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Making a Music Video
Digital FilmMaker

Making a Music Video

Posted Monday, 27 April 2015   |   1037 views   |   Leisure Interest   |   Comments (0) With Youtube and MySpace the music video has come into its own as a product that anyone with access to a DSLR camera and editing software can produce and get shown

Our how-to-guide takes you through the process of planning, filming and editing your own music video from conception to completion.

1 Select a track and plan your approach
You might have been commissioned by a band or an artist to make a music video for a track, or you might be a musician yourself wanting to create a video for your own song. Alternatively, you might be a filmmaker wanting to expand your show reel by making a music video to a pre-existing track. The fi rst thing you need to do is to make your choice of track and decide on your approach to the video.

Music videos range from the simplest recordings of performances to complex narrative pieces using highly sophisticated visual effects. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, but if this is your first ever video project and you are still getting to grips with filming techniques and editing software, you will need to be realistic and work with your resources. Try to think of an original concept for your music video that doesn’t require complicated visual effects or a cast of thousands. Imagination and creativity go a long way. Be inventive and work with what you have, or can gain access to in terms of equipment, personnel and locations. 

Once you have selected your track (or have been commissioned by a band/artist) listen to the track carefully and try to picture in your mind’s eye what your video might look like. Let the track suggest images and ideas. Try to visualise your music video clearly. Write down your initial ideas. These might be for particular shots or a more general overall approach to the video as a whole. If the track has lyrics or words, ask yourself what the song is about. How might you interpret the song in your video (without making it too literal)?

You need to be clear on what elements you will include in your video. Is it a performance to camera by the band/artist? Does it include any narrative or dramatized aspects? Do you want to include still images or photographs? Old movie clips? It’s a good idea to take two or more of these elements and weave them together, for example you might film the band performing and edit it together alongside another element, such as a piece of animation, say, to maintain visual interest. Even if you just include a few simple shots of your artist walking through a striking location it will add an extra layer of interest to your music video and stop it from becoming monotonous.

Many music videos are rich visual collages that combine interesting images as well as artist performance. Aim for variety in your music video as this is pleasing to the eye.
2 Create a moodboard or storyboard
If you have been commissioned to make the video you might want to put together a moodboard that you can show to the artist/band. A moodboard is a collection of images that conveys the overall sense of what your video will look like. What kind of images should you include in a moodboard? Locations, for a start. Think of some interesting places that might feature in the video. Go out with your DSLR and take stills of the location and make these into a collage in Photoshop or Microsoft Word. The locations might, themselves, suggest a story and things for your artist to do within them.

If you are planning a narrative in your music video you will want to make a storyboard. A storyboard shows the shots that you will need in order to tell your story. A storyboard needn’t be a masterful work of art in itself. It is simply a tool for you to plan your ideas, so it doesn’t matter if you can’t draw well. Simple stick figures are enough to help you plan your shots. But if you really don’t want to do a storyboard, do a shotlist instead. A shotlist is a written equivalent of a storyboard where you describe the shots in words rather than draw them.

When you do your shotlist or storyboard, think about the timings of the track; in other words what shots or images you want to match to what lyrics or points in the song. If there is an instrumental break in the track you might want to use this as a special part in the video that does something different to the rest. Likewise, if the track has sections where the tempo changes, you might want to emphasise this in images, having ‘slower’ or ‘faster’ sections in the video to match.

3 Plan the shoot
Obviously as you plan your ideas creatively, you also have to be thinking about the production logistics at the same time. How many locations? How many performers? What shots might be difficult to achieve? Is any special equipment needed to film certain sequences?

You will need to start making some lists. Firstly, your basic equipment: DSLR camera, obviously. A tripod is advisable, but do you have one that pans and tilts smoothly during the shot? Now is the time to test it out. If you are having performers lip-sync to playback you will need an iPod or portable CD player that you can use to play the track as you film for the performers to mime to. If on location do you have access to electricity to power your equipment? At this stage it is a good idea to recce your locations to check them out in terms of this issue. During your recce you can also check the location for light sources. Can you use the available light in your locations or will you need lamps?

