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How to Make a Professional Music Video: From Start to Finish

Updated on October 24, 2016

Understanding video

Making a quality music video isn’t something to take lightly, as it will be the difference between a song gaining traction and having the greatest potential to become a hit, or just another song quickly forgotten among thousands of competitive offerings.

One of the keys to making a successful music video is to think of it as a chance to market yourself or a band to a targeted audience. Not only is it about the music, it’s about what the entertainer or entertainers represent as a brand, and conveying that with a music video in a professional manner.

Those wanting to use a music video as a means of finding or communicating with a fan base, must do so in a way that reinforces a professional image no matter what type of music is being performed. In this article we’ll look at a number of tips on how to do that, and whether or not that’s the direction you want to or are able to take.

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First record an awesome sound track

An interesting thing about making a music video is it doesn’t start with video, but with the creation of a high-quality sound track. A sound track is a versatile tool that can be used in a variety of ways in making a music video.

For example, there are times when a the song may be sung by the entertainers, going along exactly with the words and music, and other times when video is being seen with the song accompanying the action. The track itself needs to be professionally recorded.

The song track will be an important part of the editing process when moving toward a completed video. For those that have never made a music video before, when the filming is taking place, that’s not the time to record sound. The time to do so is before the filming begins.

Storytelling in a music video

When making a music video it’s important to understand you’re really trying to present an image to those watching it. Even though a song will have specific words, it’s not a good idea to attempt to create a literal translation of the words.

One way to think about it would be when a foreign language is being translated. If a person were to translate if in the exact words of the language, most readers wouldn’t understand what was meant. The meaning of the language is what must be captured, and that’s similar to how a music video needs to be developed. Taking the lyrics literally and trying to force that into a music video would be a disaster. Capturing the essence of the song is what must be done.

This requires the use of our imagination as we listen to the words and music of the song while it generates imagery in our minds that can be developed into a video. What this means is words represent thoughts, ideas, actions, and even a mood. Those words must go beyond literal meaning and capture what is being communicated conceptually. It's no different than when we listen to some of our own favorite songs from other performers and experience imagery coming to our minds in response to it. It's the same with a music video, with the exception we have to overcome our emotional connection to it in order to look at it from a more objective viewpoint.

A music video is a short film or short story. That story needs to not only reflect the brand of the performer or performers, but also be wrapped around the meaning behind the words. Those successfully executing this will give themselves a significant chance at success. The song still has to be a good song, and a quality video will enhance and reinforce that to viewers and listeners.

Treating it like a short film

What it means to treat a music video like a short film is it needs to be broken down into different parts, with the possibility of including different characters in the narrative besides the entertainers.

If that's the case with your video, it would mean finding actors or possibly dancers to complement the rest of the short film.

One I think of immediately is Clay Walker's "Live, Laugh, Love," where a variety of dancers and actors were incorporated into the celebration of life. It's also a great example of how a video can exceed the meaning of the words. In that case the video was a great marketing tool used to enhance the song.

As far as developing this type of video, it has to be broken into smaller parts; in many cases it can go back and forth between images and video at different intervals and pacing in order to create a specific feel and flow.

Sometimes an artist or band may not even be in the video, opting to allow others to present the message. There is still a branding, but it's directed toward the music and imagery associated with it. The artist or band are still positioned in the minds of viewers and listeners, in a powerful emotional connecting between the music, words and their meaning.

Tip from filmmakers

We're in pre-production on a film at this time, and one of the things all filmmakers do is incorporate storyboards into the creative process in order to visualize different, unfolding scenes.

The way to think about a storyboard is it looks similar to a comic strip or comic book, in that it has panels or frames with a specific scene in each one. In making a music video, the idea would be to sequentially create each scene you envision, using whatever skill you have as an artist.

Don't think it has to be nice looking. I've seen extraordinarily simple storyboards made for films with low-quality art. The point isn't to design a masterpiece, but to provide a guideline to follow when producing each part of the video.

With each panel you will want to write a description of what's going on, or as I've seen some do, create those little bubbles where people are shown to talk or think. If words from the song are included in a specific section, include those in or under the frame.

Anything that is associated with the particular scene should be part of the storyboard, including specifics of the imagery you're looking for, angles of the camera and lights, etc.

Setting for the video

In the film industry we normally call the place for a specific shot a set. It can be little more than a specific natural location that coincides with the theme of a story. It can also be an elaborate creation built for a very specific purpose.

Either way, there is the need to search for a set or location for your video. Depending on your vision, it could include more than one location to accomplish what you're trying to say.

If the major location is outdoors, be sure to go there before the shoot and see how the lighting is during that particular time of day.

As for indoor settings, you could rent a film studio such as SAS Studios, or other buildings such as a theater. Public property of various types are other options if it fits the story you're trying to tell in the music video.

Finally, if you need access to power for your equipment, be sure where you're shooting the film, first, has power, and second, has enough power.

What's important to understand is the need to envision the best possible setting for your video; one that lines up with what you want people to take away from it.

Where to find performers for video

While it should be easy enough to find family or friends to participate in a music video shoot, I think it's best to take things to a little higher level and search for actors or performers that have at least some training and general talent.This could include people in drama clubs or local colleges or dance group.

If you've ever been in the entertainment industry, it's surprising to discover how many people don't mind participating in a project for little or nothing. It strengthens their resumes and provides the opportunity to do what they love.

You could put out what is called a casting call to find those who want to be part of your video. This could be over the Internet or in a local publication. Some parts of the country have a strong talent pool to work from, while others have a smaller talent pool. That said, many people are willing to travel to get this type of work.

