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How To Make A Cheap (But Awesome) Music Video


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Music videos are a great tool an artist can use to promote themself. They are one of the best assets for fans, booking agents, managers, and labels to get to know what an artist looks and sounds like. The task of creating one can be daunting for artists that have no experience with video production.

In this guide, we’ll walk through all the steps to creating a music video and provide tips on how to create one on a budget, or possibly even for free.

STEP 1 – CHOOSE A SONG

If you’re only releasing one song, then this is an obvious choice, but if you’ve released or are planning on releasing a full length album or an EP, you need to decide which song you want to release first into the world. When doing so, there are many things to think about when deciding which song to make a video for.

Which song best represents your sound?

You may have a bunch of different sounds on your album, but this is your chance to show the world what your music sounds like. If your album is heavy metal, but you have a slow acoustic ballad on the album, that might not be your best choice for your first video.

Which song presents the best story or concept for a music video?

You might have a song that lends itself really well to a music video, because it has a story or theme that would translate nicely on film. This might mean it’s the best song to make a music video for, even if it’s not necessarily your best single release.

Which song has gotten the best response from fans/family/friends?

As the artist, you might have your favorite song(s) on the album, but sometimes your favorites are not the songs that are getting the best response. Pay attention to what songs are getting the most streams online, which songs get the best response in concert, etc. If your fans already like the song you make a video for, there’s a good chance you’ll have a built in audience already, and they’ll be more likely to share it and help promote the video.

Sometimes your favorite songs are not the songs that are getting the best response.

STEP 2 – DETERMINE AVAILABLE RESOURCES

This is your chance to see what free or discounted resources you have readily available. When developing the concept for the video, keep this in mind so that you don’t come up with a music video idea that your resources can’t possibly live up to.

Crew

  • Do you know anybody that has experience filming or editing music videos?
  • Do you have any friends or family that would be willing to help on set?
  • Quick tip: Can you get connected with film students that might be interested in filming a music video for class? If you get connected with a film school, there’s potential for them to provide crew, gear, and possibly even a location for the shoot.

Gear

  • Do you know anybody that has a camera, lights, or any other film equipment you could borrow or rent for a discounted rate?

Locations

  • Do you have access to any unique locations?
  • Quick tip: A cool location can sometimes lead to the entire idea for a music video. Maybe somebody you know has a huge warehouse, shack, a boat, rooftop access, etc.

Props

Talk to your connections to see if there are any props that you could use for the video. Maybe somebody you know has an old convertible, crazy costumes, piles of fake cash, a large inflatable shark, etc.

STEP 3 – SET A BUDGET

After you’ve figured out what free or discounted resources you have available, then you need to set a budget. However, remember that a low budget does not mean you can’t make an amazing video. The amount of money you spend on a video does not determine how good it is. Creativity does! We all remember the OK Go treadmill video and the fact that it cost so little, but was amazingly effective. So, if you don’t have much money to spend on the video, don’t worry. You just need to spend more time in the concept creation phase figuring out an idea that works.

Then, once you determine your budget, YOU NEED TO TRACK IT! As you develop your concept, you’ll determine additional needs that require spending money, so you need to write them all down and keep track of how much budget you have remaining. Sometimes, you’ll have expenses that take you over budget. At that point, you need to decide if you want to increase your budget, or if you want to reduce costs in another area. You can reduce your crew size, use cheaper equipment, etc.

The important part is knowing your budget and knowing what you’re spending, so you’re not caught off guard at the end with how much the video costs.

STEP 4 – DEVELOP A CONCEPT

This is your chance to show the world your creativity. First off, ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish with this music video? For example, if you’re a rock band and you’re trying to let the world see you, then you might want a performance to be a big part of the music video. Other artists, though, might want to focus entirely on story or other captivating visuals, without having a performance part. There’s no right answer for everybody, just what’s right for you and your goals. Your concern shouldn’t be about making a “good” or “great” video, because these are subjective terms & perspectives that will certainly vary viewer-to-viewer. Your concerns should be more focused on making something that WORKS for what you’re trying to accomplish.

Once you’ve determined what you’re trying to accomplish, then you can create your concept.

Don’t stop at your first idea

Just like when writing music, the first idea is rarely the best idea. The same goes for creating a music video concept. Come up with as many ideas as you can.

  • See if your fans/family/friends have any ideas.
  • Watch other music videos and movies for inspiration
  • Look at art or magazines for inspiration

Be unique

There are thousands of music videos created every day. Your goal is to do something that is unique and represents your message. You can watch other videos for inspiration, but allow yourself to develop a concept that is uniquely your own. There is a near-infinitely broad spectrum of what can be considered “unique”. Even a shot-for-shot recreation of another video can be unique if it serves a purpose that plays well on screen.

