The concept of what makes a great music video has changed over the last few decades. Long gone are the days you need thousands of dollars, an epic idea and a massive film crew. With a little creativity and resourcefulness, you can make an effective music video with as little as your cellphone if you really want to.
Although there is a time and place for large-scale video productions, budding artists can do more than get by with a simple, easy to execute idea. Audience attention and appreciation leans heavily on entertainment value over production quality. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter if your video was shot by a Hollywood director for millions of dollars, or on an iPhone in your bedroom - as long as your video is creative, engaging and/or entertaining, you can make a great music video that your audience will love.
So what do you need to do? Read on to find out how to make a great DIY music video.
1. Be resourceful
You will save a ton of time and money creating a video around resources you already have at your disposal. This means shooting at a location you have easy access to like your house, backyard, the nearby park or, if allowed, your workspace after hours.
Canadian punk band Sum 41 shot this video for “The Hell Song” using old action-figures they most likely had as kids. They used said figures to recreate a wild punk concert/party that involved “cameos” from toy versions of Ludacris, Metallica and more. It’s a fun and entertaining video that still captured the vibe of a raucous house show without needing to deal with the organizational and financial fuss of throwing an actual party with a bunch of real people.
That example brings us to our next point - locations aren’t the only asset to be resourceful with. Got old Halloween costumes that could be utilized in a video? Does your dad have a sweet ‘59 American muscle-car sitting in the garage? Take a look around your home and neighborhood for inspiration. There are probably a lot more resources available to you than you realize. Take inventory of props, costumes, camera gear and locations you can use for your next music video.
2. Keep it simple
There’s nothing worse than a cool video idea that is poorly executed. Artists have the capacity to conceptualize great big ideas, but we don’t always have the support to best accomplish them. History has seen many artists shoot high-concept videos with limited budget and resources, often resulting in an unironically cheesy or tacky final product. If you know you don’t have a lot of money or crew to work with, sometimes the best video is the simplest one.
Coldplay’s “Yellow” is a great example of a video that is both simple and effective. It’s just singer Chris Martin walking along an empty beach while singing to the camera. The video, much like the song, mixes elements of melancholy and hopefulness. With one camera, one character and one location, the video perfectly encapsulates the feeling behind the track. At the time of this writing, “Yellow” is nearing its 700 millionth stream on YouTube.
Remember, a simple video that engages an audience is far more powerful than a complex one that leaves them feeling underwhelmed.
3. Be creative
Creativity is key when making a DIY. music video. What you lack in funds, crewing, etc., should be made up for in entertainment-value. Whether you want your video to be funny, moody, or whatever else, you have to make sure it provides value to the viewer. Give them a reason to keep watching your music video.
OK Go hit this nail on the head when they created a full dance routine on treadmills for “Here It Goes Again.” They TikTok’d before TikTok was a thing, which made for a very fun, very different and entertaining video for its time. It was something nobody had seen before. Many say it pushed the boundaries of what a music video could be. No need for any fancy lights, high-concept story or expensive cameras.
Creative music videos give you a chance to showcase your own authentic flair as an artist outside of the music. Be genuine when doing the creative behind your DIY music video. Audiences will pick up on that. If you’re naturally funny, be funny. If you’re naturally avante-garde, be avante-garde, or be a mix of both. In essence, you do you, boo. Just do it in a way that will engage your audience.
4. Put a budget together
Once you have your video idea thought out, it’s time to break down the cost. There are tons of music video budget templates you can download for free on the internet. Find one that works for you and put a budget together to keep track of your spending.
Are you paying a director or cinematographer? Are there certain resources you don’t have that you will need? Everything from crew to gear to locations, props, costumes, etc should be added to a spreadsheet. Even if it’s something you already own, you can add it to the sheet as a $0.00 expense.
Once you have your expenses put together, you’ll know if you can afford it and if not, you have a chance to see where you can cut costs down.
5. Build your crew
Once you’ve budgeted a quality DIY music video, it’s time to get your crew together. Even if it’s a simple idea, most cases would require at least one camera person to be hired for pay or as a volunteer. Although it’s recommended that you get an outside party to help alleviate some of the workload and allow you to focus more on your performance, if you are in a band with a few members, each member can take turns holding the camera to really cut costs.
Other potential crew members can include a Director, Production Designer, Cinematographer, Camera Assistant and a Video Editor. Depending on the scope of your video, you may take on the majority of these roles yourself. But if you don’t know certain aspects of filmmaking, you can find filmmakers in forums, Facebook groups and film school databases.
At the end of the day, making a low budget music video is an essential part of being a modern musician. It’s become apparent that independent musicians are evolving into a sort of “jack of all trades” creative role, and it’s not a bad thing.
Making your own DIY video gives you the chance to show off your creativity beyond the music and exercise your ability to connect with your audience in new ways. This also allows you to be resourceful while forcing you to think outside the box. The best part about DIY music videos? They can be really fun to make.
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Johnny Papan is a freelance Canadian music journalist and musician.
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