The Art of Making a Music Video

If there was ever an empty slate in the field of video production, it is making a music video.

In the last 25 years, the invigorating art form of making a music video has grown to be one of the most influential and individually stylistic modes of production in the industry. From the first frame to the last, music videos serve as a blank canvas to your mind’s eye, a place to show the world what you can really do when let loose with a camera. But, if you let your creative juices drown your common sense approach to production, your music video masterpiece could wind up a public-access catastrophe.

What is a Music Video production?

Despite all of the artistic freedom involved with making a music video , the end result still has to serve one purpose: promotion. The music video is a promotional tool for the artist. It sometimes serves as a conduit to attention from a label, but more often it is a catalyst for CD sales or artist song downloads. While a hit video can do a lot for you as a director, its primary goal is to serve the music artist.

Making a Music Video: The Treatment

The first step in making your music video is the treatment. In the world of high budgets and major labels, directors typically are contacted and asked to develop a concept or a treatment for the video, based on the message or the mood of the song. This step is often a crap shoot. It’s where jobs are won and lost. Often the best concept is not the one that wins the job. Most of the time it’s the concept that fits into the allotted budget for the project. Still, large budgets are not always the director’s best friend. They often cause more problems and cloud the pathway to creative ingenuity.

Working with small budgets will allow you, as a director, to take the focus off the glitz typically associated with the MTV set and allow you to make the artist the star.

Workflow & Planning

Even with a concise treatment in-hand, it’s easy to get sidetracked when shooting something as inspired as a music video. More often than not, an eye on the three “L”s will keep you grounded and focused on making your music video.

Licensing For Making a Music Video

No matter how you slice it, there’s a business model lingering behind any sort of marketable art form. When it comes to potential legal quagmires, music is right at the top of the list. That’s why it is so important for you to make sure you are covered before you give the first “action.”

If you’re dealing with a musical group that pays dues to ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers) or BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), you will need to obtain a synchronization license which allows you, as the producer of the video work, to use the copyrighted music in timed relation with a visual image. Even if you are working with a musical act with no formal representation, it is best to keep everything on the level. An informal document agreed upon and signed by both parties that gives you the right to create a work of art based on the piece of music is at least something you can have in your back pocket should the musical act one day rise to the top and you need to retain the rights to showcase your work. For more information on licensing, visit or

Locations & Logistics

As with any video production, every time you envision multiple locations, the more pre-production planning is required. This is certainly also the case when you’re making a music video. Depending on the complexity of your treatment, you will have to make sure your locations have ample power and space for crew, musical equipment, and any other props you pictured as part of your musical masterpiece. Depending on the location(s), it’s also likely that you are going to draw a fair amount of attention from curious passers-by. Having the proper permissions and paperwork from either the property owner or your city or county government will save you tons of hassle and help to keep your vision alive.

Audio Playback

Synchronizing audio is a true art (particularly when making a music video), but you don’t need to invest in digital slates or big budget audio gear to make sure you have proper sync in your video. However, if you plan on doing any sort of lip and instrument synching, good technique is a vital part of your finished product.

You will most likely be using a studio recording of the song you’re highlighting in your video. Naturally, then, this means that the sound you’re picking up on the camera microphone is not going to be the final mix you’ll need for the finished product. While there are tons of ways to accomplish the same task, splitting your song into segments and marking in-points of each segment with “two-pops” is a method which always seems to work fairly well, even under the most low-budget circumstances.

This means, prior to shooting your video, examine the song thoroughly. Find natural breaks in the song; then, using the editing software of your choice, cut the song up into parts and add an audio countdown to each segment. The audio countdown usually works best as a series of beeps with the last beep, the number two in your countdown, different from the previous beeps. After the last beep, add one second of silence and then begin the segment of the song. This gives everyone on set a cue to start performing for the camera and, working with the same CD, it gives the editor a cue for proper sync. With this method, you can use any CD player to serve as the audio guide for the shoot. Splitting the song up into segments means you don’t have to keep running through the entire song with every take. Doing so will wear you, your crew and your performers out in a hurry.

As stated, there are tons of ways to achieve proper sync; this is only one of them. Do some research and find the method that works best for you. There’s nothing wrong with a little technical experimentation, as long as you have your ducks in a row prior to your shoot.

Finding Clients

Nearly all musicians dream of being in a music video. This makes finding willing participants relatively easy. Just cruise your local instrument shop or scan the local papers and you’re bound to find some newly-formed wunderkind group with an eye on stardom to let you direct their first video. And, if you’ve never directed a music video, this is the perfect client for you. There won’t be much of a budget, if any, but finding such an act will get your feet wet and provide the breathing room to make the mistakes you’ll want to get out of the way before you move on to bigger names. Working with new acts is also a way to build your music video reel. Eventually, your skills will improve, and you’ll have a nice cache of work to pull from. You can use this to promote your abilities of making a muisc video to bigger musical acts and hopefully pave your way to music video stardom.

Side Bar

Michael Fitzer is an award-winning director and producer. He has produced music videos for major labels and aspiring new artists.

Making a Music Video and Lincensing Issues

Licensing is always a complicated issue. No one on the Videomaker staff or this writer is a legal expert, and only your own attorney can advise you on your particular situation. Laws vary from state to state. Even if you do your research, it’s best to obtain the advice of a professional entertainment attorney before signing any documents.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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