Lyric Videos Open New Connection Between Fans and Stars

By Phyllis Stark

© 2013 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Once almost exclusively fan-created works, lyric videos have become important components in record label strategies for marketing their acts. As a result, lyric videos are being created more quickly, more often and with much better production values than ever before.

The term “lyric video” might actually already be outdated. Two years ago, CeeLo Green made a splash with a simple lyric clip for his controversial song, sometimes referred to as “Forget You.” While that video now has far more than 10 million views on YouTube, its simple format of lyrics scrolling on a screen seems dated by today’s standards, where stop-motion graphics, creative use of found objects, performance footage and actors are used routinely.

“Fans love lyric videos because, let’s face it, fans love lyrics,” said Leslie Fram, Senior VP, Music Strategy, CMT. “We have a whole new generation of fans that didn’t grow up with having the lyrics to read on an album cover.”

By selling the lyric videos on iTunes and through deals that provide compensation for views on YouTube and VEVO, labels earn small amounts of income from the clips. But the primary goal is to give fans something to watch between when a single is sent to radio and digital retailers, and when the “real” video is released. For labels that also hold off on shooting a production video until the song becomes a hit, this interlude can last for several months.

“Often it takes three to four weeks to set up a music video properly and get it shot and edited,” said Sandi Spika Borchetta, Senior VP, Creative, Big Machine Label Group. “So we started doing lyric videos to get something creative out there to the fans first — and they love it. With a lot of our artists’ fans, the content is king and they want as much as they can possibly get. This is just another way that we can give it to them.”

Peter Strickland, EVP/GM, Warner Music Nashville, says that fans are actually seeking the lyric videos out. On the high end, he estimates, a lyric video might generate half a million views. But even one for a more routine song that’s working at Country radio can expect in the neighborhood of 100,000 views — one reason why his label now creates a lyric clip for every single it releases.

“These are fairly inexpensive to make, and if it gets us a higher number of visibility clicks online, then we’re in great shape,” said Strickland, who estimates that the typical lyric video runs around 5 percent to 10 percent of what a standard production video might cost.

While fans still create their own lyric videos for songs and artists they love, labels have more control over quality by making their own versions, which utilize the master recordings as well as approved artist images.

At Big Machine Label Group, the clips are created by the company’s creative digital team. They’ve been known to work through the night to meet deadlines while creating intricate, even hand-drawn lyric clips, such as the one for Taylor Swift’s “Eyes Open,” from the soundtrack to “The Hunger Games.”

CMT and GAC have also taken notice, with Suzanne Gordon, VP/Programming, GAC , observing a dramatic rise in production values for lyric videos. “That’s really important from our point of view,” she said. “Something that is (mainly) type, just sort of a PowerPoint thing, has value on the Internet and on social streams. But a lyric video has to have good production value as well as being paired with a great single for us to consider airing it.”

Those that possess these attributes have made it onto the networks’ rotation. “I never thought that we would air a lyric video on CMT,” Fram admitted. “But when Taylor Swift’s highly anticipated ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ came out, we aired the lyric video because it was so clever. It was really interesting to watch. We aired it for two weeks before the official video came out because we thought it was very well done, a great concept piece, and it was nice to have new Taylor content on the air.”

GAC aired it too, with Gordon calling it “the best example of doing it right, because it illustrated the song in a creative way that also reflected her image and her personality, starting with that diary at the very beginning and at the end. It looked like something that would be a (real) Taylor Swift video. It was not repetitive. It had a lot of creative elements and creative animation in it. The other thing that made it a great lyric video was that it was a good tease to the playful nature of the official video that they released later.

“It’s important for a lyric video not just to be a placeholder for the real video but to complement it if there’s another video coming out,” Gordon added. “It has to be another creative integration of the song and the performance together. And it has to be highly produced and something that looks great on the air and our viewers want to see.”

Not surprisingly, the networks have become proactive at giving their viewers what they want. “We’re starting to look on social media and see what’s out there,” Gordon acknowledged. “If there’s a single that’s doing well on the chart, or if our viewers are looking for a video and we haven’t had one delivered to us yet, then we’ll start looking to see if the label made a lyric video that might be produced well enough that it would substitute on the air for us. I think we’re going to see a lot more of them.”

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