The dawning of the age of music videos has long been attributed to MTV, although music video as an art form has been around since the earliest days of cinema. However, music industry executives and concert promoters soon learned that the music video could be a valuable marketing tool, and out of that concept was born Music Television, which made it's debut as a 24-hour music network in 1981.
To any savvy viewer, the commercialism behind MTV was evident; but to the target audience of teenagers and young adults who were mesmerized by the colorful graphics, rapid-fire editing, and charismatic MTV "VJ's", the commercialism was artfully hidden behind a facade of "cool". In essence, it was pure marketing genius. After all, the best sales pitch is the one made to a person who doesn't even realize he's being sold to.
Although some truly artistic videos were made during that time, MTV's impact on music during the early '80s was mainly commercial in nature. Music videos were an integral element of an artist's success, especially when considering the album sales that followed the airing of a new music video. Without the video for "Thriller", for instance, Michael Jackson's album wouldn't have sold nearly as well. Without a video for "Like A Virgin", Madonna would have been just another struggling starlet from the Midwest, condemned to a life of performing in shopping malls and second-rate dance clubs.
For most artists, MTV was the judge, jury, and executioner when it came to deciding their fate. Their success in terms of album sales and tickets sold was wholly dependent on having a popular music video, and the fate of the music video was wholly dependent on how much airplay it recieved on MTV. Because of this, record companies scrambled to find bands and artists that were more marketable than talented; and the state of popular music, at least in this writer's opinion, has been in a steady decline ever since, thus proving the prophetic words of the Buggles (who have the distinction of having the first video ever aired on MTV): "video killed the radio star."
It certainly has.