Step one: An Idea
The first step to creating a phenomenal music video is to come up with a killer idea. This can also be the most daunting step. Reminder: don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s ok to let the idea evolve with the process. However, in order to move forward, it’s important to at least have a skeleton of an idea. Because if you’re truly excited about the concept, the video will ultimately have an undeniable energy and magnetism. But how do you come up with the perfect idea?
Study your inspirations
At this stage, it’s ok to aim for the stars. Make a YouTube playlist of all your favorite music videos. If you don’t watch music videos very often, head to Vevo, click on the playlist for top hits in your favorite genre, and get to watching. Once you’ve collected all the music videos that matter to you into one place, watch them all together. Write down what you love about them. Try to notice similarities. You can note motifs, camera angles, storylines, costumes, whatever. For example, in my folder, “Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga would follow “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by the Fugees. I love the glamour, leading ladies, and dramatic story arcs of both these videos. So, I would pay attention to that.
Study at Home Music Videos
Now that you have a handle on what inspires you, irrespective of budget, it’s time to get realistic. Luckily, this doesn’t have to be boring or suffocating. There’s lots of incredible videos made with a low budget. Several different strategies can acquaint you with low budget music video creation. Obviously, start by making a separate YouTube playlist with the favorites from your first list which were made at home or with a low budget. You will be building on this.
Next, watch some lockdown videos from your favorite musicians (May I recommend “Polly” by Moses Sumney or anything from Charli XCX). Even though these professional videos often have wider access to quality resources, lockdown forced everyone to get creative, alone and at home. So, start there.
Also, consider watching your musician friend’s work. Assuming your peers are working with a similar budget, notice what of their work did well and what flopped. Also consider looking through the YouTube videos artists on MusicLift in your same genre have posted. This is a great way to get wider exposure and a better idea of the context and competition for your future video.
Here’s the fun part. Listen to your own song. Again and again. Allow yourself to really feel it. Daydream to the song. Dissect the lyrics. Eventually, inspiration will hit. Whether it’s just abstract “vibes” or a fleshed out story, a good music video idea will be both doable and unignorable.
Step two: A place
So, now you have an idea. Where will you film? First, familiarize yourself with the laws regarding filming in your city. If necessary, acquire permits. An unexpected fee is the last thing you need when filming on a budget. Get creative with potential locations. Cleaning your whole house might be a hassle. Where else is available? Is there a venue you have a relationship with? Reach out and ask them about the possibility of filming there. Maybe even offer the restaurant or cafe owner a small role! The point is, get creative. When you’re out and about, take note of aesthetic spots, cool street art, and beautiful nature. This will come in handy.
Step three: People
Utilize your Network
If you’re a creative, chances are someone in your network would be a perfect match for a DIY music video project. So, ask around. Perhaps a friend already has filmmaking experience or equipment. Or, your friend Kathy, the stunning visual artist, would be willing to help take your set to the next level. Bringing your friends into the fold is an incredible way to give an amateur video a professional sheen. A good example of this is Grimes’ music video for the song “Vanessa.” The video flamed the early fires of their career. And it was made through a combination of enlisting dancer, filmmaker, and editing friends to bring Grimes’ particular vision to life.
Utilize your Fanbase
Getting your fanbase involved will both promote your video and add some fun energy to the idea. Let’s look at two case studies. Phoebe Bridgers, during lockdown, created a competition for her single “Garden Song” in order to get fan engagement up. This was a smash hit. Fans posted creative videos interpreting the song to YouTube. Not only are these an impeccable place to look for inspiration, but the entire challenge demonstrates effective utilization of the fanbase in order to get hype up for your releases. Similarly, Jessie Ware released an at home dance video for her song “Save a Kiss.” Fans also recorded themselves performing Jessie Ware’s choreography. This content was used for a second video, the fan version of “Save a Kiss.” So, once again, creativity is key. Brainstorm ways to motivate and include your audience. Even just enlisting fans to play the crowd in your music video is an effective strategy.
Respect people’s time
Most importantly in recruiting people, respect their time. Plan on spending no more than 4-6 hours shooting. If you need more than this, make sure to spread it out. It’s a good idea to bring food and snacks. An even better idea to come with a solid plan. Which leads to our next step.
Step three: Preparation
Take stock of the material you’ve gathered from the first three steps. Make a list of your equipment.
If all you have is an iPhone, don’t be worried. If you want to improve quality, download an app (may I recommend FiLMiC pro). Check out resources like NoFilm School and this YouTube Channel to learn more about filmmaking in general, and especially low budget filming.
If you want to record audio for your music video, like introductory dialogue, all you will technically need is an iPhone. Ideally, you would use a boom mic. However, if this is not an option, a phone will work. In your settings, change the microphone to the back position. Then, place your phone screen down on your bed with pillows on each side. Have your actors speak their lines into the phone. You will add this into the scene in post!
One extra tip, if you are looking to test out your creativity, filming skills, ideas, or fan excitement, try posting a miniature version of your music video to Tik Tok. The shortened format is great for video content and especially for sharpening your ideas. This will force you to focus on the most essential parts of a concept, which is great practice for a full length music video. Stretch your legs and find out what looks cool first.
Finally, make sure you have a storyboard. This will dramatically cut down on time. There are many free templates available online. Once you have the order of the video finalized, go ahead and plan the most efficient order of shooting.
Step four: shooting
Make sure you are in charge of whatever gimmick your video will hinge upon. If you want to have a dramatic shot where someone dances and then falls backwards into the pool from the roof, that someone will be you. If you recruited your friends for free, they are not necessarily going to be inclined to break their back taking 40 takes of the pool jump until it looks like they are flying. Keep your actors happy by being respectful and the shoot should go smoothly.
Step five: Post Production
If you can outsource editing, do it! Otherwise, watch a few tutorials. Both Adobe and iMovie secrets and tricks are well documented on YouTube. This might seem overwhelming, so focus on clipping, splicing, and adding transitions. It will also be worthwhile to learn the basics of audio mixing, especially if you plan to add dialogue.
Step six: Afterwards
Share your video on all your socials. Consider doing a promo series which leads up to a live premiere, either on YouTube or with a party or both. Encourage everyone involved to also share the video. Good marketing can make all the effort worthwhile, so don’t skimp out on this step.
Once your video is complete, add it to your MusicLift profile! In one place, audiences, agents, and fellow musicians can listen to your samples, watch your music video, learn a little more about you, and get an idea of what you look like. This consolidated profile is a perfect way to promote yourself and appeal to potential bookings. The perfect complement to a personal website, MusicLift is here for all your booking needs.