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What types of music videos are there?

Most musicians will realise the importance of music videos. However, when it comes to music videos, the artists will be considering their options but may not know the full availability of what type of music videos are on offer. This article will breakdown music videos into different styles, conventions and techniques that can be applied to your video with links to examples along the way to give you clarification of how it is used.

Styles

Your style of video will vastly depend on what genre of music you or your band perform. Most artists will pick a style and continue it throughout their video however that doesn’t mean you have to be limited to a style in one video or future productions. Your music styles will also vary in terms of lighting, angles, locations, costumes, etc and all of these should be a consideration when picking a style of music video. 

Pop Music Style

Popular Music Genre Videos generally reflect the genre of the music.

The genres will also be reflected in the costumes used. Bright colours, fashionable clothes will be used in pop where as dark colours will be used in heavy rock/metal.

Obvious music styles would include POP – such as the Cartoons – Witchdoctor. They have very bright costumes, bright lights and an aim at younger people.

Enter Sand man  – Metallica however is a very dark video with dark coloured clothing and stronger mature imagery.

Cartoons – Witch Doctor

Metallica – Enter Sand Man

In-Concert and “As Live” footage Style

In-Concert Music Videos show the artists of the song doing a live performance of it. Some of them even use videos from a real gig rather than a staged one. Audiences generally enjoy these music videos as they want to see the artist playing the song rather than just hearing it. In some cases, it can be used to represent the feeling of a real concert.

ac/dc – back in black

ac/dc – shoot to thrill

Both types use live footage, however one is more a live gig, whereas the other uses cut shots of live footage mixed with the film Iron Man 2.

Animation Style

Some music videos use animation, whether it be for the whole video or just part of it. This can range from stop-motion animation to digital. The animation style is popular with bands who want to tell a story.

Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer 

The video uses the stop motion animation for the majority of the video.

Aha – Take on me

This video uses rotoscoping (drawing over the original film).

Narrative Style

A Narrative Music Video has a story for the audience to follow whilst they are listening to the song. These differ to interpretive music videos in that the narrative does not need to be exactly following the lyrics of the song.

Billy Joel – We Didn’t Start the Fire 

 

Although there are some images referencing his lyrics. The majority of the video follows a narrative of the family aging through the 50s and 60s.

Metallica – The Day that Never Comes 

The music video follows an army team which does not really follow the narrative of the lyrics. 

Surrealist Style

Surrealist music videos use unconventional images that the audience do not anticipate and they can often be described by audiences as absurd. The idea behind these videos is that the surprise factor will make the video more memorable to the audience.

Aphex Twin – Come to Daddy

From both videos it is clear that the audience are meant to be viewing the video in a sort of”dream state” which makes the video surreal.

Animal Collective – Peacebone

Pastiche Style

A pastiche music video is when an artist imitates somebody else’s style.
This is usually light-hearted and done with respect for the person who is being imitated.

Justin Timberlake often states his dance moves are credited to his Dance Hero Michael Jackson.

Justin Timberlake – Rock Your Body

Parody Style

A parody music video ‘takes the mick’ out of the original subject matter of a song. By using humour in your video, an audience member can get another type of enjoyment from it.

“Weird Al” Yankovic – Fat

Weird Al is renowned for his parody songs, this one ripping off Michael Jackson’s Bad.

The Lonely Island – I’m On A Boat (Explicit Version) ft. T-Pain

There was a period where hip hop artists seemed to be always on a boat, so The Lonely Island, a parody group, decided to create a music video and song about being on a boat. This video could also be known as Pastiche as they are utilising someone’s style. 

Referencing Style

Some music videos may reference other subjects where these be cultural/historical events or another person. Soundtrack videos may even make reference to the films that they are from in the music video. People like ‘reference’ videos as they can enjoy the song as well as the extra entertainment from the subject being referenced.

Michael Jackson – Man in the Mirror

Man In The Mirror references riots, war, protesting, racism and world peace utilising footage from the past.

Wheatus – Teenage Dirtbag

References footage from the film “Loser”.

Homage Style

Some artists use their music videos to pay respect to another text that has influenced them or just one that they like. This reference can be noticed by the audience or encourage them to engage with the original text as well.

Soul Asylum’s Runaway Train was influenced by missing children. References to missing children’s images are seen throughout the video.

However, homage style is often used in charity singles who will often do this with reference to where the money will be donated if you buy the single. The X factor’s Heroes cover was a charity single for Help for Heroes.

