How to...Music Video

by Sara Aulds 7 days ago in how to

What all is involved?

How to...Music Video
Photo by Donovan Silva on Unsplash

One of the best projects I have done was my degree project for college. It was the final "big deal" in order to graduate. A lot of sweat, planning and hard work went into this project to make it great and also getting the best message across to our audience.

I graduated college in 2019, and the project went on to receive a nomination for the student grammy awards. Although I didn't win, it was still a great experience and I am glad it got as far as it did. This video still remains one of most watched on my youtube channel and gives me something to look back on when I am discouraged during future projects. It reminds me that I can accomplish what I set goals for and that God is always with me to make art for His glory and honor.

Here it is:

All together this project took from August 2018 to April 2019 in planning, writing, producing, and editing. Today, I am going to share with you the process I went through to make this project come to life and give you some tips to help you along on your next project!

1. Figure out what style/type of music video you want.

Yes, there are different styles/types. They may not actually have these terms officially, but during my research process I found these difference and this is how I processed/explained them in my own way.

  • Performance:

The performance style is where your subject, who is more often than not the main focus of your video, is actually performing. It could be a live performance that being filmed, or it can be staged to look like a live performance, or it can be performed with the audio being performed is the audio being used.

This can also be as simple as the artist sitting on the front porch if their house singing their song. Different camera angles and motions giving it life and feeling play important roles to keep your audience’s attention. When I create a performance music video, I typically film them singing along to their own song and then in post production I delete the footage audio and apply the final produced audio on top and match the lips to the song. There should be little to no problems syncing because the artist was recorded singing word for word of their own song.

Here’s a few examples of performance style:

  • Narrative:

This is where the video is telling a story. Now this can be done two different ways: directly and indirectly.

Directly would be the showing the story as the song is describing. If the lyrics say something like “she’s walking downtown licking a lollipop” guess what you’re going to see on screen. A girl walking downtown licking a lollipop.

Here is an example of a direct narrative:

Indirectly (which is what mine is) is you’re telling a story that fits the mood of the lyrics and music. These can tend to get a little confusing if you don’t understand the lyrics, but most of those filming choices were probably creative decisions based on what the song is about and what made sense to tell that story.

Here is another example of an indirect narrative:

The other thing you'll want to figure out is: Do you want your subject to be the one telling the story or are you going to have other actors/actresses acting out the story? In the "Hey Brothers" music video, the story is told by actors other than the artist. In Taylor Swift's music video, she the the one telling them story (and performing).

The styles can be mixed; you'll see plenty of music videos that are mixed. Mine was mixed, but it was mainly a narrative.

  • Concept:

Concepts are where you have a main theme, for lack of a better term, that you focus on during the video. Different colors? Sure! Fairytale character? Why not?! Everyone is wearing a bunny costume while dancing? Fabulous! These are so many ideas for a concept video; there are almost no limits. Quinn Dorian had a music video produced in late 2018 and released in early 2019 by Sound Link Studio called Nice. This was my first professional production I helped on. Quinn had been planning this production for close to a year, I think. Her concept was four different colors, which had their own scene inside. Pink - dance scene. Yellow - therapy scene. Blue - bedroom scene. Purple - dinner scene. The storyline of the song is a relationship that is dying because the guy wasn't fulfilling her expectations, but he's a nice guy. So the different colors represent each feeling/scenario Quinn is describing in her song.

2. Start writing out your ideas

Once you have your style chosen, now you'll want to start drafting.

REMEBER: You will have multiple drafts, it's not going to be a one and done. You'll come across points in your production that aren't going to work as well as you'd hoped or run in to technical errors and have to make creative decisions.

What I suggest for this section is stick in your ear buds and listen to the song on repeat for 20-30 minutes and write down all the ideas that come to your mind for the parts of the song it makes sense to put it on. You also don't want to listen to it so much that you get sick of it before you start filming, but you want to listen to it often enough that you know the tune and rhythm well. This process could take a few hours, days, or weeks to get all your ideas written down.

I typically use Google Docs to type out the lyrics to the song, double spaced, and print it out so I can use the spacing in between to write out my thoughts where I want them. This can also be done on the computer, but to me, it's easier to physically write them out because you can but them anywhere; with a computer it's a little harder to put words where you need them especially when you're using double spacing. What’s also nice is you can add people to the document so multiple people can view, edit, and or comment on the doc if you’re making this a group project.

