With the opening line, “Ladies and gentlemen, Rock and Roll.” MTV transformed music into a multi-sensory medium that not only impacted the audience and the bands performing it, but the music industry as a whole.
Prior to MTV’s debut on August 1, 1981, the phrase “Do you want to watch a music video?” would have left people confused. Music was something you either purchased in a store or heard on the radio. MTV took the songs you loved and the musicians you idolized and brought them to your screen. Having initially made a presence in Great Britain, several of the early artist debuts on the channel were English due to the lack of American video content. This brought somewhat of a second wave British Invasion and the ability for these artist to become recognized in the US. Some of these beloved musicians and bands were Duran Duran, The Cure, The Human League, Phil Collins, Pete Gabriel, Billy Idol, Tears for Fears, and many more.
The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first video ever played on MTV. With the title and lyrics of the song, it became clear that MTV intended on becoming the next generation of musical entertainment. The channels opening sequence was taken from the first launch of space shuttle Columbia and the Apollo 11 moon mission. The iconic MTV moon man left the impression that MTV was venturing to a place that no other station had gone, and that their impact would be long lasting.
When MTV first began, music videos cost as little as a few thousand dollars to produce. It immediately became clear that the viewers of MTV were watching the videos and in return buying the albums. Record companies took notice and began investing more money and production into music videos, some costing as much as 7 million dollars. This then added a new component into the music business and what it meant to be an artist at this time.
Gone were the days of musicians hiding behind a guitar, bass, or drum kit. Musicians were now expected to perform on a theatrical level and capture the attention of viewers through a television screen. Enter big hair, extravagant outfits, colorful settings, and visual interpretations of the world’s favorite songs. Music videos also created a more intimate relationship between the artist and viewer, making them appear more authentic.
MTV transitioned their line up in the 1990’s to include reality TV and cartoons such as The Real World and Bevis and Butthead. Though often scrutinized for their present lack of actual musical entertainment, MTV began as an innovative station that altered the music industry as well as the way in which an audience consumed the music that they loved. MTV changed what it meant to be a musician in the 1980’s and will forever be a nostalgic, feel good, memory for the teens and young adults growing up during that time.