Music Videos Go Low-Tech

The music video, an already revolutionary genre, is experiencing a bit of a revolution itself.

Videos, which started as simple clip reels of a band lip-syncing its single, and then morphed into Hollywood-style, big budget mini-movies, are heading back to their roots. Out are the big budgets and big concepts; in are single cameras and quirkiness. The new examples of the art are, in the words of Daft Punk, harder, better and faster -- but are they necessarily stronger?

Look no further than Mark Ronson's "Stop Me" and its simply rotoscoped, retro tears, or RJD2's "Work It Out," which features an extremely limber dancer doing his thing on crutches through the streets of New York City ... and that's it. One camera, one long shot, no edits -- not much money spent there.

Or take the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Down Boy," shot on a pitch-black stage, in green, grainy night vision. The concert was already scheduled, the audience had already bought its tickets. Add a camera and, again for not much money, you've got your video.

And of course, who could forget the big daddy of all the cheap videos -- OK Go's "Here It Goes Again." With a couple of treadmills and a quirky idea, you've not only saved money, you've launched a video revolution. Millions of YouTube hits later, who could forget it?

The reason for this trend isn't lost on anyone who watches MTV -- once short for "Music Television" -- which hasn't been true to its name in at least a decade. The only videos some actually see on television anymore are the 15-second clips provided by MTV's TRL (Total Request Live).

In the brave new world of video iPods and streaming content, you catch most videos on YouTube, or the band's MySpace page, or any number of other digital forums where the quality is decidedly lo-fi. No one notices imperfections on a 3-inch screen; what they notice are concepts that are bigger.

This Sunday, at the Mecca of the music video, the MTV Video Music Awards, the high-falootin', cinematic videos will look like dinosaurs. Something like Justin Timberlake's very slick, very professional "What Goes Around …Comes Around" (which cost a reported $1 million to make, and even starred actress Scarlett Johansson), will compete with Justice's "D.A.N.C.E.," featuring two guys with frenetic, morphing T-shirts. One is "Hollywood studio," the other "garage band," and they will both share the same bill.

As the music industry itself is rocked by decreasing sales, the playing field is widening. More than a few bands, like Modest Mouse, the Decemberists and the Shins, have even handed over the responsibility for making their videos to their own fans. And as artists have less money to give a professional director, amateurs with a small wallet, but a big idea, are stepping up to fill that void.

Industry experts agree that despite the massive changes to the genre, whatever form it takes the music video isn't going anywhere, and a music video created at any cost is still the cheapest, easiest way to get buzz behind a band.

John Griffin is the senior producer of ABC News on mtvU, ABC News' collaboration with MTV's college network.

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