The point is this type of project is attractive to a lot of people, and depending upon the skill level you're looking for, you should, at least in the case of actors or dancers, find some to participate in your music video. You should be able to attract talent without paying too much out, although it probably not be top level talent.

Running the show

Designing an awesome music video requires a team. Not only is there the need for talent if there is the desire to go beyond showcasing an entertainer or band, but there is the extraordinary practical side of the business, including designing the set, camera operators, costume design, dance choreography if needed, makeup artists and hair stylists.These types of skills are essential for a music video to succeed.

The level of need for expertise will be dictated by the look you want to express in the music video. If it reflects more of everyday life, the need for certain types of makeup and costumes may not be as much as those trying to show a more elaborate production to reflect the mood of the song.

There will be at least some costs associated with these skills, and it's important not to cut corners too much here. That's especially true with the quality of equipment used to produce the video, along with the expertise to not only operate them correctly, but to capture what you're looking for with your vision. Unless you're skilled in this area and the others mentioned above, you need to find people that are and obtain the quality equipment to accomplish your goals.

Putting the set or sets together

When it comes to the storyboards mentioned above, the importance is reflected in putting together a set or sets to film the music video in. Even if you've found the perfect location to film in, there is almost always some type of improvements needed to be made in order to make it what you specifically want.

Storyboards provide a template to follow to meet your vision, and it offers practical imagery to build the set exactly how you want it to look. This is why it's important to take time on the storyboards, even if it isn't a work of art in the end. It's value is in its aid in designing a set, not in its quality as a piece of art, which it isn't meant to be.

Keep in mind the effect of light on various parts of the set. How clean it looks visually will depend upon using light to your advantage, whether it's the shade in an outdoor area, position of the sun, or how it hits objects including in your set design.

Building sets is among the most important and enjoyable parts of the music video process. It creates the entire mood for the music and lyrics of the sound, and the type of branding you want to have viewers and listeners take away from it. Pay close attention to detail on your sets, and with the storyboards designed to guide you in building them.

Filming basics

The first thing to learn about filming is it's not the end of the process, but only a step in that direction. With that in mind, it's the editing that transfigures all your video into coherent and compelling marketing tool.

For that reason, it's a good idea to experiment while you're shooting video, as it could surprise you when going through the editing process in regard to unique results that make the video better than you thought.

For example, in filming there are what are called slanted shots. These are used a lot in music videos, and by tilting the camera it can create a unique effect that can work very well with the right type and portion of music and at the right time in the video. While a very effective technique, don't overuse it or it can weaken the effect it can have in the best situations.

Other shot angles to consider are eye level shots, low angles (camera facing up to person or object), and an angle with the camera above the people or object looking down. There are other angles, but these are among the more widely used and they work well in the right places of a music video.

What the variety of angles do is to give the story a different way of being portrayed from different views. They provide different effects, such as the sense of showing power for a person or thing when shot from a lower angle.

Another area to look concerning basic filming is the type of shots that can be taken. The most obvious are close ups, which of course focus in on detail.

Other techniques are the use of wide angle shots to provide a more comprehensive view of a character or scene, cut away to a background or scenery in order to include the mood of the shot, rather than the character alone. Finally, shooting from over the shoulder of a character in the film gives the sense of seeing things from that person's perspective.

Lastly, don't be afraid to take a lot of video from different angles and shots, as it's in the editing where the success of a shoot is determined. Having plenty of video to choose from gives the best chance of achieving the desired outcome. It also offers a lot more flexibility.

Finishing off your music video

So far everything we've talked about, while important, only sets up the actual making of the music video, which is done in the editing room. All the other steps are and were necessary, but only what is done when editing determines the final quality and probable impact of the video.

The one caveat is the song must be a good one. No music video can generate long-term sales if the song isn't one that have an effect on people in a way that makes them want to buy it.

As for editing, those making music videos on their own have to buy quality video editing software to end up with a production they are proud of. Among the best for the Mac is Final Cut Pro, which while pricey, is worth what it costs. Even producers of feature films have used it.

There are much cheaper versions, which are maybe a little more user friendly, but they don't come close to doing what Final Cut Pro can do. With all its capability, Final Cut Pro is still considered user friendly. For Windows users, one that is decent is Sony Vegas Movie Studio.

Those editing on their own need to upload the professional song recording to the software first, and shouldn't use sound coming from the video shoot. The goal should be to sync the previously recorded song with your video. Assuming there are visuals of those singing, it's imperative to make sure it's synced with the audio.

One of the more important elements of editing is to use the tempo and beat of the song to blend together with the various shots that were taken. A proven method is to use a series of quick shots that move from one to another, moving into an image of a person singing or band playing.

If the song is one that builds up to a climax, an effective technique is to use a longer shot which zooms into a closeup of the desired scene.

Color and light are important in the editing process, and even the best editors experiment with a variety of shades, tones and colors to reach the desired result. It's a complicated process that has at its basic level the use of dark images to create a more threatening look, and lighter images to present a more winsome look. Blue colors are considered cooler, while red hues offer a warmer feel.

If the music video looks inconsistent, using color filtering will give it more balance.

Conclusion

There you have a solid overview of what it takes to shoot a quality, professional music video.

Of course there is more to learn and experiment with, but using the tips and techniques mentioned above will give you a head start and advantage over those just putting together a bunch of uncoordinated scenes and images which make little if any sense to the viewer and listener.


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