Strange New Worlds Issue 9 - Sep/Oct 1993
Move Over, MTV
Here Come the Song Vids!
Fan Music Videos
by Tashery Shannon
During the last decade, a new media form came into the world: the song video, otherwise
known as fan music videos, or song vids.
For those who have missed song video showings at conventions, or have never had a tape
foisted on you by a friend obsessed with making vids, let me attempt to explain
this creative form of fan art. Imagine clips from a favorite television show or movie
edited to a song. As an example, here is a brief description of a Star Trek song
video using Simon and Garfunkels The Sounds of Silence. This song vid was
made several years ago by Mary Van Deusen, a maker of many early song vids now considered
classics. The song opens with a few quiet guitar notes. We hear:
" Hello, darkness, my old friend
Ive come to talk with you again"*
while we are shown Kirk sitting alone in his apartment with his book and broken
spectacles (footage from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock). During the next
lines of the song, the vid maker presents us with a "flashback" to years before
Kirk, exhausted and grief-stricken and Spock giving him the healing mind-meld
touch. We do not hear Spock whispering the single word of dialogue, "Forget."
Instead we hear Simon and Garfunkel's lyrics
"Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping."
But because this is a memorable moment in the series, most fans know what Spock is
saying to Kirk. It is this knowledge of the significance of the image that conveys an
additional meaning to Star Trek fans, though the message would be lost to those
unfamiliar with the series.
This image is then juxtaposed with clips from Spocks heroic demise. Combined with
the earlier images and with the haunting lyrics, these images now hold a significance not
displayed in the original. The vid becomes more than the sum of its parts. Spock's mental
command to "Forget" is eerily mirrored when just before his death he implants
his consciousness in McCoys mind while uttering the single word,
By joining images in new ways, a song vid can often strike chords of new meaning.
On the next line, "And the vision that was planted in my brain still
remains," we see a still image of Spock and Kirk against an alien sky, a typical
portrait of them facing the unknown together. The vid continues in this way, using
familiar Trek images to refer in different ways to "silence" . . . the lonely
silence of Spocks absence. The vid ends with Kirk alone. It paints a portrait of
sadness, with no hints of the happy ending that will be encountered in Kirk's future. Vids
often do this, choosing to explore at more depth some single moment in the sequence of a
Since song video makers must work with already existing body of video material, they
face the challenges posed by these limited images. One of the most enjoyable aspects of
"vidding" is creatively solving these problems. This use of derivative material
limits its effectiveness for viewers unfamiliar with the source. But for those who know
the source, the result can be fascinating and often quite startling. A new angle can be
created by choosing images to tell the story from a supporting characters, or even a
villains, viewpoint. Or, a combination of images and lyrics might bring out
previously untapped humor, as in, say, images of Han Solo set to a song about a conceited
macho cowboy. Conversely, the visuals can make a serious song funny, as when Blakes
7 villain Travis tracks down Blake to the tune of the romantic song Follow Me.
How to Make Fan Music Videos
Professional editing equipment is not needed to make song videos. Anyone can do it as
long as they have video tapes of a television series or movie to use as a source, a stereo
system, a VCR for recording a song onto videotape, and a second VCR with video dubbing
capability. After the soundtrack is recorded, the first VCR plays the source tapes and the
other (the one with video dubbing capability) copies the images onto the videotape with
the soundtrack. Only a few years ago, VHS or Beta machines with video dub capacity were
expensive and difficult to find. Now a large selection of VHS machines with video dubbing
is available. Prices have lowered dramatically; the least expensive models sell for around
$400 at discount electronics stores. The significance of video dub is that the regular
recording mode automatically erases all old images and sound from the tape as it
records the new images and sound. Video dub mode allows visual images to be recorded
without erasing the song that the vid maker previously laid down as a soundtrack.