Make it shareable

Your goal should never be a viral video, for many reasons. First, it’s almost impossible to determine what will go viral. Second, there are millions of videos uploaded to YouTube every day, so the chance of going viral is insanely tiny. However, it is good to think about what your fans will want to share on social media. It could be a positive message, a cool visual, or just a funny moment. The point is, pay attention to how your fans are already sharing your music or previous videos, and keep that in mind when developing concepts.

This is also why the first 10 seconds of your video are very important. With thousands of videos being uploaded every hour, it’s integral for your video to captivate the viewer immediately, or else they may not share your video – they might even give up on your video in the first 30 seconds and continue scrolling until they find content that captivates them.

Just like when writing music, the first idea is rarely the best idea. The same goes for creating a music video concept.

STEP 5 – PRE-PRODUCTION

Location Scout

This part is often the part of pre-production that takes the longest, so start this right away. You need to find a location that fits the concept you’ve developed for the video. Explore lots of options and take your time. The right location can take a music video to the next level.

  • When calling locations, make sure you know exactly how long you will need to film in that location, including set up and tear down time. Also, know what time of day will be necessary for filming, and be prepared to work around operating hours for many businesses.
  • Find out what the power situation at the location is. If you’re using production lights, they can often use more power than standard circuits allow. If you have a gaffer for the shoot, bring them along to the location scout so they can help figure out the power availability.
  • Pay attention to the bathroom situation, especially if you’ll have a large crew or lots of actors. Also, bathrooms might have to be your wardrobe / changing area, as well as where makeup is applied, so keep in mind what situation you’ll be putting your actors and crew in.
  • Know what’s near the location too, especially if you’ll be filming for a full day. Like, are there close restaurants, groceries, etc?
  • Quick tip: Use the Sun Seeker app when location scouting, which can show you exactly where the sun will be at each hour of the day. It’s amazing!
  • Quick tip: Sometimes, you can offer to show their logo or mention the location when posting the video, as a way to avoid or reduce costs of using the location.

Casting

This is a huge topic, but here are a few things to consider.

  • If you don’t have a large budget, consider using friends or family as actors.
  • Typically, it's a bad idea to  attempt to gather a large group of extras. You may think you can get a bunch of family / friends, but it rarely works out. For smaller artists, this also applies to getting fans to come out for the shoot.
  • Facebook - There are often casting pages on Facebook for local communities. They are good resources for finding actors or extras.
  • Even if you have an RSVP or confirmed extras, expect much less than the amount that says they'll be there.
  • Quick tip: To encourage attendance, have something to offer them, like food, free tickets to a show, merch, etc.

Rent/Borrow Gear

Camera
  • There are affordable options for any budget, but we recommend filming in at least 4k if possible. Also, if possible, use a camera that can record in LOG color and raw format, which will give you more options in post production.
Lenses
  • Most professional video cameras require separate lenses, and these can vary largely in budget. Make sure the lens mount matches the camera you’re using.
Tripod or Gimbal Stabilizer
  • A gimbal can provide nice camera movement for the video, but make sure the gimbal can handle the weight of your camera package.
Lighting
  • Depending on the camera you use, you may need a lot of light for filming. One way to avoid this is to film outside during the day.
Headphones or Speakers
  • You need a system for playback of the song to perform along with. If you’re filming a full band, make sure the speaker system is loud enough to play along with.
Microphones / Amps / Instruments
  • For some music videos, you might not need them, but if you’re wanting to show a live performance, make sure you have these items.
External Camera Monitor

Often called the “Director’s monitor”, this can be useful to monitor a large preview of what the camera is capturing. These are also useful in seeing the image with a LUT (or color grade) added while filming. This gives you a better idea of what the final image will look like.

Extra Batteries and Memory Cards
  • This is especially important if you won’t have the ability to charge batteries or download footage throughout the shoot day.
Props / Wardrobe / Hair & Makeup
  • If you’re on a limited budget, see if you have any friends or family that have experience with doing hair and makeup.
  • Depending on the creative concept, you may need specific props or wardrobe to complete your vision.

Hire Crew

Producer

The producer helps keep the project organized. This can include helping hire the crew, creating call sheets, scheduling, on set organization, etc.

Director

The director creates the vision for the music video. They oversee the entire crew and make creative decisions on the day of filming.

Director of Photography (DP) / Cinematographer

The DP is charge of lighting and camera for the video shoot. They typically assemble the necessary gear and lead the lighting and camera department during the shoot.

