The basics of music video production

  • Some ideas for your video may not be feasible at your budget level; planning ahead will save you many future headaches
  • Pay attention to a song’s tone, lyrics and genre; take note of the artist’s style, background and personal causes they care about
  • There’s always a balance to strike between the art and the budget

Music videos are a fun way to listen to music, but they’re also powerful marketing tools for their artists. They allow musicians to connect with their existing fans, promote new songs or highlight causes personal to them. Whether the concept is funny, serious, dark or any style in between, it should be a music video production crew’s goal to capture it artistically and honestly. In this article, we will discuss in ins and outs of music video production and what you need to know to make your own. 

Music video production crew: Who do you need to make a music video?

Depending on the concept and the needs of the production, you may need to bring in specialists. Some of these roles may not be available at your budget level. If you find yourself in that position, take on the roles yourself.

Here is a quick look at the roles you would most likely see on a music video shoot:

  • Producer: To put it in the simplest terms, the producer’s role in any production is to make sure that all personnel, gear and other production supplies show up where and when they should. 
  • Director: The director is responsible for the overall concept of the music video. The director’s vision is often developed with input from key creative team members. In short, the director controls the action happening on the stage, location or set.
  • Director of photography: Also called a cinematographer, the director of photography’s role is to basically capture the action of the performers in a way that coincides with the director’s creative vision. 
  • Gaffer: AKA an electrician. The gaffer will work with the director and director of photography to light the set in a way that allows the director of photography to capture the director’s vision.
  • Production designer: The production designer will be responsible for buying, renting or acquiring any props, art, paint or other specialty items that will be seen on camera. 
  • Costumer: If the shoot has very specific needs in terms of what the performers or background performers need to wear for the shoot. 
  • Performers: In most situations, the artist or band will be on set with additional performers. The performers category can vary depending on the concept and will often be involved in the process from beginning to end.

What should my music video look like?

The inspiration for a music video’s visuals can come from any number of sources. Usually, the song’s tone, lyrics, genre and other factors might do some of the heavy lifting here. Regardless of the visual aesthetic, elements that will anchor your vision within certain parameters are song length, shooting schedule and branding requirements. These elements are great indicators of how much content is needed and strongly influence the cost of the video. 

Is there a story?

Music videos generally have a main storyline and one or more additional storylines that create one overall story. It is often a good idea to start the music video production process by talking to the music artist. Do they support causes? Does their background show through their music? How can you highlight those things? 

Once your ideas are fleshed out, make your shot list. If there are multiple storylines, do each storyline’s shot list independently. When you are done, copy and paste them into the order that reflects the final edit. A comprehensive shot list will identify any “holes” and make sure you are better prepared for the shoot.

What’s the best camera for music video production?

Depending on the scale of the production, the selection may come down to whatever camera you have. Be open to options if you are on the lower end of the budget spectrum. Getting several cheaper cameras, including smartphones, may be in your best interest — think GoPro on a guitar or microphone. Find the balance between the art and your budget.

What other gear do you need? Add a gimbal, jib or dolly for shots that have dynamic movement. In the last several years, these items have become more affordable for smaller productions. They can really add a lot of production value to your shots.

Do you need lights? Productions generally have a finite timeline that moves quickly. Lights, bounces and power are worth the time and cost. If it’s in the budget, shoot for the moon. If it is not in the budget, be resourceful. Several cars parked in a line with their headlights illuminated can create a pretty cool light effect. Try to plan your shots around what you have access to.

How to shoot your own music video?

As music video producers, it’s important to make these your priority first and foremost:

  • Plan your shots while also keeping in mind the schedule, location and budget
  • Don’t overcomplicate the shots without proper planning and testing
  • Never surprise the crew and performers with drastic, arbitrary changes at the last minute

Now that we’ve run through the most important key points, here are some great tips to remember. If you’re shooting a band, remember all the members. Quite often, we focus so much on one member that the rest have limited screen time. So, shoot a series of wide and medium shots that cover the entire group. Then move to your close-ups and B-roll for that sequence. B-roll is footage with or without the performers that adds dimension to your music video. Use it to bridge shots or sequences together.

If a local business has allowed access to their building as the location for the shoot, show that business some love by featuring interesting things about them. If it’s a car dealer, maybe show some of the cars. This has double use for you. If you run short on footage for the video, insert some of that content. And if you have leftover footage, you can potentially gain a new client editing that footage for the business to use as marketing.

An excellent way to beef up the look of your video, if it’s available, is to incorporate footage from a live performance. Very often, a musical act will have footage of past shows they’ve played and can provide it. If not, see if you can go to a show and shoot some footage.

Keep in mind some rules of thumb when designing your shots: always shoot extra B-roll, don’t over-complicate your shots, vary your shot angles to keep the video from becoming monotonous and always be bold and daring.

Completing the shoot in post-production

If it makes sense for the video, make your edits corresponding to the beat for the best results. Be sure to consider that if the song has an instrument solo, show more of that instrument. And finally, use your B-roll. This can really highlight certain areas of the video with non-sequiturs or give more context to the story without drawing attention to itself.

Getting started in music video production

You don’t need a huge budget to create a music video. While it does help to have a big crew and lots of equipment, depending on the story and style that you and the artists want to go for, you can create a great music video without a huge budget. Also, great music videos come with practice, and the only way to improve is to go out and make one.

Steve Everson
Steve Everson
Steve Everson is a video producer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, California. He has professional experience in music and corporate video production.

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