How to Make a Killer Music Video on a Budget
A step by step guide to producing a professional looking music video for under $200
Youtube is flooded with bedroom style music videos so if you want to stand out from the throng, then you need to have a professional looking music video done to promote yourself as an artist.
I recently had one done for my latest single. We had a massive cast of around 20 people, fancy costumes, lighting, an awesome set to shoot in…. and it cost me just $200. Yep you read that right. Have a look at the music video first to check out the quality and then I’ll explain how I did it.
So how did I get this professional looking music video done for a mere $200? I’ll tell you, but first I’m going to assume you already have high quality audio to use with your music video, because I’m only going to address how to get the VISUAL side of your music video done (i.e the actual video footage.)
You’re going to need people to get your music video to work. Even if its just you in front of the camera, you’re still going to need someone behind it to shoot.
Having been in the music industry for a while I already had a solid network of creative friends who were operating at a pretty high level. I had built a good working relationship with a videographer called Johnny Ma (who ended up producing my video). We’d done a video together previously and when I decided I wanted to create a new music video for Crazy (my latest single) he agreed to be involved in the project because he happened to not have anything really creative going on at that time.
Score! A free of charge producer with a decent camera who knows what he is doing.
Now, before you start thinking ‘Aw she had established contacts. This blog post is bollocks I don’t know anyone so I can’t get my video done for free’- think again. Before Johnny decided to come on board the project, I was prepared to use my own home video camera and film it all on that. I’ve done that before and still come up with amazing results. (See how well one of my videos came out being shot on an iPhone) There’s also more to this section, so keep reading:
Johnny and I brainstormed some ideas and we eventually settled on the Life Sized Chess Game idea so I knew I was going to need to find some dancers and actors. I didn’t have any established relationships in this area and yet I ended up with a cast of around 20. So how did I do it?
FACEBOOK my friends. Facebook.
I crafted myself a little pitch which included the date of the video shoot, what kind of dancers and actors I was looking for, what the video was about etc… I made the project sound really exciting and I posted it up on a couple of Facebook Groups for local acting and dancing communities.
Here’s an example of one of my pitches:
1 x male and 1 x female HIP HOP/ BREAK DANCERS WANTED – for music video shoot on 21/22 March. Directed by Johnny Ma and done for this electro swing track: https://soundcloud.com/nicolamilan/crazy (by Nicola Milan)
Choreographed 1 minute dance scenes featuring a ‘dance-off’ between swing, hip hop and kpop dancers! Being filmed at the Johnny Ma warehouse studio in East Perth.
Participating dancers get FREE VIP tickets to the upcoming 1920’s GANGSTER electro swing event being held at Whippersnapper Distillery featuring three massive bands, swing dancers and electro swing DJS!
Ping me if you’re interested for more details or email nicola(at)nicolamilan.com.
The result? I was flooded by responses from local talent wanting to be part of my music video! Woohoo!
Many of them sent me showreels and clips of their dancing along with CVs. They all knew it was an unpaid job because I stated that clearly in the pitch, and yet I ended up being able to take my pick.
Producer – check
Cast – check
When you’re coming up with ideas for your shoot, even though you may want a building burning in flames behind you and spaceships coming down with laser beams, please realise that if you are on a $200 budget then you have limitations to what you can dream up.
Be realistic about what you are trying to achieve and get a little creative. Ultimately a music video is a marketing tool for you as an artist so your concept needs to shed you in the best possible light. (Hello, I got to be queen for a day in my video.)
The idea needs to also represent the audio you are using adequately. Think of what the video is about and try to do something along those lines. I highly recommend you bring in more than yourself for this aspect of the project. Two heads are definitely better than one for coming up with quirky, cool ways to do things.
When you do finally come up with an idea you will need to STORY BOARD it out. That means drawing little pictures of what each shot will look like. This will help you work out the camera angles, lighting, props, costume changes and overall flow of the video.
