Skip to Main Content

Music Video Directors and Producers


Music videos gained popular, mainstream appeal when MTV, the first all-music cable channel, was formed in 1981. But music videos have actually been around more than 100 years. In 1890, George Thomas, a photographer, created the first live-model illustrated song. Set to the song, "The Little Lost Child," this series of photographic images printed on glass slides (and backed by live singers and musicians) hit vaudeville stages, and later, movie theaters. Customers lined up to see the shows. Suddenly, a new music subindustry was born: illustrating popular songs to help sell sheet music.

The first music videos, called soundies, were developed in the 1940s. They were composed of footage of a band or a solo singer simply performing a song on a stage. Soundies were used to promote artists (usually jazz musicians, but also torch singers, dancers, and comedians) as videos are used today.

Richard Lester is considered to be the father of contemporary music video. His exuberant, full-length films in the mid-1960s with The Beatles, such as A Hard Day's Night and Help!, were groundbreaking explorations of music and storytelling. Many of the musical segments in these movies were precursors to styles that are used in today's music videos. In fact, MTV took notice of Lester's work by presenting him with an award for his contributions to the art of music video in the 1980s.

Michael Nesmith, a member of the rock group The Monkees, is largely credited with creating the first music videos of the modern era. He made short, musical films for the television show Saturday Night Live in 1979, and the first video album, Elephant Parts, in 1981. The art form grew quickly in the 1980s with the popularity of MTV, which played music videos 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (Today, ironically, reality television shows and other nonmusic programming compete with music videos for airtime on MTV.) Most recording artists released music videos for their singles to generate interest in and sales for their latest albums.

The music video industry has come a long way from George Thomas's live-model illustrated songs. Advances such as computer-generated animation, digital filming, and digital sound have given music video directors more tools to work with and the ability to produce an increasing variety of looks, sounds, and characters in their finished videos. One constant remains from Thomas's days: Music videos still play a major role in helping companies sell products—whether sheet music, CDs, music videos, Internet downloads, or concert tickets.

Related Professions