Tell me the things you wish you had known before you made a music video.
November 20, 2011 7:59 PM   Subscribe

My friend asked me to make a music video for his band, but I have never done this before. We don't mind it looking a little lo-fi. I am looking for tips and advice from people who have done this before. Please tell me the things you wish you had known before you embarked on this particular endeavour.

Just some relevant info. I'm going to buy one of those cameras that can film in HD. (Even though the music video will likely premiere on YouTube, I have always harboured aspirations of making actual movies in the future so I would like a camera that can one day make projectable products) My friend suggested the Canon S95. She also suggested getting a better lens. I've also watched several hours of the tutorial on Premiere Pro, so I have a basic understanding of editing. But what I am looking for is knowledge on making a music video that you didn't know until you had to make one yourself. Just things that you do to streamline the operation. Things you wish you had known before you went into it. Thanks.
posted by Sully to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Shoot more than you think you'll need. Long shots, medium shots, close ups--vary your angles. The camera moves when the subject moves. Avoid cheesy zooms.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:04 PM on November 20, 2011

My friend suggested the Canon S95. She also suggested getting a better lens.

The Canon S95 is a nice point-and-shoot with a bit better of a sensor and lens than most point-and-shoot cameras, and with more manual controls, but it doesn't have interchangeable lenses. As someone with the S90 (predecessor to the S95) who doesn't shoot movies, I'd say it's probably not what you're looking for, and you're probably looking at getting a DSLR.
posted by JiBB at 8:09 PM on November 20, 2011

Lenses take pictures. A video camera without interchangeable lenses is a camcorder.

You want a Canon 7D or 5DmkII most likely.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:14 PM on November 20, 2011


How ever much you think you have, you need more.

Shoot hours of video to get 30 seconds you like.
posted by The Whelk at 8:18 PM on November 20, 2011

As far as making the video, I had a pretty horrible experience with a friend's band and I'll say this:

Sign a contract. Hash out the issues and legalities and eventualities beforehand. I know they're your friends and you think you can just do it casually and it will be all good but PLEASE do this.

For example:

Who is paying for things? What happens if it goes over budget? Even on a low budget shoot people need to be fed, etc.

This is the big one: what if the band doesn't like what you do? Do you need their approval before you can show it anywhere? Do they want input in the editing process?

Music videos are super awkward because at the end of the day the band owns the song and even if they claim to be totally open to your vision, they will always always always have their own ideas of what the finished product should be. A little discussion beforehand, while slightly awkward, will save a world of hurt feelings, wasted money, and arguments later on. Trust me on this.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:18 PM on November 20, 2011

Really, really, really think about how to make an interesting video without a million locations, shots, and angles. Stunt videos done in one take like this one or this one have about a 5,000,000% greater chance of going viral than an elaborate video designed to make the band look cool.

If it's going to be a lip sync video, get the band to actually sing along with the playback, not just mouth the words. It makes a big difference in the believability of the lip sync.
posted by the jam at 10:30 PM on November 20, 2011

Do many takes through the song, with different angles and different locations. If you can't do different locations, change something noticeable about the location you have. Change the lighting, the backdrop, the people's clothes, or their positions, their instruments, etc. Pay a lot of attention to the editing. A successful video is as much (or more) about the editing than it is about the shooting. Shoot as much film as you possibly can, so you have plenty to work with. Try to line up the cuts as well as possible with the changes in the song. If you have trouble finding the tempo and major changes, ask the drummer to help you out. Come up with a rough cut and show it to the band. Get their input before you go back and spend a lot of time cleaning everything up for the final version. Also, as drjimmy said, get something in writing beforehand.
posted by sophist at 12:07 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been in a band that did a video, and here's my take:

I'd keep it simple, I'm more likely to watch a well-edited "live" video of the band just playing in a few different locations done well, than an elaborate storyline that makes no sense done badly. The guy filming it forced a silly storyline on it, and it really didn't work and was just cheesy. The "live" sections of us just playing in a dark room full of lights came out really well though.

If you want the band to mime along, then definately get someway of loudly playing the song that they can jump about to, and expect to have to do it a few times before they get into it.

Get lots of closeups, I'd say play along the whole song at least twice in each of a few locations just getting a general view of the band, then once per band member getting close-ups.
posted by chrispy108 at 1:56 AM on November 21, 2011

Keep it simple. One good idea is all you need for a music vid.

If you haven't used an interchangeable lens camera before there is a learning curve you have to traverse before being confident that you're going to be able to get what's in your head into the film. A camcorder, or multiple camcorders may be better to start with.

Spend a lot of time brainstorming, listen to the song, think about locations, storyboard sequences if you can. Make a list of the assets you have (lighting, make up, friends who want to try acting, people with interesting houses you can borrow, transport).

Try not to watch too many music videos for research, it's very easy to fall into parody of the various MTV tropes. Short Indie films are good to learn from as the filmmakers are often facing the same problems you are.

Practise editing, it's an artform in itself, iMovie is a great piece of software for a beginner.

