Shooting a Music Video

I have to admit, I had a lot of fun making the video for “Mercury Rising.” With that said, don’t be fooled–there was a ton of preparation before shooting primary footage, and quite a bit of work afterwards too. What follows are my thoughts and lessons learned from my first video project.

Before shooting primary footage or gathering stock clips, what’s needed at minimum is a loose script, or storyboard, for the video sequence. The artist needs to have a clear vision from the outset, and it must be shared with the filmmaker. Effective communication is essential in order to get on the same page with the director in every aspect; from location to action sequences to editing ideas. As with any collaboration, intelligent planning along with good listening and cooperation skills are the keys to success.

Visualize the video footage with the music. As a finished product, they should compliment each other. You should have two goals in mind while making a video:

  1. You want the viewer to experience a new, meaningful dimension to your song that they wouldn’t get from just listening.
  2. You also want to project yourself in a way that is consistent with the image you have created.

Most videos focus exclusively on the second point. The best videos accomplish both of these objectives.

The “Mercury Rising” video relies heavily on stock footage, which I dealt with in three different ways:

  1. Purchase of Royalty-Free stock film and/or photos
  2. Asking permission for use from the copyright owner
  3. Use of non-copyrighted material

Each has their advantages and drawbacks. These were my findings.

Purchasing stock footage is simple enough; there are many places online that sell video for royalty-free use. Since today’s video standard is HD, that’s what you need to use in your video, but it can get expensive very quickly if your budget is limited. A typical 10-20 second HD clip runs anywhere from $50-$250. A video that depends heavily on canned clips can quickly run into hundreds or thousands of dollars for stock cost alone. Independent artists tend to be on a tight budget, and need to find low-cost work-rounds. One less-costly alternative is to use stock photos. If you are using a lot of fast cuts during the editing process, photos actually work better than video, as the still frame will give the viewer’s eye a chance to focus. High quality stock photos are less than $5/pic– even less if you buy in bulk. Royalty-free means you don’t have to pay royalties on any money you make from your project. You usually are required to credit the source, and should happily do so. Consider music videos as a promotional expense, not a product you can sell.

The second option of asking permission is a great way to get a lot of video for no cost. In “Mercury Rising”, the Florida wildfire footage– shot from both an airplane and from a car– were acquired for free by asking the copyright owners who had posted the videos on YouTube for their permission for use. I asked about ten different owners. Two gave me their permission. Two or three others refused, and the rest didn’t respond. I imagine this to be a fair example of what to expect if you ask everybody nicely. Save the emails that grant you their express written consent, and give them a thanks and a link back to the original video in your credits.

Using non-copyrighted, or open source footage is another arrow in you quiver, as it can add a professional look to your video at no cost. To use “Mercury Rising” as an example again, all the arctic footage is open source footage shot by NASA. Our tax dollars paid for this, and it is available for anyone to use–free. Obviously taking a film crew to the Arctic or Antarctic regions is cost prohibitive for most, and getting your own personal satellite imagery is impossible. NASA and other government agencies are a great source for beautiful, high-quality video production that would be difficult for the layman to obtain. A little research in this area will open up a whole world of creative possibilities.

I recommend gathering the stock footage and photos first, as it will give you many of the pieces to your video puzzle before you start filming. This will let you focus on only the parts that you will need to fill in with primary footage during the shoot, instead of trying to get good primary shots for the whole song which can be exhausting. Working with a good, experienced filmmaker will make the entire process much easier. Primary footage, meaning the video of you–the artist, needs to be shot from as many angles and distances as possible. This creates a natural movement and rhythm that will sustain viewer interest. The typical 3-minute music video has around 70 cuts, which may seem like a lot, but in reality is very natural to watch. From the artist’s perspective it’s all about the attitude you are trying to project. The only limitation is your imagination, so express yourself.