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Oct-24-2019 14:46printcomments

What is Old is New Again: Arts and Technology Students Are Reinventing the Music Video

Students today develop their own music video ideas

MTV music video
MTV changed the way music was presented and enjoyed,for many years.
PHoto: MTV / YouTube

(SALEM, Ore.) - Most of the students at Centre for Arts and Technology, a digital arts school located in Kelowna, British Columbia, weren’t alive to witness the launch of MTV in August 1981.

Many were born too late to witness the golden age of music video at all. By the time Centre for Arts and Technology’s younger students were busy forming memories, MTV was better known for trashy reality shows than original music videos.

As an art form, the music video was very much in retreat, pushed to lesser-viewed television channels and digital platforms like YouTube — which, in its first years, wasn’t anything like the media juggernaut it is today.

So, why did a group of Centre for Arts and Technology digital film students bother making not one but two music videos for a local rock band? Why didn’t they concentrate on the sorts of projects they’d be more likely to work on after graduation — and more likely to pay a living wage to boot?

Time for a Reinvention

Because, believe it or not, music video remains a vital art form, even if music video distribution is vastly more fragmented than when MTV was the only game in town.

According to a story about the project on Centre for Arts and Technology’s website, Rock Creek, British Columbia based rock band Ripped — formerly of Toronto, so we’re not talking about an upstart garage band here — approached digital film department head Victor Poirer about producing a music video with his students.

For Poirer, it was a fortuitous development. He’d been on the lookout for a suitable music video production partner for some time, but Ripped wasn’t yet on his radar.

“I was looking for band students could work with, when out of the blue I was contacted by Iain Caroll from Ripped, who were looking for exactly that sort of collaboration,” Poirier told Centre for Arts and Technology in an interview.

Poirer and his students saw the opportunity as a chance to reimagine what it means to make music videos, and to learn a thing or two in the process.

Learn a thing or two, they did.

Scouting Locations Without Busting the Budget

The first challenge: finding a suitable location to shoot ‘Jaded,’ whose concept demanded a desolate backdrop. Certain semi-arid corners of southwestern British Columbia would fit the bill under normal circumstances, but an unusually wet weather pattern wasn’t helping matters, and the crew didn’t have the budget to shoot on location in a real desert.

“We wanted an arid desert feeling, and right now everything is super green and lush,” said Sean Dewell, one of the student producers on ‘Jaded’. “[T]rying to find one that was appropriate, that we could use, and that was free was the hard part.”

Dewell and the team eventually found suitable locations — three, actually. The second part of ‘Jaded’ was filmed in three distinct locations around southwestern British Columbia: “Wyndham Crescent in Glenmore; Grainger Trail on Knox Mountain, and a bridge over what used to be a CP Trail in Penticton,” said Dewell.

Creative camera work transformed the backdrop, giving viewers the impression that Ripped was very far from home, indeed.

After searching high and low, the team got their arid desert vibe without sinking thousands into a controlled set or boarding an airplane. And Ripped got a professional-grade on-location shoot that they could count on to burnish their street cred.

Sound Off, Cameras On

Next, the students had to grapple with a situation familiar to all veterans of music video production: shooting footage in which music plays a central role without any accompanying sound. The soundtrack is added later, in post-production.

Shooting a music video with no sound is a painstaking endeavor.

“You have to be pretty precise to get this to work,” said Dewell. “Also, all the additional shots need to fit the tone of the song perfectly — otherwise they feel out of place.”

According to Dewell, the experience was liberating, a welcome break from overtly commercial work and narrative structures. Producing two music videos for Ripped gave Centre for Arts and Technology digital film students the chance to flex their creative muscles. Or, as Dewell put it: to produce “something that is more of an art piece.”

Back to Basics?

About that “art piece.” When digital art school students leap at the chance to produce music videos for up-and-coming artists, it’s clear that the medium has a ways to run.

In fact, demographic changes may be working in aspiring music video producers’ favor. Early millennials and Gen Xers who grew up with music videos are now the world’s dominant consumer groups, and their taste for nostalgia is even stronger than past generations’.

That the musical zeitgeist has changed enormously since the early days of MTV has no bearing on these audiences’ thirst for professional-grade visual soundtracks.

Source: Special Features Dept.

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