A step by step guide to great YouTube videos for musicians

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[This article was written by Dave Kusek, founder of the New Artist Model, an online music business school for independent musicians, performers, recording artists, producers, managers, and songwriters. He is also the founder of Berklee Online, co-author of The Future of Music book, and a member of the team who brought midi to the market.]

There are a lot of articles discussing the importance of YouTube for indie musicians trying to find an audience. But, with the growing popularity of the platform, the video quality expected by users is going up as well. For a lot of indie artists, it can be intimidating to see the videos released by professional YouTubers and more established artists, but it doesn’t need to be.

You have everything you need to put together really great videos to support your music career, and to help you out, I’m going to walk you through everything step by step.

1. Video Concept

The first thing you need to create is the video itself, so come up with a concept. Ultimately, you want all of your videos to relate back to your music somehow, but contrary to popular belief, they don’t all need to be covers. In fact, it’s probably better if all your videos weren’t music videos or covers. Think about it like this: there are two groups of people you need to serve with your videos — new fans, and subscribers. New fans are drawn in by covers they find in search. Your subscribers want interesting and exciting content. Yes, some people just love cover videos, but most people want some variety.

You could create cover videos, original music videos, Q&As with questions you gathered from your fans on Twitter or Instagram, live show footage, vlogs that take your fans behind the scenes at band practice or in the studio, a tour of the gear or instruments you use, a tutorial playthrough of your songs, or even a heart-to-heart about the meaning behind your lyrics. As you can see, the options are endless, and this is really a place where you can put your creativity to good use.

2. Video Quality

There’s a lot of videos shot by professionals on thousand dollar cameras on YouTube. But that doesn’t mean you need those things to make a great quality video. You can make some really interesting videos with the camera on your phone or even a basic camera with video functions.

While you don’t need the best camera, try to make sure the lighting is good. A video on an average camera shot with great lighting will look better than a video shot on an incredible camera with bad lighting. Try to film during the day with natural light and shoot in a well lit room if possible.

The thing you should focus your energy on is sound quality, especially when it comes to music videos and covers. Invest in a mic to pick up the sound instead of relying on your camera’s built in mic, or record the music separately through whatever program you have.

3. Filming

Filming can be tedious if you’re just getting into it, especially if you’re doing it 100% DIY, but it helps to have a plan going into it. Have a clear idea of what you want your final video to look like. Will it be a short video or a long video? Will it be more creative, a standard vlog, or a simple video shot straight on from start to finish?

Especially if you’re doing a more creative video or music video that cuts between many different shots, try writing down some ideas or even making a list or a basic storyboard. You don’t need to have the whole thing visualized, but having some ideas going into the filming will help you get the shots you need in less time.

Before you start filming, do a quick test shot, especially if you’re filming a video of yourself sitting down and playing a cover. The last thing you want is to nail the song only to find out you were out of focus the whole time!

4. Editing

Editing is something that takes a lot of practice, but good editing can make even a seemingly boring video concept seem really interesting. There are plenty of inexpensive editing programs that you can use to start out, but iMovie and FinalCut Pro are both very popular.

In order to make your video look professional, try to keep your editing as simple and consistent as possible. No one wants to watch a video with different crazy transition animations flashing across the screen every few seconds. That’s not to say you can’t be creative, but find a balance and always get someone else’s opinion before you upload to YouTube.

If you’re filming a video that isn’t a cover, music video, or live footage, adding music in the background will add more dimension and interest. A lot of YouTubers struggle to find royalty-free or creative commons licensed music to use as a backdrop, but you already have a great source – your own music! Make sure the background music is loud enough to be heard but not loud enough to interfere with the dialog or video content, and ALWAYS link to the song you used in the description box.

Another great tip is to time your shot transitions with your music. This instantly makes your video look more professional. For example, if you’re cutting between different shots of the band in the studio for your music video, make sure those cuts are in time with the music. Quick transitions timed with some consecutive hits on the drums can have a big impact. Get creative here!

As you can see, there’s way more to YouTube than just cover videos, and you can use your creativity to make really professional videos with the tools you already have available. In the New Artist Model online music business programs you’ll learn how to turn your music into a successful business – a business where you are in control! You’ll create an actionable and personalized plan that will help you achieve a career in music, and you’ll be able to do it all with the resources you have available right now.

If you’d like more strategies like these, you can download this ebook for free. It will take you through some of the best strategies for indie musicians to help you grow your fanbase and your career.

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Image via David Torcivia on Flickr

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Join the Conversation

  • velvetpiano

    USE A TRIPOD! (oops, did I just use CAPITALS..?) yup! While looking cool-and-careless can seem sort-of cool… this is NOT achieved by being sloppy and ‘couldn’t care less’….. as Dolly Parton says… “It takes a LOT of money to look this cheap”. Sure; use SOME creative movement with the camera but don’t make it ALL a roller-coaster vomit-inducing movement-fest.

    Get some really interesting angles (like looking ‘up’ from the floor at instrumentalist/singers or birds-eye view from the rafters) – and look at the act/visuals in ways that will grab interest. Get a ladder and screw a camera bracket high-up on a wall or in the ceiling – go the extra distance to make what the VIEWER sees as interesting as possible. Use a Go-Pro mounted on a guitar head-stock… mount the camera on a wheel-chair and do left-right panorama moving shots. Don’t be afraid of getting a shot of the artist/band from BEHIND… yes, even the backs of heads CAN be interesting for a few seconds if they’re moving in time to the music. If you’ve mainly front lighting, overexpose those shots so you blind the viewer to the fact you’re shooting it in your Mom’s kitchen.

    YT videos have an infinite on-line life so be sure everything in the video is the very ‘best’ you can do.

    Also; (major peeve of mine) – start the song when the video starts… viewers time is priceless, so consider dumping the 5-minute “well, hi there… this is a video about ya-da ya-da ya-da” otherwise you’ll likely find you’ve lost your potential fan before the song’s even started. Even skip the filmic ‘tiny-white-title-in-the-middle-of-a-black-screen-as-if-you’re-a-Hollywood-movie’ idea. It’s pretentious and unnecessary. Use the ‘description’ box to jabber on for hours with your ‘concept’ and ‘credits’… those are ONLY of interest once you’ve captured the viewers ears, eyes, heart and soul.

    If you’re a band… feature EVERYone in the band eaqually. You NEVER know who’s going to spark the viewer’s attention even if it’s not the expected heart-throb lead singer. Get someone who is NOT in the band to critique the on-screen personnel quotient.

    Derek Kusek (author of the article) makes a million-dollar point when he advises to edit (cut, transition, switch… whatever) ON THE BEAT (preferably measurable sections… 4 bars, 8 bars, 16 bars, whole sections etc)… this is an INSTANT ‘amateur’ no-no dead give-away.

    Nuff for now – have fun and let that be seen on the video – don’t sulk/pout, that gets old REAL quick!

    PS – annotate, annotate, annotate (if you don’t know what that is… look it up on the Search box within YT).

  • James L Wirth

    “iMovie and FinalCut Pro are both very popular.” Yes, and impossibly difficult to navigate and edit! So, I guess you must be an apple rep. Just et GoPro camera, $400.00 and download free editing app. save many headaches dealing with elitist apple apps.