Yesterday I attended the second annual Music Vid Fest at the BFI Southbank, held ahead of today’s UK Music Video Awards. It’s a day of panels and keynote speeches on the subject of music videos, featuring some of the top directors, commissioners and others from the industry. Although I’m not involved in video production day-to-day like most of the attendees, I was keen to learn more about their side of the music business, as the importance of music videos is increasing thanks to the growth of online video platforms.

Changes in music video consumption was a hot topic throughout the day, as the speakers gave their different perspectives on how this effects the creative process, and what the implications are for the future of the medium. A new element to video production in the online age is the need for content to be shareable. As the reach of traditional media has declined, social sharing is necessary for a video to be widely seen, and it’s the only way to achieve a pop culture “moment.” Sony’s VP of creative Mike O’Keefe used this slide in his keynote:

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As the label’s top video commissioner, Mike looks for treatments that will elicit a high emotional response. He gave Hozier’s Take Me To Church as an example. The moving and topical visuals enabled the song to reach a wider audience outside of his home country of Ireland, and when a viral video has such a strong and fitting soundtrack, it’s an unstoppable hit. This is also a great example of a concept that resonates around the world, which is a factor to consider now that videos can be seen worldwide as soon as they’re uploaded online. The opportunity to create a global fanbase has never been more attainable for new artists.

According to MIDiA’s Tim Mulligan, who shared the findings of his research in this area, more people currently watch music videos online than stream music. The battle between streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music has been discussed endlessly this year, but as both those companies join YouTube and Facebook in the video streaming arena, we can probably expect a deluge of thinkpieces on this subject in 2016. The fact that the most powerful online companies want a share of the market shows how important the music video has become, and despite their current dominance, YouTube must be worried.

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Tim’s forthcoming report on online music video consumption and revenue could be seen as good or bad news for the music industry. We’ve always seen the video as part of the journey, a promotional tool to drive music sales, but for a new generation of consumers, stats show that it is the destination. After watching a music video, the most common action is to click onto another music video, not to download or stream the song or buy tickets or merch from the artist. The music video has become a source of revenue, so we need to find a way to capitalise on this without cannibalising streams or sales (though it’s probably too late for the latter… thanks Apple!).

In the creative process, we must produce content that’s worth watching and sharing, and in marketing, we must focus on directing fans to music videos as a priority. We should take inspiration from the native YouTube stars, whose content performs better on YouTube than celebrities and brands that were established elsewhere, including the biggest music stars (for example, Rihanna and One Direction have less than half as many subscribers as the insufferable Pew Die Pie). This is because their videos resonate with viewers by being more authentic and personal, and because the creators use social networks to promote their YouTube content. Their videos are their primary creative output and source of income, and YouTube is the centre of their online presence.

Thinking of the music video as the product is a smart way to respond to the recent changes in consumer behaviour. I don’t think it will suit all artists, but it should certainly be included when listing ways for artists to make money outside of royalties, alongside merch, touring and brand deals. As another panellist, Matt Riley from AWAL/Kobalt, said, the financial incentive should encourage artists to make better and more creative music videos. I look forward to seeing the results!

Click here to find out more about Music Vid Fest and the programme for yesterday’s event.