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Creative lessons from making lyric videos

It might have been done before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it better.

Lucy Dawkins, Yes Please Productions

Creative Director and Co-Founder

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Marketing is dead. Creativity is dead. The Beatles wrote all the songs sixty years ago. Sure.

Well, maybe not so sure.

As human beings, we love to make stuff. Build, create, inspire. Even if we’re riffing on existing ideas, it’s the spin that gives them a personality - the Sex Pistols didn’t invent punk, but they made it their own. 

Or Malcom McLaren did. You be the judge. 

The point is, not everything’s been done before; and if it has, there’s probably a new way to present it. I know that because since 2017, I’ve been working in a music industry specialism more maligned than Queen’s disco album, Hot Space, The Thong Song and Nickelback’s discography combined. 

Lyric videos. That’s what I do. I take the lyrics to songs - often from catalogue artists - and put them in a video. I’ve done it for the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Sam Cooke and more. And it’s the most creative I’ve ever felt in my life. 

It’s given me the chance to spotlight old records and artwork in a way that just wasn’t possible at the time the songs were released. For the Stones’ Dandelion, I ended up hand-drawing an alphabet inspired by the song’s 7” sleeve from 1967. But the Spanish sleeve, no less - taking the word ‘Flowers’ that was on that cover and  turning it into a whole alphabet, letter by letter! 

The point is, not everything’s been done before; and if it has, there’s probably a new way to present it.

Lucy Dawkins, Creative Director at Yes Please Productions

We’ve done a similar thing for our recent video for Child of the Moon. We took the natural landscape and elements from the track’s original, acid-tinged 1968 promo video, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg; then, we hand-drew it with bespoke illustrations of flowers, leaves and patterns that grow in and around the typeface, which we again lifted from the track’s original 7” sleeve. It’s a bit more than the Windows Movie Maker image that probably pops into your head when you think ‘lyric video’. 

Working with catalogue artists like the Stones and the Kinks has changed my working methods so much - it’s turned me into a bit of a historian. I’m now assessing the minutiae of every brief to the point of a headache - going back to the time period the song was set, assessing the fashion, the movies, the posters, the cultural touchstones, the materials used. Anything and anything that can add some context, I’ll have no doubt seen it and tried to reference it into the video. 

It’s a chance to celebrate something that no longer exists - an opportunity to show that brief moment in time to thousands of people who just weren’t even born when it was happening. 

There’ve also been instances when my work has allowed me to literally rewrite history. We worked on lyric videos for a lot of the Stones’ early material, which is owned by the record label ABKCO. 

When we undertook some of that, we teamed up with the label’s audio engineer - she helped us decode some of the ad libs, non-sequiturs and general Jagger mumblings. Together, we worked through albums’ worth of material and found several instances where the ‘official’ lyrics have been wrong for decades. They’ve been updated for our lyric videos and future re-releases - digging into the archives has revealed new truths and tidbits for me, the fans and even the label.  

And honestly, it’s given me a new appreciation of both music and my own creativity. The Stones stuff, in particular, helped provide another outlet for my  graphic design skills - it’s what I studied at uni, and I’d fallen out of love with it. But presented with the format of the lyric video, it gave me an opportunity to genuinely do something different. To be a music sleuth, a lyrical detective, a visual cover band. It’s a medium that never gets boring, despite the reputation that precedes it. 

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Guest Author

Lucy Dawkins, Yes Please Productions

Creative Director and Co-Founder,

About

Lucy is creative director and co-founder at Yes Please Productions, a graphic and motion design studio for the music industry. She founded Yes Please in 2010 alongside Tom Readdy, and has produced lyric videos, live visuals, creative direction and more for the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Sam Cooke and Carole King. Lucy studied graphic design in Bristol, and won Best Film at the Royal Television Society West of England 2014 Awards for directing My Secret World: The Story of Sarah Records, a documentary about the city's cult label of the same name.

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