Music videos use a wide range of styles and contemporary video-making techniques, including animation, live action, documentary, and non-narrative approaches such as abstract film. Some music videos combine different styles with the music, such as animation and live action. Combining these styles and techniques has become more popular because of the variety for the audience. Many music videos interpret images and scenes from the song's lyrics, while others take a more thematic approach. Other music videos may not have any concept, being merely a filmed version of the song's live performance.
In 1894, sheet music publishers Edward B. Marks and Joe Stern hired electrician George Thomas and various performers to promote sales of their song "The Little Lost Child". Using a magic lantern, Thomas projected a series of still images on a screen simultaneous to live performances. This would become a popular form of entertainment known as the illustrated song, the first step toward music video.
In 1926, with the arrival of "talkies" many musical short films were produced. Vitaphone shorts (produced by Warner Bros.) featured many bands, vocalists and dancers. Animation artist Max Fleischer introduced a series of sing-along short cartoons called Screen Songs, which invited audiences to sing along to popular songs by "following the bouncing ball", which is similar to a modern karaoke machine. Early 1930s cartoons featured popular musicians performing their hit songs on-camera in live-action segments during the cartoons. The early animated films by Walt Disney, such as the Silly Symphonies shorts and especially Fantasia, which featured several interpretations of classical pieces, were built around music. The Warner Brothers cartoons, even today billed as Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, were initially fashioned around specific songs from upcoming Warner Brothers musical films. Live action musical shorts, featuring such popular performers as Cab Calloway, were also distributed to theaters.
Blues singer Bessie Smith appeared in a two-reel short film called St. Louis Blues (1929) featuring a dramatized performance of the hit song. Numerous other musicians appeared in short musical subjects during this period.
Soundies, produced and released from 1940 to 1947, were musical films that often included short dance sequences, similar to later music videos.