So you’ve been making an album for what feels like a decade. You’ve gone through several difficult stages to get there: the writing, the recording, the mixing, the mastering, the sleeve design…and then some bright spark pipes up to tell you that on top of all that, you’ve got to make a bloody pop video.
Now, in days of music yore, pop videos were the preserve of the megastars. Flying Simon Le Bon to a tropical island and sorting him out with a pair of designer leather pants for a 70mm film shoot was not a cheap business. Fortunately, times have changed and making pop videos is more affordable than ever; so here a few tips on how to create a good one on a budget.
1. Come up with a good concept
A good concept will nearly always trump high production values. Take Fatboy Slim’s ‘Praise You’ video as an example. Shot, guerrilla style, for only $800 on the streets of Westwood, California – rather than an expensive studio – it was one of the funniest and most popular videos of the late 90s and contributed in no small part to the success of the track. Even if you are not able to get your hands on any professional video equipment to make a pop video with, if you can come up with a strong idea and shoot it on your phone…well, you may be onto something. And speaking of phones…
2. Go deliberately lo-fi
There’s nothing quite as bad (in my mind anyway) as a video that tries to look professional but falls short (I’ve made a few of them in my time). If you know that you’re not going to have a film crew and loads of lights handy (nor, indeed, Simon Le Bon or his leather pants) then think about going to the other extreme: make a deliberately lo-fi music video. Shoot on phones, camcorders or old super 8 cameras and be wear your graininess proudly on your sleeves. (Again, how good this will all work out for you will depend on your video concept.)
3. Consider making a lyric video
Half the point of having a music video these days is so that people can find your music easily on what remains the biggest music streaming site in existence: Youtube. If you can't afford to make and upload a beautiful cinematic masterpiece to Youtube, it's still important to put something up, and many punters will be happy with a ‘lyric video’ – particularly if your band writes good lyrics. Lyric videos are easily made with basic packages like iMovie and are ideal if you are really short on time and cash, because they do away with the need for pesky things like band members, lights, cameras, locations and extras.
4. Record a live performance
Another way of making a cheap music video is to record a live performance. Admittedly, this can be tricky or expensive if you’re hoping to shoot a full band in full swing – but acoustic versions of songs involving one or two musicians are easily performed, shot and edited. As with lyric videos, this gives you an opportunity to put your music on Youtube and in a relatively straightforward, cheap manner.
5. Blag favours
If you want to be a bit more ambitious with your music video, then blagging favours is the best bet – ideally from a mate who makes music videos for a living. But don’t just stop there: you can ask friends to get involved with your video as extras, ask a local venue to lend you their establishment as a shoot location, borrow a DSLR from your dad…and so on. And speaking of DSLRs…
6. For God’s sake, use a DSLR
If you’re shooting something yourself, the DSLR – or ‘Digital Single Lens Reflex’ camera – is your friend. Unless you’re taking the deliberately lo-fi path described above, then these cameras, which are easily borrowable or rentable (heck, you could even buy one), are capable of providing stunning, cinema-quality results. If you’ve got a clever idea for a video and want to up the production values a notch, then it’s definitely worth trying to get your hands on one instead of resorting to your iPhone.
7. Invest in some cheap lighting
One thing that bands always seem to forget about when making pop music videos on a shoestring is lighting. And, 9 times out of 10, it’s the lights that make the difference between something looking professional - and not. The funny thing is that lights are not actually that expensive to hire. You can hire a lighting kit for as little as £50 a day – and using one will make all the difference. It is worth, however, swotting up on how to light a shoot before plonking lights all over the place and shouting 'the camera, action' bit – ask the internet for some basic pointers before plugging anything in.
8. Limit the number of locations you use...
Rather than getting bogged down moving between several locations – which can eat up time, goodwill (if blagging favours) and cash – consider using one really cool, quirky location and making the most of it.
9. ...Or don’t use a location at all
You can save time and money by not going anywhere. Putting the band against a blank wall and getting them to pull silly faces, or plonking them in front of a cheap green screen which is later replaced by wacky visuals in a video editing program may actually yield better results than filming a group of musicians prancing around a warehouse featuring polished concrete flooring in a fashionable part East London (no matter how coiffured the beards involved). Alternatively, consider putting your video together using animations, archive/stock footage or photos.
10. Put a bit of dosh aside for post-production
Spending a little bit of money on post-production, particularly colour grading, can go a long way. ‘Grading’ a video is a bit like mastering a song – and can have equally transformative effects. Whether it’s a simple case of tweaking the brightness and contrast levels on each shot, or applying a particular colour effect to the whole video, grading can help lift the visuals no end - as can the addition of subtle effects like film grain (or indeed more radical effects like colour inversion or vignettes). Particularly if you are a novice to the area of video-making, or using less than ideal equipment, you can enhance results no end by investing a little bit of time or money on post production.