MTV’s Contribution to Music


Throughout history there has been a slew of events that have been said to have changed music, or at least altered the course it was on. Now, “popular” music seems to change daily, if not hourly. There are so many avenues to obtain and produce music that is becomes overwhelming. A particular event that paved the way for a whole new overhaul of the music industry was the creation and launching of the television station MTV.


The Beginnings

August 1, 1981. That date probably stands out to a lot of people who happened to be watching television that night. That is the first time Music Television (MTV) broadcasted on the air. The program was fresh and new and gave exciting visual representation of the viewer’s favorite songs and artists.

Prior to this historic date, several other attempts to deliver music-television programming couldn’t get off the ground and stick. Robert Pittman who eventually became the president and CEO of MTV set things in motion by creating the original program format. In fact, he released a “test driven” early version of his idea on a small New York City station in the late 70’s. The program was called Album Tracks and was the basic concept Pittman was aiming for.

With the words “ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll” the program was on the verge to changing to changing history. The opening sequence, now widely iconic, showed a “montage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.” In place of our nation’s flag was a flash, multi-colored flag with MTV’s logo front and center.

To kick things off, appropriately, the band the Buggles’ hit song “Video Killed The Radio Star” was the first song to ever be featured on MTV. Obviously, the budget in this new-found venture was very limited because investors, as well as the artists themselves, didn’t know how lucrative music on television would be. As a result, the music videos weren’t as intricate as they are today. The videos were very simplistic, introduced by VJs or Video Jockeys, and usually “provided by the record companies for free.” However, that didn’t seem to deter the audience at all. Everyone loved it, which influenced more bands to make videos to air on MTV.



Impacting Music

Needless to say, MTV blew up and ‘watching music’ became a part of every home in the US in the 80’s. Now, music was no longer solely about a band’s technical talent but also about their live performance and presence. Soon, every musician was trying to score a spot on this show to their name out there.

MTV had a pivotal role in establishing or helping to further the careers of many artists. Some of the early ones include Madonna, Duran Duran, Prince, and many others. Also, British bands new-wave bands were increasingly popular in the US. By airing bands like Flock of Seagulls, Billy Idol, Tears For Fears, Depeche Mode, and Soft Cell, MTV helped to trigger the second wave of the British Invasion.

MTV became a symbol and “defined culture” in the mid-eighties. As a result, “popular music became more visual while dancing and clothing styles became more important.” The market was profitable and trendy and the videos in turn helped to boost album sales exponentially. This prompted the record labels to put more funds into the videos to “make them slicker and more stylish.” 

Many bands throughout the years had videos broadcasted on MTV. Some include David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, (whose song “Money For Nothing” incorporated the line “I Want my MTV), and many, many more. A rebranding of the MTV logo with the famous line “I Want My MTV” helped to save MTV from going under. The tag line was designed and pushed by the instrumental art designer George Lois.



Hey! What Happened To The Music?

Due to MTV’s massive commercial success, the network began to branch out to explore and branch out to other ventures. The first annual MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) was held in 1984 and continues to be the network’s “most watched annual event.”

On top of a lot of other music-based, comedy, and animated shows, MTV began exploring the popular realm of reality programs as yearly as 1992. MTV began with shows like the Real World, which is still a commercial success to this day, as well as road rules. The subsequent overwhelming popularity of these types of shows sparked a huge demand for more which resulted in shows like Jersey Shore and others.

MTV is constantly changing between different eras. Viewership has dropped off, mostly likely due to the disappearance of music on the station. Elaborate and fun music videos have been replaced by teen dramas.

However, there have been talks about rebranding MTV once again as a music dominated source. We can only hope!





Patrick Ortiz 





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