Step-By-Step Guide to Making a Music Video

Image shows a rock and roll band shooting a music video on a flat, gated-in rooftop. Text reads: "How to shoot a music video step by step! Be realistic: a music video can take 10-20 hours to shoot. Film students can help when you're on a budget. Storyboard your video for maximum efficiency. Supplement your shoot with live footage."

Ellen Lindner / The Balance

A music video can help you promote your band through social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook, and more. Contrary to what you may think, a music video doesn't need to cost a fortune. What's most important is that you have a good idea, a good team, and a well-defined budget.

Some production companies charge a fortune for even the simplest promotional videos, but you can do it yourself. Or, if you are willing to give an up-and-coming filmmaker or producer a chance, they will often do it at a low cost (maybe even free of charge).

Before you begin producing your music video, it is important to plan and take a few key things into consideration. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to make a music video.

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Choosing the Right Song

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

While it might seem like the best idea to simply make a video for your next upcoming single, that may or may not make the most sense. Here are a few other factors to consider when choosing a song:

  • Think ahead or recycle an old song. It will take longer than you think to shoot, edit, and produce a music video. If the song is three minutes or longer, your “new” single might already have come out by the time you’ve published your video. Instead, consider selecting a song that has done well in the past or use a single that is planned for release in the future, after you plan to publish your next single.
  • Don’t merely think in terms of a “single.” In these days of Internet streaming, any track can be a single. Therefore, you might pick a track from an album that you had a great music video idea for in the past, even if that track wasn't originally planned as a single.
  • You might want to start small. For every minute of a song in a music video, it can take you and your crew anywhere from 2-10 hours of shooting, editing, and finishing. The longer you take, the greater your risk of abandoning the project.
  • Make sure that your song truly inspires the band. You will not like every song that you and your band creates or plays. Music videos should be authentic expressions of the song’s creators. Even the best filmmakers struggle to put a good video together if the band does not feel inspired by the lyrics and sounds of the song they’ve selected.
  • If the song is not yours, consider copyright costs. Do not assume that you can use a song that's not yours. However, if your budget permits your band to produce a video for a song from someone else, that does not already have a video or single out on it, get the paperwork in place to move forward legally.
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Casting the Film Crew and Getting Equipment

However complicated (or simple) your shoot is, you'll need a team. If you have a team, everyone should be clear on what they are responsible to accomplish. Here are some of the roles that you will need to fill:

  • Cameraperson: One or more individuals.
  • Lighting person for any and all indoor shots: 1 individual.
  • Actor(s): the number of individuals varies based on what kind of video you seek to create.
  • Director: One individual whom everyone clearly acknowledges as “in charge.”
  • Band members: This should be obvious, but make sure that all your members are on board and able to commit to their scheduled shooting days.

As you build your team, consider their individual needs. If you’re shooting through mealtimes, either provide food or at least remind crew members to bring food and set aside time for people to eat. If you are shooting all day, or for several hours, encourage the crew to take breaks.

Ideally, you'll be able to recruit a team that can provide their own equipment. If you have to get equipment yourself, then you'll want to get the best that your budget allows.

Even though prices have come down in recent years, buying a camera, lights, and gear will still set you back a small fortune. So, renting gear is usually the best bet. Many places have community arts programs that allow you to rent equipment at lower rates.

You can also check out local colleges in your area to see if they are willing to help. Who knows? You might find a few film students willing to let you use their gear in exchange for allowing them to be on your crew and get experience.

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Planning the Shoot

Wasted time can cost you more money (if you’re renting by the hour/day) or sour relationships (where you called in favors). Most film crews who do more “hanging out” rather than working, are simply responding to the lack of planning. So take a few minutes (or hours) to think through how this music video will be filmed.

It is customary to build storyboards for each shot. This will ensure that you don’t miss anything and that you can describe to your crew what you need. Feel free to Google “music video storyboard template” in order to find and download a template to work from. Sketch out each scene in the box and describe the scene underneath.

After completing your storyboard, make a list of the equipment and casting you need for each shot. Share your finished storyboard with the whole crew and discuss each shot with the appropriate teams. Ideally, you should also create a schedule that identifies who is needed when, and where.

Most importantly, make sure that your camera and lighting crew know what your expectations are for each scene. If you are a band member, you are probably in the scenes yourself. Those actually shooting the video will be able to see what you can’t see and make suggestions accordingly.