Digital Imaging Technician (DIT)

The DIT is in charge of the media from the shoot, including downloading footage, backing it up, and doing on-set color grading to see how the final image is going to look.

Camera Operator

Just like it sounds, the camera operator operates the camera. This is sometimes handled directly by the Director of Photography, depending on the size of the crew.

First Assistant Camera (1st AC)

The 1st AC’s main job is to pull focus. They are also in charge of charging batteries, having media ready for filming, and providing the camera operator with anything they need to get the job done.

Gaffer

The gaffer is the head electrician on set. They make sure there is enough power for the lighting that will be used, which is an important job depending on the power of the lights.

Key Grip

The key grip is in charge of setting up lights, flags, diffusion, etc. They work closely with the Gaffer and DP to make sure the lights don’t get in the way of production.

Art Director

The art director determines the design of the set. This can include props, wardrobe, furniture, etc. This role is often overlooked on smaller budgets, but it can have a dramatic effect on the look of the video. Don’t skip this role.

Production Assistant

The PA is the just what is says, the assistant on the production. This can include running errands (like picking up lunch), taking notes, grabbing gear, etc. It’s typically the role that people start out in for production.

Shot List / Storyboard

The amount of detailed planning of your shots before filming can really affect how smoothly the shoot day goes. Make sure you have a clear vision of how the video should look and how you’ll film each scene.

Make Production Versions Of The Song

You should create a version of the song with at least four metronome clicks at the beginning of the song. This allows everyone to start performing right on the first beat, without trying to guess when the song will start. It also gives you a clear sound to sync all the takes in post production.

Depending on the sequences you plan to present, you may need to make manipulated versions of the song. For example, if you intend to include slow motion performance footage, but would still like the opportunity for this footage to be synchronized to the song, you should create a version of the song at double speed. While it may sound weird, if the artist performs a double-speed version of the song while you’re filming for slow motion, and you slow down the footage in editing to half-speed, you can then synchronize the slow motion footage to the original speed of the song. There are several different ways to manipulate your audio before filming to affect your sequence in remarkable ways during editing.

Pack

Here is where you need to make a list of everything you’re bringing to set, and double check that you have everything.

  • Camera Gear
  • Lights
  • Grip Gear (tripod, stands, flags, diffusion, etc.)
  • Props
  • Wardrobe / Makeup
  • Music (device to play the song on)
  • Speaker (to hear the song – make sure it’s loud enough to hear while playing instruments, especially if you have a full band including a drummer)
  • Craft Service (food and drinks for the crew, band, and actors)
The right location can take a music video to the next level.

STEP 6 – PRODUCTION

Camera Settings

First off, make sure to learn how to use your camera before the shoot. If you’re renting or borrowing a camera, spend as much time as possible playing around with it. Learn the settings and the menu, because you don’t want to waste time figuring out how to change a setting when you’re running low on time and your actors are getting frustrated during the shoot.

Also, despite what you might think, there are no predetermined camera settings to fit all scenes or moods. When dealing with camera settings, use your song to determine what kind of look you envision for your video. There are a lot of things to consider, such as slow motion vs regular motion, soft vs sharp footage, color preferences and more. No option is better or worse than the other, but they can surely help you accomplish your purpose & vision based on what you’re going for.

Quick tip 1: If your camera has user presets that allow you to set up different recording options, do that ahead of time. For example, if you’re going to film in 24 FPS with a 1/48 shutter speed, and also film 60 FPS with a 1/20 shutter speed, set a preset for each of those, so that you can quickly switch between the two on set to save time.

Quick tip 2: If you have no idea what settings to use, a good starting point is filming at 23.976 FPS with a 1/48 or 1/50 shutter speed. For slow motion, use 59.94 FPS and a 1/120 or 1/125 shutter speed.

Slow motion

For example, if you envision slow motion footage adding dramatic affect to your video, you’ll want to shoot that footage with your camera settings at a 48fps or higher frame rate. Most videos are exported at 24 frames per second, so when you film at 48 FPS, you can slow down that footage to half the speed, and your footage will play slow motion at 24 FPS instead of looking all chopped up. Many of the lower budget cameras will film in 60 FPS, so you’d slow your footage down to 40% speed in post for slow motion.

Quick tip: Remember to adjust your shutter speed (discussed in more detail below) when you change the FPS you’re filming in. For example, if you’re using a 1/48 shutter speed when filming 24 FPS, you probably want to adjust your shutter speed to 1/120 when filming 60 FPS.