There's a tonne of blogs to help the newbie filmmaker filled with friendly people

eg -

The Frugal Filmmaker -
DSLR Film Noob -
posted by brilliantmistake at 2:54 AM on November 21, 2011

You will need something to moutn teh camera on that has wheels. Don't use the zoom feature on teh camera in a cut and don't try to to have a cut where you're walking around with the camera because walking makes the picture jumpy (unless you are specifically going for a homemade movie look) . steady camera on wheels makes things a lot smoother.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:18 AM on November 21, 2011

Watch several episodes of Pop-Up Video. I am completely serious. I have noticed that this current season has a large amount of "pop-ups" that discuss the video-making endeavor itself, such as the issues they had during filming, the complaints on set, etc. They show both hi-end and low-end videos, and you will get a feel for what not to do as well as what you could do. At any rate, you will learn how non-glamourous it is...
posted by TinWhistle at 11:10 AM on November 21, 2011

Music video editing for a live performance video will require much more editing than you think. You can't sit on any angle very long, or it gets boring (unless the band is full of amazing visual performers).

You need lots of lights, not just because you need a lot of light to get good exposure and a good quality image, but also because a music video is one of the only formats out there where having things like lights in the background looks good, and you want to take advantage of that. Have spotlights that are behind the band, and when you pan around, shine right in to the camera.

Decide if you want the band members to perform to the camera, or if you want them to ignore the camera. Do this ahead of time. It always looks weird when some of the band members are playing to the camera, and others aren't.

Make sure you include the strumming hand for closeups of the guitar or bass playing. Looking at a closeup of the hand fretting the notes is amazingly boring, all of the action and energy comes from seeing that other hand as well.

Everyone should get some face time. If the song has harmonies, have the other musicians sing them in the video, even if they didn't in the song.

If anyone likes to do little tricks (like spin the sticks, or fancy jumps, or stuff like that), make sure to ask ahead of time and film it. Those little bits can be magical.

Make sure you find a good location that is interesting for any live performance video, and ideally have some areas the band can interact with, like jumping off of crates, or standing on top of a truck, or something like that. 4 people playing music in a bedroom is boring and has been done to death.

If you want to get artsy with some cut scenes, now is a great time to look for people getting rid of Halloween stuff. 4 grown guys walking down the road with plastic animal masks on holding plastic pumpkin candy containers is a quirky, interesting thing to see (possibly), and easy to do.

If you want people to think this looks like a real performance, everyone should have a cord plugged into their instrument or microphone. If I see a microphone in a video without a cord, I'm going to turn the video off, because that shows a lack of detail and makes it look like it was done by an amateur.

If the band is playing black guitars, with black clothes, on a black background, it's just not going to look good. Try for complementing colors for your set and the band if possible. You don't have to do full on costumes, just be aware of things that don't look good together.

Make sure you get a good exposure with the camera. It is easy to blow out your highlights, or to make all of your dark areas grainy due to bad exposure. If there is one thing to learn on your camera above all else, it would be this.

If the camera you want to use doesn't offer manual exposure, than it won't work for this. Good dynamic music video's usually have a lot of differences in the lighting from shot to shot, and if your camera is changing settings automatically, it is not going to look professional.

Since this is your first video, I would strongly suggest shooting one beforehand to get a feel for things. Even if it is a couple of friends lip-synching to a Madonna song (oh wait, we're in the 2010's now, so that should be Lady Gaga), you don't want to be learning how to use the camera when you are on set.

Lastly, editing is not easy to do if you have never done it before, and tools like Premiere have a big learning curve. If you have a mac you could try imovie, or whatever comes with the mac. If you want to use Premiere, I would strongly suggest getting one of those classroom in a book books and work your way through most of it before you start this project.

Also, if you are trying to edit a music video (which has tons of takes of different angles all at the same time), and you shot it all in HD, make sure you have a very fast computer to work on, otherwise you are in for a world of hurt.

Good luck, and have fun with this. I started making video's of my songs earlier this year, and I enjoy doing the video's as much as I enjoy writing the music.
posted by markblasco at 2:11 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, one more thing: Try to get your closeups of the drummer first, followed by the singer, then the band members who are jumping around, and then everything else. If you do your drummer and singer last, they will look tired and sweaty, which you don't want. It would not be a bad idea to have a little makeup if they are concerned with their appearance, to help even out any redness or blemishes for the closeups. It's amazing how giant a pimple or how bad a splotchy face can look when you shoot in HD!
posted by markblasco at 2:14 PM on November 21, 2011

[markblasco, could we see some of your videos?]
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:17 PM on November 22, 2011

Sure, they aren't super fantastic, since I'm doing it by myself in my studio, without anyone to help, but I learn something new each time (last time was greenscreen), and I'm hoping to do one or two with a full band and someone to help with the camera when my next album comes out. Here is a link to one of them which I did recently:

I've also been on set for some random other video's, and it's amazing how just having the right set and props combined with a little knowledge can make an inexpensive camera look fantastic. This is a cool video that is all about the story, and these guys did it really cheap:

Another little tip now that I am thinking about it, if you set up a fog machine and let it go for a little while beforehand, and make sure the fog has completely mixed with the air before you start shooting, it won't look foggy, but will add some depth to the shot, and make the lighting look much more dramatic. You have to wait a bit though, because if you start shooting too soon, you'll see the fog moving around (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it makes it look like a fog machine, rather than just adding a subtle element of depth).
posted by markblasco at 7:10 PM on November 22, 2011

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