State of Play: Tara Bartlett, Lowkey Films
Rob Ulitski - 29th Mar 2023
In the latest of our series asking British music video-makers about their experiences last year and thoughts on this year, we grabbed some time with Tara Bartlett, Head of Music at Lowkey Films.
Tara joined Lowkey last autumn, returning to music video production following a stint in 360 digital creative services, and she has interesting things to say on a subject that a lot of people are thinking about: making creative content in the shifting landscape of online platforms. She also has ideas about where we can find "the new MTV"...
I definitely think we can use social platforms to our advantage as creatives.
How would you describe last year in a few words?
Full of surprises.
What was your favourite project or projects you worked on last year?
I only got to join the Lowkey team at the end of last year - but I remember Inhaler’s video for Love Will Get You There, by our brilliant director James Arden, was being delivered that first week that I joined. The video throws it back to Top Of The Pops performances and 80’s talk shows - shooting on 40 year old broadcast cameras with an audience full of real fans. A shoot I know was a lot of fun and I’m sure would have been a personal favourite too.
I would have loved to have been there for Vasilisa Forbes trio of videos for Pale Waves too! Living out everyone’s American Beauty bed of roses dreams. Also just a great example of building relationships with artists, and focussing more on the wider campaign rather than just one piece of content. I think more collaboration in that sense is so important, and really helps to join the creative together a little more, to make campaigns feel connected visually.
Above: Inhaler's Love Will Get You There, directed by The Trash Factory (aka James Arden)
What were the best aspects of the job last year?
I always have the same answer, but it's the people, every time.
What were the most challenging aspects of the job last year?
More ever-growing platforms and audiences to navigate and entertain than ever! For lots of projects, as well as great ideas, companies and creatives also now need to have social expertise, and understand audience behaviour across these platforms, for ideas to get the engagement they need (and deserve!). Definitely a challenge, but it can also be fun working out how to win the attention of multiple audiences.
Best or favourite video or videos last year that you weren’t involved with?
I love watching how Gorillaz continue to build that iconic visual world. It’s genius and timeless. I think the Cracker Island video just proves that they’re always one step ahead, musically and creatively. The avatars make more sense than ever now within the creative landscape and this video so seamlessly shows that off.
And I came across Zac Dov Weisel’s video for Rodney Chrome's To The Money in a real Instagram hole one evening, and thought it was one of the most fun videos I’d seen in ages. 100% the kind of set I’d love to be on. You can feel the energy is there behind the camera as well as in front of it. This video made me smile a lot - and miss New York.
Above: Pales Waves's Clean, directed by Vasilisa Forbes
What were the trends (creative or otherwise) that you thought were most striking last year?
A friend of mine, multidisciplinary creative Jack Bridgland, did an amazing shoot with Robert Patterson for GQ, which I think was a big creative moment last year. It was for an article called the Metamorphosis of Robert Patterson, talking about how he defies expectations as an actor, and the shoot that runs alongside this interview proves that. It’s bold, and it got people’s attention - this was a version of him no one had seen before, or knew they needed to see. I think that foreseeing what audiences won’t expect, is an amazing creative skill.
What were other cultural highlight (or highlights) of the year?
Creative direction and 360 visual world-building, even extending into physical activations, or products - like Lewis Capadi’s ‘The Big Sexy Cheesy’ pizza. You can have so much fun with it.
Any other personal experience that defines 2022 for you?
Joining Lowkey. I genuinely couldn’t be happier to be working alongside such wonderful and talented people, with such an honest and value-led way of working. Definitely defines the year for me - and the years ahead - I’m so excited for 2023. It’s going to be a big and bright one!
There’s lots of work going into developing the music department at Lowkey.
What are you looking forward to this year – both for work and for other parts of your life?
Good energy! In every aspect, spending time and sharing creativity with great people, both in and outside of work.
Have you set work objectives for this year and if so, what are they?