Depth of Field

If you want the background of your footage to be blurry, you’ll want to adjust your depth of field by setting your lens to a larger/faster aperture. The lower the number your f/stop is set to, the shallower your depth of field will be, which will create the cinematic look you might be going for. Similarly, if you want a sharper image, you will want to set a smaller aperture.

Quick tip: Adjusting your depth of field (aperture) also adjusts how much light enters your camera, so make sure you adjust your lighting or other settings on your camera so that exposure matches other shots.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is how long your sensor is open for each picture it takes. The faster your shutter speed, the lens motion blur there is. Even if that’s past your level of knowledge, you can still play around with different shutter speeds when testing to see which look you like best.

Quick tip: Rock music videos often look better with a faster shutter speed, because it adds some intensity to it. For example, it’s a technique they used to make the battle scenes in Saving Private Ryan so intense. For slower songs, you more than likely want a slower/longer shutter speed.

Camera Movement

Similar to camera settings, there are a variety of methods to capture your footage in a way that benefits your scene & overall treatment. There are many different ways to accessorize your camera with various stabilization gear. There are no right or wrong ways to move your camera. This will all depend on a combination of the song & your treatment.

For example, if your song is smooth and heartfelt, you might want your footage to reflect that – so you might want to locate a steadicam or a gimbal (like a Ronin) for smooth camera movements. Whereas a song that has more energy & bounciness might call for a handheld or shoulder rigged camera that can accentuate that. Your camera movement has the ability to serve & support the video’s purpose. It’s an opportunity that can be missed if you neglect planning your camera movement style beforehand.

Filming

For the performance, make sure to film each take multiple times, with multiple angles and focal lengths. You don’t want to get into post and not have a closeup if there is a need for one. The same goes for filming the story portion of the video. If you just film a wide shot and no closeups for a scene, it will be harder to cut between takes. This may be the look you’re going for, but if not, give yourself more to work with.

If you’re new to this, then a good motto is probably, “there’s no such thing as too much footage”. With digital cameras, you’re not worried about running out of film, so you can shoot more. Also, storage has gotten so cheap, so you shouldn’t worry about hard drive space.

Also, don’t be afraid to experiment. If you have an idea and you’ve got the time, try it. It might turn out great!

Quick tip: Consider filming before calling “action” or after calling “cut”! This is especially true with people that don’t have much experience being in front of the camera. They might be more natural when they don’t know the camera is rolling. This is also a commonly used trick when filming kids.

STEP 7 – POST PRODUCTION

Ingest the Footage

Organize your footage in a way that works for you. In most editing software, you can organize all your content & assets into bins or folders. It would likely benefit you to create folders to keep your videos, audio, graphic assets, sequences, and other additions separate. This will come in handy when you’re looking to add a specific element to your sequence, because instead of looking through one unorganized mess of different files mixed together for one specific piece of footage, you can narrow your results into folders and find exactly what you need.

Editing

This is too large a topic to cover here, but you want to watch as many videos that are similar to your vision to see how they do it. Pay attention to how quick the edits are, how much story they show versus performance, what angles they use, etc. There are countless resources online (like YouTube) that teach specific edit tips and tricks.

Color Grading

Color grading is one of the most important factors in your video’s ability to captivate. It can directly contribute to the “wow” factor you desire. Most editing software offers extensive & easy to use color grading features. It’s important to spend some time making a color grade you’re completely happy with. There are plenty of free resources to help you decide your aesthetic, that may also help you decide between monochromatic, complimentary, & compound color-themes, and begin fine-tuning your footage so it looks exactly the way you want.

STEP 8 – RELEASE

Export

Make sure to export a master and a web version of the video. The master is the large file you keep filed for future use or exports, and the web version is the version you can upload to YouTube or social media. For the web version, a .h264 MP4 is typically a good option. Check out YouTube bitrate suggestions to make sure you’re optimized for the platform.

Social Media

We recommend creating different versions for each social media platform. For Facebook, make sure to upload the web version directly to Facebook instead of using a YouTube link. This allows the video to play directly in Facebook, which receives more views and engagement. For Instagram, there are two options – you can create a preview of the video that’s under 1 minute, which is the max length they allow on the main feed posts and a link to the full video in your profile link or you can upload the full video to IGTV (as long as it’s under 10 minutes – which is most likely will be) and post the IGTV preview to your main feed.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Creating a music video can be a challenging but fun task. Take your time and use this opportunity to make a visual representation of what your music conveys.

If you have any questions or realize you need a professional to partner with, reach out to us! This is what Push Focus does!

EXAMPLES

Being a Nashville video production company, we are surrounded by up-and-coming artists looking to get their music out in the world. Here are some examples of music videos we’ve created at Push Focus that show what can be done on a limited budget.

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