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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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The importance of visuals in the music industry and its history.

‘Aristotle's influential categorization in The Poetics of painting, music and poetry as imitative arts was an element in his quest for a unified theory of aesthetics.'

It is 21st century and it is been long time since music and visuals came together to create a better and more immersive experience for all of us.

Back in the days often we did not even know who was the person behind the vocals or his instrumental virtuosity. Luckily, with the invention of technology and its fast growing improvements we have managed to make a very quick move from pictures onto films or advanced graphics. Visuals have became more than just a picture but a vision, a key to understanding between an artist or a brand and his audience. Stars such as David Bowie, Madonna or Michael Jackson introduced a whole new perspective on how visuals can influence art and increase the sales.

What is the best way to think of visuals in the music industry in the 21st century and what how significant are they? In this essay I am going to discuss the matter.


A video to music (videoclip) we can consider as a very first in the world is “The little lost child” by Edward B. Marks and Joseph W. Stern and was sold in over two million copies what (at the time) was a massive success which proves how beneficial was the video to its promotion. From then on we had The Beatles and finally Michael Jackson's “Thriller” which was monumental for not only music but also film industry at once. The video lasts a whole 14 min and it is basically a short film with the highest budget at the time (over half a million dollars). It has elements of dance and theatre-like acting along the most advanced effects and great directing skills. All of the aspects have one purpose - to deliver a story which seems to be the most important in arts delivery, no matter if it is music, film or visual arts.

With the growth of technology eventually video making has became accessible to the wider society and with the broadcast television and the rise of pop culture in the late 60's we have started exploring music video making as a more creative way to promote the music artists.

One of the biggest sensations known to everybody and planning their selling stratedgy at the time was the Beatles. Back then, the band has already been working on full feature movies but could not find a way to promote their music worldwide without constant travelling (especially USA). They have came out with an idea to blend their tv shows apperances with their up coming video clips to make the experience more immersive. Biggest part of the success was their work with Goldman, who has opened a new way to explore video making; many other artists following that trend started working with more experimental filmmakers. In result to this, the visuals (significantly increasing the sales all over the world) have became just as important as the music itself, video clips were one of the first form of art opened to masses rather than hidden in the galleries only accessible to some.

The legacy of the Beatles and Goldman has been continued ever since and we can see some great results of exploring in work of the Rolling Stones or David Bowie.

One of the biggest global hits “Rhapsody' by Queen can be credited as the hit song for which the video was a central of a successful selling strategy. We could argue that its success led to the beginning of MTV seven years later.

For many artists an understanding for their art is a key to success and often being limited to only an audio could narrow the mind of a listener to the simplest story it could be about. One of the greatest examples of how different can be the idea created by an artist to what it could be heard as without the video is a song by Police - Every breath you take.

Below I present an example:

Here we can see that the picture we could have imagined while listening to the track was very far to the interpretation presented by the band and seeing the video has changed our perception of the song forever adding a more ‘artsy' experience (story about a stalker).

Madonna and Marilyn Monroe

Madonna is probably the most iconic woman in the music industry and surely she did not become famous for her musical skills (even if this could perhaps cause a debate we can agree that there are better singers in the industry) but something that separated her from the rest was her approach to her performance - rich live concerts (including strongly advanced production as it is in theatres and movies) and most of all her great dedication to fashion and advanced innovative videoclips. A great example of her work would be ‘Material girl' where Madonna herself brings back to life Marilyn Monroe (first ever icon formed across film and music industry and also somebody famous of her image and style!). We can definitely see the co-relation between these two stars; both Marilyn Monroe and Madonna became famous because of their visible artistry/beauty. The importance of visual side of the artist in the music industry significantly increases in case of women probably due to the fact they are minority. Here we can read in New York Times:

“In an analysis of the top 600 songs from 2012 to 2017 — defined by Billboard's year-end Hot 100 chart for each of those six years — the study found that of 1,239 performing artists, 22.4 percent of them were women.”


On Valentine's day 2005 portal Youtube had been officially opened to general public and ever since then it has complitely revolutionised music and film industry at the same time. Being the largest  provider both for music and film  with over 4 billion hours of videos being watched each month, and whole 72 hours worth of video being uploaded every minute. Why Youtube became so big to compare to other music providers? The answer is obvious - they have added the picture where it was missing, it gave the context to the songs, telling stories only some films could tell.

How different would be music industry nowadays without videos?

We could argue that for some artists it would be more beneficial to keep their apparence hidden and being only judged for their skills not including image but with the production invested into each and every record being released nowadays how would we know whether their skills are even real? There is many examples of artists using this as an opportunity to showcase their real abilities in various acoustic, unedited videos such as Adele, Lady Gaga or an independent singer Soko.


It is known that dance and electronic music is the fastest-growing genre in terms of the amount of tracks sold (their sales are increasing with 35.6%!). A recent EMI study concluded that 73.8 million Americans consider themselves EDM fans – up 14% from 2011 figures.

During every live gigs, DJ's present special clips and graphics to match a set, they also alter the colours and add various effects to the pictures for an effect similair to the one comparable with taking drugs (they can program the pictures accordingly to the newest research on humans brain in order to stimulate certain areas for different experiences.