Locations cost money. Locations can also require you gaining permission to use them.
It’s for this reason that quite often simplest location is usually the best. I filmed my video at Johnny’s place. (Well, to be fair he does live in a warehouse) We shot the video on his indoor basketball court!!
The best thing about a home type location however, is that you don’t have to pay for it, you aren’t restricted by the time you can stay there and there is adequate access to power, water, a beer fridge and a toilet (very important – particularly with a large cast.)
The other thing you want to consider when choosing your location is lighting. If you don’t have access to decent studio lights (which you won’t if you’re working on a budget) then pick somewhere that has a lot of natural light, or an outdoor area you can shoot in.
Even dark ‘night time’ type videos can look the best when you shoot indoors during the day using candles. Lighting is REALLY important.
Also think about noise and interruptions from other people. I’ve shot some music videos down the beach and had irritating groms (ie young surfers) photo bomb the video mid scene. It was so annoying and then to make matters worse they put on blaring music from their car while they were packing up their surfboards which meant we had to stop shooting. It really slowed down our production time.
4. Props and Costumes
My music video required everyone to be in quite elaborate costume. Having the black or white chess pieces theme made things a bit easier but not everyone had feathers, sparkles and top hats lying around that they could pull out.
My friend Dale (who plays the White King in the video) needed his entire costume, except for his shirt and shoes provided for him. Many of the dancers needed accessories provided and for a while there many almost pulled out of the project because they didn’t think they were going to be able to come up with the right costume.
Remember, if people are doing things for free for you then you want to make it fun and easy to be involved. As soon as they have to put in a bit too much effort (i.e. dig up a fancy costume) then you will run into trouble.
Here’s an example of what I told everyone to do in regards to costumes:
Note: please go over the top with your costumes. More is more! This is your opportunity to really go for it and wear something outrageous you’d never usually wear.
Black team: Wear biker/ goth street gear. Anything a vampire would wear, etc.. All black. Think cloaks, corsets with leather, anything with spikes… etc.. Evil weapons will be provided unless you have something cool you can bring. If you have wigs/ hair accessories etc… all the better.
White team: Anything floaty, sparkly, pretty will do – as long as it’s white. Julie and her team: go for the 1920’s look if you can. White feather hair accessories etc… Swing dancers – anything swing dance-esque is cool.
We can help with some head gear/ accessories and some other items if you are struggling. Please let me know and we will help you come up with something awesome. We want everyone to look brilliant on the day.
Regarding makeup: Guys on the black team – don’t be afraid of a bit of black eyeliner 😉
Ladies – go heavy. The camera will make you look like you are not wearing much makeup at all.
I’ve attached some images to give you some ideas. Please let me know if you are struggling and we’ll see what we can find for you.
Props is where I spent some of the $200. I had to purchase the confetti and streamers to throw in the end scene and buy some cheapie weapons from the local arts and crafts store. I put a call out to my crew to bring any fake weapons they had and again hit up Facebook to ask friends if I could borrow a white jacket for Dale.
I ended up (painstakingly) making the crowns myself and found a how-to-make-a-realistic-crown tutorial on the internet that I copied! They cost me around $2 in cardboard each.
In my video I also had a ‘throne’ – which was basically an old chair borrowed from a friend with a red cloth thrown over it. Free, cheap, easy and it worked fine. Having the throne really helped add some colour to the video and signified my role as the Black Queen.
5. Respect and Appreciation
Bottom line is that if people are doing things for you for free then you can’t be too demanding of their time and of their behaviour on the day.
Yes you can expect them to act professionally but make sure you provide adequate between-shoot entertainment. Music videos take a while to shoot and you don’t want your cast getting bored and wandering off before it’s their turn to shoot a scene.
Give them detailed instructions about where to turn up on the day, what time to be there, what to wear, and what will be expected of them. If they will be doing a choreographed dance scene for example, then let them know if they will be learning choreography on the day or if they need to be able to improvise a bit.
