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How to Shoot a Music Video

Music videos are a great way to get started in the video production business, as they are a critical tool for musicians looking to market their records. Not only are they a practical way to tell a succinct visual story, they can really push your creative production and development skills. From concept development through to stylized post-production, here are helpful tips on how to shoot a music video.

1. Develop your concept

Like all great productions, you need to start with a clear, clean visual concept. Meet with the musicians and discuss their vision. Some clients will rely on your creative concept development skills while others will come to you with an idea for the music video. Take copious notes during this meeting. You will want to refer back to these notes later, as they will serve as a kind of visual thesis for your video. Think of the music video as a visual accompaniment that works to heighten the experience of the song. 

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2. Dive into the creative process

Listen to the song and break it down into beats. When you’re writing a script for your music video, think about the narrative of the song. Is it a romance? is it an anthem? Is this song about heartbreak? When you’re developing your concept, think about the various elements. Will your music video include a performance of the song in a studio setting? Will it be more of a narrative accompaniment?

Consider using a two-column script template. This differs from the traditional screenwriting format, but works well for short video productions with lots of visual elements. In a two-column script, you’ll have your audio in one column and your visuals in the other. This is a great way to present your script to your client. It’s your platform for sharing your vision with your crew — be it a shoestring project or a big production — everything goes back to the script.

After your scripted concept is approved, start on your storyboards. These can be as simple as photos of locations, colors, stylistic influences and as complex as artist renderings of the shots and sequences.

3. Plan your shooting style

Music videos tend to break a lot of the traditional rules of filmmaking — especially when it comes to shooting style and transitions. Whip pans are an effective way to transition between shots. A whip pan is simply when the shooter remains in a static but quickly moves the camera from left to right, or visa versa.

A dutch tilt is another classic music video trick. This is when the camera moves up and down, a great way to start or end a scene. Be sure to include notes about your shooting style in your two-column A/V script. 

4. Hire your crew

Now is the point where you want to recruit your crew and cast. Let’s assume you are serving as the director — it is your vision after all. If your budget allows, bring in a producer to help manage all of the moving parts. Your producer will help you develop the concept of the video and handle securing your locations, contracts, call sheets, and more.

Hair, makeup, and wardrobe are often key elements of the music video’s look and feel. Having a great director of photography (DP) is critical — be it you or someone you bring on board. If you can afford it, having a dedicated DP is worth every penny. If the music video has extras, put out a call or ask the musicians to bring in friends. 

5. Secure your locations

Securing a great location or locations is key. Peerspace is the go-to site for your location scouting needs and a great asset when it comes to securing amazing spaces. Think about the shots that you want to capture. Does the space allow you to actualize your vision? When picking locations, think about your shooting schedule. If you are traveling between two locations, be sure to factor in the time for a company move. This is one of the essentials to how to shoot a music video.

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6. Design the lighting

Lighting is a critical part of your music video. Are you going for a dramatic and moody look? Are you planning on shooting in daylight? On a green screen? Different scenarios require different lighting settings, so be sure to test your lighting before you shoot. 

7. Shoot lots of coverage

If you are shooting with a single camera, you’ll need to plan on shooting lots of coverage from various angles. Keep the camera rolling — the more footage that you have to work with the better. You will want to have the band or musician play the song several times. While they are “playing,” you’ll want to have the mastered song play on a speaker.

The musicians should essentially lip sync along to the master track. Make sure that you get full takes of the song from several angles. If you are shooting with multiple cameras, the same principle applies. Get full takes of the song, and use a slate or a clap to sync all of your footage in post. 

8. Head to the editing room

Now that you have shot your music video footage, it’s time for the edit. Post-production software has come a long way and most non-linear editing programs can sync multi-cam footage for you. The software searches for the clap or the sound of the slate, and then syncs everything up.

Another post-production software plugin feature that has hit the market over the past few years is beat detection — the software can detect the beat of your song and then generate markers or even automatic edits. You want your visuals to really hit the beat for maximum impact as you edit. Whether your editor is manually cutting to the beat or using some post-production plugins like beat detection, be sure to plan your shots for the edit. 

With careful planning and execution, figuring out how to shoot a music video can be quite the experience. Happy shooting!

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