“People really expect it be a show,” says Vello Virkhaus of V Squared Labs, the official VJ and visuals director of the electronic-focused Ultra Music Festival, which attracted 330,000 people to Miami in a single weekend this year. “I think DJs are getting more and more interested in the process and in having their own unique style.”


"Image" in cambridge dictionary means "a picture in your mind or an idea of how someone or something is" and also "a mental picture or an idea that forms in a reader's or listener's mind from the words that they read or hear". This explanation perfectly highlights the psychological aspects, a need of an image in order to connect the artist's work with our personal experiences and create a deeper kind of understanding  and connection with the art. There is many theories in regards to the importance of visuals in music, here are some examples of people from music industry commenting on the matter:

Quoting George Ergatoudis - Head of Music Radio 1on Lady Gaga's success:

"The key thing is Lady Gaga realised by using all the current social networking sites, and integrating that with her fashion, she has become an all-round entity. Every time she goes out the door she's looking different, she's getting photographed, she's aware of that and she's using it by updating herself literally on a daily basis.'

This supports the idea that the visual side of an artist not only gets more attention but builds a more believeable persona for her fans to believe in. As mentioned it is a all-round entity, the creation of her own world that increases the interest. It is important to also mention that her approach to fashion opened a whole new revenue for her brand as Lady Gaga.

In article published by 'Forbes' Salomon Thimothy says:

"Brand image is more than a logo that identifies your business, product or service. Today, it is a mix of the associations consumers make based on every interaction they have with your business."

The author touches a very important point; the image is a mixture of assiociations with the product (artist) and as it is commonly known a big part of money in the music industry comes from product assiociations (ex. Dua Lipa wearing Adidas during her album campaign significantly increasing their sales).

 “In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Chia-Jung Tsay had participants predict the winners of musical competitions based on recordings – some audio-only, some videos with audio, and some silent videos. The results were surprising: Participants who saw videos, even without sound, were able to identify the winners at a significantly higher rate than those who only listened to the music.”

This proves that what is hidden under visuals of an image somehow can change our perception of what we like and how we judge it.

Psychology theories

In my opinion I have so far proven in this essay that visuals play a key role in music industry. Why do we believe in pictures more than in sounds? Here is one of the answers based on a science research:

“The visual information we see is combined with previously stored information about the world, which we have built up as a result of experience.”

This thesis describes the aspects we consider while judging reality, we perceive visuals based on our own personal experience which makes it easy to understand why we immerse easier perhaps with adjusting to the story what we would like to see.



Music videos could be helpful in both ways as an exposure and revenue. Most of the time music videos are created and released at the beginning of an album's or song's release cycle, it is intended to enhance exposure via many diffrent channels for fans to watch if they are shown in television or being streamed and playing in a public area. For some artists who have videos with viral appeal (artists like Gotye and Ylvis are great examples), they are a key enhancer for record sales and could help to create the story for a radio. So that means that when a brand enters the picture and by targeting places the right product in the right music clips, it can very easily produce a whole new revenue stream beneficial for the artist while also giving exposure to the brand. In a time when music market place is moving across variety of mediums these relationships in between of artists and brands can be very fruitful for the both of them.

Sales (with visuals and non visuals)

An estimated 84 percent of communications will be visual by 2018.

Asossciation to a group, for example punk


The multi-media exposure helped artists such as Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Prince attain superstar status.

different dimension to the song.

Music Industry Professionals quotes and marketing strategies


Instagram is one of the fastest growing platforms in 21st century and just like Youtube its idea is simple; to deliver visual content, originally just a picture, eventually short videos including sound and yet making it to the top of the biggest phenomenons nowadays.

The record of collecting the biggest number of likes belongs to one of the biggest stars of the music industry - Beyonce. There is no doubt most of artist tend to promote their music over the platform. How does it work in case of numbers? Here are some.

Instagram as for the beginning of 2018 has over 800 million users across the world and out of this almost 350 million follow 10 or more verified musicians. This means that an artist can reach out to over 350 million fans benefiting both from the fans getting involved in their campaign but most of all from the partnerships taking an advantage from the huge exposure (product advertising).

What's interesting is that in one of the studies comissioned by Instagram (Nielsen study) instagram users spend 30% more time listening to music than average. Also, they are twice as likely to pay for streaming services!

This shows us how big can be difference in between of the sales of an artist communicating with their fans via instagram to an artist who doesnt use the platform.

One of the biggest benefits of Instagram can be the fact an artist can create the exact image he would like to achieve. The picture can be edited and scheduled to appear in certain times which is a big tool for marketing. As much as we can edit the sound often due to its nature not every part can be fully editeable.

Many biggest events, shows and festivals in music industry also works with Instagram in order to create a wider, more immersive experience for their online audience; the fact that everybody attending the event can record a video or take a picture with their phone makes it possible for the people watching it to feel almost as if they were there (instead of 10 cameras normally placed during tv show live recording we can now have access to millions of cameras and their engles, many perspectives including the backstage etc.).

Artists often also ‘uncover' their every day oridinary activities and proudly share their private lives.


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