The earliest vids were simple affairs. A single, consecutive sequence from a TV episode
or movie played straight through, without editing, to the accompaniment of a song. The
lyrics gave new nuances of meaning to favorite scenes, but the relationship between the
picture and sound was hit-and-miss. Experiments with editing began to juxtapose shorter
clips from a variety of different scenes in new ways, giving the video maker better
control over meaning and emotional content. An edit per line or two became standard. An
early Blakes 7 vid by Patricia Lamb, set to Willie Nelsons Angel
Flyin Too Close to the Ground, utilizes a simple editing technique to change
scenes. A clip is edited in from a different scene, showing the ship's crew around the
campfire sharing the news of a crewmate's death; this edit is deliberately timed so that a
cut already in the episode to a close-up of the fire falls within the sequence -- the
symbolism of the dying fire adding to the emotional effect. For several years, nearly all
song videos used this simple kind of editing. It remains a common method, appropriate
especially for slow songs where the lyrics are more striking than the rhythms.
Vid makers explore many themes, both comic and tragic, usually to pop, rock, folk,
country, or satiric recordings by a well-known band. But other kinds of recordings,
including filk, have also been used. [Filk is a media-inspired musical performance. See
"In a Fine Filk," Issue #8 of Strange New Worlds for a detailed
discussion of this form of fan music.] There is one humorous vid set to the vid
makers reading of the story Peter Rabbit with only a piano accompaniment.
Some vids also mix spoken words and songs, like Gayle Feyrers ingenious Universe
Song. In this vid, Blakes 7 characters encounters Monty Python's organ
bank bounty hunters and seem to have dialogue with each other. "Can I have your
liver, then?" This is a unique, creative twist on the originals. But the humor only
fully works if the audience is familiar with both the Monty Python liver donor sketch and
the Blakes 7 episode.
The most popular sources for song vids have been Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next
Generation, Blakes 7, Beauty and the Beast, and films such as Star Wars.
Other favorites include newcomers like Quantum Leap and non-science fiction shows
like Starsky and Hutch, Sherlock Holmes, and the English adventure show, The
Professionals. The use of images from more than one source is also growing popular.
The most recent trend has been toward greater control and refinement in editing. As
improved equipment allows more precise, cleaner, and easier editing, some vid makers are
using quicker cuts falling on more exact musical points. They use not only the lyrics, but
the music, with sophistication to create an increasingly complex interplay between the
rhythms of the song and the cutting and motions of the cameras and actors.
If song vids are so compelling, why are they only now, after a decade, beginning to
catch on among fans? At the beginning of their existence, few people owned VCRs. Also, the
popularity of specific song videos is limited to narrow fan groups. Since the images are
reduced to short, out-of-context clips, all but the most slapstick are incomprehensible to
viewers unfamiliar with the source. They become a mere collage of abstract images. The
nuances of meaning are lost and non-viewers of the particular shows cannot understand the
unique way song vids interact with the source media.
Perhaps the greatest barrier to their spread among fans is that song videos cannot
legally be sold. The music and footage, no matter how it has been edited, is still someone
elses creative property. It does not belong to the song vid maker. Anyone
considering selling song tapes should be aware that there is a danger of prosecution under
the same laws governing pirating of music or movie tapes. Giving away your song tapes or
trading them, however, is perfectly legal. To be ethical, the vid should be your own work
or you should have the permission of the vid maker to distribute it. This circulation
among friends is being sped up through a new channel of communication, a recently started
newsletter for song vid makers and viewers, Rainbow Noise.
For many science fiction fans, a song video giving new insights into favorite
characters has special meaning that no original camcorder footage possibly could. Though
some song video makers have set their own camcorder footage to songs, it is significant
that the media-related song vids have remained overwhelmingly the most popular with fans.
They are not quite like having new episodes of your favorite series, but it is startling
how habit-forming song videos can become. They can refresh, transform, and deepen an
appreciation for a known and loved series or film.
Again, yes, song vids are a derivative art form. But since vids are mainly a fan-to-fan
form of communication, who cares? Song vids represent a special, private communication
between fans and friends.
*The Sounds of
Silence, words and music by Paul Simon, copyright 1966
STAR TREK TM & ã Paramount Pictures. Star
Trek is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures.
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