Another program I would recommend is Celtix. It is a script writing program. You can create a free account which lets you create 3 free scripts and use a good majority of their editing tools. I used this to create my script for In The Darkness because it allowed me to organize my thoughts into the section of the song, the camera angle/movement, and whether it was an interior or exterior shot. It takes some time to organize but you will thank yourself later! When changes need to be made you just go the spot and update what you need.

In the Darkness - Official Script - 2019

When Quinn and I were planning out the storyline, we recorded our whole conversation just in case we had ideas that didn’t get written down and we couldn’t remember what they were. We had it on record. You’ll want to talk through the story behind the song with the artist and why it was written. It could help give you ideas what to write for the story line of how you want the mood of the whole thing to be. This will also influence your camera angles and movements, your edits and transitions because you want it all to match and flow with the tone being set by the song and the story.

3. Location Scouting

Now that you have a mental and tangible idea of what you want to do, it is time to do some location scouting. You have probably already thought about some places while writing down your ideas and basing your thoughts off of those, but this is where you see those thoughts for real. This is where I was saying things could potentially not go as planned. For me, I tend to not remember sizing of rooms that well and guesstimating how much room I’m going to have to shoot while I’m writing down my thoughts. When I get on site I’m either excited that I guess too small and the room was bigger or vise versa leaving me whatever letter plan I am on for that idea.

Location scouting before a shoot is very, very important. You need to have it down to the time of day you’re shouting, if you’re shouting outside, because the location of the sun and whether or not it’s over cast can change the mood of your scene in an instant. If you’re shouting interior you need to make sure your artificial lighting is going to be enough and your camera will be able to capture the right amount of light. If you want more details on this subject, check out one of my previous posts:

Mistakes Beginner Filmmakers (and Photographers) Make... #4 Lighting for Video

Mistakes Beginner Filmmakers (and Photographers) Make... #3 Using Natural Light

You want your lighting to look as natural to your location as possible! If you’re in an office building, you’ll probably have crappy over head incandescent lighting. Make it look like how you’re describing in your script. What is the mood?

Anyway, take a look at those posts for more details on lighting your scenes!

For my project, I needed a cemetery. I thought it was going to be hard to find one that would allow me to record while on the property, and surprisingly the second cemetery I contacted was willing to let me film as long as I didn't capture any names on the headstone, or at least that they couldn't be legible. Spring Grove Cemetery even let me use their chapel on the property which is another thing I needed. I had planned on filming at my church, but the vibe of old cemetery and newer looking church (compared to the cemetery) wouldn't have fit. Plus, the lighting isn't the greatest at my church. The Spring Grove Chapel had lots of natural light and stain glass windows which let to more creative decisions while we were filming. The chapel was absolutely gorgeous and I think it played a very important part in the storyline. Unfortunately, I didn't get a full shot of the chapel, you only really see pieces of it in the final edit.

4. Test shooting - creating a mock up

This is one of the fun parts, but it can also be one of the frustrating parts. Here is where you want to start actually piecing the thoughts in your head together between when you have written down and your location. During my project, each week I had to have proof that I was actually working on the project, so I created a mock up of shots I wanted to do, transitions that I knew would take some time, and some camera angles that would take some practice at. This is also where a lot of my ideas flopped; especially camera angles and movements.

Before I had heard back from the cemeteries I still had the mocks to shoot, so I decided to create my own cemetery. It was the perfect time of year because it was right after Halloween and all other products were 50% or more off. I got about 6 or 7 styrofoam headstones for about $25 bucks.That's kind of a steal.

Although it wasn't as real as it could have been we still had fun with the mock up shoot.

Once we got the word that we could starting filming at Spring Grove we began putting more and more mock up footage together. There are some shots I wish we had filmed for the final cut because the lighting and the "acting" were done so well. Then there were some shots that didn't turn out as planned, or the original idea wouldn't fit in the section of the song it made sense to fit in. Timing is key when you're filming in general because you only have a limited amount of time to fit your story in and even being one second off can throw the rest of your video off. Here's a small peak at one of the mock ups I created.

While I am shooting I will play the section of the song I am planning on using it for so timing is on point. Even if it's off slightly, it could throw your whole idea. I'm not saying create your whole music video twice, essentially, but get the amount of footage you need during the tricky sections so that you're comfortable filming, editing, transitioning between your actual footage. I got made sure I had practice for my "special edits" as I call them because it's something I wouldn't normally do. I make sure I know what I'm doing or exactly what I need for the actual footage because I've done a mock up and see what works and what doesn't.

