A Step-By-Step Guide to Making a Music Video

It's important to have a good idea and work within your budget.

Image by Adrian Mangel. © The Balance 2019

Having a music video can help promote your band, through video sites such as YouTube and Facebook. If you're a filmmaker making a music video is a good way of getting exposure and experience and bands are often happy to give you free reign, creatively-speaking.

A video doesn't need to cost a fortune – what's important is having a good idea and working within your budget. Some production companies charge a fortune for even the simplest promotional video, but you can easily do it yourself.

01
Choose Your Song

Trevor Moran Music Video 'Someone'
Rachel Murray / Stringer/WireImage/WireImage/Getty Images

 First things first. You have to choose your song. While it might make sense to make a video for your upcoming single there are a few other factors to consider:

  • It can take a lot longer than you think to make a video, so by the time it's finished your single might have already come out. It might be an idea to think about making the video for a subsequent single.
  • Having said that, in these days of internet streaming, any track can be seen as a single, so there might be a track on the album that you have a great idea for a video for, even if that track wasn't originally planned as a single.
  • Remember that it can take a long time to shoot and edit each second of video so while you might have a good idea for a video for that 10 minute epic that closes the album, it might be more practical to shoot a video for the three minute pop song.

02
Get a Team and Equipment Together

However complicated (or simple) your shoot is, you'll need a team of people. As well as the actors/performers you'll need:

  • Camera person – At least one, and maybe more.
  • Lighting Person – If you're filming inside you'll need lighting, and someone to look after it.
  • Director/dogsbody – You need someone in charge of the shoot, making sure everything is running smoothly, and who can buy batteries when you need them.

It's a good idea to supply some kind of refreshments or snacks for your crew – that will not only keep them happy but also stop them popping off to the store to get their supplies, just when you need them for the shoot.

Ideally, you'll be able to recruit a team who have their own equipment. If you have to get equipment, then you'll want to get the best your budget allows. While prices are coming down, buying a camera, lights and other gear will still set you back a small fortune.

You'll be able to get more equipment for your money by renting gear; many places have community arts programs where you can rent equipment cheaply. You can also check out the local colleges in your area to see if they can help. If you are looking to buy gear, then do your research.

03
Plan Your Shoot

The more planning you can do beforehand, the quicker you'll be able to shoot. If you're renting gear, the quicker you can shoot, the less it will cost you. If you're relying on favors, people will be more willing to help again if you keep the hanging around to a minimum.

To plan, you should:

  • Draw storyboards showing each scene and shot
  • List the crew, performers, and props you'll need for each shot
  • Try and brief the camera and lighting people beforehand, so they know what you want from the shot.

04
Filming

On the day of the shoot be prepared and organized. Keep a record of shots you've made; it'll make editing much easier. Always allow plenty of time for shooting – the finished shot may only last 10 seconds, but could easily take several hours to set up and shoot.

When you're happy with a shot, if you have time, shoot it again. You can never have too much footage, and the re-take may capture something that you hadn't noticed the first time around. You'll have your plan and storyboard to follow, but remember that some of the best moments in a video can be unplanned. Keep the camera rolling – these days video storage is cheap.

05
Capture Live Footage

Filming the band playing live can provide you with great footage for a video. Filming the band at a gig will mean you'll be able to capture the bands live energy and their interaction with the audience.

There are some difficulties, however:

  • The band will only play the song you're making the video for once, so you'll only have one chance of capturing the right footage.
  • The live version may differ considerably from the recorded version, so syncing the footage with the track could be problematic.
  • The band's, and particularly the audience's, movements won't be choreographed, so you, or your camera person, won't know where to be to capture the right shots.
  • The lighting and effects may look great to the audience but may not look great to the camera.
  • Your filming may interrupt the band's performance.
  • Live filming may provide you with some great footage that can be used as part of a video, but if you want the live footage to synch to a video, your best bet is to "stage" a live performance. Get the band to play along (or mime) to the track in front of an audience of mates or invited fans. You can then control the lighting, people's movements and get the track played as many times as you need (or at least until the band decamps to the bar.)

06
Use Stock Footage

You can spice up your video by adding stock footage, but you need to be aware that, like music, almost all video footage is subject to strict copyright law. Making use of footage without the copyright holders' express permission is illegal. (That shot from Top Gun may look great in your video, but you'll need permission from Paramount Pictures to use it).

However, there are sources of footage that you can legally use. Royalty-free footage is footage you can reuse in any setting, without asking permission or paying the copyright holder a fee each time you use it, but you may have to pay a fee to obtain it in the first place. Fear not: there is plenty of free royalty-free footage (footage that's in the public domain). 

There is more and more footage being made available under creative commons licenses - original material that the copyright owner has entered into the public domain with certain conditions attached (usually that the original author is credited).

07
Editing

Your footage might be great, but it'll only become a great video through editing. To do a good job, you'll need patience, time and more patience.

You'll need to decide the "feel" and pace of the video. Will it be made up of long sweeping shots, or quick sharp edits? Do you want to follow the mood of the song and edit to the music or do you want the video to contrast with the track?

The judicious use of the right effect can set your video apart. As well as your software or app's standard effects.

A word of warning: if you're making a video as a band it's usually best to delegate the editing process to one person. After they've done a rough edit, you can discuss how it should be finished, but if four people sit around all trying to edit a video together a long process will become torturous and, almost inevitably, will end in falling outs.​

08
Get the Right Software and Hardware

These days relatively inexpensive or free software can do a professional job of editing. The basic video software for Apple users is iMovie, and many others use Adobe's Premiere as a good place to start.

Most computers and digital devices should be capable of editing film footage. Video editing takes up a lot of hard drive space, so keep your hard drive clean and get rid of footage you're not using (but be careful not to delete footage you ARE using!). Investing in a new hard drive to store your video footage on is probably a good idea.

The output format will depend on its destination. Highly compressed formats are best for streaming over the internet (Quicktime and MP4 are among the most common), DVDs are still occasionally used for sending out to the press and media, and a DigiBeta tape may still be needed for some TV broadcasts (something you'll need to get made up at a professional production company).

09
Be Creative

How many videos have you seen on MTV or YouTube that consist of the band playing in a club, with the lights flashing whilst the audience jump up and down? Exactly. Try and think of something different when you make your video. Filming a Hollywood blockbuster on a shoestring budget will generally look like crap!

10
Tips for Making a Good Music Video

Beware of Using Excessive Zoom

It may look cool while you're shooting it, but in the final edit zooming often looks clichéd, and unless done with a very steady hand can often look amateurish.

Avoid Using Excessive Special Effects

Even the most basic video editing software has a myriad of special effects for you to use; color changing, rolling edits, split screens, it's advisable to use them sparingly.

A good video isn't a showcase for how many effects you've mastered. It's usually better to use a couple of effects throughout the video to create a certain feel rather than use as many effects as you can to make a video exciting (if you need to do this, then maybe it's time to rethink your idea. or add some more footage - see Steps 4, 5 and 6).

But Think About Adding Sound Effects

A dramatic music video may be enhanced with some additional sound effects. If your video begins with someone walking down the street, you could add the sound of footsteps or ambient street noise over the intro. If you're making a video for someone else make sure they won't mind you adding sound effects to their perfectly crafted tune!

Don't Be Over Ambitious

A simple idea well executed is often more effective than a complex idea done badly.

And Ignore All I've Said

The most interesting videos are made when the rules of convention are bent, buckled and broken, so keep experimenting and above all else, make something interesting.

Many thanks to video director Arthur T. Flegenheimer (stage name) for his expertise!