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How YouTube Saved The Music Video

Gettyimages | Anatoliy Sizov
By Robin Burks

Imagine this: it's 1981 and a new network television channel has turned up that shows nothing but music videos all day long. This was the birth of MTV, and seemingly, the birth of an entirely new generation, one raised on music videos. With the first video ever played, The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star," something special was happening: something that took film and music and put the two together in a way that only maybe The Beatles or The Monkees had previously imagined.

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The music video generation


Not only was the concept of the music video born, but MTV created an entirely new way for artists to advertise their music and songs. Although there were some musicians and bands that refused to accept the changing times, others gained fame through the new medium, including artists such as Duran Duran, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Music labels invested heavily in videos, using it as a platform to sell more records and albums. Music videos were part of an artist's marketing strategy.

The downfall of the music video

Giphy | Janet Jackson

By the late 90s', though, the music industry was rapidly changing. The Internet was becoming more popular and music fans were learning how to download music for free on sites such as Napster, which started hurting the bottom lines at record labels. MTV's format also began to change and started to focus more on non-music programming in an attempt to regain its former glory and keep its young audiences interested.

The death of the music video?

Giphy | Lady Gaga

Record labels began investing less in music videos in a desperate attempt to save their bleeding industry, although much of the problem had to do with the companies' own ineptitude in embracing new technology. However, artists continued to make music videos, but they didn't have a platform to get them seen. By this time, MTV was almost completely dedicated to reality programming. It looked like music videos had somehow become irrelevant as well as an expense that was completely unnecessary in marketing an act. The music video was, essentially, dying.

Enter YouTube

Gettyimages | SOPA Images

The birth of YouTube 15 years ago provided a respite for the music video. Its platform gave artists a way to upload videos and show them directly to fans in a way like they had never been able to do before. It allowed artists to reach worldwide viewers, as well as help them find brand new audiences. Artists began to embrace music videos again, including Lady Gaga. Artists who may not have found an audience otherwise, such as Psy ("Gangnam Style") became famous, seemingly overnight.

YouTube is now full of music videos, and music fans can thank the platform for keeping the medium from going extinct.

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