How to shoot a music video

For more than a decade, music videos could make a good band great or a great act supersonic. The music video medium spawned two cable channels devoted solely to these “four-minute movies” and several broadcast channels that were nearly exclusively devoted to airing them, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

No one took advantage of music videos as much as Michael Jackson. Already a global star, Jackson used the feature film director John Landis, a nearly one million dollar budget, and all the trappings of a movie to make the 13-minute Thriller. The video catapulted him even further into the superstar stratosphere. The video doubled album sales and more than one million VHS tapes of the video were sold.

Although the music industry has a much different landscape 30 years later, music videos still have a place in the business. Music videos offer a glimpse of the act’s music and personality. One viral video may be all band needs to reach the masses.

The Medium is The Message

There are a few differences between shooting a music video, a feature film or televised series. All three have financial considerations of course, but what’s being sold varies greatly. A movie, for example, IS the product. The more people that pay to see your movie, the better it is for the bottom line.

If a television series is successful (Seinfeld, Friends, any number of reality shows), that means they can sell commercial space for more money. And take megalithic championship games like The Super Bowl. A 30-second commercial costs well over $5 million dollars! The audience may not be paying for the broadcast, but the creators make money from advertising during the show.

Audiences don’t pay for music videos (well, except for a short period in the early 80s when video jukeboxes were a thing), nor do they carry commercials – unless you count product placements. The purpose of a music video is to promote a song, a singer, or a band to an audience.

If that audience likes what they see and hear, they will head to iTunes or other online services to buy a digital download. Or to buy a streaming service like Pandora or Spotify. Or head to a music store that carries CDs or vinyl albums. Clearly, the advent of the internet has changed the way we consume music.

Making Music Video Magic

Before the arrival of MTV, VH1, Night Tracks on TBS, and a host of other shows, videos consisted largely of bands making appearances on TV variety shows, such as Ed Sullivan, American Bandstand, or Soul Train. Three or four camera angles, band members featured as a whole or individually, and bright stage lights that left tracers on the screen.

MTV upped the ante on all of that. Live concert footage, futuristic episodics, and clips from movies the songs were used in. Videos grew in scope, technique, and technology. Today, anyone with a smartphone and a laptop with movie-editing software can make slick-looking professional videos.

While they may not reach the heady stature of Thriller, online videos can launch a career (Justin Bieber and a record seven singles that charted from a debut album anyone?) or snuff it out before it begins (ex: Rebecca Black’s three million “dislikes” for Friday).

The Right Gear
Before shooting a music video, you need to have something to shoot it with. iPhone has been featuring commercials made from their product and full-length movies have been shot solely with mobile technology. Go that route and you’ll definitely need a stabilizer like a Gimbal, the right lighting, and whatever it takes to yield professional-looking results.

This goes for your editing hardware as well. There are plenty of inexpensive apps online which can help you build a foundational skillset. When editing the footage, learn as much as you can about the basics, then consider upgrading to something more robust. Part of being the best is working with the best. It’ll just take time to get to that point.

Once you’re in a place to buy the good stuff, make sure you take the time to learn it. After all, having a $500 camera isn’t going to help you if you only know how to turn it on.

Not a One Man Band
Even a simple scene requires a sound person, a lighting technician, and someone to run the camera. Any one of these jobs can be a chore by itself – almost impossible to do it all by yourself. By spending cash in the right places, you may be able to save time and money overall.

Instead of renting the lighting you need, consider hiring a professional that has all their own gear. They’ll work faster than you, take care of the equipment, and may even offer pointers. Make sure you have your shots planned out and ready to roll – if you’re paying by the hour, you’ll want to be as efficient as possible!

Make a Plan and Stick to It
Time is money… unless it comes to pre-planning a shoot. Spending a lot of time on getting a shooting schedule and gameplan in place prior to production means saving yourself from spending unnecessary time and money on a location. On a shoot like this, there’s no place for ad-libbing only to discover you’ve wasted an hour of everyone’s time.

Do that and it’s very likely that the band will think you’re unprofessional. Plus, that’s another hour you’ll have to pay your crew. Working on your shooting schedule for 10 hours before the shoot won’t cost you a thing, except a little sleep. Moreover, the people you’re working with will thank you for running such a tight ship and you’ll make a good impression with the very same pros who are working in the industry locally (hint).

Shoot and Shoot Again
Are you just trying to make your friend’s band look cool, or do you want to make a career out of shooting video? If it’s the former, have fun! If it’s the latter, get to work. The only way to learn the craft is to learn every aspect of it.

If you’re proficient with a camera, move on to lighting. When you’ve mastered that, move on to editing. With every video you make, you need to be learning something new. Remember the guy you hired to help out? Ask why he does things a certain way and really listen to the answer. Then put it into action, time and time again.

Put Your Best Foot Forward
Chances are, you aren’t going to land many paying jobs without first being able to showcase your talent. Approach local bands about shooting a video for free, or just save all of your practice efforts. After you have compiled enough footage, it’s time to put together a demo reel.

Consider this your resume. By compiling the best elements of all of your work so far, you’ll be able to show potential paying clients what you can do. If you have a hard time landing a gig, ask what they’re looking for and what you were lacking.

Consider this an interview. Take what they say to heart and work on improving in the areas they noted. Don’t be negative and don’t storm away. You don’t want to burn bridges that haven’t even been built yet. You’re selling yourself: Think about the image you’re trying to sell and the future you’re building. It matters LOTS!

Shake Some Hands
Although it’s been mentioned a few times before, spend as much time with the pros as you can. They have the experience, knowledge, and connections you one day hope to have. So why not start networking now? Don’t be pushy – a little persistence goes a long way.

Show responsibility, develop a healthy respect for what they do, and say yes to their offer to assist or apprentice with them. Learning on the job is better than any online tutorial. The more jobs you have, the more people you meet, and the more information you can gather.

Turn to the Pros

Even if you have the gear, have become an editing master, and even have a phone full of numbers of local bands, producers, and agents, you might find you’re still not getting the work you want, or that you’re not making the kind of money you need. Perhaps you haven’t learned how to bring it all together yet. Maybe you need a professional to help you achieve the critical understanding that can take you from novice to pro.

Film Connection can help with that. Our Film Production & Editing and Cinematography Programs and Film Editing and Screenwriting Workshops will place you with a professional that matches your interests. This mentor will work with you from inside their production studio or remotely, helping you understand what it takes to make it in these industries.

This includes the business side of things as well. Are you charging too much or not enough? Do you rent too much gear or take too much time to shoot the video? Are you renting gear when buying would be cheaper? These are the kinds of business decisions your mentor can make sure you understand.

The best part of our programs is the time: In just six to nine months, you can have the foundation to start your career, the opportunities to meet others in the field, and learn how to work in a studio, pick a location, and communicate well with everyone on the set. Film Connection offers the kind of in-industry, immersive atmosphere you just can’t find at even the most expensive film schools.

So are you going to just dip your toe in the water, or dive right in? Apply to Film Connection today.

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