This also helps you figure out what equipment you're going to need. Say you want to do a shot with a shallow depth of field, but you can't get your camera to a wide enough aperture to do what you want. You might want to look into getting a prime lens that goes as wide as 1.8 f/stop. Sure 5.6 can do a decent job, but sometime it just isn't blurry enough. You can also use a telephoto lens, but most of the time you're not going to have the room to be far enough away to let the depth of field do what you want.

Another example, which this is what I run into all the time, is not having enough lighting. Your camera doesn't see the same amount of light as your eyes do. You may think a room is "well-lit" but to your camera it may be complete darkness because the light sensor is very sensitive which is adjusted by your ISO. I can go into more detail about that later, or actually, I think it's mentioned in my previous posts linked above. So there's another reason to check out those posts.

Concluding this section, once you have your test footage you'll be at the point where you'll see what changes should and can be adjusted while still getting the same message across. Make the changes to your script then proceed to the follow step...

5. Plan your shooting days/organize your cast

By this point you should be on your second or third draft of your shot list/script, have a pretty good idea of what you want to see in your frame, have your style down, and now it is time for the really thing! Don’t be nervous! You’re going to do great!

Typically when I am shooting a scene with more than just a couple people in it I bring a friend or two along with me to help keep the actors/actresses focused and also help communicate to them what I need if I can’t at that moment. Every minute counts during a shoot. Especially if you’re shouting outside. 5 minutes wasted and that’s 5 minutes of sun light you just lost.

There’s a lot to keep in mind and that’s why I bring people along with me who are great communicators and who have talked through the whole script with me so they know what I need before I ask for it.

I kind of bunny trailed there a little bit, so back to the main topic of this section. This is where you want to sit down with the people who are going to help you film and the people who are in your video to see when everyone has an availability to film. You should already have the time of day of your scenes written out so you know what kind of lighting you’ll need. If you’re shouting inside and you can’t tell what time it is outside then there’s no need to worry about sunlight.

Keep in mind the opinions of those who are helping you. Not everyone can make it on the same day and that’s fine. Once you have a penciled in few days of who all is coming what day, then you can start deciding what scenes you can/want to shoot those days based on who all can make it.

While I was filming In The Darkness there were a couple days when it was just Quinn and I; I had no help at all. So I had to take the shots that I wanted to do and bump a couple back a day or two because I wasn’t going to have enough hands to help me with lighting and camera movements. It’s going to happen. Someone will back out either the day of or day before and then some shots you want to film are going to get bumped. This being said it is advised that you have a back up plan of shots if someone doesn't show up.

For example, let's say you're filming a band, and it's performance style; the lead singer can't make it due to a doctors appointment. What do you do? I would suggest take this opportunity to focus on those b-roll shots of the band members. Get close ups of those drum stick twirling and those fingers sliding up and down the neck of the guitar. In my opinion, you'll never have too much b-roll. Whether or not you'll use it all is a different story. Let's say it's vise versa. The guitarist can't make it, so it's your singer and your drummer (and whomever else is in the band). You can get your close up and medium shots of the singer which you can capture the drummer in the background. You can get your b-roll shots with the singer.

It is possible you could get to a point where you have so much b-roll footage because you can't seem to get everyone at the same place at the same time. This is when you'll want to sit down with everyone again and set new dates, specially if you're under tight deadline, or deadlines in general. You don't want to be cramming to get the footage edited together and also give yourself time to take a break and come back and edit some more. That is another key part is actually taking a break from editing. You'll see mistakes better once you rest your eyes and your mind.

6. Editing it all together

I have a habit of editing as I got along. Once I get a section of footage that I can piece together for a few sections of the song, I go for it. That's a few seconds of footage I won't have to worry about too much later.

There are pros and cons to doing it this way... pros being: you have some of the video already done and the cons being: you might have to tweak most or all of it once the rest of the footage comes in. Which if you time all of your shots just right and plan accordingly you should have little to no problem with that, but it all depends on your footage and if what you have planned will fit in the length of time you have assigned to that footage.

A problem that I ran into while filming In the Darkness was the scene that I wanted for certain sections of the song were too long. I couldn’t fit the right about of visual information into the section I had assigned. The shorter and short I cut the footage there was less and less of the narrative that made sense. It got to the point where I had started cutting it so some information was implied, but once I came back from taking a break the story seemed non-existent. Back to the drawing board I went. I began reworking what I had to make a slightly new storyline that was simpler.

