I Miss My MTV

I’ve just started reading another book – I Want My MTV by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum.  I’ve had it on my iPad to read for a while now, and I’m finally just getting to it.  It’s one of those books that I felt like I needed to be in the right frame of mind to read, primarily because MTV completely shaped my teenage years, and like a lot of the MTV generation – I’m completely PISSED that it’s gone to hell in a handbasket.  I’m not just nostalgic, I’m annoyed that it’s been watered down and ruined.

Not sure if anyone has noticed yet because it might be difficult to tell, (that’s sarcasm right there) but I’m pretty damn opinionated.  🙂  In particular, I have strong opinions on the music industry.  It’s frustrating to be a fan (and not just of Duran Duran, but of music in general) and see what has happened since the 1980’s. It’s not just about the labels failing, or about the fact that radio plays crappy music 24 hours a day, or even about the lack of record sales….it’s not just about any one specific thing.  It’s the whole lot!  The way I see it, all of those things, plus a plethora of others that I don’t dare even get into for fear I’ll end up writing an entire book in one blog post, fell down like dominoes. One on top of the other, and the real pisser being that each thing: sales, radio, labels, etc. all depend to some degree on one another to make it all work.  (work WELL, that is)  I could write volumes and volumes just from the fan perspective.

So, while reading this book, and I’m only up to about chapter 4 at this point, I find myself highlighting and making a LOT of notes that may or may not end up in my own book or my own blog some day.  I’d really love to write something about how MTV changed me as a person, and make no mistake, it did.  I used to be fairly obedient and boring before August 1, 1981 came along!  The one item I come back to, over and over again (aside from the chapter on Girls on Film, because it’s still funny to read about those guys falling all over themselves while making the video)…is that MTV woke up a sleepy recording industry.

I had to think about that for a long while yesterday.  In August of 1981 I was 10 years old…I didn’t turn 11 until November, but I was going into junior high school that year.  (we started junior high in 6th grade)  I have very few memories of music before MTV.  If that’s not dating myself, I just don’t know!  I can remember The Beach Boys being played in my house quite often (hence my name: Rhonda), Elvis was my parents favorite (thank god they went with Rhonda…), and as for me – I seem to recall Shaun Cassidy, a bunch of Disney records, and Rick Springfield before Duran Duran came along.  Oh, I also remember the year I received a clock radio alarm for Christmas.  It seemed like every single morning “My Sharona” by the Knack was being played as my alarm went off.  I still jump up in some sort of sick Pavlovian response when I hear the familiar chords.  My point being of course that I didn’t realize the music industry was really failing much at the time – but at 10, who pays that much attention?  All I do remember is that at some point on or around August 1st of that year, I found MTV.

According to the book, “MTV did a lot for record labels, helping to revive a slumping industry, but it was bands who benefitted most.” (page 17)  I wouldn’t dare argue against that, especially since as part of their audience, MTV introduced me to bands that I would have never heard of otherwise, particularly the more obscure British artists that I grew accustomed to love during the first few years of MTV’s existence.  In a lot of ways, I really feel that this is where the beginning of radio’s real failing.  While those radio guys were busily playing Top 40, MTV dared to break beyond those boundaries – whether by design or by fault – giving this not-yet-a-teenager much more to think about than Michael Jackson, The Police, or Madonna. My eyes became increasingly widened to just how much talent there was in the world, and I soaked it up like a water-starved sponge.

In turn, I bought records.  Oh boy did I buy records.  My garage plays constant witness to the buying that I did back in the 80’s, and that I’m still doing now as a blatant attempt to own “all the vinyl in the world”.  (Ok, it’s an exaggeration…but one entire wall from top to bottom in our garage is covered with shelves of vinyl….and not all the buying was done by me!)  So yes, I really do believe that MTV helped both label and band.

I stopped watching MTV with any kind of regularity the year I started college.  That was in Fall of 1988 for those of you counting. (I stopped.  It’s too depressing.)  I know we had cable in my dorm at Cal State Fullerton, but I was too busy….studying (in case my mom is reading)….or socializing (the reality) to watch much.  By that time, my favorites had started to fade, and by 1992, MTV had changed significantly.  No more was it videos 24/7…there was a new show in town called The Real World, which was trashy at best to begin with and sunk deeper into dumpsville as time wore on.  I gave up on MTV completely after that, and my own “golden era” had ended.

