A few years ago, people said the music video was dead. As a filmmaker that was a scary thing to hear. Directing, producing and working on music videos is a great way to hone one's craft in short bursts between longer form projects. Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry made names for themselves with their music video work, and it's long been recognised as a way to nurture new filmmaking talent.
Gentleman, PSY's follow up to his smash hit, Gangnam Style, scored over 200million views in the first week of release. The original monster, Gangnam Style, has over 1.5billion views. The music video is alive and kicking. There are few art forms that can reach that many people that quickly, and while MTV may no longer be broadcasting wall-to-wall music videos, YouTube has taken its place. The combination of a good track combined with great visuals seems to resonate globally, and the great thing about YouTube is that it's totally democratic. There's no scheduling executive deciding what gets played when: if someone likes a video, they share it with their friends and, if it's good, it can go viral in a few hours.
The other thing that makes YouTube democratic is that it gives every band and musician in the world the chance to showcase their music with a great video. And the falling cost of production technology means that a good music video doesn't have to cost the reported $7million that was spent on the video for Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson's Scream.
My good friend and emerging hip-hop star Shane Eli recently self-financed and produced a fantastic music video for his new track Die Alone. I thought it would be interesting to learn from his experiences and throw together a list of the five most important things about making a music video.
1. Have a Strong Concept Eli, who came up with the story of betrayal for the Die Alone Video, says,
"I felt like the song lent itself to a cinematic story. The desert was a place that felt desolate, a good visual backdrop to represent death and loneliness. Once we settled on the idea of a lover's betrayal being the story, we found ways to tie other story tropes into the video like the homage to No Country for Old Men".
Viewers can forgive a lot of things but if they underlying idea behind a music video isn't strong, they will move on. Shane Eli's Die Alone, Rudimental's Not Giving In, and Passion Pit's Cry Like a Ghost all feature stand out concepts.
2. Work with a Talented Director Eli was referred to Patrick 'Embryo' Tapu by a friend and says he was sold the moment he saw his work on YouTube.
"Luckily I live in LA where there are an abundance of talented filmmakers", says Eli. "Once I started putting the word out via friends and social media I received a ton of YouTube resumes with incredible work and Patrick's resonated the most. He directed a video for a friend of mine and once we met about Die Alone, we realized our visions for the song would mesh well".
Anyone who can make something as simple as a video of Runyon Canyon look this beautiful is going to do a good job. A talented director will elevate your video from okay to good, and from good to great.
Whatever your budget, there's always scope to give people something they haven't seen before. I love the opening cuts in Die Alone, which tell a rapid and disjointed story that is revealed in the ensuing video. It's a really simple but effective way to get people into the concept very quickly. Burying an artist in sand doesn't cost anything, but it's a striking image that will keep people watching.
Eli says, "I learned on my last video that you have to include memorable moments in your video to keep people engaged. You have to pick shots that stand out, and you can't be afraid to put yourself in uncomfortable situations to get the right shot. I was in my favorite suit falling backwards into a four foot deep grave take after take, then got buried head to toe multiple times. It was nuts".
4. Stretch Your Cash
Even if you don't have a big budget, you can make however much you've got go a long way. Find locations that stand out. Beg or borrow the best camera and lenses you can get hold of. Get the best wardrobe or costumes you can afford. Hire an expensive car, fit a GoPro to a skateboard or remote control chopper. Hire a car mount. Interesting and innovative doesn't have to be expensive. Clever inexpensive touches can elevate a music video and keep people watching.
Eli says he stretched his budget by finding the right place to film,
"Location location location. That's the thing that we got luckiest with. A few days before the shoot we still hadn't scouted. We ended up driving an hour and a half out of LA and scouted for hours before stumbling into the location we ended up using. It was isolated and we shot with no permit. Risky but it worked."
5. Don't Be Afraid to Ask
You'd be amazed how many people are willing to help out on a music video. Typically they don't require a huge time commitment and can be a lot of fun to make, so you can get access to locations, borrow props, and get extras involved relatively easily.
Die Alone was released yesterday and is a fantastic piece of work that deserves a wide audience. Eli's been producing videos for a couple of years, and this latest effort is the culmination of a lot of experience. For a look at his earlier work, check out his YouTube channel here.
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