Take your DSLR camera and plan out your shots during the recce. Can you get the camera angles you had planned in your storyboard/shotlist? At this stage it is good to be flexible. You may need to modify your shots if you cannot get the ones you planned for. Indeed you might find better shots than you had originally storyboarded! So be open creatively to what the location has to offer.

Once you have scouted your locations and know exactly what you are going to film in them, you should be able to put together a list of any props/special equipment that you will need. If you can get hold of any grip equipment, such as dolly or Steadicam, then by all means do so, as they add production value to your music video. But again, be inventive. You can achieve striking tracking shots using a wheelchair, and a careful use of wide-angle lens and hand-held camera can achieve the kind of smooth camera movements on a DSLR that larger cameras would need a Steadicam to do.

Finally, of course, you need your performers. Try to get people who are dependable and who wonít let you down. Friends are often the easiest choice, but if your music video has extensive dramatic scenes then you might want to consider trained actors. Try t
4 Use creative filming techniques
Music videos are the directors playground. Try to think creatively when planning and filming your shots. Don’t film everything from eye-level: vary your angles and in particular try to get some very high angle and very low angle shots as these make for striking images.

One of the great things about DSLR cameras is that you can change the lens, so make the most of any wide-angle lenses that you might have, especially in conjunction with camera movements. The DSLR is a small camera compared to most video cameras so you can get angles that you canít get with larger cameras. You can move the camera through confined spaces to follow your performers, and with a wide angle lens you can stay in focus. Panning and tilting on your tripod is easy to achieve. But you can also track the camera using a wheelchair as mentioned above, or even by mounting the DSLR on a skateboard and moving it across a table. You can crane or jib the camera by using your arm as a make shift camera crane and also by smoothly raising or lowering the camera.

A word about camera filters. Unless you are an experienced DSLR photographer and certain of the filters you want to use and the effect you are trying to achieve, the best thing is not to use them during filming, but to leave any filter and colour effects until the final stage of editing (thats assuming that your editing software has video filters – such as Final Cut Pro/Adobe Premiere). If you use a filter on the camera you cannot usually take the effect off afterwards, whereas if you film without filters, you are free to add and remove effects in the editing at will. Useful if you change your mind or want to experiment.

5 Editing – Assembling and trimming
Once you have finished filming, the real fun begins. Editing is where you see all your hard work come to fruition. One of the advantages of music videos (and the reason why a music video is a good practice project if you are learning DSLR film-making) is that you have a pre-set structure provided by the track itself, leaving you free to concentrate on the nitty-gritty of editing shots together without having to worry about the wider structure of the piece.

Having said that; try not to go straight into fine-tuning every second of your music video during your initial editing sessions. Your first stage of editing should be to assemble the shots in sequence order to a music track. This is what editors call the ‘assembly’. You are simply laying out the shots on your timeline following your storyboard. Lay down your music track first, followed by any lip-synching sections. If you have recorded a scratch track of sound you can use this to help synch up with the music track. It is a good idea to keep the scratch track until the last minute. Simply turn the sound off of this track once you have synched it up.

Once you have laid out all your shots on the timeline in order to fit the music track, you can then go back to the beginning and start fine editing the picture shot by shot, again working your way through the music video from beginning to end. Once again, don’t spend too long on each section – try to keep moving forward so you don’t become hung up on the details and risk losing your objectivity. You have to craft the whole. Once you come to the end of this stage of editing you should watch the whole thing back and make a note of any edits that need to be refined. Are you editing to the beat of the music? Of course not every cut in your music video needs to happen on a beat, but at this stage you may find that there are some edits that need to be adjusted so they fall on the beat.

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Your guide to independent filmmaking Digital FilmMaker is the one-stop resource for filmmaking, editing, post production and more. Regular features include: interviews with pros from the film industry, Q&A sessions, equipment reviews, tutorials, film reviews and competitions.

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