Interpretive Style

As mentioned previously in the narrative style section, an interpretive music video is one where the director interprets the lyrics of a song using them to perform a narrator function making the videos often quite literal.

Tenacious D – Tribute

The video follows the band meeting the devil in the desert and playing the best song in the world which they can’t quite remember (if you don’t know they are referring to “Stairway to Heaven”) but “this is just a tribute”.

Eminem ft dido – Stan

The song tells the story of a person who believes he is Eminem’s biggest fan. He writes Eminem several letters becoming more obsessive and when there is no reply he becomes angrier and ends up killing himself blaming Eminem.

Impressionist Style

Impressionist music videos are more ‘artistic’, taking their name from the art movement of impressionism. Another definition is a music video which rather than focusing on small details of the picture it instead focuses on the atmosphere and conveying the moods and emotions aroused by the subject. These music videos are likely to include features such as soft light, soft edges and flowing and intermingling colours. These create a very aesthetically-pleasing video and increasing the amount of attention that is paid to it.

Coldplay – Up and Up

The video can be interpreted to how the audience wants but it is “ARTISTIC” and pushed boundaries of music video.

The Cure – Friday I’m In Love

This could also be classed as a surreal video, but the video is again artistic rather than being related to the music.

Influenced by sponsorship or branding style

The style or narrative of some music videos are influenced by the world of advertising and commercialism. Product placement is nothing new in film or music video and can often be a way of producing the video in the first place. Most pop artists are sponsored by certain products which they have to advertise or they may even have their own product to flaunt.

Ariana Grande – Focus

Avicii – Wake Me Up

In Ariana Grande’s video they are “focused” on the Galaxy note 5, which is being written on and is also used to take selfies throughout the video.

In Avicii’s video, Ralph Lauren’s denim clothing range was used throughout the video.  There is also a blatant shot of a Sony Xperia at the concert at the end.

Conventions

When it comes to music video conventions, they usually mean “the rules” that people will follow to make a music video. Conventions often depend on what style of video you have gone for and are not always followed. “Surrealist Style” for example is meant to break the rules of normality and therefore don’t need to fit into a convention type.

Interpretation of Lyrics

Following the style of narrative or interpretive, these are all about lyric interpretation. When a director listens to a song, they will create a video based on what their interpretation of the lyrics is. The audience interpretation may then be based around the visuals produced as well as their opinion of the lyrics. This is not exactly the same as finding a story to fit the lyrics. It might be a simple backdrop to emphasise the point. Going back to Billy Joel – We didn’t start the fire, the projection behind him shows names he is saying and also he is surrounded by fire.

Extending a Song’s Meaning

Madonna – Like a Prayer

A song’s meaning can be extended which means that the action and images
featured in the music video are being used to promote the meaning of the song. This leaves the song open to other interpretations.

Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer” features imagery of burning crosses and what appears to be a depiction of Jesus as a black man whom she kisses. Therefore, an interpretation could be a statement against racism, as it was intended, however, the imagery made the Vatican condemn it which, unsurprisingly, added to its popularity.

Consolidating a Song Meaning

Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just wanna have fun

Rather than extending a song’s meaning, you can consolidate it so that, rather than opening the meaning of a song, you are using images joined with the sound and music which has an emphatic effect on the message that the music video is promoting. Consolidating song meaning means you literally follow a straight narrative or interpretation of the lyrics as not to confuse the audience.

A straight forward interpretation of the song lyrics means the audience follows the story of the lyrics directly. No confusion, no hidden meaning. Cyndi Lauper’s video of girls just wanna have fun is a good example of this. She wasn’t pushing the boundaries of feminism, she was literally telling people to let women have a bit of fun.

Allusion

Allusion is when a reference to a person, existing text, place or event is made within a music video. It could be fairly obvious or totally discreet but either way, many music videos feature conventions such as this.

Allusions are made often in homage, pastiche, parody and reference (see the previous sections).

Linking to Other Artists

Nickelback – Rockstar

In a different way to allusion, music videos may also make reference to other artists. This means that the video could be either paying homage to that artist’s style or parodying their style (or previous videos). For example, the list of cameo appearances and references in Rockstar is massive (click here).

Techniques

Music video techniques are the parts of the shooting and post-production elements of film making that allow the audience to engage with the video. 

