“When was the first music video created?”
This question is not as simple to answer as you would think. This is because “Music Video” has been used for different reasons over time. There are more questions that come from this including:-
“how was music and video used together?”
“Which video was used primarily to promote music?”
Rather than answering when was the first music video, we will look at how music and video were used together. It will then lead up to how the specific music video becoming an independent craft in itself.
1929 – The Birth of sound and video together
In 1927 the first feature-length film with sound was produced. It was called the “Jazz Singer”. However, this was not classed as the first music video as it was “Feature-length”. This was due to its purpose as a “film with sound”.
People do argue that one of the first-ever “music videos” was by a singer called Bessie Smith. This was a song called St Louis Blues and performed in 1929. Although, this again is still argued as not a music video. It was not necessarily used to advertise the singer or the music. It was used to promote the synchronization of sound and video.
In the 1920’s, when “talkies” became popular, musical short films were produced that mixed recordings of performances with animated art. The first known of these were the Spooney Melodies, produced by the Warner Brothers. They were the precursor to Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes that many of us know. These were used to show off animation and syncing but also the writers of the music would get some publicity.
The Hollywood Years
The 1930s, in the film industry, were called “The Hollywood Years”. However they actually lasted between 1915 and 1963. Cinema producers would utilise singers, rather than actresses who could sing in their films. This meant they could not only promote the actors own singing careers but the producers could pull in the larger audiences due to their already known talent.
Gertrude Lawrence was a well-established music hall singer and would perform songs in film.
Other uses were to promote the ability of their actors. For example, Stan Laurel would provide opportunities for Oliver Hardy to sing in their features because he liked his voice.
The 50’s – Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley did not plan to sing in his films. Originally he insisted that he would not like to sing in any of his movies. This was because he wanted to be taken seriously as a film star. However, Parker (his manager) had a plan to cross-promote Presley’s films with his music. This led to soundtracks being as important, if not more important, than the scripts. Because of this, Elvis was regarded as a musician and regarded as an actor as well.
Love Me Tender was originally to be titled The Reno Brothers. But when advanced sales of Presley’s “Love Me Tender” single passed one million, a first for a single, the film’s title was changed to match. Using the singer to promote the film is a great example of synergy between film and artist.
1950’s – TV
Not necessarily music videos, the early 50s saw the TV become mainstream in households.
Shows would have singers and bands on who would perform live to promote “the show” and their new songs.
The Ed Sullivan Show was a variety show that did this. Promoting the show (“We get the biggest stars”) as well as the stars getting publicity for their single release.
In Britain Top of the pops started in 1964. It was one of the only forms of seeing music live without going to a concert. It was shown on Thursday nights. This was big for musicians at the time. It allowed them to promote themselves using Live TV to hit the masses.
The performance recording would be kept to allow for re-showing at later times. This could be for advertising purposes, reuse if the band could not play or other spin-off shows like TOTP2.
Elvis Presley lead Rock and Roll into a new generation. Britain followed suit in the idea of synergy in film and music. Cliff Richard made films in his early career and the majority were to promote his songs. The films would be a big hit in the box office but fans would also go and buy the record.
Perhaps more than any other band before them, The Beatles harnessed the power of film and music. They were able to use both to sell their records and express themselves as artists.
Also, the films were used to keep the worldwide fans engaged. The films were able to help meet the fan demand until they could tour that country again.
The Beatles also took music videos to another level with their film production. They started using the codes and conventions that modern post productions teams know today. This includes things like dramatic lighting, unusual camera angles and rhythmic editing.
Many rock and roll bands of the late 1960s and 1970s followed their lead. They released increasingly sophisticated promo films.
Other Influences in the 60’s
Love you till Tuesday was a promotional film designed to showcase the talents of David Bowie, made in 1969. However, this was initially shelved as it was felt too expensive to use. The producers were worried they would not get their money back for the investment. However, once Bowie became famous they re-found the footage. They used segments as part of a re-release of his work into videos in 1984. Bowie’s hit “A Space Oddity” was originally shown during this film.
So, from the initial use of the video’s purpose for advertising the artist, this swapped round to reuse the footage to make money off the artist.
Bob Dylan – The two-and-a-half-minute film clip of Subterranean Homesick Blues is often considered the forerunner of music videos. It was filmed at the end of Dylan’s tour of England in 1965. He intended to use it as a trailer announcing his documentary of the tour. Dylan also wanted the short film to be played on early video jukeboxes (Scopitones).
The 1970s saw a big change in music and music video with TV becoming much more mainstream. This was due to colour TV becoming more commercial and the use of advertising.
Two weekly teen-oriented music programmes premiered in Australia in 1974. Both prominently featured music videos, some of which were created specifically for the shows. These shows were called “Countdown” and “Sounds” and they quickly earned a devoted following. This format quickly spread to other countries around the world.
The reason for Australia leading the way was because bands and artists found it difficult to do full tours. It was still very difficult for bands from other countries to do big tours down under. Creating videos allowed the masses to watch performances as well as promote popular bands in their country.