What I do wonder, sometimes aloud when I’m busily talking to myself (no one else really listens and my youngest doesn’t know much music beyond Duran Duran….she’s a huge fan at 3 and a half!), is just how much different the industry would be today if MTV had stayed their course.  It wasn’t just The Real World that changed things though.  I think the real changes came almost immediately with MTV, as they do with nearly anything.  Lets be honest, the goal of MTV was always to make money.  It’s a business, it’s what is done, and we should recognize that up front.  MTV desperately needed to sell advertising to keep going – by some accounts MTV lost almost 50 million dollars before it ever made a dime, and my assertion is that MTV was only pure during that period where they were losing money.  Funny how making money will do that.  Prior to that point, they only had to answer to themselves, and it didn’t matter how much the on-air talent screwed up or rubbed their noses on air.  They could play the videos they wished (actually, they could ONLY play the videos they were able to obtain, which were precious few for quite some time!), and during that time I saw plenty of fantastic, tasty obscurities I’d have never seen otherwise.  So for me, that time was golden and pure.  After they started selling that ad space, that’s when they started having to answer for themselves, and to labels…and to corporations, and once again we’re back to the men in suits being able to tell the rest of us what music is good, and what music is awful…and that music doesn’t need to have a place on MTV at all.  “MTV created the video music industry, then abandoned it, leaving behind a trail of tears -disgruntled music-video fans have stamped the phrase ‘MTV sucks’ and ‘Bring back music videos’ all over the comments pages of YouTube.” (page 20)

Here’s the funny thing: a lot of those statements are probably mine.  If video did so well to SELL records, to make bands famous, to change the industry – why on earth aren’t we still using it??  YouTube is great because I can go on there at any time of day and find the videos I want to watch….but the reality is, I would much rather watch Reach up for the Sunrise, or The Reflex….or even the video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller on my big TV.  I miss my MTV.  I liked being surprised by the little gems they’d pull out, I enjoyed watching Alan Hunter, Mark Goodman and little Martha Quinn.  I liked yelling “I’ve seen this stupid video 50,000 times – play something else for a damn change!!!”  when they’d play “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, or better yet “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!  (I love both bands so spare me the hate mail…I’m sick of Hungry Like the Wolf, as well.  Did I mention that?)  Those things are what made MTV.

I don’t know for sure what really changed MTV into the watered down kool-aide it is today.  As I’ve said numerous times, I’m just a fan who happened to grow up during the 80’s. Maybe my generation just grew up, and they didn’t know what to show us anymore.  Maybe rap really did become king and the only viable videos were those showing mostly unclad women, baggy jeans, baseball caps and cars.  I’ve read that every great idea for video has already been done so it got boring.  I call BS on that one.  I think it’s more to do with the fact that no one wants to work hard anymore.  No one wants to be unique or creative when you can just dress up any wanna-be-Britney, Kanye, Justin or Beyonce and put them in front of a camera and microphone and get a hit, thanks to autotune, smoke and some mirrors.  That isn’t to say that those people don’t have talent, but their uniqueness certainly gets lost in the shuffle.  That’s MUCH easier than taking the time to properly market a band that already has their own sound, actually plays their instruments, knows how to entertain, yet can’t be categorized in any one specific “box” on some sort of marketing tally sheet for the execs to see.  Fast food music rules the airwaves.  Every time I hear a new artist that actually has talent, or a band that actually plays their own instruments and doesn’t rely on production and autotune, I hold on to a little hope.

Once again, the very people who run the industry just don’t get it.  It’s not just about any one thing, although I really do believe that MTV (or the loss of the “music video” portion of MTV) has quite a bit to do with why the industry continues to flounder and fail.   One definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over expecting different results each time….

maybe that’s the real problem.  The industry is insane.

-R

3 thoughts on “I Miss My MTV”

  1. Very interesting post for me to read. I remember when I was in college, for one of my communication arts classes, we had to do a term paper on mass media, and I did mine on how MTV revolutionized the music industry. I even remember the title: “Video Saved the Radio Star…Or How MTV Saved the Music Industry”. Yes the title was a reference to Video Killed the, Radio Star, first video played on MTV!

    I don't remember specifics about the research (paper is probably still in the attic), but do remember that it was pretty much undisputed how MTV revolutionized and even in some respects, saved a flagging music industry – I remember there being a lot of data to back that up. (I also remember getting an A on it, one of the few that was given in the class!)

    -Susan-

  2. What a great paper!! I would have loved to have written a paper on a similar topic in college…but at that time I was studying pop culture and social movements of the 1960s. Interesting, but not nearly as fun! -R

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