Cutting to the beat

Black Tide – Warriors of Time

One of the techniques used in creating a visually pleasing music video is cutting the shots you take and matching them to the rhythm of the song. This will, in turn, establish a rhythm to your edits as well. The pace of a song can appear to be increased by using lots of cuts to increase the pace of the video. With the majority of music videos, you should be cutting on a beat when changing scene.

Black tide’s “Warriors of time” is another example of an animation style, this music video changes with the beat and increases the drama of the story with quick cuts as the tempo increases.

Special Effects

The Darkness – I Believe in a Thing Called Love

As with any video, visual effects can be a good way of attracting audience members. Aesthetically gratifying effects will enchant audience members and technically impressive effects may also attract another audience who may be interested in the complexity of what you have done. The effects used should be appropriate to the genre of the song.

The Darkness’ “I believe in a thing called love” is an example of parody or homage, in this case, to star trek/old space TV series. This video uses green screen, special effects, appropriate colours to their band and finally poor set design (on purpose to parody/homage the old space tv series).

Miming and Lip syncing

If the music video includes elements of live performance, the artist would need to mime the lyrics and music to the track so that when the audio was overlaid, they would sync. Nickelback’s Rockstar is a superb example of this (see previous sections).

In Paul Simon’s “…Call me Al” video, Chevy Chase steals the lyric syncing from Paul Simon.

Paul Simon – You Can Call Me Al

Playback and Syncing

Slightly different to miming and lip-syncing is how the playback and syncing work together to create the video. This might be a choice of recording a slow-motion video but having the lips still move at the same time. This would require the song to be doubled in speed when recording the video, then the video slowed by half. Coldplay give two good examples of playback and syncing. The first is “Yellow where he is walking in slow motion on the beach but still synced with the singing. The other is “The Scientist” in which he would have had to get the lip movements correct backwards to fit with the song.

Coldplay – Yellow

Original

Coldplay – Yellow

At a pace it would have been recorded (approx)

Coldplay – The Scientist

Original

Coldplay – The Scientist

Edited to be in reverse.

Multi-Image

The multi-image technique means that multiple images are shown on the screen simultaneously. Whilst the old practice involved projecting multiple and repeatedly varying images onto a screen, innovations in non-linear editing make this process more efficient meaning that split screen is the contemporary equivalent. This technique allows multiple ideas to be shown on screen at once, allowing different imagery to be juxtaposed to create an overall semantic interpretation.

Blur – I Broadcast

Blur’s “I Broadcast” video uses multiple images of youtube video uploaders on the same screen for the video.

Camera Movement

The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony

Fat Les – Vindaloo

Just like in other media texts, the way that the camera moves has a great impact on the aesthetics and effectiveness of a music video. They can be used to create excitement and add to the tone of the video.

The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” video follows Richard Ashcroft walking down the street. We get the movement as though we are in front of him all the way down. Fat Les’ “Vindaloo” football anthem parodied The Verve’s video.

Camera Angle

Muse – Hysteria

As with movements, the way a camera is placed will have a huge impact on the meaning and tone of a music video. By having a variety of different shot lengths and angles, you can create a music video that is more visually interesting and focuses on different elements of the action to communicate different messages to the audience.

Muse’s “Hysteria” video uses a lot of close up angles which gives you that sense of being intimidated.

Chroma Key

Tenacious D – Rize of The Fenix

Chroma key is when the footage you are using is shot in front of a green screen (or blue screen). This means that the block colour behind can be removed and replaced with a second image behind the subject. This can be used to accomplish an effect that would have been otherwise impossible such as flying in the sky. It may also be due to budgetary constraints that make going to some locations too expensive; instead, chroma key can be used in the situation.

Tenacious D’s “Rize Of The Phoenix” video is a parody/homage to the overuse of green screen and effects which also go wrong.

There are many styles, conventions and techniques which cross over each other in a music video. Each genre tends to stick to their own certain uses of video however this should not restrict you as an artist to experiment and see which styles, conventions and techniques suit your song. Remember! Your video is about branding the song as well as yourself as an artist so take the time to choose what works and what feels right for you. These different types of music videos and their examples should help in deciding what video would fit your band.

About the Author

David Mitchell has a qualification in Creative Media Production Level 3 Diploma with “Triple Distinction”. In 2018 David was also the winner of The Best Student Award at the Golden Apple Awards in Cumbria. Read more about Moo Man Media

Moo Man Media's Director David Mitchell can provide full music video production needs for you or your band

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