The Impact of MTV on the Music Industry

MTV aired in August 1st of 1981 during the midnight. This TV channel started its transmission and played a big role not only in the music industry but also in music history for two generations.

As a very fulminating statement, MTV’s first video was ‘Video killed the radio star’ by the Buggles, after a message that said “Ladies and gentlemen, rock’n’roll!” A new era in the music world was just starting and the battle between radio and the cable channel has begun.
Many audiovisual artists found a new way to express themselves, and the music industry saw a new investment option for their artists and performers to make a greater impact that would be reflected in growing sales and more profit.

MTV’s origins date from 1977, when Warner-Amex Cable started the two first forms of interactive television in Columbus, Ohio. This was a system that offered special channels. ‘Sight on Sound’ was a music channel where the viewers could vote for artists and songs. The program for this channel was created by music producer Bob Pittman, who would later become MTV Network’s president and CEO.
By that time, the Grammys were the indisputable music awards in the industry. But once MTV was installed all over the USA, with a rising popularity between teens and young adults that could see their idols on the small screen, the MTV music awards were created in 1984. Madonna was the first one who won the most important award of the gala and Nirvana made history in 1992 when they broke all of their instruments on stage.
Michael Jackson had also an important role in MTV’s history; he was the first black man to be aired on the channel. In a channel where basically all videos were starred by white people, Michael Jackson paved a road for black people and opened the door for many R&B performers.
In 1989, MTV aired a series of concerts named ‘Unplugged’. With a live audience and little witnesses, this format searched for getting the crowd closer to the artist. One of the most famous and most memorable editions was Nirvana’s unplugged in November of 1993; this was also one of Nirvana’s last performances before Kurt Cobain’s death.

There is no question that MTV became an important part of the culture, modernity and, globalization. Suddenly lots of teenagers and older people started to imitate the hairstyles and clothing of their idols, they sang and danced the songs that this channel popularized.
Names such as Duran Duran, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard owe a lot of their success and popularity to the network that hosted them.
MTV also pioneered in the business of reality TV. Displaying real people on television in everyday situations was the network’s whole idea, this helped them understand what products could be more likely to have bigger success in sales. The first reality show aired on MTV was ‘The real world’ in 1992.
Other iconic products that came from MTV were ‘The Osbournes’ which showcases the life of Ozzy Osbourne and his family. Later, some animation would also be aired on MTV like Daria, Beavis and Butthead and South Park.
“You’ll never see music the same way” was one of MTV’s main slogans, after a lot of changes in their lineup, MTV faced a decrease in popularity. Nowadays, MTV faces a bigger menace with the spreading of internet and music streaming. Platforms like YouTube have unseated a lot of music channels since people have immediate access to the videos they want to see from their favorite artists.

After their (highly-criticized) spin to less musical content, the network has promised to go back to their origins and bring back the old lineup including the famous ‘unplugged’ concert series. Interestingly enough, they’ve launched a new channel called MTV Classics, dedicated exclusively to the old bastions of the network, but not leaving behind the mixture between music and reality TV that made them so popular back them.

Happy watching,


About the Author

Jose Carlos

Jose is a student of musicology and a big fan of books and science.

He lives in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and works as a freelance writer. His main profession is writing articles about music-related topics like music therapy, how music can cure diseases and what it does to the human brain.

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