We Direct Music Videos (but I don't yet)

Tonight I went to a town hall hosted by WDMV where I learned quite a bit about the music video business. Before I get into the details some history.


The 90’s were the golden era. MTV told labels they’d distribute for free so labels threw money at directors to make insane things. There’s more to be said here but the main idea is labels had money and so directors got paid well.

Then the digital revolution happened with Napster and streaming services. Profits plummeted and budgets tightened.

Today the process has a few problems with transparency, wasting time, and taking advantage of people for free work. The current process is the label has commissioners who will send out briefs to agents, reps, and directors with a budget and brief.

The director then prepares a treatment which could take a few hours to a week. At this time you could be the only director or competing against 10 others. Once you submit your treatment if you don’t win the bid, it is likely you get ghosted.

We did break into smaller groups to discuss the guidelines WMDV hopes to implement by Labor Day (9/2) this year. They’ve gotten about 1600 pledges so far including big names like Spike Jonze and Hiro Murai. These are inspired by the commercial and advertising industry which has its own organization called AIPC. These are guidelines so no one is being forced to follow them. If things remain broken or get worse perhaps in the future directors will unionize for now this is something they hope to work with (not against) the labels on.

My group was particularly interesting because we had someone on the label / production side and a very experienced director. I mostly shut up and listened.

Some highlights:

– One director mentioned in his 15 years he’s done 60+ music video treatments and 6 of those videos were made, so he makes most of his money on commercial work
– Of those 60, there’s countless that just never got made at all so all the directors in the pitching process were probably ghosted
– Maybe 7 or 8 out of the 50+ people there said they make a majority of their income via music video directing
– 90 of the top 100 videos on YouTube are music videos, there’s money in this now
– The label might make you sign an NDA without knowing the artist, send you the song, which is password protected and they know its you, and you get to listen to it maybe 4 times
– The label does not have to sign an NDA and its unclear if you still own your idea if its submitted although the label guy did encourage us to keep a bank of ideas and recycle them if they don’t get picked up
– This particular comissioner said once he gets a treatment he reads the whole thing and sends it to legal then it goes through 8-12 other people in various departments for approvals and notes which takes about 1.5 days.
– Many musical artists now bring in their own director / videographer / team that they’ve grown up with or know personally

I haven’t directed a music video yet though and learning all this tonight hasn’t changed my opinion. I still want to do them. If WDMV is successful the process will improve and get better. And I’ve had some loose convos with small labels or individuals (probably easiest route to do my first) about ideas, but so far nothing’s gotten done. Tonight felt like a good step towards that direction connecting with more experienced directors and people.

Also some folks from Arri were in attendance and after a brief chat with one I am going to visit their Brooklyn HQ to mess around with some cameras and lenses. I figure a career in directing / video it is important to build relationships in all areas.

That’s it for now, planning to continue writing and documenting more as I learn and grow.