David Byrne on the decline of MTV

Like a lot of people, I recall how, during the 90s, MTV played fewer and fewer music videos while ramping up production of horrible reality TV shows. My presumption at the time was that the music television station simply decided this was what “the kids” wanted. However, David Byrne, in his new book “How Music Works” claims to know better. He states on page 247…

Some decades ago… the big record labels decided that the commonly held idea that MTV was providing free exposure for the labels’ acts wasn’t acceptable anymore. They began to see MTV reaping profits while the record labels were providing all the network’s content for free. So the labels made deals with MTV to continue providing music videos, but now at a flat fee. The labels said they would then funnel some of the considerable income back to artists, but I don’t think they ever did. Eventually MTV played fewer and fewer music videos, turning instead to cheap reality TV shows. Part of that change had to be motivated by not wanting to pay record labels for content.

Interesting… frankly I can see the network’s argument… nobody wants to create content for free. Having said that, it doesn’t seem like their bickering really helped the labels or the music business.

When I consider MTV’s heyday, I always gravitate to memory of a teenage evening spent watching the network. That night I saw a video for a song called “My Boyfriend” by a strange group called The Cucumbers and it’s stayed stuck in my mind decades later. Thanks to the magic of youtube I just dug up a 120 Minutes segment on the band which features the video. (Interesting trivia: I once stood in line at a coffee shop in Seattle with the show’s Steve Martin-esque host, Kevin Seal.)

2 Responses to “David Byrne on the decline of MTV”


  1. john

    MTV once recorded a variety show at an Amusement Park where an MTV employee approached a group of young girls and invited them to attend the taping. He was very careful to have the girls sit in a very specific spot in the front row. An act called “The Anal Avengers” appeared in the show and at one point these troupers defecated all over the girls. No one made any effort to help these girls after they had been sprayed with excrement although the MTV camera crew was very careful to get it all on video tape. Someone instructed that employee to go out and find some girls to be shit on. How many MTV Staffers were in on this plan? No one knows. The event has not been investigated. The other people in the crowd were outraged, of course, and the show was cut off. Much cash was handed out, you can be sure. But shouldn’t criminal charges have been brought against all those people?

    So, no, I don’t give a fuck about MTV.

  2. john

    The Anal Avengers! Whatever happened to real Entertainers like Sammy Davis Junior and Minnie Pearl?