The scene where Quinn is in her room doing her make up in her funeral dress and she looks over her shoulder to see watch the breaking news was suppose to be a news cast of the new report about her “sister’s” death. We implied that she lost someone close and was going to specify but we left it as an implied death from something. We were also going to shoot a scene where she had a wall full of newspaper clippings of deaths around the area or around the world and she hung her “sisters” news paper clipping up there with them, but this story was way too detailed that we toned it down to focus more on her anger and frustration with God about allowing someone so close to her dying. Reworking was the tricky part because being on a tight deadline as I was there this is where a lot of focus needed to be because of this scene wasn’t there then the whole story might not make sense. It would have been choppy.

So basically the main point of this is: plan!

Plan. Plan. Plan. OVERSHOOT! Take more footage that you probably need, but this way you have some fillers in case something doesn’t work or you decide some b-roll shots would fit better. Use the time you have set aside with your specific people to get the shots you need first, then if you have time be creative with the b-roll shots.

Also, take your time. Give yourself the time you need. As I suggested above, plan your shoot and edit in between shooting days so you're not having to feel like you have so much to do with so little time. This way it's basically plug and play.

7. Finalizing the project

Once you've got it all edited together (you're probably sick of watching or listening to the song by now, but keep up the good work), so now you'll want to export and watch it two or three more times over the course of a couple days, depending on your deadline. Bring someone in who has little to no knowledge of the project and ask for their opinion. Ask them questions like "what do you think of the editing?" "Does the storyline make sense with the song?" "Can you feel the mood of the song in the story?" "What doesn't make sense?" "What do you like about it (editing)?" "what you not like about it (editing)?"

These kinds of questions get the brain working to help your viewers help you get it as nice as possible. They will see things that make sense and don't make sense. Your brain has been in this project for so long that EVERYTHING makes sense to you. Your brain has an explanation for everything as to why it's there or why you made that certain edit or why it transitioned like it did. You have all the power to make it make sense, but the viewer is the one who needs to understand it with little to no knowledge of the behind-the-scenes. I had my mom and some of my close friends watch it and I found out there was a lot of things with my video that didn't make sense. Although I had the whole story and backstory in my head, I wasn't translating that message well. I think the biggest thing in my video was the scene talked about above in the bedroom with the tv. I got the same questions quite a few times "What is the purpose of the tv?" and since I knew the message I was trying to get across it took me a while to understand why they couldn't understand it. Which then I played around with it some more until those I had viewing it and my professors could understand it was more about the anger being built up and not about the news broad cast.

8. Promote your video

If your project is a school project like mine was, then promoting couldn't really be done until you were toward the end of the project when I knew more or less what exactly the project was going to look like and so I could gather some promotional images for branding. Since my project was also going to be a promotional for Quinn, I needed to make some social media posts (after my project was approved) to start posting on Instagram and Facebook. The song of hers I used was originally a demo song. She had come out with a remastered version, but it was a half step faster and for the project it made everything run very quickly. Since the story behind the song is so important I didn’t want to have to run through like a marathon trying to get my ideas in there as quickly as the tempo was wanting to go. The original was the perfect speed.

So, when I promote, I really mean PROMOTE! Like, post something everyday if you have to. If cries are what you’re wanting then post links or mention where you can find the link. You want to make your audience so as little work as possible to view it. I took some screen grabs and creates social media content like this one:

Which also ended up being the disc cover for my video when I turned the project in for review. Let me tell you, it was stressful turning in the project the weeekend before spring break and the whole break I was like “what if the judges don’t like it?” “What if I didn’t explain it right?” “What if it doesn’t make sense?” THIS IS WHY YOU GET FEEDBACK FROM OTHERS!! The biggest reason, especially if you’re doing this as a professional school project!

I hope all of this information was helpful for everyone! Now you get an idea of what the process is for putting a music video together. NOW! GUESS WHAT?! I just finished working on a new music video for Wuinn Dorian and it comes out on Halloween! Make sure to follow myself and Quinn on YouTube to get the link and the behind the scenes/bloopers of the cast!

Thank you all so much for reading this and your support! Please leave a tip if you enjoyed my post; it keeps the projects going and the blogs interesting! Keep an eye out for the next blog because it will be the details of the latest music video and what goes on behind the camera!

Instagram: @sara_aulds_photography and @quinn_dorian

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Sara Aulds
Sara Aulds
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Sara Aulds

I am a photographer and videographer from Cincinnati, Ohio. I write as a hobby and capture reality as a profession.

See all posts by Sara Aulds