In 1978, three years before MTV hit the airwaves, an American programme “Video Concert Hall” began offering several hours of unhosted music videos every day on the USA Network.
Probably the most common answer to the first official music video is Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. However, even the band dispute this.
On Nov. 10, 1975, the members of Queen decided to spend a bit of time and money on creating a promotional clip. The “Bohemian Rhapsody” video went on to become something of a viewing sensation. The single’s incredible million-selling run included nine weeks at the top of the U.K. pop charts.
Queen stated that the video was not intentionally meant just for the promotion of the song or band. When the song was rising up the charts, they knew there would be an expectation to play it on top of the pops. If the band could not play Top of the Pops live then “the awful Pans people dance troupe” would step in and dance to a recording. Queen said the idea of the video was to play in their place.
Brian May stated “I know it’s been called the first-ever music video, but it’s hard to actually define these things. I know for a fact the Beatles made 35mm films of tracks but ours was more like a mini-movie.”
MTV is a satellite channel which initially aired music 24 hours a day.
Launched on August 1, 1981, the channel originally aired music videos as guided by television personalities known as “video jockeys” (VJs).
The first music video shown on MTV was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”.
The launch of MTV sparked more money to be put into music videos from music production companies. They realised that the video provided another extension of income, another extension of outlet, as well as the promotion of the artists, songs and albums.
The 1983 film Flashdance was the first film in which its promoters excerpted musical segments from it. They supplied them to MTV as music videos, which the channel then aired in regular rotation. This again showed an opportunity to promote film, music and artists.
Michael Jackson – 80’s
Whatever you currently think of Michael Jackson, you cannot write about Music Videos without mentioning him. Jackson’s video for the song “Billie Jean” was “the video that broke the colour barrier, even though the channel MTV itself was responsible for erecting that barrier in the first place.” The use of the video publicised Michael Jackson’s talent. However, it became famous as the first music video that got a regular turn on MTV’s cycle.
“Music videos in the early 80s started as a little cottage industry in Britain, really,” says Brian Grant. Brian was the British director who made Tina Turner’s Private Dancer video and Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. “As soon as the Americans got involved, things became monetised, turning music videos into a proper industry, which operated alongside MTV. The big turning point was Thriller.”
One of the first music videos to pump money into it, Thriller, has an estimated cost of around $900,000. Thriller was not only a music video but an amalgamation of two talented artists at the time. Michael Jackson was becoming crowned “The King of Pop” and John Landis was well respected in the film director industry. He had directed the films Blues Brothers, Trading Places and An American Werewolf in London. The thriller video was released nearly a year after the album.
John Landis said he would only get on board if it could be released as an official short film. Efforts to raise the funds included a new revolution which saw the making of documentary being made. The funds came from selling the viewing rights to TV channels (including MTV). This also gave retail sales to the making-of documentary as well as the film itself. This meant another extension of income from the song.
Many film directors now do more music videos. This is due to this unique turning point in music video and an opportunity to learn it as a skill.
Other Format Releases
The 80s saw the release of new storage technology for music and film. Music production companies were getting involved as they saw a means of other possible income or markets.
Video CDs – Philips gave CDs the ability to store video, just like its Laserdisc counterpart previously. This led to the creation of CD Video (CD-V) in 1987. However, the disc’s small size significantly impeded the ability to store analogue video. Only 5 minutes of picture information could fit on the disc’s surface. Therefore, CD-V distribution was initially limited to featuring music videos before they changed the coding.
VHS – The Video Home System (VHS) is a standard for consumer-level analogue video recording on tape cassettes. With Music artists releasing videos, producers seized the opportunity to release VHS albums. The majority were often greatest hits of the music video singles, to gain another outlet of income.
Michael Jackson, Continued – the 90s
An important music video that surfaced in 1991 was “Black or White”, another collaboration by Michael Jackson and John Landis. Michael Jackson used this to push the boundaries again of music video. He made it more film-like but also used the song and video to promote equality. It was one of the first music songs and videos to push the race issue. The film was also released and shown worldwide on the same day and time.
Romanek directed two of the most expensive music videos of all time both in the 1990s. Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” (1995) and Madonna’s “Bedtime Story” (1994). Scream cost approximately 7 million dollars to produce, While Bedtime story reportedly cost 5 million dollars.
The budget on “Scream” was blown mostly due to the props and the set. They were required to create the sci-fi setting and to develop the video such as a Hypermodern spaceship. These included a complete indoor zen garden, remoted controlled art gallery and futuristic squash court.
The budget spent on these shows how producers saw the importance of music video. From this point, the music and music video industry had dramatically changed.
The internet was a massive game-changer for music and music video. Initially, it was a huge burden on the music and movie industry due to illegal downloading. However, it soon became the main revenue for all types of media.
