Lights, Camera, Action! A Guide to Making Music Videos

Don’t be discouraged by the sometimes overwhelming video quality from high-profile artists — anyone can make a solid music video on any budget.

Introduction

One of the most powerful tools that musicians have today is their visual performance aka music videos. Video game cover artists, or “VGM-ers” as they are affectionately known, have been taking advantage of music videos since the early days of YouTube, Dailymotion, and other platforms. If you want to capture the intensity of metal music on screen, you could use quick cuts, high-action sequences, and tight focus — conversely, for an acoustic cover, the most serene nature backgrounds could enthrall a listener. Theatrics aside, or in this case front-and-center, music videos are an amazing tool for performers because they can enhance musical narratives and objectives.

Don’t be discouraged by the sometimes overwhelming video quality from high-profile artists — anyone can make a solid music video on any budget. For a non-sponsored list of tools, here are my recommendations:

My Recommendations

Camera:

  • For starters: I recommend using a smart-phone. Many shoot in 1080p or higher resolution, can be found used/discounted, and can connect to a computer easily. Price: Free if you have one, or ~$200!

  • For intermediate users: I recommend a camcorder such as the Sony CX/AX line or a DSLR with video capabilities. The Canon Rebel T3i is a very common camera and shoots 1080p/24fps, a standard across many films and videos
    Price: ~$400

  • For advanced users: I recommend mirrorless cameras such as the Panasonic GH series or Sony A7 line. These shoot full-frame, have higher bit-rate colors, record in 4K, and have more versatile features. I also recommend investing in different lenses for various shot types.
    Price: ~$1500-2500

Lights:

  • For starters: I recommend learning to position your subject based on light! Follow the triangle rule, use the sun to your advantage, and use cheap Clamp Lights with LED bulbs!
    Price: ~$20

  • For intermediate users: soft-box lights are a must-buy! They produce powerful but soft light and work well for portrait/indoor shots.
    Price: ~$60

  • For advanced users: I might not be the expert in this category but consider using backdrops, green-screens, and other interesting means to spice up your video. Also, consider using someone else to film you for engaging action shots.
    Price: Varies

Software:

  • For starters: I recommend using a free video editor such as iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, HitFilm, or Da Vinci Resolve 11 (advanced program).
    Price: $0

  • For intermediate users: I recommend Sony Vegas Pro, Adobe Premiere CC or Final Cut Pro X
    Price: $30 a month to $300

  • For advanced users: Consider Adobe After Effects for serious special effects, texts, green-screen or advanced keying, or other high-end means to improve your work such as transition, fx packs and more!
    Price: Varies

Gear:

  • Memory: Always purchase more storage than you think you need! I recommend shooting with a 32GB memory card at a  minimum, and consider a 64GB card for longer shots or collaborations.
    Price: ~$20-60

  • ND Filters: Neutral Density filters attach to your camera and control exposure (aka too much light from the sun). They’re a must-buy for outdoors, and be sure to check your lens’ diameter before buying!
    Price: ~$20

  • Tripod: For starters, phone tripods can work or try regular tripods with a phone adapter. If you can afford it, invest in a solid tripod, such as Monfrito or a brand you prefer. Don’t put a $500 camera on a $20 tripod!
    Price: ~$30-150

  • Cables: You will definitely need a SD Card reader or a USB cable depending on your camera, and consider the fastest one available! If you want to monitor yourself on a separate TV/etc, purchase the appropriate HDMI or AV cable.
    Price: ~$30

In addition to this compilation of my favorite tips, tricks, and filming techniques, I’ve included a slightly-dated video guide below.

How to Film!

With your gear in hand, it’s time to actually film your video. There are two ways to accomplish this: A) film the video while faking the performance (e.g. the song is already finished) or B) film the video while you record the performance audio. I will assume most people, including myself, use option A in order to create a cinematic and dramatic look for the video. Choose whichever way works, but remember your performance needs to be believable! It can be easy to mess up, of course, so use several takes to ensure that you have the best performance possible.

To film a shot, line up your shot in a way that focuses on your subject — this might be your instrument, yourself, or anything. Remember to check your focus by taking a test photograph using a timer/remote, or use a following auto-focus feature. You might even find it useful to place a stand-in object or person to make sure you will be in focus. Many people even draw out their planned shots to figure out how to frame it. Use your lighting techniques to ensure your subject is visible. Ensure your camera is using the frame-rate you want, the ISO (a value that can increase brightness for your image at the cost of grainier footage) is set, and you are happy with the look.

Since I act my performance (option A), I will hit record, playback my song on a loud source (to make editing easier), and jam out! After each shot, I check the footage to ensure it was recorded in focus and framed exactly how I want it. As you get used to editing and filming, this process will go by faster and you can spend more time creating!

Lastly, you just need to use your favorite editing software to load your footage, slice it to the pace you would like, showcase any B-Roll or extra shots, color the footage, and add effects where needed! Easy, right? Perhaps another guide could explain this...

Ro Panuganti

Ro Panuganti

Ro Panuganti is a home-studio guitarist and musician, covering video game and other music on Youtube in a variety of rock and metal genres out of his bedroom.