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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 00:21 GMT 01:21 UK
MTV's musical legacy
Spice Girls
Did MTV helped spawn the Spice Girls?
BBC News Online's Darren Waters examines MTV's musical impact since its launch in 1981.

After 20 years of MTV perhaps the single most important legacy of the channel is the fact video did not kill the radio star.

Despite warnings to the contrary and fears that a music video channel would kill off radio, little on the surface appears to have changed since the birth of Music Television.

Eminem at the MTV music awards
Teenagers still form bands in garages, children still sing with a hairbrush as a microphone in front of mirrors and stars, such as Craig David, still burst onto the scene as overnight sensations.

The fact is pop music existed long before MTV burst onto our screens.

But the birth of the dedicated music channel did mark a watershed in the history of pop and a change in the relationship between popstars, audiences and record companies.

"The creation of MTV and the emphasis on videos removed the need to see the artist performing," says Stephen Armstrong, a music writer for The Face and Arena.

'Live performance'

Armstrong says the creation of MTV allowed record companies to market and package bands to a much greater degree than before.

MTV was born partly out a backlash by the music industry in an attempt to boost sales

Simon Warner, lecturer in pop music
"The Stock Aitken and Waterman acts, such as Kylie and Jason Donovan, had a huge advantage in the MTV age because they came from a telly background and were not about live performance."

Mr Armstrong believes the rise in popularity of boy and girl bands over the last 20 years is directly attributable to MTV.

Record companies were able to push their bands through videos and without relying on live performance, which honed the skills of bands in the past.


"Boy bands and girl bands are the most concentrated form of video culture," he says.

Simon Warner, a lecturer in pop music at Leeds University, says MTV helped break radio's domineering influence on which bands would find success.

Britney Spears
Britney Spears is a pop star of the MTV generation
"MTV has had an enormous influence but specifically what it did was replace radio as the main means of accessing music - and especially in the US where radio was always so powerful," he says.

The success of artists such as Billy Idol and Duran Duran is tied into the success of MTV, who were keen to show back-to-back videos on an endlessly repeating cycle.

Of course, music videos existed before MTV, but the channel fuelled an explosion in videos as record companies quickly grasped the marketing potential.

'Boost sales'

Mr Warner explains: "In the early 80s there was crisis brewing in the music industry because of the increase in people recording albums, or radio tracks on to cassette - they were not buying records.

Music could collapse in on itself and chew itself up

Stephen Armstrong, music journalist
"There was a big publicity campaign against taping. And MTV was born partly out a backlash by the music industry in an attempt to boost sales. And it did, through stimulating consumer interest in artists."

Ironically, MTV's success in breaking new bands and the ever growing reliance on videos to market a new artist perversely threatens the sort of talent we will see in the future.

"The cost needed to invest in a band, and to make a music video, is high," says Armstrong.

"Record companies are less likely to support an artist if there is not immediate success.


"MTV has made the industry more vulnerable - it has accelerated the industry."

Singers such as Girl Thing and Spice Girl Mel B have all parted company with their record labels recently after poor single sales.

"If MTV have made it more difficult for artists to break through then it will be bad for the station," says Armstrong.

He adds: "Music could collapse in on itself and chew itself up. MTV needs exciting pop - when pop is exciting viewing figures go up.

"The way that the record industry is now, based around marketing, it is dependent on assembly line music. The biggest risk is that MTV will just become dull. Who wants to watch that?"

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