Why can't I buy music videos? I'd like to own Thriller and some others without waiting to see them on TV. Can you help?
-- Lisa, San Diego
Lisa, you're just so discouraged you must have stopped looking for Thriller. It's been out there (bootlegged) for quite some time. And now it's available in special DVD packages offered through legitimate sources. Selected music videos are making their way into the marketplace. What I think you mean is why in the past music videos haven�t been sold by the record companies. When you saw it on MTV, why you couldn't go down to a store and buy it. For this answer we dialed up our Team Matthew Alice pal in a big glass tower somewhere in Century City, up to his butt in contracts at 20th Century Elf, a sadder but wiser refugee from the bicoastal music biz. He's spent his career at the life source of all the popular arts, the point where dollars meet documents.
"Simple, babe," he says. "Music videos are just promotion. To get you to buy the CD. Not even made for the public in the beginning. One more desperate tool to get a particular song into rotation on radio. MTV saw the entertainment potential and struck a deal to air the free videos on the tube." Thriller, he says, was the vid that kicked things up from pretty simple live recordings into extravaganzas.
In the beginning, production costs were low. Today you can't even open the production studio door for less than maybe one or two hundred thousand dollars per song. Double, triple that if you want a special-effects eye catcher. And they're still basically promotion. Record labels want you to buy the CD; they're not in the video business.
Maybe our pal is a little cynical after too many years in the pop-culture world, but he says the success of MTV and music videos has made one major change in the world of tunes. It's guaranteed there would be no ugly pop stars. So you have no real talent? Who cares. Our studio engineers can adjust your bad pitch and weak pipes. We just wanna know, can you dance? Are you cute? Or at least fixable with plastic surgery.