Music videos have been a widely used component of the record industry since the 1980s and the creation of MTV, which afforded for the first time a ready-to-use delivery system for the films that bands and artists might create to promote their work. Since then a well-executed or memorably conceived music video has been shown to have the ability to propel the conversation around a song or an artist and to make a permanent impact on the pop cultural landscape. Though music videos are most associated with the record industry of the last several decades, they have precursors in earlier eras of popular music, as some form of the music video has been around for a long time, albeit often in more marginal and technically clunky forms than are widely available today.
Pop culture historians date the first instance of something resembling the modern music video at least in its basic conception and approach to a date as far back as 1894, at a time when the main means for dissemination of popular music was not through recording technology but rather through the sale of sheet music enabling people to sing the songs themselves. For the promotion of the song “The Little Lost Child,” the music company sponsored live performances of the song that were accompanied by a series of still images shown on a projector. Several decades later, the motion picture industry prompted the creation of some of the first films that could be said to truly constitute music videos, as the ability to synch films to soundtracks became practicable on a wide scale. Warner Brothers made a series of musical short films, known under the title Vitaphone, which featured animations along with song performances. The cartoons created during this period also tended to anticipate the future use of the music video as a promotional tool, often featuring songs that were being promoted by the film studio, sometimes in live action interludes. Music historians have, however, pinpointed the real start of modern music videos in the short films made by the music star Louis Jordan during the subsequent decade.
Coming nearer to the present, the late 1950s and early 1960s saw the rise of the most prominent ancestor of the contemporary music video, as first developed in France, in the form of the “visual jukebox,” the Scopitone, which featured alongside the usual accouterments of the jukebox a viewing screen allowing the exhibition of a 16 mm film synced up with a magnetic soundtrack. Some of the prominent music stars featured in Scopitones include Serge Gainsbourg and Johnny Hallyday. These early music videos then spread to West Germany, and from there to English bars. By 1964, 500 Scopitones existed in the U.S. In this era, artists like Procol Harum, Nancy Sinatra, and Dionne Warwick appeared in Scopitone films. Though Scopitones faded in popularity, the late 1960s explosion in rock music saw many artists producing clips for themselves akin to music videos, which eventually received regular showings through precursors to MTV.