Katy Perry: The Real Magic Act In “Dark Horse”

Dark Horse

Photo: All Rights Katy Perry/Capital Records


Katy Perry is a music mega-hit machine. Her latest hit is Dark Horse, is set, as the video says, “A crazy long time ago” in Memphis Egypt. This tightly crafted video is typical of the best new entertainment. Very high production values, very skilled artists… and absolutely no production credits for anyone other than the stars!

These videos are mini movies, but unlike theatrical movies, there are no credits at the end, to show who contributed to the production. In this video, men are in elaborate blue and red body paint, and the women are in identical gold outfits wearing cat-head masks that completely cover their heads and hair. It’s impossible to see who in acting in the video. The real magic in Katy Perry’s video is that the production credits have disappeared!

You may think, “Well, who cares who did what?” Keep in mind that the coin of the media world is exposure and recognition for your work. If you don’t know who did what, how do you know who to hire for the next video or album, or whatever?

At the end of every commercial movie, you have that endless procession of people and positions you’ve never heard of. It’s what’s called, “The Ending Credits.” Yes, it does go on (and on) for what seems like forever. However, this is where all the people who contributed to the movie get credit for their work. People that you don’t know, who perform jobs that you never knew existed, get their few seconds of fame.

Instead of just leaving at the end of the movie, take a few seconds and read the credits. Just what is a key grip, or a best boy? What do they do? Well, whatever it is, if they didn’t do it, you probably wouldn’t have a movie to watch. The actors on the screen are usually just a tiny fraction of the talent needed to produce a move, TV show or a piece of music. We recognize the stars, but without credits no one else gets much recognition. Especially if their costumes hide their faces.

In the strange workings of the media world, a commercial movie has very strict rules, and these rules are enforced by union contracts, including how credits work. If it is not a movie, and it was not produced by a unionized studio, the rules can be very different. Including giving no mention or no credits at all, to everyone else in the production other than the very recognizable stars. Just like  Dark Horse.

Of course, you might think that the industry should give up its antiquated ideas of credited work, and instead focus on how talent is paid. Maybe, but the industry is changing even more quickly there, and not in the right direction if you happen to be an artist. A hundred years ago, most artists were just learning that they could get paid for recording their work. Today, artists are learning that most forms of new media barely pay them for their work. Tiny details of how your work is played, make a very big difference in what you will be paid.

Residuals, the money artists are paid for replaying their work, differ based on minutia about how the music is used.  Did you know that residuals are much higher for talent when you play a song from a CD or a downloaded MPG, than when you listen to a streaming service, like Pandora? We’re not talking about a little difference here, it’s a staggering amount! One artist said that in the past for one song he did with a well-known star he made enough to by a house. Today, he did a digital release that got a huge number of hits, and had enough to buy a discount breakfast.

In the past, the idea was that radio helps to promote your “real” sales, and so they receive a steep discount per play. When media went digital, and then went streaming, strange new rules took over that dramatically reduced payment per play. For example, one artist showed that for 18,797 plays on commercial radio, already far less than if you bought a CD or MP3, he was paid just $1,374. You’re probably thinking, “That’s all?” Well, on Pandora, one of the most popular streaming services, the artist got over a million plays of the same song but only received $16.89.

This is the real magic in Dark Horse. As most media becomes digital media, the niceties about how credit and money from projects is split between the talent… niceties that took decades to put in place…  is quickly being lost.  Young artists need recognition in order to become tomorrow’s stars. Pay attention to the credits and to how you choose to use digital media, or the disappearing act in Dark Horse is going to deprive us all of the next generation of entertainment! And that’s my Niccolls worth for today.


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