How to Create a Great-Looking Music Video on a Tiny Budget

The Performance
If you’re going to sing in the video, you should practice re-creating the recording’s vocals to a T. Learn every breath and every inflection. If the visual vocals don’t match up to the recorded vocals, it will be jarring to the audience. Sure, everyone knows this isn’t a live performance, but make it look as close to one as possible. You should actually sing the part when you’re shooting the video. People can tell if you’re faking it. Actually sing.

This goes for every instrument. The drummer should learn the part verbatim and play it like he’s onstage in front of 10,000 screaming fans. The guitar player should plug into an amp, if possible, and similarly rock out like her tubes are reverberating through Madison Square Garden. Practice the performance before you get on set. Each band member should practice his performance on his own. If you’re a live band and perform often, this will come much more naturally. It will feel unnatural to perform for the camera (and not a packed room of fans). Here’s where the acting comes in. Each member should film and critique himself before shoot day. Rehearse your performance, on your own, until it looks like how you think it should. If your performance looks dumb to you during your rehearsal, it will look dumb during the actual shoot (and to everyone when the video comes out). An expensive camera, lighting package and editor cannot save a sh*tty performance.

Read More: Music Industry Advice: Rehearsal Insights from the Pros

Jack Conte made some pretty darn good-looking videos with his iPhone (in 2013!), which have gotten millions of views. So it’s possible. But I recommend either investing in a $1,000 DSLR camera (a Canon 70D is a fine option for now) and a couple great lenses or hiring a DP with a DSLR camera to shoot you. Freelance DP’s typically range in price from $100 to $500 for the day. Most will have their own camera, but some super professional DP’s will only work on high-end cameras like a Red ($50,000) or Alexa ($100,000). In L.A., it’s quite simple to rent these high-end cameras. If you have insurance, you can get a Red for about $500 a day or an Alexa for about $1,000 a day. But you don’t want to just rent the camera if you don’t know how to use it. These high-end cameras should only be handled by professional DP’s.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting on an iPhone or an Alexa, if your lighting is sh*t, your music video will look like sh*t. Plain and simple. At the very least, buy, rent or borrow a sufficient lighting package. If you’re just shooting a simple, YouTuber-style solo performance video at home, a $150 softbox lighting kit from Amazon will do the job. Get the brightest lights available. And make sure the kit is for video (not just still photography). You can head down to a camera shop and ask them for recommendations. There are some great YouTube tutorials on simple video lighting techniques. If you’re creating a multi-location, indoor, narrative music video, you’ll most likely need to rent a lighting package.

So be aware of this when coming up with your concept. Your DP will be able to instruct you on what she requires. But be careful, DP’s aren’t managing your budget. Make sure to rein them in. If they say they absolutely need a $1,500 lighting package, they may actually be able to (grudgingly) do it for a $500 lighting package. These are rental prices. You’ll also need people who know how to set up and operate these expensive rented lights (so they don’t explode on you––yes, this can happen if you don’t handle them properly). Shooting outdoors is the easiest way to avoid increasing lighting costs. The sun is the best lighting package on the planet. And it’s free! All you’ll need is a bounce (reflector disc) to help guide the light. These are $10 from Amazon.

This is one of the most forgotten-about elements of music video shoots. And it is the most important. Make sure you have an extremely loud sound system. And if you’re shooting outside or in multiple locations, it needs to be portable. This is easier said than done. A little Bluetooth Jambox may not be loud enough—even if it is just you and your acoustic guitar. If your full band is performing, you may need a full sound system to get the playback loud enough. You’ll want one PA on playback duty for the entire duration of the shoot. There will be lots of starts and stops.

You should learn basic video editing. It will save you tons of money down the line. It seems daunting to learn at first, but as someone who has taught himself Final Cut Pro (by watching YouTube tutorials), I can tell you firsthand, it can be done. And it’s not as painful as you’d expect. It can actually be quite fun once you get good at it. You will be putting out lots of video content over the course of your career, and you don’t want to have to rely on editors. Once you can afford to outsource the editing, then by all means, do it. But until then, it’s much easier to just learn by doing. I never took a course or spent time practicing. I learned by editing a Christmas video of mine that had to get done.  For your official music videos, it will be worth hiring a professional editor if you can afford it. But for all other videos, you can edit yourself.

What separates the amateurs from the professionals is color correction. There are people out there whose sole job is color correction. It’s the final step of the workflow. Make sure every single one of your music videos gets color corrected. There are color correction plugins and presets you can purchase that when used effectively can give your video a Marvel comic look or The Notebook look. Sure, the camera is important, but color correction is what really gives it the “look.” And if you don’t color-correct, it will look like a home video shot by your mom. I’ve seen too many of these. Please, for your sake, color correct.


You Pick Two
No, this is not Panera’s lunch special, this is the Iron Triangle of project management. And it applies to virtually every project from albums to videos to app creation. Everyone wants their project to be good, cheap and fast. But you can only pick two. Want something good and fast? It will cost a lot. Want something cheap and good? It ain’t going to be fast. Want something fast and cheap? The quality will most likely be crap.

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