Ever since YouTube launched 13 years ago, the world has become ever more visual. Musicians, earlier dependent on television music channels to give them airplay, now reach out to audiences on their own and get to promote their music. But you know more than anyone else that very few get it right. Let’s make sure you’re among those few. Use this primer on producing a music video you’d like to be remembered by – because the Internet has a very long memory.
This will be a long one so keep time aside as you plunge in (estimated time: two minutes).
Assign some moolah: Let’s get the obvious out of the way. To produce a decent video, you will need to set some money aside. Depending on what you’re planning, the budget required could rise. Yet, an innovative idea could get you there without breaking the bank. Money for any production goes into equipment, space, people’s time, costumes, makeup specialist, a stylist and technicians, especially a cinematographer and an editor. While you might do a lot of things yourself these people are usually entrusted to do, some aspects will still require money. Save up some from the gigs that you’ve played and make that investment. Keep some aside as an added buffer.
Choice of song: Plan your song’s release with the video rather than picking a song that’s already out. That way the visual association and recall you want to build will be stronger.
Instead of picking an 8-10 minute song, use something that’s closer to 3-5 minutes. Internet audiences have a lot of variety to pick from and holding their attention for longer than that is tough.
Besides, a video takes a lot of work and the longer the song, the higher the number of great visual ideas you will have to come up with to keep it interesting. Not to mention the budget would need to stretch, too. Practicality rules!
Team up: Whether you hire a complete production team or pick from among your talented friends, there’re some core members you will need:
A cameraperson who understands camera angles, visual hierarchy, lighting and composition well is essential. This person is at the core of the production and needs to be picked carefully. You may also need more than one, depending on your shoot.
A great lighting person who can work in conjugation with the cinematographer could really make your video shine (pun not intended).
Get a director who understands the entire production process and can hold things together.
It’s great if you can get people who have their own equipment. Otherwise, many vendors rent out equipment on a shift-basis (usually 8 hours). This adds to the cost but also gives you freedom to pick the right lenses for the job. Same goes for lighting.
Makeup and styling can bring panache to your production and it’s worthwhile to allot budgets for the people who can do it right.
Ideate with your team: Be as creative as possible. Explore other great music video and read about how some of the best ones were made. And then think of something completely new. Easier said than done, but who wants to watch something that’s already been done to death?
Pre-production is the most crucial aspect of producing on the visual medium. Plan everything out. This is the time to ideate, create storyboards for each shot, list the props you’ll need and the equipment necessary to get the results you want.
The band, the director and the people handling the technical aspects of your video need to now sit down and pick the idea that best reflects the ethos of your song. Brainstorm as much as you need taking inputs from everyone. At this stage, you can build the ownership among the team, which will bring out the best effort from them.
The more planning you do, the easier it will be shoot the video. This is also the stage where you evaluate if your budget will suffice. Safe to say, this is the most crucial part of the production process and documenting everything is very important. No detail is too small.
The shoot: On the day of the shoot, make sure everyone has the production notes and knows what they are doing. If outdoors, light is the most precious of all and time lost can never be recovered. Imagine having to hire all the equipment again, getting everyone out of his or her busy schedule and doing it all over again because you lost the light on the first day.
Stay organized and allow enough time for the shoot. Things easily get out of hand and keeping calm will help everyone’s mood on the set.
Satisfied with a shot? Log it and move on to the next one. Keep making notes of everything that’s done and if any changes had to be made from the original ideas. These will come super handy while editing.
The digital medium allows you to shoot as much as you want. So, grab as much footage as possible. Satisfied with a shot? Take another one because there’s always the chance you’ll get something more in this attempt.
Have someone watching each shot apart from you. This person could also be in-charge of continuity and keeping the background clean of things like dogs trotting by – not noticed till you sit down to edit.
Live is beautiful: Get some live footage of your band performing because nothing beats the energy that you feel when performing in front of an audience and interacting with it. However, syncing the footage to the song is a challenge – something you should be ready for. People, especially other musicians, notice if the chord they hear doesn’t match with where the hand is on the fret.
Lighting is another challenge. LED lights these days are not camera-friendly and tend to ‘burn’ or ugly. Have them turned off and invest in conventional lighting for that gig.
You may actually want to ‘fake’ a live performance where you can control all of the aspects of the shoot, including lighting, audience interaction and angles. But that’s an added cost.
Stock footage:Consider spicing up your videos with stock footage. There’s a wonderful world out there that offers you a lot of free footage that is also royalty free. Available under the Creative Commons licenses (there are many and only some allow you free footage for commercial use), there’s always more becoming available online every day. You can also browse through these resources:
Google’s collection of National Archives
The edit: This is where it all comes together and all the creativity in the world seems to come up short. Editing is an iterative process and you can never assign enough time for it. There’s always a better edit that you could come up with given more time.
The feel of the video will come out here. Do a lot of long takes stay in or do you opt for lots of quick changes? Do you use jump cuts or will a dissolve work better for these shots? There are a lot of creative decisions to be made and they all take time and patience.
Remember that editing is not a collaborative job. It’s best assigned to one person who can come up with a rough cut before a discussion with the band takes place and changes are discussed.
There are a lot of effects that you can use for your video that come as a plug-in for your editing software. Many are available free, others are paid and yet others are free to try. Be judicious in the use of effects, however.
Revisit your own edit after taking a break and see if it still makes sense to you.
Decide on the output format depending on the medium – YouTube now offers up to 1080p resolution as does Vimeo.
A last tip: a simple idea that is well executed is far, far better than something grandiose that’s badly done.
Here’s a list of the some of the most creative videos, as per professional photography website, FStoppers:
Most Creative Music Videos
Do you have suggestions or experiences from your own video shoots? Did we get it everything right? We’d love to hear from you, as would the community. Please share freely in the comments.