves but seemed to have been screened by a manager.

It’s not just independents at fault. Prior to the release of Daft Punk’s Alive 2007, I downloaded a teaser trailer in VGA resolution, H.264 video, AAC audio. Looked quite good. When the album arrived, the enhanced CD included a music video. The specs? QVGA, MPEG 1 muxed. What is EMI thinking? When will record companies wake up and start providing iPod-ready video on enhanced CDs? Nobody is going to want to put the CD in a computer to watch the video.

So why aren’t they done right in the first place? A possible solution is to make the video available on iTunes–after all, they’re giving it away for free on their site, and we know that free often doesn’t mean quality. If they package it for sale, the consumer can be assured of a certain level of quality.

Music video is being denigrated by ignorance or unwillingness to produce a good product. In the past, it’s been used solely as promotional material, where marginal quality would be a non-issue. It’s only been since the iTunes Store started selling them as a product in their own right that quality should be something that artists are aware of.

Am I alone in thinking this?


3 Responses to Music Video: Why Can’t Artists Get it Right?

  1. yashin says:

    I’m not sure why independents would make such a shoddy job of their video, other than through shear ignorance. My guess is the video is shot as a promo for TV/journos and included on the CD as an afterthought. It probably gets outsourced to a local ‘multimedia authoring’ outfit and they stick it on the disc without any QC from the artist.

  2. tunegardener says:

    My original point, which I digressed from, was that independents shoot video then produce poor-quality versions which they are distributing. Being that the content is their own, they should have actual control over their output.

    I have dealt with other independents in regard to video issues and generally speaking, it comes down to a lack of knowledge about the subject.

    I don’t want to sound harsh, as I really appreciate these artists, including Karmacoda, but it irks me and thus the rant. I was interested to hear other people’s viewpoints as I often feel like I’m the only person who sees issues like this, railing at the indifferent universe.

  3. yashin says:

    There seems to be a perception in the music industry now that if consumers are happy to settle for DRM-wrapped, less than CD-quality audio, then they’re just as likely to be happy with any old video format.

    The irony is that paying customers are being given dubiously iPod-compatible video that is often of worse qaulity than those posted on YouTube (and then downloaded with TubeSock).

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