• My basket
  • Your Shopping Basket is empty.

Total — £ (ex. VAT)

How the Music Videos industry can open the door for new talent

SMUGGLER’s Managing Director tells us why the music video industry should stand tall amidst uncertainty and give fresh voices a chance

Image from Jay-Z "Smile" produced by SMUGGLER and Tidal that won a Graphite Pencil in the Music Videos category in 2018

D&AD’s Music Videos category celebrates films made to promote music, and jurors have previously awarded projects, including 2002’s Black Pencil-winning Star Guitar for Chemical Brothers and 2023's Cash In Cash Out for Pharrell Williams, which swept the board. Now, as the industry faces budget cuts, and it becomes harder for new talent to breakthrough, we asked Sue Yeon Ahn, SMUGGLER’s US Managing Director and our Music Videos Jury President for 2024, what she thinks about the tough year this space has had. Ahn started her career as a director’s assistant for the American filmmaker Roman François Coppola, who asked her to eventually run the music video department at his production company The Directors Bureau, where she produced videos for Jay-Z and Arcade Fire. She has produced some of SMUGGLER’s most lauded work, including Mark Molloy’s series for Apple, The Underdogs (2019), and has been instrumental in developing the next generation of talent. Here, Ahn tells us about the threats and opportunities the industry faces from her point of view.

What will you be looking for in D&AD Award-winning work?

I’m looking for innovation. We’re lucky when making music videos because they’re short form, and things happen from beginning to end in a fairly small period of time. This makes it easier to experiment. You can try out new crew, new techniques, new technology, and it’s not something you’re investing a year or three years in, and then ultimately having success or failure. Don't be afraid to take risks and don’t box yourself in.

Image from Naive New Beaters - Words Hurt produced by Solab Pictures that won a Yellow Pencil in the Music Videos category in 2018

What is happening in the industry right now that is exciting you?

That's a question that gets asked time and time again, and you almost always hear a pretty similar answer, regardless of the time. You hear that it's the Wild, Wild West. 15 or 20 years ago, it was VR, and then it was YouTube and social media. Now it's AI. Every few years, there's something new that's very disruptive, and we don't know what's going on, but I actually think that that's a constant. That’s just part of our industry and we have to adapt. The last few years have been tough for a lot of people, because there was a lot of uncertainty, but I think we might be coming out of that now, which is exciting. We’re on the precipice of change, and right now it’s just important to stay true to our craft.

What challenges has the music video industry has faced in recent years?

Treatments are very expensive to produce, and budgets are always fluctuating and shrinking. It’s funny though, 20 years ago they were saying that budgets are shrinking, and budgets have shrunk even more since that, but we always manage to make it happen. There was a lot of economic uncertainty, there was this impending recession that was happening, and everybody including clients and marketers were shoring up for that, but it never really hit. I talk about this a lot with my colleagues. Advertising is generally recession-proof to a certain degree. When there's a recession, it seems like advertising really booms, and when the economy's doing really well, advertising booms. It’s these in-between periods of pre-recession or post-recession, where we don't know what's happening, where we really suffer. Right now, agencies are afraid of losing clients, and clients are afraid of losing customers, and a lot of it is fear-based because people don’t want to lose revenue. I think we just need to stay the course and continue to press on. I know it’s easier said than done when people’s livelihoods are on the line, but we need to stand tall.

Image from Pharrell Williams - Cash In Cash Out produced by DIVISION that won multiple Yellow Pencils in the Music Videos category in 2023

Do you think it’s tougher for new talent to enter the industry now?

If we as the music video industry can give more attention to smaller artists and to smaller directors, you can still have the opportunities we used to have. It’s hard when you're competing with people on a global scale. There's a sense of globalism in the music industry that really wasn't there before. Prior to, I don't know, 10 or 15 years ago, it felt like artists were within their individual markets. When I was a kid, I listened to a certain genre of music, and that was it, that was my tie to my identity. Now, everyone, adults and kids alike listen to the same music. We're all listening to Drake. We're all listening to Taylor Swift. It's created a huge gap. You've got these mega artists that go across all cultures and age groups, but if we can remember to think about the more niche artists and the more niche directors, we’ll give rise to more opportunities across the music and music videos industry.

What are the opportunities in the industry right now?

There's a lot of focus on bite-sized content across both commercials and music videos, with a focus on things that are Instagrammable or very short form. I also think we have a very rare opportunity to continue committing ourselves to craft despite all of this pressure from marketers and labels.Don’t be afraid of AI, it’s going to be a tool more than anything, just be fearless and keep your eyes on the prize. 

D&AD Awards 2024 is now open for entries. The Music Videos category celebrates Films created to promote a song, EP or album and the crafts used to produce them. Learn more about and enter the Music Videos category here.