Move Over, MTV, Here Come the Song Vids!

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Title: Move Over, MTV, Here Come the Song Vids!
Creator: Tashery Shannon
Date(s): September/October 1993
Medium: vidding
Fandom: multi
External Links: online here, Archived version
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Move Over, MTV, Here Come the Song Vids! was written by Tashery Shannon.

It is an article published in Strange New Worlds #9.

Topics covered: what is a music vid, Star Trek, fandom and profit, how to.


During the last decade, a new media form came into the world: the song video, otherwise known as fan music videos, or song vids. For those who have missed song video showings at conventions, or have never had a tape foisted on you by a friend obsessed with making vids, let me attempt to explain this creative form of fan art. Imagine clips from a favorite television show or movie edited to a song.

Since song video makers must work with already existing body of video material, they face the challenges posed by these limited images. One of the most enjoyable aspects of "vidding" is creatively solving these problems. This use of derivative material limits its effectiveness for viewers unfamiliar with the source. But for those who know the source, the result can be fascinating and often quite startling. A new angle can be created by choosing images to tell the story from a supporting character’s, or even a villain’s, viewpoint. Or, a combination of images and lyrics might bring out previously untapped humor, as in, say, images of Han Solo set to a song about a conceited macho cowboy. Conversely, the visuals can make a serious song funny, as when Blake’s 7 villain Travis tracks down Blake to the tune of the romantic song Follow Me

The most recent trend has been toward greater control and refinement in editing. As improved equipment allows more precise, cleaner, and easier editing, some vid makers are using quicker cuts falling on more exact musical points. They use not only the lyrics, but the music, with sophistication to create an increasingly complex interplay between the rhythms of the song and the cutting and motions of the cameras and actors. If song vids are so compelling, why are they only now, after a decade, beginning to catch on among fans? At the beginning of their existence, few people owned VCRs. Also, the popularity of specific song videos is limited to narrow fan groups. Since the images are reduced to short, out-of-context clips, all but the most slapstick are incomprehensible to viewers unfamiliar with the source. They become a mere collage of abstract images. The nuances of meaning are lost and non-viewers of the particular shows cannot understand the unique way song vids interact with the source media.

Professional editing equipment is not needed to make song videos. Anyone can do it as long as they have video tapes of a television series or movie to use as a source, a stereo system, a VCR for recording a song onto videotape, and a second VCR with video dubbing capability. After the soundtrack is recorded, the first VCR plays the source tapes and the other (the one with video dubbing capability) copies the images onto the videotape with the soundtrack. Only a few years ago, VHS or Beta machines with video dub capacity were expensive and difficult to find. Now a large selection of VHS machines with video dubbing is available. Prices have lowered dramatically; the least expensive models sell for around $400 at discount electronics stores. The significance of video dub is that the regular recording mode automatically erases all old images and sound from the tape as it records the new images and sound. Video dub mode allows visual images to be recorded without erasing the song that the vid maker previously laid down as a soundtrack.

The earliest vids were simple affairs. A single, consecutive sequence from a TV episode or movie played straight through, without editing, to the accompaniment of a song. The lyrics gave new nuances of meaning to favorite scenes, but the relationship between the picture and sound was hit-and-miss. Experiments with editing began to juxtapose shorter clips from a variety of different scenes in new ways, giving the video maker better control over meaning and emotional content. An edit per line or two became standard. An early Blake’s 7 vid by Patricia Lamb, set to Willie Nelson’s Angel Flyin’ Too Close to the Ground, utilizes a simple editing technique to change scenes. A clip is edited in from a different scene, showing the ship's crew around the campfire sharing the news of a crewmate's death; this edit is deliberately timed so that a cut already in the episode to a close-up of the fire falls within the sequence -- the symbolism of the dying fire adding to the emotional effect. For several years, nearly all song videos used this simple kind of editing. It remains a common method, appropriate especially for slow songs where the lyrics are more striking than the rhythms.

Vid makers explore many themes, both comic and tragic, usually to pop, rock, folk, country, or satiric recordings by a well-known band. But other kinds of recordings, including filk, have also been used...

Perhaps the greatest barrier to their spread among fans is that song videos cannot legally be sold. The music and footage, no matter how it has been edited, is still someone else’s creative property. It does not belong to the song vid maker. Anyone considering selling song tapes should be aware that there is a danger of prosecution under the same laws governing pirating of music or movie tapes. Giving away your song tapes or trading them, however, is perfectly legal. To be ethical, the vid should be your own work or you should have the permission of the vid maker to distribute it. This circulation among friends is being sped up through a new channel of communication, a recently started newsletter for song vid makers and viewers, Rainbow Noise.

For many science fiction fans, a song video giving new insights into favorite characters has special meaning that no original camcorder footage possibly could. Though some song video makers have set their own camcorder footage to songs, it is significant that the media-related song vids have remained overwhelmingly the most popular with fans. They are not quite like having new episodes of your favorite series, but it is startling how habit-forming song videos can become. They can refresh, transform, and deepen an appreciation for a known and loved series or film.

Again, yes, song vids are a derivative art form. But since vids are mainly a fan-to-fan form of communication, who cares? Song vids represent a special, private communication between fans and friends.