Lots! Big and small, I think it’s so important to set goals - and allow yourself to dream a bit. There’s been lots of work going into the development of the music department at Lowkey - with new directors, new offerings, knowledge and expertise to allow us to navigate the ever-evolving future of music and creativity. Making important and quality creative work (done with value at the heart) is at the forefront of them all. But more news on that soon..
Who are the up-and-coming talents that you think will break through this year – or at least deserve to be successful?
I have met, and had so many great conversations with with amazing new talent in the last few months. From up-and-coming directors, to creatives that have previously been choreographers, photographers, creative directors, etc - who all have such a fresh and exciting approach to directing, and who I know are going to make big moves this year.
To throw out one name - Lusha Alic, who was our newest signing last year - has the most incredible creative brain, in dreaming up high-concept ideas that surpass where anyone would expect an artist or brand could go. She’s also an amazing photographer, and a visual effects experimenter, so can build out amazing visual worlds - across multiple media.
Claryn Chong is also another creative force (and amazing human). I’ve had the pleasure of being with her on set a couple times already this year, and I know she’s going to do big things, and I couldn’t be more excited for her.
Some others we’re excited about at Lowkey, aside from the existing roster (who are also cooking up new approaches to music videos and content this year), will definitely be shouted about very soon.
Above: Die Antwoord, by Lusha Alic
I think positioning music videos as more of an event is a really smart way to hold engagement.
What is your prediction for the direction of the industry in 2023? And what will be the big trends for the year ahead?
I think it’s like I said before, with the standout creative moments of the last year - expect the unexpected. More than ever, audiences are craving a constant stream of newness, and we need to be served creative content that feels like nothing we’ve ever seen before, to actually stop and engage.
2022 felt like it was very single release-driven, with a lot of artists holding back or working on albums for this year. I think visual albums could be a big one this year. Artists like Sampha, Beyonce, Solange, etc, have done these so well in the past, and I think positioning music videos as more of an event is a really smart way to get attention and hold engagement. I feel like these are also such win-win creative opportunities for both directors and artists. We get to be incredibly creative, whilst artists also get to take their audiences on the journey in which their music was intended.
I’ve seen a few artists starting to use the storyline feature more on Spotify - to give more context to their music - and I think there’s a lot of appetite for it from fans. Maybe the canvas’ could become full-length music videos, and the streaming platforms could be the new MTV's...
Any other comments about the current environment for music video production and music video creativity? What are the issues that we should be most concerned with?
I think we are a lot at the mercy of the audience demographics, and the unpredictable change in the purpose of online platforms. Music videos haven’t become any less enjoyable - if anything, they are more so - but it feels like they may be currently battling for their place on platforms like Youtube, which is becoming more like a platform where most of its audiences engage in longer-form content, or content which feels more like an ‘event’, or tells a story.
They definitely still have a place on these platforms, and don’t think we need to (or should!) start shooting music videos for only vertical. But we need to think about who and where three minute videos are most likely to be consumed - currently IG reels, TikTok, etc - and how we really optimise them for these channels so they get the recognition they deserve. And how can we create genuinely engaging promotional assets (not just cut-downs), so that audiences on these platforms are drawn to go and watch, and appreciate these music videos as they've always been intended.
We need to think about who and where three minute videos are most likely to be consumed.
Where are the opportunities in the current environment?
I definitely think we can use social platforms to our advantage as creatives - looking at content packages as an opportunity to extend the narrative of music video ideas, beyond those few minutes, and allowing the creative work to live on.
Have you made any personal New Year resolutions? And if so, how’s it going?
Had to revisit my notes app for this, which shows how well they’re going. But apart from the obvious and the annual, I want to go to more gigs again this year. I definitely did less of that in 2022. And spend more time listening to my favourite, or new albums, outside of working/commuting, etc!
• Tara Bartlett is Head of Music at Lowkey Films
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Rob Ulitski - 29th Mar 2023