How to Make a Music Video: A Guide for Beginner Music Video Directors - Careers in Film
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How you make a music video is much like making a short film.

In fact, many famous Movie Directors got their start in the music video world!

More on that in a second, but just like a short film, making a music video takes planning, planning, and more planning to ensure that the shoot is on budget and time.

From getting your foot into the music video world to sorting out every post-production need, we’ll walk you through all the major steps of how to make a music video. We’ll also hear some thoughts on music video creation from one of contemporary music’s most respected Music Video Directors, Alfredo Flores. He has worked with stars like Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Rihanna, and Mariah Carey to create music video magic.

So let’s begin!

How Do You Start Directing Music Videos?

If you’re just starting on the path to becoming a Music Video Director, you might be scratching your head and wondering how to make this career happen. We got you!

Everyone—and we do mean everyone—must start somewhere. Did you know that David Fincher, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, and Antoine Fuqua are just a few Film Directors who began in the music video world?

To get your start directing music videos, consider these career-building options:

1. Go to film school.

Being a Director for film, music videos, or otherwise takes training and acquired skill sets. It requires an understanding of both how a music video will look and how the music itself will play a part in it. Not to mention all the steps necessary both before walking onto set and after you’re done with the shoot. Hence, why going to film school can be vital in learning how to make a music video.

Film school is where you can learn all the skills and techniques key to pulling off a successful shoot. And because music videos have long been an industry all on their own, some film schools even include specific music video classes.

2. PA on shoots.

Whether you decide to go to film school or not, nothing beats real-world on-set experience. And pretty much every shoot can always use more Production Assistants or PAs. Sure, you might be kept busy grabbing coffee or lunch for the talent and crew, but you’ll also be learning exactly what happens on a music video shoot.

This tangible experience is valuable for two reasons. One, you’ll get an education on how to make a music video. And two, you’ll make connections with other creatives and technicians in the music video world, which can help in securing jobs in the future.

3. Reach out to your musician friends.

Ready to take the leap for the first time? Odds are that if you’re looking to make a name for yourself in the music video world, you just might have friends looking to make their name in the music world, too. Why not pair up and help each other?

Even if you’re still acquiring the skills necessary to be a Music Video Director, it’s never too soon to try out what you do know with a friendly client like a friend. You might be doing the job for free, but it’s the experience you’ll gain that’s the payout.

Also, if you get enough experience creating no or low-budget music videos with your musician friends, you’ll soon build both the skill sets and resume necessary to move onto more high-profile and higher-paying projects.

How Do You Plan and Direct a Music Video?

Okay, let’s get down to the details of exactly how to make a music video. Just like directing a film, it always begins with pre-production

What does a Music Video Director do?

Alfredo Flores (Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Rihanna)

Being a Music Video Director is creating a visual out of a song from top to bottom.

Usually, it starts with listening to the song and creating something called a treatment. A treatment is basically the idea for the music video in written form mixed with photos, references, color palettes, and the synopsis of what the visual will be like.

The Director’s job is to come up with the idea (sometimes alone; sometimes with the help and ideas of the artist) and then execute the visual on set with the help of Producers and a full crew and then overseeing the post-production aspect of the video, which includes editing and color correction.

Pre-production.

Do not underestimate the importance of the pre-production phase! It’s when you will do most of the proverbial heavy lifting to ensure a successful shoot and post-production process.

1. Meet with the artist to discuss expectations.

Decide on a concept or storyline. A well-executed music video tells a story. The artist may already have an idea in mind or is looking for suggestions. Either way, it’s important to get on the same page both for creative reasons and to make sure that your agreed-upon budget can support that concept.

Agree on visual references. Visual references can be anything from other music videos to films to paintings and more.

Figure out budget. This is a biggie. Especially on a smaller shoot where there isn’t a Lead Producer per se, the Director may be directly involved with budgetary matters. Know exactly what funds you are working with so that you don’t end up paying out of pocket for the difference or asking the artist for additional funds, which could negatively impact your relationship with them.

How much do Directors charge for music videos?

Alfredo Flores (Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Rihanna)

Each music video comes with an overall budget. The budget (provided by the record label) is what a Producer would take and break it down. A Line Producer will budget each job/title with the rate. So the Director’s rate comes out of the overall budget of the video.

2. Assemble a crew.

Let’s say that one day you’re directing a video for a major music star like Lady Gaga or The Weeknd. When that day comes, you’ll likely have a full crew in place that includes even a Second Assistant Director, Second Assistant Camera, Best Boy, Caterer, Casting Director, and more.

But when you’re working on a low-budget music video, you might be wearing multiple hats or going without some crew members. Even on the most conservative music video shoots, though, try to have the following crew members:

Cinematographer/Videographer

Unless you feel extremely comfortable behind the camera, give the responsibility of working as the Cinematographer to someone else so you can concentrate on the many other responsibilities you’ll have during the shoot.

1st AC or Grip

On a big-budget production, you would never have the 1st AC helping with the project’s lighting needs. However, both DPs and 1st ACs who have worked smaller shoots have usually learned the ins and outs of lighting, so to help your Cinematographer, have a 1st AC or proper Grip on hand to keep the project on time.

Costumer and/or Hair and Makeup Stylist

Music videos are all about style, so if possible, bring on board the individuals who are experts in it: a Costume Designer, Hairdresser, and/or Makeup Artist.

Production Assistants

Like we mentioned, you can never have too many Production Assistants. From running errands to overseeing playing the song during takes, they’re invaluable for making a music video.

