Updated: Jan 7, 2019
A camera, a team, a vision, and lots of planning. In short, that's what will get you a music video. What do you need to make a GOOD music video though?
To make a music video you need to first ask yourself, what is the vision? What is this song about? What is the artist trying to say? What image does the artist want to convey? I often like to have a conversation with musicians and artists to see what their vision really is. I ask them about their band, their accomplishments, their goals, and eventually find something. Making a music video is all about marketing for the band. It has to convey who the artist is, to the millions of people on the internet.
2. A Shot List
A wide shot of the ocean, and a close up of the main vocalist at the pier. After you understand what kind of aesthetic and visual you want to give your music video, it is time to compose a shot list. This can be as detailed as you feel necessary. Sometimes it's best to start off by writing a storyboard while listening to the song. The ideas of which shots you want come easier after that. You want a shot list to help you prepare for the day of the shoot. A more detailed blog about how to write a shot list will come next. Here is what my shot list typically looks like:
I made this on Excel myself according to what I needed to keep me sane the day of the shoot.
Now that you know what to shoot, where is the next question to answer. I always say, start by dreaming big, and then figure out how you can stay within your budget and still get that same look. Who do you know, and who do they know? Can someone get you that bar down the street for 5 hours on a Sunday, for FREE? Make calls, send emails, and text everyone. Do you need just one location, or four? Will you need to travel?
Once you have locations locked down, grab that shot list. You are going to group together all the shots that go in the same locations. Then reorganize the shot list according to which location you will be going to first. The shots don't have to be in order. More on this later.
4. A Motivated Team
Make a list of all the people you would likely need to make you video happen.
Who is going to film? Who is going to act? Who will bring the equipment? Gather a group of people excited to help you make this music video a success. Start thinking about what you can afford as well. Who will handle the camera and shoot? Will you do that yourself to save some money, or do you want someone who knows how to work with cinematic cameras and hire a professional? Will you handle setting up the lights yourself, or will you hire someone who will be more careful? How many friends can you get to be a part of the video it self?
I usually always hire a professional to take care of my camera operation when I see that a budget can afford them. I have an assistant director in charge of the actors (and the release forms), and grips to handle the light set ups. The list of people who you should have on your team can go on forever. I made a list of the most essential members: The Dream Team
If your budget is too small to hire anyone at all, try to get as many people involved who care at least a bit about the video or you. Make sure to feed them too! Everyone appreciates food.
5. Schedule - Call Sheet
Now that you have a team, you need to pick a day(s) that works with everyone. Give your team time to ask off from their jobs, and for you to plan this. Once you have chosen a day, you have to estimate how long it will take you to film the video. This is where your shot list become even more useful. Use it as an estimation tool. After every shot, write down how long you think it would take to film it 3 times. For example, a close up of the vocalist throughout the entire 4 minute song, will take an estimate of 12 minutes. A wide shot of someone walking down the street might only take 5 minutes. Schedules can often not go according to plan, and that's why I like to have an assistant director keeping track of time and holding me accountable. After you finish with the call sheet, add in how long set up and break down would take. On average, I have an hour set up and break down if nothing goes wrong.
Now you can see how long each scene will take and when you will need certain people and equipment.
This is how my call sheets often look:
6. Production Equipment
What kind of camera will you need, who will you get it from and how much will it be? Nowadays, you can use an Iphone 7 to film movies, so don't worry about what camera you are getting unless you plan on filming a cinematic piece. Ask friends if you can borrow theirs, rent some from a nearby production company, or go online and buy one out of pocket. What you need depends completely on the style of video you are going for. If this is a natural lit video that only requires a camera and a stabilizer at the beach, then you are done hunting for equipment. If you want a creatively lit studio video, you will need special lighting to rent. If you have a cinematic piece in mind you might need to think about renting cameras, jibs, steadicams, lights, gels. If you hired a cinematographer, simply send them images of what you have in mind, and they should be able to tell you precisely what you will need.
Most successful music videos are mini movie. You want the people telling your story to do it well, and be believable. You can always use friends and family on a low budget shoot, it will just be harder to direct them. Even experienced directors have a hard time with those who never acted. If you can afford to hire from an agency because your music video relies heavily on story and emotion, go ahead! Sometimes you can find experienced actors for $100 a day as opposed to $100 an hour. Make sure you sign talent release forms, and any other forms needed if you are to pay for their work. You can find plenty of those online.