How I shot my pro music video without a record label

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This post isn’t a “how-to” shoot a music video. I’m sure you can get all types of suggestions from Google on which direction to go if that’s what you are looking for. This post is how I shot MY music video, without a record label backing me and paying for it all out of my pockets (which are currently empty, except for the lint).

Since there are probably several things vying for your time, I will try to keep this as brief as possible, while still getting you the necessary info you need.

The song, the story

First, I had to choose the song on my album which was good enough to be considered a “single,” but more importantly to me, the song that had the best story that could be told with actions, images, and acting. I felt I chose a song that had a story that most people could relate to, as well as being “catchy.”

It’s people, people

Step number two was to pick my “team” with regard to turning these song lyrics and melodies into a visual medium. I’ve never made a music video, but I assumed I needed a director first, and that was the right move to make. A friend happened to be married to someone who makes movies for a living so that worked out well for me. You might have to do a google search.

She (my fearless director) helped me immensely with who I needed to choose next, the DOP (director of photography), as well as figuring out my budget and how the story line would play out. Together we mapped out the crew we would need (i.e. assistant director, assistant camera, lighting, key grip, production assistants, hair & makeup, etc.), selected locations to shoot in, and started to select cast members based on the story.

Dreaming first, then the details

We started story-boarding the lyrics into different scenes, while plugging in the locations and cast members (on paper). As we were doing this, we tried to guesstimate how many days we would need, as well as how much all of this was adding up to. Once we had an idea of what was necessary to make our “dream vision” come to life, we started to add up how much it would all cost. Then we started making decisions based on budget (i.e. eliminating the piro, and cutting everything else).

We figured we needed three days to shoot at all the locations. Proximity from location to location was considered when we needed to shoot in more than one location in one day. The longest day of shooting was all done in one location. We shot the scenes out of order, from most people needed to least people (scheduling all the people involved was probably one of the most challenging parts). 

We used three cameras (one drone, a Steadicam, and a stationary camera), and a follow focus (which controls the focus of the Steadicam). There were stage lights that were available to use at one of the locations and the other lights we used we got at Target, on sale.

Keeping costs down

Some of the locations required us to possess insurance (an unexpected cost that got added in). Any props we needed, we tried to find in our own apartments. Almost everyone who was cast, extra, or crew was a friend that was doing me a favor, so they participated for nothing or less than their quote (it probably helped that the main day of shooting was on my actual birthday. I think their participation was their gift to me haha). Asking time from people was one of my big considerations, as I knew their time was precious and I didn’t want to impose or take it for granted. In some cases, I bartered services. They participated in my video for nothing (or less than they deserved) and I did stuff for them for free (recordings, their videos, gigs, cooked BBQ, etc).

I covered the cost for all the craft services (meals, snacks, hot and cold drinks) and made sure we had plenty of breaks for those things to be consumed. It kept everyone happy when we would take time to set up the different scenes.

PRO TIP: Having petty cash on hand while you’re shooting is necessary in case you run into any last min snags or emergencies (same goes for gaffer tape and extension cords-aka stingers or whips)

Legal and logistics

Being transparent with information (especially schedule) is a must.

Have people sign release forms so you are legally protected.

The more time you spend in preparation; the less time it will take to execute in real time.

PRO TIP: Knowing everything will probably take three times longer than you want it to is a good mindset to have to keep everyone calm and in good spirits (plenty of snack and drink options are key!)

Executing and adapting (with drones!)

The most important part was that the lyrics were being portrayed in the acting. Also, we wanted to make sure the personality of the people involved came across (hopefully a lighthearted, comical theme came across as well as the courtship aspect). In a few cases, people we had cast as specific roles became unavailable. We had to come up with a “Plan B.” Since we were going for a comical vibe, it was decided that I was a re-occurring figure that made multiple cameos throughout the video.

There was one tricky part we didn’t expect. Those were the drone shots. Different cities and states have laws in place for drone use since 9-11. Some are restrictions on nighttime flying, residential vs. city flying, and more. Fortunately, my city and state don’t have any laws like that (for now) and I know a high ranking detective who told me if I had any issues the day of to call his cell. My drone operator was extremely nervous and cautious. We were flying in the middle of a busy downtown city, near powerlines, at night, a few blocks from the police station. Not to mention weather plays a huge deal with drones. You can’t fly with any precipitation and it has to be a non-windy day. If you have a slight breeze, it is multiplied dramatically the higher off the ground you go. There are websites to let you know if you can fly your drone that day, provided you need one for an outdoor shot.

Wrapping up

After we shot all the scenes, we had to edit them into the story we were trying to tell, and then pick the alternate “filler scenes” to stick into the action to keep your attention. Once all the scenes were in order, then we had to color correct everything and then add the beginning and ending credits.

Now, I’m sure you’re asking how I paid for it all? Even though I got the “Friend Discount,” I still had to spend money. I had saved up some money from merch sales on my own gigs. I also took every type of gig offered to me. I lit up my credit card (so much so, it’s glowing). I did eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly (and made a lot of meals at home). All said and done, this music video probably cost me less than $5,000. That still may be a lot for you, but there are many creative (and inexpensive) ways to make a video and I’m sure the internet can help you discover them.

I did have an extravagant vision for this video, and I knew I was only going to make this one. So when it came time to cut things to make the budget smaller, there were some things I couldn’t cut out if I wanted it to look a certain way. The other thing that helped was I spread the shoot days out over a longer period of time so I could save up more funds (whoring myself out) in between the selected shoot days.

Added bonus, here is a link to slang terms on a film set that sound sexual, and what they really mean:

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