3. Find and secure locations.

Location is important not only for helping to shape the look of the music video but also in determining if your budget will permit certain venues. Multiple locations will typically mean more money, so try to stick with a single locale if possible. Also, don’t forget that you will need liability insurance for every location.

4. Cast talent.

Again, in the interest of saving money, you may want to go with a concept where the musician or band is the only talent. But if a particular concept calls for a crowd or the like, be sure to cast those individuals ahead of time—even if you just get your friends to be Extras on the day of the shoot!

5. Rent or secure equipment.

You won’t have a music video if you don’t have the equipment to shoot it. Let’s say you plan to go ultra-low-budget and shoot on a device like a smartphone. Given how far technology has come, that’s not necessarily a bad idea, but make sure you have a backup in case anything should go wrong.

Otherwise, research your options around town for renting all necessary camera, sound, and lighting equipment. If you have a crew member who owns their equipment, that’s great, but keep in mind that they’ll likely expect a kit fee for it.

6. Create a production plan.

We’re not done with pre-production just yet! Before stepping onto set, have the following in order:

Storyboards

Even if you and the artist are in verbal agreement about the look of the music video, providing them with storyboards is vital to confirming that what you’re thinking is indeed what they’re thinking.

Storyboards will provide a visual reference as well as a storyline structure—and it’s much easier to tweak a storyboard while still in pre-production than make last-minute changes once you’re shooting or trying to create a new look in post.

Shot Lists

A clear shot list is fundamental for making a music video. Everyone involved with the shoot, from crew to talent and everyone in between, will need to know what is being shot on a given day, in what order and when they need to be on set. Don’t come to your shoot without one!

Schedule

A shot list is a type of schedule, but you still need to create an overall day-to-day timetable that includes any scheduling matter that may not be part of that shot list.

Production

All right, now you’re ready to shoot a music video! There might be nerves, but if you’ve put in the work during the pre-production phase, you needn’t worry about it being anything less than a success.

Keep in mind that each shooting day—if you have more than one—will go by fast, so stay on schedule. You are the lead on the shoot, so even as you’re trying to get the client to give their best performance for the camera, you likely will still need to keep an eye on your crew and any additional talent as well.

Post-production

Congratulations on your shoot! Now it’s time to take all that great footage and make a fantastic music video from it. Again, when that day comes where you’re helming a music video with a high-profile client, odds are you may not be as involved with the post-production process because other creatives and technicians can be brought on board to handle it. When it’s a smaller shoot with a lower budget, though, you likely will lead the post process as well.

1. Edit footage.

You’ve uploaded all your footage to a computer and are ready to assemble. As with having a dedicated Cinematographer on set, you may want to consider hiring a professional Editor to at least assist with this step.

Editing is an artform and technical skill, and especially given the special considerations of a music video—such as syncing cuts to maintain the visual continuity of the artist singing—you could hugely benefit from having a pro at your side.

2. Add special effects or graphics.

A lower-budget music video tends to preclude the use of green screens or special effects, but if you do have an effect that was created in post, now’s the time to drop it in. Same goes for any graphics.

3. Add music.

Once you have a fine cut in place, lay the music over it. Hopefully, you’ll have a close match in terms of syncing the visuals to the lyrics and pacing of the song. This is the stage to make final edits to ensure that the sync is perfect by the time you get to picture lock.

4. Color correct footage.

Not totally happy with the color of the piece? Or perhaps you’re going for a more stylized look? In either case, once you lock picture on your music video and make no further edits to it, you can then address any coloring issues or needs. Color correction can be used to simply enhance the visuals of your music video or give it an elevated or altered look.

How long does it take to film a music video?

Alfredo Flores (Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Rihanna)

It takes one full day to film a music video. Twelve to eighteen hours depending on the creative.

What Are the Logistics of Shooting a Music Video?

As the adage goes, time is money. That means a three-day shoot will be more expensive than a two-day shoot, which will be more expensive than a single-day shoot. Especially if we’re talking about a music video with a limited budget, you can—and should!—keep production to one day.

However, the time it takes to prep for that music video and put it together in post-production will be significantly longer than a single day. Think weeks or even months. While it might seem like a big investment of time, a thorough pre-production phase is key to making sure your production goes by the book with no mishaps.

Another adage? Fix it in post. But what that typically means is that the post-production will be much more expensive than originally thought. Again, doing your prep can ensure that there aren’t any mistakes that need to be fixed. Plus, by putting in the necessary time, not only does making a music video become less stressful, but also you’ll likely have a happy client and great reference once your time on it is done.

No matter how simple the shoot or limited the budget, there should be no cutting corners on how you make a music video. Especially if you’re just starting out and making a name for yourself, take each step seriously all the way from when you first discuss the concept with your client to when you deliver—hopefully on time and on budget!—the final piece to them.

Music videos offer the chance to be wildly creative even when you’re short on time or funds. Most importantly, though, it provides the opportunity to build your portfolio, professional contacts, and reputation as you carve out your career.

Music Video Director Alfredo Flores
Alfredo Flores

Alfredo Flores is one of the world’s leading pop culture Directors, Photographers, and Videographers whose identifiable lens and documentary prowl provide an authentic view into the private world of today’s icons.

Having traveled around the world with artists like Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Rihanna, and Mariah Carey, Alfredo has lived up to his loyal, dependable, and joyful reputation as both an artist and creative force.

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