Music videos are an opportunity for musicians to increase their visibility and attract potential fans. Social media platforms have made them more relevant than ever, with artists, labels, and collectives working with video producers and directors to create the most captivating and attention-grabbing visuals.
They are also a great way to showcase their creativity and imaginativeness beyond their music and are much more than just a marketing tool. In this article, we want to discuss how to make a music video on a budget.
Brief glimpse into the history of music videos
Music videos have been around for a long time. According to History.com, the first music video was filmed at Thomas Edison’s studio in 1895. It was produced for the kinetoscope, a device designed to watch films through a peephole.
With time, technological advances allowed the production of increasingly sophisticated and intricate videos, turning them into an additional medium for self-expression and music promotion. Bands like The Beatles began using this new medium regularly, releasing their first music video as part of their film “Help!” in 1965.
Music videos have a long history that differs from country to country but are frequently associated with MTV. The cable television network was launched in August 1981 and quickly became popular across the United States and beyond. It strongly contributed to the growth of many artists’ careers, including Nirvana, Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson. The latter two played a crucial role in bringing more Black artists to MTV, whom the channel did not include or prioritize for a long time.
Fun fact: The very first song played on MTV was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles.
Music videos today
Ultimately, MTV decided to deprioritize music videos and began airing more celebrity shows and reality TV formats. However, thanks to the internet becoming accessible worldwide, they found their new home on platforms like YouTube or Vimeo. Services like VEVO further solidified the publishing of music videos online, making the internet the number one place for videos.
Music videos have also become more accessible from a production standpoint, with cameras becoming smaller and cheaper and companies such as Adobe offering high-quality post-production and animation software for a more or less manageable monthly fee.
“Stupid Love” by Lady Gaga was filmed entirely with the iPhone 11 Pro.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that producing a crisp video that stands out is an easy process. Large, affluent film studios and record labels with vast networks and experienced creative directors on board can easily create stunning high-quality visuals, thus setting new standards for what is considered “good” vs. “average.” As an independent artist, this should not discourage you from trying - with the proper planning, strategizing, networking, and budgeting, you too can create amazing visuals.
Step by step guide to creating a music video
Creating a concept and choosing a video genre
The first step in your video production process is developing a concept that reflects the sound, energy, and message of your song. This starts with deciding on what type of music video you want to go for, as there are many different formats you can choose from. Some examples are:
narrative music videos (such as “Havana” by Camila Cabello),
performance music videos (such as “The Rain” by Missy Elliott)
live recordings and behind-the-scenes footage (such as “Addicted” by Jorja Smith)
narrative videos that tell a story (such as “These Walls” by Kendrick Lamar),
experimental music videos (such as “Wyclef Jean” by Young Thug who did not show up to his own video shoot)
lyric videos (such as “Less Than Zero” by The Weeknd)
animated 2D/3D videos (such as “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion)
Different formats come with different costs and are (un)suitable for different contexts. For this reason, you have to decide what you want to showcase and communicate, which emotions you want to evoke, what atmosphere you want to create, and why you want to do so.
Keyvan from iMusician explains: "Always try to think one step ahead and include as many details as possible in your preparation. The more details you include, the less you have to compromise on your concept during the video shoot. In this way, you can make the best music video possible."
Some questions that can help with conceptualizing are:
What is the central message of your song, and how can it be visualized?
Do you want to communicate an emotion, a story, or a lifestyle, or do you want it to be decontextualized and independent of the lyrics and sound?
Do you want to be the protagonist and center of attention?
Do you want your video to be more fun or serious, more vibrant and colorful or achromatic, more vivid and busy or calm, more complex and extravagant, or simple and traditional?
Does the video exist strictly for marketing and branding purposes, or do you see it as a fun project that allows you to express yourself creatively?
Answering these and similar questions will help you determine further aspects, such as the props, locations, clothes, and costumes. It will also help you understand whether your idea is realistic in relation to your budget.
Budgeting: how much money can you spend?
As independent artists, we cannot always afford to work with experienced video producers and the best equipment. For this reason, you should decide how much money you are willing to spend on your project. Some of the most basic costs for a music video can (but don’t necessarily have to) include:
Leasing the location and obtaining a usage permit
Renting equipment, including cameras, softboxes, and light sources
Hiring a camera operator and video editor
Hiring a producer, director, and motion designer (optional)
Renting or buying props, clothes, and costumes (optional)
Hiring a stylist, make-up artist, and actors (optional)
Whose help will you need, and how much you can do on your own strongly depends on your concept - the next step in creating a music video. Remember that a limited budget does not have to limit your creativity - as long as you try to find solutions to the obstacles that come your way.
Choosing the right locations, props, and clothes
Next, determine which locations complement your concept and how you want to present yourself in the video. Some basic ideas are concert halls, clubs, outdoor locations such as parks, forests or meadows, studios, stores, or other exciting places in your city. The spot should reflect the emotions you want to convey and the atmosphere you want to create. If you aim to develop contrasts intentionally, you can also choose locations that seem arbitrary and unsuitable on purpose.
Remember that you might need permission from your city’s government and the location owners to shoot a video. If you’re unsure whether you need a permit, ask. Alternatively, you can use a greenscreen that opens up unlimited opportunities.
When it comes to your outfits, you should choose clothes that resonate with your concept and reflect your brand and image. You can keep it simple or go all in and work with costumes. Keep in mind that cultures are not costumes, so make sure you do your research and think before deciding on what you want to wear.
Lastly, do not feel limited to following established, genre-related standards and patterns if you do not feel like doing so. Rock and metal videos do not have to take place in a dark location, and your style does not have to match common archetypes. Breaking standards can help you stand out more and have more fun - as long as it feels genuine and authentic.
Finding the right people to work with
As an independent, unsigned artist, you must find the right people to work with to create a video. Before reaching out to people, consider your skills to decide what you can do independently. Once you’ve assessed your skills, you will need to find people who can help you with what you cannot do alone, such as camera operators, lighting technicians, animators, someone who can take care of the post-production, actors, models, or dancers.
You can find freelancers on websites such as Craigslist, CrewUnited, Fiverr, and local Facebook groups or hire someone through a company or agency. If you live in a city, you can ask at your local college since film and acting students frequently need people to work with to expand their portfolios. Make sure you also use your network - a simple post on your Instagram story can significantly help.
The video shoot: before, during, and after
Once everything is planned, you and the crew (including the editor) should ideally go to the location to get familiar with the space and to rehearse. Next, you have to manage the transportation of the equipment to and away from the location and organize the catering for the crew.
During the shoot, you should perform your song rather than lip-sync, as this will make the video look more authentic. Additionally, ensure that the team controls the light during the shoot.
Afterward, you should deconstruct the equipment and check the location: make sure it is clean and locked and that you did not forget anything important. If you borrowed the equipment, you have to transport it back before the deadline ends.
Conclusion: music videos for independent artists
Creating a music video is a strategic process that starts with conceptualizing and budgeting and ends with publishing and marketing. While it can be stressful, the most important thing is to have fun, so make sure that you don’t let industry standards and the commercial aspect of a music video limit your creativity.
Once your video is ready to be released, you can start thinking about how to market it. We have published many articles on how to market yourself as an independent artist, including the pros and cons of TikTok and Instagram or social media beyond the leading platforms. You can find more tips on how to come up with a great music video here.
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