Shooting Music Videos

4 minute read

by Jon

September 28, 2017

A Cinematographer’s Creative Playground

Music videos are a medium that embraces creativity. We can take chances that might not be possible on commercial shoots. While budgets are usually small, music video sets are almost always a lot of fun. Here’s the best of what I’ve learned from almost a decade as a music video cinematographer and director.

1. Get some help

No matter how small you’d like the production to be, there’s always going to be┬ámore to carry than one or two people can handle. Getting help on early in the creative process might open you up to new creative ideas, too.

We used more than a dozen crew members to film the “Tiderays” music video for Volcano Choir.

2. Bring some new toys

Music videos are definitely the best place to use equipment that’s maybe a bit too bleeding-edge for commercial and narrative production. The openness of artistic license can cover up challenges too big for other productions to overcome. I use music videos to test out my newest cameras, lenses, adapters, and even firmware.

3. Have a plan

Your music video may be relaxed, but you still need the basics. Get your locations, schedule, and talent figured out before you begin shooting. If you’re not the type to plan in advance, hire a producer! Don’t waste everyone’s time by doing half the planning, because you won’t end up with half of a music video.

4. Use what you’ve got

Music videos give you a chance to shoot in cool locations. You can easily showcase cool props and anything iconic. You’re building a visual space for your story. Choose places that are striking, but also easy to work with. Choosing a place with “character” can help make your video more memorable. Lots of people will let you use their spaces for free, if they know you’re not making money on the project, either.

We shot Tony Memmel’s “Clenched Hands, Brave Demands” video in an empty apartment in Milwaukee, right after my friend moved out and before the lease expired.

5. Make some ground rules

Lots of bands don’t have experience working with a professional video production team. It’s important to let them know how things work. Some groups have a very casual culture, where showing up late is acceptable, or using alcohol or drugs is allowed. Video production is a complex and sometimes dangerous process. Keeping everything going smoothly requires everyone shows up ready to work. Setting expectations early can help avoid awkward conversations later on.

The Rock’n’Roll lifestyle was a key aspect of this Archie Powell & the Exports video. We shot it with a near-zero budget on a single day.

6. Be flexible

Some things just don’t work. Maybe your B-camera footage didn’t turn out. Maybe you have some corrupted files, or had to work against time, weather, or other variables. Taking creative risks means that sometimes those risks don’t pay off. It’s important to know when to cut your losses, and come up with a new plan. Sometimes this is done in shooting, and sometimes in editing. Flexibility is what keeps projects on time, and on budget.

What have you learned from shooting music videos? Let me know in the comments.