Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media


Music Videos in the British Screen Industries and Screen Heritage: From Innovation to Curation


Emily Caston


Abstract: In December 2019, Rolling Stone magazine ran a piece on the best videos of the year which began by asking, “What even counts as a music video now?” (Shaffer). Vevo, Tiktok and Instagram TV have blurred the lines. Videos can be an hour long. They can be events on YouTube Premiere. They can be virtual reality. The idea that the world of the earliest creators of pop promos was simple in comparison to today subtends this dossier. In 2015, I was awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant to investigate the history of music videos in Britain since 1966. At the end of the grant, I curated a collection of the most significant of those videos into a limited-edition box set (Power). Selecting them involved very detailed discussions with our interviewees and industry consultants about just what a “music video”—known as a “promo” until the mid 1980s—is. The term “music video” arose in the 1980s. It was used in record labels to describe visual products mastered on physical videotapes for television broadcast. In fact, almost all of those products were shot on celluloid (16mm or 35mm) until digital technologies allowed HD to become the norm in the 2000s. For the purposes of this dossier, I define music videos and pop promos as a type of musical short film for mass audiences commissioned and released by record labels (usually) at the same time as the release of a synchronised audio “single”; the shorts comprise a copyrighted synchronised picture and audio track in which a percentage of the royalties accrue to the recording artist and/or record label.


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