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As Music Videos Grow Into Important Revenue Streams, Directors Have to Adjust

As visuals grow into important revenue streams, directors are having to adjust to increased demands and expanded expectations.

When Emil Nava shot Julia Michaels’ video for “Uh Huh,” he had to deliver both a regular and a vertical video to adapt to platforms like Spotify. “The deliverables have grown considerably,” says Nava, who just shot a Calvin Harris project with a main video, two album commercials and stills for its artwork.

Until two years ago, a music video was simply used to promote a song. Now, with the advent of monetized streaming services, the music video has become an important revenue driver, changing the field’s delivery expectations.

“Videos today are seen as a revenue source on the product,” says Jim Roppo, Republic’s executive vp marketing. “When you make videos with the potential to reach 500 million to 1 billion impressions, what can we invest to get the best creative possible? We need more iterations.”


For instance, the official video for Taylor Swift‘s “Look What You Made Me Do” had 586 million views as of Oct 16; the lyric video had 82 million; a 21-second teaser had 4 million; and three behind-the-scenes videos count a combined 3 million. Billboard calculates YouTube plays of the lyric and official videos would bring in $868,000 to the label (of which 25-50 percent go to the artist) and $237,000 to the music publisher (which would then distribute to its songwriters). Ed Sheeran‘s “Shape Of You,” with combined official video and lyric video plays of 3.22 billion, could generate $4.2 million to the label and $1.142 million for the publisher, before distribution to the artist and songwriters.

“We’re being asked to deliver more content that will intrigue the viewer to watch the video,” says Carlos Perez, who directed Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito,” the most-viewed video on YouTube with more than 4 billion views. “Labels want to create concepts the viewer wants to be part of.”

For “Shape of You,” directed by Jason Koenig, the artist wanted a prelude to the video with the goal of creating a mini-movie in three and a half minutes. “My job with the music video is to bolster the song, give it a whole new component, connect it to a visual narrative and add,” Koenig says.

“We can come out with a lyric video, then the proper music video, then acoustic,” explains Roppo. “It extends the [song’s] life cycle.”

Several video directors now have creative teams that specialize in other aspects of the content-creation process; Koenig’s former apprentice, for example, does photography when required. Last year, Nava launched Ammolite Inc., a community of young creators who specialize in different deliverables. Recently, the group delivered five music videos of Jack & Jack for Samsung, plus an audiovisual EP, three VR music videos and the single photography. “We like the idea of creating something big at the top [along with] other elements, almost as a map,” says Nava.

Vertical videos, more user-friendly for smartphone viewing, are also becoming a trend. Instead of merely flipping a camera around to make a horizontal shot vertical, which results in that ungainly space on both sides, directors are shooting vertical format videos and Spotify is also commissioning them for vertical-friendly platform.

While additional content can lead to increased budgets, costs still pale in comparison to those in the music industry’s heyday. Multiple sources say typical videos are priced between $40,000 and $60,000; Koenig has produced Macklemore videos ranging from $20,000 to $500,000. “I remember back in the day working on $1 million videos,” says Rebeca Leon, who manages J Balvin. “Now, people are more resourceful. You can make something great for $10,000.”

“We’re trying to get as much content for our production dollar as we can,” says Roppo, who describes video content budgets as “fluid.” “The bottom line is, whether you spend $25,000 or $1 million, the creative is really the most important part.”

As Music Videos Grow Into Important Revenue Streams, Directors Have to Adjust | Billboard