Music Video Production Tips
Music video, traditionally called MTV - Music TV, is one of the most active, fast changing type of videos with most varieties. Itís a hot topic, not only for video makers but also for everybody nowadays.
When I was doing research work for this book, I found that ďmusic videosĒ is one of the most often searched phrase at major search engines, leaving other art-related words/phrases far behind. Actually itís one of the few words that compete with sex-related words/phrases.
I donít think there are so many video makers on this planet. The only reason of this phenomenon is that ďmusic videoĒ is of common interest to most people. To be more accurate, it has high attraction among the people who surf often. People not only watch music video everyday, they want to know more about music video.
The majority of people will never make a music video in her life, but they are searching for information about it. There must be a reason.
MTV exists everywhere today. Originally it was a vehicle to help sell album. Now it has become part of life for some people, especially for young generation. Sometimes I believe that if you havenít seen MTV for a period of time, then you donít know whatís popular on the street and donít know what young people are thinking. Itís one of the representative art forms in this new media age.
Besides the MTVs produced for professional singers, who need it definitely, itís always an attractive idea to make a music video for average people, especially if they can see themselves in the videos. Itís a dream for some people. Lots of people will happily spend over thousand dollars to act as a real star in a real MTV. And they will send the video to relatives, friends, and colleagues.
There IS a market. As long as you can make it look professional just like the ones shown on TV.
MTV is quite different from other videos.
The most obvious characteristic of music video is that itís highly stylized.
In a typical music video, there may or may not be a story, a leading character, you may not be able to recognize the screen time and place, you may not be able to tell whatís happening on the screen. But thereís one thing you will feel unavoidably: its style, its flavor.
Iím talking about good music videos, of course.
You may have ever seen some bad examples as well, which are basically recordings of a person walking around in a park aimlessly. No design, no idea, no style.
So, by all means, stylize it. Fast cut, slow motion, special prop, color, abstract background, animation, paradoxical storyÖWhatever. Figure out a way to make it unique. It doesnít have to be a complicated technique. A simple approach, used constantly and creatively, will do the job.
Maybe it doesnít make any sense to use the same technique for a drama, but it may work perfectly for MTV. The technique may not even be logical on surface.
Here comes the second major characteristic: whatís important for music video is not logic, or story, itís the feeling and mood.
You can barely see a complete story in MTV, even if itís the theme song of a movie. You do see some odd scraps of plot scattered in it, but they are rather unconnected patches. And thatís normal for music videos.
What makes the music video a whole piece of work is the underlying emotional relation. All the short plots may happen at different places, consist different characters, in different seasons, but they all contribute to one single feeling. Here I use the word ďfeelingĒ, not theme. More than often you donít get a definite concept, or idea, or experience from an MTV. You will get a dim, subtle infection. Or you will feel the excitement and power if it is hard rock.
Here are some practical suggestion you may find useful.
Never try to visualize the words of a song sentence by sentence directly.
Although music video is kind of visualized way to present a song, but donít translate the words into image directly. While it IS the easiest method to produce MTV, itís the worst method as well. Itís ok to show sky when the words mention sky, but donít do this all the way to the end.
Weaken the story, if you have one.
Avoid telling the story completely. Donít try to do what you do in a drama - make sense of everything. You can omit large parts of the story line. Itís perfectly ok to confuse the audience to some degree in this case.
Split the story and scatter the plots throughout the video.
Your story may be as simple as just one scene, split it, use shots from this same scene at different places of the video. If you have several scenes, you donít have to arrange them according to the real-life time. Instead, crosscut between these scenes and other non-plot shots.
Your aim is to make the viewers feel the atmosphere and emotion, not to describe the story. Actually, telling the story clearly will harm this aim by forcing viewers into a logical thinking.
Make the place and time in your music video relative blur.
Cutting back and forth between different places and time is acceptable for todayís audience. They seem have much higher tolerance when watching music videos and donít expect traditional visual experience at all.
Use more close ups than wide shots.
I hope you still remember that close up has more visual impact. Itís naturally fit into typical music video style: visually impressive, sound intensive, image rich. It also helps to dilute the sense of place and time.
Normally you donít touch the sound at all.
But you can always follow the pace and rhythm of the song. Itís not always necessary to cut to the music (cut to next shot at exactly the music beat) though. In some rare case, you can make the pace of visual and music conflict to each other. For example, while the music is very fast and dynamic, you use slow motion with cross fade. High tension will be created, if that is what you want.
Use jump cuts.
All kinds of jump cuts. Similar framed shots, say close ups of the character from different scenes. Different segments from the same shot and same take. Shots that break the screen direction. You have much more freedom here.
Use it constantly so that it can be seen as a style. If you just use jump cut once in a video, it will be regarded as it is - a jump cut, or in another word, a technical fault.
Using jump cuts is common state in terms of editing music videos. But it is more suitable for fast pace videos.
Avoid cheap animation.
Unless you have access to top notch animation, donít even think of include animation in your music video. Those moving charts working fine in corporate video will not work here. They will make your MTV extremely amateurish.
As long as you have a brilliant idea and treat every detail carefully, your MTV will look as professional as any othersí work. Animation will reveal whether you have a deep pocket or just shoestring budget.
Make every shot moving.
In a typical music video, more than 95% of all shots are moving. You may have not noticed that yet. Turn on your TV and check it out. Tracking shot, crab, pan, tilt, zoom in or out, character movement, whatever, just make it moving in some manner, preferably by camera movement.
Never show a static singer, opening her mouth only, in a still shot. At least use pan or zoom. You can achieve this in editing even if the footage you have is still.
Iím not talking about action movies here. This suggestion applies to slow pace MTVs too. Proper movement will make the flow of your video much more smooth. In a music video, movement is more important than good framing.
Donít forget to adjust color for every shot.
The chance of getting exact color you want without color correction is next to zero. You can use white balance and filter while shooting, but itís in postproduction when you make it perfect.
The most simple and common way is to make every shot biasing to a single color. For instance, blue or green. And donít be afraid of using colors with great contrast for background and main object. Using unnatural saturated color is acceptable too. Itís less necessary to concern much about whether it looks real or not. But make your color correction effort consistent.
Have a unique idea.
It would be better if you have a unique idea in mind before starting editing. It could be something very simple, such as techniques above mentioned, jump cuts, color scheme, disconnected plots, reversed screen timeÖAs long as you have one, stick to it, stress it, push it to its extreme.
Due to the endless possibilities of music videos, itís impossible to list all techniques here. I have one last thing to remind you in terms of editing music videos: feel free to try and use unconventional methods, nobody will blame you for not abiding the grammar of visual language.
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