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Music promotion

10 ways to make a good music video on a budget

Video camera

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.

See also: our music photography and music video production services.

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In a band? Here's some new year's resolutions for you

2015

Happy New Year from Prescription PR! It being our first post of the year, we thought we’d suggest a few new year’s resolutions for bands and musicians.

1. Build a marvellous website

Keen readers of The Prescription will note that this was our first piece of advice to you at the start of 2014, but it’s as relevant as ever in 2015. It amazes me how many bands (including some rather well-established ones) think that whacking a few tunes up on Bandcamp and setting up a Twitter profile constitutes a decent digital presence, when a good music website allows you to do so much more (and says much more about you too). A strong website...

  • marks you out as a professional act that takes its career seriously
  • if SEO’d well, it allows you to be discovered by new listeners more easily
  • allows you to fully control your band’s online image and identity
  • facilitates blogging
  • allows you to incorporate more advanced functionality than you generally get on third party platforms like Facebook or Twitter onto your site.

If you don’t have a website, get one; and if you do, review it to make sure it’s looking as good and working as well as it possibly can for the year ahead.

2. Get your computer’s sh*t together

If you’re anything like me, you have a folder on your PC dedicated to your band…and it’s a mess. It contains a bunch of files that are strewn all over the place – you have band images in the audio folder; audio files in the gigs folder and so on. This situation is going to slow you down – so sort it out (I certainly intend to). Although file management is probably about as far away from rock and roll as you can imagine, if you do a bit of it at the start of the year, you will 1) feel smug and clean inside and 2) be able to lay your hands on that fantastic shot of your band standing against the wall looking miserable quickly when an A&R guy asks to see some photos of your act immediately.

3. Get tooled up

Make 2015 the year that you start using the right online tools to manage your band’s career. You can save a truckload of time by picking the right application for the job – here’s a few of our favourites to get you started:

  • Email and calendar management: Google Apps
  • File sharing: Dropbox (note: Google Apps allows you to do this too – not as well in my view but if you are paying for Google Apps, it’s probably worth using the file storage that comes with it)
  • E-newsletters: Mad Mimi or Getresponse
  • Ticket sales: Mitingu
  • Websites: Squarespace or Wordpress (or us!)
  • Social media management: Hootsuite

These are just a few examples: the point is that it is worth investing in some kit that reduces as much as possible the amount of admin associated with running a band. Don't work off a bunch of Excel spreadsheets to send e-newsletters, or an email system that clogs up your inbox with spam: get proper systems in place to make communicating with fans and music industry contacts as straightforward as possible.

4. Revisit your image

Given that the music industry often cares more about how its artists look than the actual music they produce, it’s remarkable that a lot of bands pay scant attention to image. Now I’m not suggesting that you devote 2015 to making yourself look more beautiful but it is definitely worth taking a moment to review how your band wants to present itself to the world this year – not just in terms of physical appearance (although sadly that is important) but in terms of the visual ‘assets’ your band produces – i.e., photos, websites, artwork and so on. What do they say about you? What do they say about your music? In an era where bands are increasingly doing everything themselves, from music production to website build right down to artwork design, it’s easy to lose an objective approach to image and imagery. So perhaps a good start to 2015 would be to do a review of all this, perhaps involving a third party who is not in the band (and ideally experienced in the field of fashion and design), with a view to defining your band's image strongly (and in a way that won't send potential fans and labels running for the hills).

5. Capture data – religiously

I can be pretty confident in saying that music sales are going to decline in 2015, with streaming becoming an ever more popular way to consume music. As musicians are making diddly-squat from streaming, this is going to make touring an even more important source of income for bands – and a huge component of a successful tour is a well-stocked database of email addresses. So don’t let any opportunity to capture data pass: be it on your website, at a gig or in a Facebook update, always ensure that you are encouraging people to sign up for your mailing list. And, with touring in mind, be smart about data capture too: make sure you’re capturing not just an email address but a postcode / location too.

6. Stay on top of the latest developments within the music industry

The music industry is now umbilically linked to the internet, and as such it is subject to a hell of a lot of technology-driven change; so much so that it is getting bloody difficult to stay on top of the latest developments in music promotion techniques (and the industry in general). There are several online publications however that you can follow to stay up to date on things – obviously we’d recommend that you subscribe to The Prescription (sign up form below), but there are some other great blogs which are regularly updated with very informative posts about the current and future state of the industry – some Prescription favourites include Make it in Music, the CD Baby blog, Music Week and CMU. Subscribe to or bookmark sites / blogs like these, because the more information that you have at your disposal about music promotion, and the more research you do on it, the better you're going to get at it.

7. Make a plan for the year

The start of the year is a great time to think about what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. Get the band together, and rather than going down the boozer, sit down with a coffee and try to map out a roadmap for the year. Maybe February could be the month you build a new site; March the month you plan a tour; April the month you start working on new material and so on. It’s easy to amble along and never achieve anything – this year, give yourself some clearly defined goals, and try to meet them.

8. And finally…do less

Yes, yes, I’ve just given you 7 extra things to do in 2015. But in general, try to do less. I’m not suggesting that you lounge about the house in your pyjamas all day (which admittedly is a jolly good lark) but that you look at all the efforts you put into your music (be that making or marketing it) and identify any areas where you’re wasting time. Are you agonising too long over mixes? Are you maintaining 10 presences on social media when perhaps focusing on 3 will do? Are you posting too many updates to your band’s Facebook page rather than spending time on the studio? In 2015, cut out or cut down on any activities that are getting in the way of making and sharing great music.

Good luck!

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