If you’ve cast a video director (someone other than yourself), you will need to only brief him/her on the storyboard first. The director can then handle the meetings with crews, scheduling, etc.

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On the day of shooting, be focused and stick to the plan. Keep a careful record of the shots you've made for the sake of editing. Always allow plenty of time for shooting. Even though the finished scene may only last 10 seconds, it could easily take several hours to set up and shoot. That said, don’t get so preoccupied with getting the “perfect” shoot that you take six hours on one shoot and have only six hours left to finish the remaining 15.

Ideally, you'll have several good takes for each scene. You can never have too much footage, and the re-take may capture something that you hadn't noticed the first time around. While it is never a good idea to deviate from the storyboard, there are extra things that the crew can do to provide a nice touch to the available footage.

For example, if you have more than one camera, ask the “idle” camera person to keep shooting from other angles (not in sight of the main camera) or in between scenes. This technique often affords golden footage that you didn’t realize you could get. Additionally, some of the best shots might be candid moments with the set and crew.

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Capturing Live Footage

Filming the band playing live is a way to get some great footage for your music video. Filming the band at a gig will mean you'll be able to capture the live energy and interaction with the audience.

However, if you’re planning on shooting the entire video with live footage, you will need professionals experienced with live filming as this can be extremely difficult to do well.

A much better solution for someone creating their first music video would be to capture some live footage and mix it in with the other footage. Here are a few unique challenges to consider when filming live:

  • The band will only play the song 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 audio track could be problematic.
  • The movements of the band, and particularly the audience, won't be choreographed. As such, you and the director can’t expect the audience to meet your expectations. On the other hand, these reactions are genuine, and if you capture a genuine reaction that is positive, you’ve got great footage.
  • The lighting and effects may look great to the audience but may not look great on camera.
  • Your filming may interrupt the band's performance. Make sure that the band members are on board and that the venue is large enough for there to be as little interference from filming as possible.

One technique to guarantee that your live footage syncs to a video is to "stage" a live performance. Get the band to play along (or mime) to the track in front of an audience of selected friends or fans. By doing “live” footage in this way, you can control the lighting and people's movements, and get the track played as many times as you need.

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Using Stock Footage

You can spice up your video by adding stock footage, but you'll need to be aware that almost all video footage is subject to strict copyright law. Making use of footage without the copyright holders' express permission is illegal.

However, there are also sources of footage that you can use legally. 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. Lastly, there are several free stock and royalty-free sites to check out before paying for stock footage.

Additionally, there is increasingly more footage made available under creative commons licenses—original material that the copyright owner has entered into the public domain with certain conditions attached. Often, the only condition is that you properly credit the source or creator.

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Using the Right Video Editing/Finishing Software

These days, relatively inexpensive or free software can do a decent job of video editing:

  • The basic video software for Apple users is iMovie.
  • For PC users, Adobe's Premiere Elements is a good place to start.

The judicious use of effects can set your video apart. Much of this will depend upon the capabilities of the video editing software you use. For the best quality look, consider using professional software such as Apple Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro.

Most computers and digital devices should be capable of editing film footage. However, 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 fast, external hard drive to store your video footage on is probably a good idea.

The output format will depend on its destination (where you want your video to end up). Highly compressed formats are best for streaming over the Internet (QuickTime and MP4 are among the most common). For sending to the media/press, DVDs are still frequently the best format, and a DigiBeta tape may still be needed for some TV broadcasts (something you'll need to accomplish with the help of a professional production company).

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Being Creative

How many videos have you seen on YouTube that consists of the band playing in a club, with the lights flashing, whilst the audience jumps up and down? This style of music video is overused, and it wasn’t a particularly creative idea to begin with.

Rather, try to think differently. Attempting a Hollywood blockbuster on a shoestring budget will generally look terrible. However, a strong dose of originality will allow your video to connect with thousands of people, regardless of your budget.

On the flip side, don’t overdo it. A simple idea, well-executed, is always more effective than a complex idea, done poorly.

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Key Takeaways

Beware of Using Excessive Zoom: It may look cool while you're shooting, but in the final edit, zooming often looks cliché or unusable. Typically, only the top professionals with very steady hands can pull this off.

Avoid Using Excessive Special Effects: A good video isn't a showcase for how many effects you or your editor can master. 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.

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.