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The rise of the locally produced music video

I Don't Want My MTV


Every few generations, various art forms are reincarnated, re-imagined or rejuvenated through a new breed of innovative torchbearers who reject the tepid, worn-out trappings of the form and reexamine the beginnings of their craft in order to build it out in new, exciting directions.

Welcome to the music video's rebirth.

When MTV announced the cancellation of its long-running music video countdown show TRL in late 2008, the news came as a relief to some. Finally, the network would drop the pretense that they cared about anything other than celeb news and glam-reality shows. Not only has the audience for music videos changed, but now people expect instantaneous viewing. We won't sit through three soft-lit, by-the-book, lip-sync band videos in order to see that one rare smart one. There are too many good music videos out there to waste time on clone-like mediocrity.

"It's the Internet," says Boise filmmaker Tyler T. Williams. "People have become really impatient, they want stuff now, and they turn to the Web for that."

Williams, who has created "song films"--as the old term goes--for local bands such as Low-Fi, The Very Most and The Awful Truth, became involved in video production through making skateboard films, and his work retains the quick edits and upbeat pacing of these beginnings. But creating a visual companion to a song can be more satisfying.

"Music is my second love besides film," he says. "It's more expressive."

Treasure Valley-based music video creator, stop-motion animator Jason Sievers, sees the rise of independent music videos as a return to the form's artistic beginnings.

"You see a lot on TV where it's set up as a band lip-syncing their song ... It's all about selling how good-looking the singers are," he says. "I think now with indie videos, it's coming back around."

For Sievers, who creates films in the time between work as a graphic designer and raising two daughters, it began as a lark.

"I've always loved stop-motion animations," he says. "And at some point, I had a light bulb moment where I realized that I didn't need a lot of film equipment to do this anymore, just a computer."

Using a cheap Web cam and a bare-bones editing program, he began approaching local bands in order to create films for them. His videos, which utilize claymation, chalk drawings, magnets and animated stuffed animals, have been featured on the Independent Film Channel and Pitchfork Media's Web site. Having created works for Built to Spill, The Wrens and The Universal, he will soon be premiering a video for the new Finn Riggins single "Wake (Keep This Town Alive)."

"Early on, I'd hear a song and just contact the person and ask if I could do a video," Sievers says. "Even for indie bands that are known, having someone want to make a video for free is pretty helpful."

This help-me-help-you attitude is creating an upswing of inventiveness.

"With the viral [phenomenon], a lot of indie bands are hooking up with people in films schools and creating really meaningful videos," Sievers says. "I don't know how well they're being accepted commercially, but the indie labels are a bit more accepting of these art films rather than larger establishments."

Such was the case for local songstress Jody Schneider, who worked with film student Jamie Bourque last year to make a video for her latest EP. She found that creating the visual work inspired her songwriting.

"I'm an artist who has difficulty sticking to one medium, and I'm always up for experimenting with new ways of creating. And being able to combine two mediums is like a whole new piece of art in itself," she says.

For many independent artists, the Internet is the best method of promoting their work, and having visual material acts as a digital introduction to the band's music and style.

In Schneider's case, moving to Idaho from Alberta means her removed fan base can't attend her regular shows. Having music videos not only keeps her listeners updated on her work, but also gathers new followers.

"With the expanding audience afforded by the Web, far-flung audiences don't have the benefit of seeing live shows," she says. "Sometimes the video is a surrogate way to communicate the personality of the band."

While the heyday of 24/7 video broadcasts may be gone, getting back to square one isn't at all a bad thing. Sure, stale, overglossy music videos will continue to get made, but the growing interest in independent media and less pricey, more widespread forms of technology means these tiny, shoestring-financed films will also have their voices heard.