Here’s an example of one of the final emails I sent to everyone just before the shoot:
Hi everyone! Firstly, thank you so much for volunteering your time to be part of this exciting music video production. The shoot will be a lot of fun and you’ll get to work with a bunch of really creative people in the process.
The music video will provide professional exposure as it is being distributed on electro swing sites globally (in particular throughout Europe), jazz sites in the USA and through Origin Music Publishing’s networks.
Below are all the details for the shoot including costumes, call times for your shots on set and everything else you need to know. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me on (mobile number) or by email.
I’m really looking forward to having you involved! See you on the 21st March!
I also provided lunch for everyone (a must-do if you ask me). This is where I spent the remainder of the $200. I bought a bunch of rolls from the supermarket along with some fillings and was up the night before buttering rolls and making everyone their lunch.
I felt that it was only fair for me to provide people with something to eat, given that they were all donating their time and skills to me for nothing. It adds a nice touch to be able to feed your cast and crew and makes them feel like their are on a professional shoot too.
Lastly, remember to thank everyone. These guys are going to be the first to like and share your video once its edited so you want to keep them excited about the project right up until the video is released.
Let them be the first to see the video and tag them all in it too. I actually did a ‘behind the scenes’ video as well which showed us all mucking around and having fun during the shoot. My fans loved it and so did the cast.
Ultimately, if you want a good looking video on the cheap you are going to have to ask for help and get a little creative like I did. It took a lot of work on my part organising everyone, locking people in for dates, going around and picking up costumes and props , making lunch etc. However, I think the effort is worth it once you see the finished product plus you’ll make a heap of new friends and connections for the next video!
Now I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever created a music video on a budget? What creative things did you do to get it done on the cheap? Please let me know in the comments below.
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My band created two low budget but very effective videos. One was shot for free by a film student we knew, in a venue local to him that was very cheap to hire. Unfortunately we didn’t get enough people interested for the crowd scenes, but that meant that we ended up playing the crowd as well as the main characters! I also got to sit in a throne all day on day two of the shoot, which was filmed at a studio that belonged to friends of our producer.
The second video was all shot in my living room! My partner directed it and we filmed it on our guitarist’s video camera. The lights that we used (a bunch of low energy flourescents) turned out to be too yellow and a bit dark, but they were very cheap, so we weren’t expecting miracles.
See what you think:
We were very pleased with the way they came out. 🙂
Your videos look great! I loved the synth bass lines too. Awesome sound overall! 🙂
Hi Nicole – this is a great article. Ha. 🙂
What you wrote about having good audio is just confirmation to me of what I should have known already.
I wanted to shoot video of our band playing live. I was adamant that it should be live and not lip-sync’d. The goal was to place the video in a contest whereby the winners would play alongside national acts at an outdoor festival in this town. Lots of band submitted videos. The contest was on Facebook and the winners were dependent on the number of “likes” they got — not on the quality as based on an objective standard of some impartial judge.
Well, although my video was “authentic”, i.e. the sound was that which was coming directly from the soundboard … the fact that it was genuinely “live” meant … well … that every “mistake” came through. Ha. And id definitely did *not* sound like a “studio” recording.
But a bunch of others literally went into the “studio” — one band actually travelled to Nashville to do their studio work — and then they lip-synced to their recording. Some also had “story lines” in their video (like yours), instead of just video of the band playing.
Now the results? The winning videos got between 400 and 2000 Facebook “Likes”. They were almost all lip-synced.
My video – one of the few real, live, genuine band-shoots … I think I got 2 “Likes”.
That hurt, but it also provided the impetus for me to learn to record in a home studio environment, so now I can do the next one lip-sync’d, like all the “winners” did. Sad but true.
I hear you. Lip syncing is extremely common for TV and video and does come out a lot better than live. Its because you need much better equipment to be able to produce a high quality live sound. I even lip sync my home-made youtube cover videos now.