On Wednesday, April 29, Diana Wortham Theatre will roll out the red carpet — literally — for local musicians and videographers. Those artists will pull up in stylish cars on loan from Harmony Motors and step out, dressed to the nines, to a swarm of waiting photographers (“paparazzi”) whose pictures soon end up as Facebook profile shots for many participants. In this way, this year’s competitors in Music Video Asheville will make their grand entrances with flair, panache and personality.
“Last year we actually drove a VW Beetle across the stage,” says Kelly Denson, who co-organizes the event with boyfriend and business partner Jason Guadagnino.
With such pomp, circumstance and deliciously absurd trappings, it’s like a small-scale Video Music Awards, Asheville-style. A grassroots endeavor, the awards show is now in its eighth year and has grown into a highly anticipated event. Artists come from all genres, Denson says, to compete and to meet. Though music videos are long gone from MTV, these intersections of popular music and short film serve an essential purpose in the era of smartphones and tablets, she says. They can introduce listeners to new music. “If anyone ever tells you that music videos are a dying art form, they are full of it,” Denson says.
Marley Carroll agrees. The producer and electro-pop artist’s “Speed Reader” video won multiple awards last year. It wasn’t his first music video, but it was his first serious, thought-out one. He worked with a handful of people — for the production quality achieved, he says, it really was a small group — to produce a video that seriously impressed Denson (“It was probably one of the best submissions we have ever received,” she says). This year, Carroll performs at the after-party at Asheville Music Hall and is excited to experience Music Video Asheville as a spectator. He’s convinced of the music video’s practical power, after all.
“Very few people listen to music intentionally, like, ‘I’m going to sit down and listen to this record,’ which is something that used to happen,” Carroll says. “Now, one of the only ways to get somebody to sit through a full song is to give them something to watch.” As a professional musician, he’s drawn the conclusion that potential fans could stumble across his work, as long as he puts out worthwhile videos.
“YouTube has become the primary way that people discover music,” he says.
“Think of ‘Chandelier,’ by Sia. That was a beautiful piece of art, and people got to hear about who this person was,” Denson says. “And even ‘Wrecking Ball,’ that controversial [Miley Cyrus] music video from last year.”
Music videos, she says, have almost become so ubiquitous that people don’t think about them anymore. The roots of the medium go back at least as far as Scopitones and Panorams, film projector jukeboxes dating to the mid-20th century. The current home of music video — streaming sites like YouTube and Vimeo — have leveled the playing field, allowing anyone to create one. You can make a video from scratch on a smartphone, Denson notes, and post it from there.
“People are able to discover new music because they are on their computers all the time,” Denson says. Plus, the absence of a controlling network like MTV or VH1 allows for a wide variety. “There’s beautiful, dark art and also comedy — it reaches us on multiple levels.”
By definition, it’s democratic: The “Speed Reader” video, Carroll says, likely wouldn’t have made it to a channel like MTV. It was, however, able to find an audience through YouTube — a small one, he says, but still an audience. It’s a crowded Internet, though, and “Speed Reader” is just one video in the indistinct flood of online media that electronic artist Moby calls “gray goo.” Posting art on the Internet is easy; standing out can be tricky.
“Everybody who would coach you in terms of getting your stuff online would just be like, ‘have more, more, more,'” Carroll says. Yet he won’t put videos out just for the sake of steady output. He wants to release purposeful art rather than content for content’s sake. And if being a working musician in 2015 means he has to make music videos, he wants them to count for something.
“In some ways I wish the music could stand on its own, but I have to adapt,” Carroll says. Events like Music Video Asheville are valuable to artists like him because they bring musicians and videographers together in person. Though Carroll doesn’t have a video in the running this year, he may be paying close attention to the submissions, looking for a new collaborator.
“A good music video is amazing,” he says. “It’ll stick with you forever.”
WHAT: Music Video Asheville, musicvideoavl.com
WHERE: Diana Wortham Theatre
WHEN: Wednesday, April 29. Red carpet at 5:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m., awards at 9:30 p.m. $12 advance/$15 day of show/$25 VIP