This week we’ve seen some high-profile music videos released by Beyonce and OK Go. The first, “Formation”, was released with virtually no promotion on the Saturday before the Super Bowl. It was Beyonce’s first music video and single in over a year, and they were released concurrently. The video isn’t even officially listed on YouTube, to find it you have to get a direct link or go through and embed in one of the many articles about it. And the highly political, stripped down song and video exploded across the internet spinning off think pieces and tweet storms all along the way. But the time Beyonce sauntered up to the stage at the Super Bowl halftime show, the video was already a hot topic of conversation and debate in online communities across the country. OK Go, on the other hand, had been teasing their video for “Upside Down and Inside Out” for a couple weeks but you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t follow them on social media. As of today, they have about 1.2 million twitter followers and just over 800,000 Facebook fans. Their video, released Thursday morning, has 38 million views. It seems safe to say that it’s not only their biggest fans who have taken notice of the video at this point.
What both these artists have done, releasing a video and single at the same time, isn’t necessarily new. For OK Go, it’s how they’ve survived as an independent band for about the last 10 years since they left their label; buzzy videos that attract a lot of attention, typically bankrolled by a company with deep pockets looking for some positive publicity. Beyonce dropped her last album with all the songs and videos included together. Adele released “Hello” last fall as a video and single at the same time. But why bother when, as many of us frequently lament, music videos aren’t played on television anymore? Because the natural successor to AM/FM radio turns out to be YouTube. This study from Edison Research and Triton Digital shows that YouTube is the #3 source of music discovery right behind AM/FM radio and friends and family. 75% of 12 to 24 year olds have listened to music on YouTube in the last week. It’s become the go-to site to search for music, because if the artist themselves hasn’t put a video up there’s a fan made version available, typically with the lyrics helpfully scrolling across the screen.
While I can remember a time when the release of music videos were timed and heavily promoted events, sometimes with a “Making the Video” to go along with them, it still seemed harder to actually SEE them then. It was appointment viewing, you had to be in front of a television when it came on or you’d miss it. YouTube, Facebook, and other video sharing sites have given us the ability to watch these videos on our own time, as soon as we hear about them. Somehow, after all the bitching about how MTV doesn’t play enough music videos and that even TRL won’t show the whole video anymore, the point has become moot. Why would MTV play music videos? Anyone can see them, virtually any time and anywhere they want to. So music television may have died but music videos still have a very active life on the internet.