These days, a music video is more than just a promotional tool, it's an announcement to the world that your music is to be taken seriously. The demand for visual content is so high that it is expected that every artist should have a music video. The challenging part is that they aren't necessarily cheap or easy to make.
Here are some basic steps to making a music video on a budget, and some tools you can use to make it look professional.
How, Who, Where?
A great music video doesn't just happen by accident, and if you want to save money on production, you're going to want to take a look at the resources available to you, and plan out all of the details in advance.
For starters, start making a list of the gear you already have or can borrow easily. You should make note of any camcorders (or cameras), computers, and lighting equipment that you own. The list should not include just technical equipment. In fact, make a list of everything you own that would be available for the music video, no matter how random the item, as you can then use them as unique props or set design. This is in fact a tried and tested method known as 'Guerilla Filmmaking' pioneered by the early works of Robert Rodriguez and is a perfect place to start when conceptualising your music video.
Once you have a pretty good idea where you stand, you need to think about reliable personnel. Do you know anyone with filming experience? A good video editor? A makeup artist? Consider who might be willing to help you with your project, because you probably can't do it alone.
You also need to think about set location – the best quality camera cannot rescue a boring backdrop. Do you know someone who owns a factory or a farm? A large house? Is there engaging scenery in your own hometown? How about rivers and lakes? Location is another resource you cannot ignore.
The rest really depends on how much of a budget you have. If you have no money at all, you can borrow and call in favours. If you have a bit of money, you might consider renting a better quality camera. It really depends on the situation.
The direction of your video will largely be determined by the resources available to you. The less you have, the simpler your video concept is going to have to be. But do not be deterred. The simplest music videos can at times be the best. For example, Childish Gambino's Freaks and Geeks, Beyoncé's 7/11, and who can forget Sia's Chandelier video? Some of the best music videos aren't necessarily those with high-quality production, multiple camera angles and wardrobe changes; many of the most memorable ones tend to keep a tight focus.
Planning is extremely important. Keeping in mind that you'll probably have to stay flexible once shooting begins, start by making a storyboard for your video. Think about the visuals; the perspective as well as the lighting. This is the first draft of your vision. It makes it easy to communicate what you see in your head to the other personnel who help you make the video. And most importantly, having a plan will help you stick to the original vision of your video.
There are more things that require planning as well - if you're going to be working with others, will you provide food and beverages for them? I can't stress how important this is - it directly affects the morale of your crew. What costumes will you need for your video? Where will you be filming, and is there an ideal time to shoot there? What will the weather be like? The last thing you want to be doing is running around at the last minute trying to put all the details in place.
Perhaps the best way to ensure you are perfectly organised is to develop a shot list. The shot list is a scene-by-scene breakdown of the storyboard arranged by dates. That way you know precisely what shots of the music video you want to achieve on what day.
And, of course, don't go too overboard with the idea. If you keep upping the ante in terms of complexity, you're going to have a tough time making your vision come to life.
Get it done
The penultimate step in making your music video project a reality, is shooting it. Of course, you'll want to work out the logistical details for your shoot as well.
If everything is in place, you can begin capturing your music video. Remember to get multiple takes from different angles, and get some nice close-ups as well.
However, don't let your shots just be random. There are a number of online resources that could teach you the importance and particulars of lighting, framing, set design, shot compilation, and camera angles. Filmmakeriq.com and Nofilmschool.com are good places to start. Do not let the simplicity of your video and your budget limitations be a grave constraint on your artistic vision.
Put it together
Now you've shot your video, you need to edit the shots together in a way that enhances the story your song is trying to tell. As you may have guessed, this bit will be time-consuming. Typically, you may need to check your ego at the door and put yourself in your viewers' shoes, editing the video to make sure the story and concept is both engaging and clear.
It may also be wise to bring in a friend whose honest opinion you value as a second pair of eyes, if you choose to edit it yourself. Often by this point, it is easy to lose objectivity since it's your song, your concept and storyboard and most likely, your face in the frame.
There are several editing packages you can use, ranging from the free Windows Movie Maker and iMovie to professional (read: expensive) packages like Adobe Premier, Sony Vegas, Final Cut, etc. Although, be aware, the cheaper the software, the more time-consuming (or impossible) it may be to get the professional results you may be aiming for. So, get on your contact list! You may just know someone with the software, who might just be willing to lend you their laptop or Mac for editing purposes, or offer their experience and services.
Finding The Right People For Your Project
The DIY approach to making a music video might go exactly as described, but you can use a platform like Radar Music Videos to find directors that would be willing to work with you on your project.
They attract the best emerging music video directors worldwide, and their standard is best described by their repeat clients which include the likes of Universal, Island Records, Polydor, and Sony Music.
You post a brief and specify a budget, which will then be promoted to directors who will start pitching to you. They specialize with budgets starting from £500 ($800), and most briefs attract between 5 – 12 pitches.
You can also post a brief for secondary content, e.g. tour videos, concert footage, and lyrics videos, with budgets starting from £100 ($161).
The budget you specify is fixed so you have full control of your spending, and their service is free for artists, they make their money from director subscriptions.
If you've decided a lyric video is the way to go, you can read more about the cost of creating a lyric video.
Also, don't feel constrained by the idea that a live action video shoot is the only way to go. Animation and Stop-Motion are other alternatives - ones which perhaps may be a little bit more pricey, but don't require you leaving your couch. Animators can be found on sites like Fiverr and Upwork. You may also find some success advertising in universities with animation courses. Students are always looking for such opportunities to flex their talents. However, with animation, there is a greater emphasis on artistic vision, ambition, style, and story. For inspiration, you could look to Kanye West's Heartless, the anime segments of Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. I, or anything from Studio Ghibli. Unlike live action, the only obstacle on what can be achieved through animation is the skill of the animator. If you decide that this is the option you want to pursue, choose wisely and make sure you see the previous work and reviews of the animator.
Whether you choose the DIY approach, or you opt to work with a professional director, there are ways of putting together great quality music videos on a budget.
Remember to plan well, and think carefully about your project parameters. A shoot can end up taking more time and resources than you're willing to invest if you aren't adequately prepared.
But the most important thing - stay creative and stay ambitious.
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