NAPSTER – The internet was becoming a household need in the 90s. Three friends, Shawn Fanning, John Fanning, and Sean Parker saw an opportunity in the market and created software that made music streaming and downloading simple. They invented Napster: “a simple, free peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing service”. It was the first of its kind to have a household name, which rose to multi-million users by 2001. That same year the iPod was unveiled. This was probably the first time in a while that music saw a dramatic shift in how music was being obtained. Similar sites were sued by music companies. However, this revolution saw a change in the way music and music video could be bought.
ITUNES and others – The iTunes Store continued to expand its music library. It now also offers paid movie and TV show downloads. Developers and entrepreneurs alike began creating solutions to the problem presented to many by iTunes. They wanted the ability to discover new and listen to music digitally, without having to download song files or pay-per-track. Thus, internet radio was born.
Youtube – Created in 2005, Youtube is a major player now in the world of music videos. It is now the second-largest search engine after google. Initially a concern due to people uploading content without artist’s permission, Youtube now have strategies which ensure they get some income back.
Ways Artists and Record Companies make money on Youtube:-
- Content ID
- Links to Download sites
- Merchandise Annotations
TV Again! – Talent Shows
Love them or hate them, Talent shows have had a massive impact on the music industry.
Pop Idol (2001) – Despite running for only two series, Pop Idol’s impact was immense and led 19 Entertainment and FremantleMedia to roll the format out globally. There are over 50 versions in 110 countries. Most notable, American Idol, on which Simon Cowell was a judge until 2010, before launching The X Factor USA in 2011.
X-Factor – After the second series of Pop Idol, ITV put the show on indefinite hiatus. In April 2004 judge and music executive, Simon Cowell announced the launch of his own show, The X-Factor. He and his record label (Syco) held the rights to it. However, in September 2004, Pop Idol creator Simon Fuller filed a lawsuit against The X Factor producers claiming that the format was copied from his own show. The case was eventually settled out of court in November 2005. As part of the settlement, Simon Fuller was made a joint partner in the X-Factor show. Simon Cowell was obliged to stay on as a judge on American Idol for a further five years.
The importance of these shows in terms of music video is the amount of TV publicity the singer receives. The show was a perfect example of synergy, producer strategies and change in music strategies. The music videos again were able to provide synergy by advertising the show, the singer and the song.
How has music video changed over time?
So, understanding when the first music video created is a little more difficult to answer than expected. This is because music and visual needs have changed over the years.
The music video has not only been used to promote the band/artist or song but also used by the producers as a strategy to make money. Such examples include using it as an extension of income by releasing other formats.
Another extension of outlets was and is due to TV viewers, cinema-goers and internet users.
Music videos can and have been used as a product of synergy such as promoting a film as well as the artist/band.
Finally, music video has evolved over the years as not only a way of showing the song but being an important film genre in themselves.
Music Video Details used in this article
St. Louis Blues (1929 short film) – Written by W.C. Handy, Sung by Bessie Smith, Directed by Dudley Murphy, Produced by W. C. Handy,
Battle of Paris (1929) – Director: Robert Florey, Song – They All Fall In Love, Words and Music by Cole Porter, Copyright 1929 by Harms Inc. Sung by Gertrude Lawrence
Lady Play Your Mandolin (1931) – Directed by Rudolf Ising, Produced by Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, and Leon Schlesinger, Music by Frank Marsales, title theme – written by Oscar Levant, lyrics by Irving Caesar, performed by Nick Lucas, released by Brunswick Records, purchased by Warner Brothers.
Way Out West (1937) – Directed by James W. Horne, “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” (1913), lyrics by Ballard MacDonald, music by Harry Carroll, performed by Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel, Chill Wills and Rosina Lawrence.
Love Me Tender (1956) – Director: Robert D. Webb, Written (song) by Elvis Presley and Ken Darby (as Vera Matson), Performed by Elvis Presley
The Ed Sullivan Show (1956) – Hound Dog – song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Performed by Elvis Presley. Produced by CBS.
Love You Till Tuesday (1969) – Director: Malcolm J. Thomson, Space Oddity – Written and performed by David Bowie, produced by Thomasso Film.
Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (1967) – Director: D.A. Pennebaker, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Written and performed by Bob Dylan, produced by Leacock-Pennebaker
It’s a long way to the top (if you wanna Rock and Roll) (1976) – written by Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Bon Scott. Performed by AC/DC, directed by Paul Drane, for the Australian music television program Countdown
Bohemian Rhapsody (1975) – written by Freddie Mercury, Performed by Queen, Directed by Bruce Gowers.
Thriller (1982, film released in 1984) – Written By Rod Temperton, Performed By Michael Jackson, Directed By John Landis, Produced by Quincy Jones.
Black or White (1991) – Written by Michael Jackson and Bill Bottrell, Performed by Michael Jackson, Directed by John Landis,
Scream (1995) – directed by Mark Romanek, written, composed and produced by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson.
A Moment Like This (2006) – Written by Jörgen Elofsson, John Reid, Performed By Leona Lewis, Directed by Jessy Terrero.
Bibliography and Further Reading
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