It’s easy to forget that music video production is an intricate feat.

Think of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. The John Landis-directed mini-movie features iconic dance moves, a story, and Vincent Prince’s gripping narration. It’s no wonder the music video became a cultural phenomenon.

Of course, not all music videos have to follow the same path, and before we breakdown how they get made, let’s first discuss the three main types.

Types of music videos

  • Performance
  • Narrative
  • Conceptual

Performance videos

In a performance video, artists play along with the music and may lip sync as well.
They also get to put on a choreographed show for the camera.
Combine the performance with the right set/location, costumes, interesting shots, and you have a fun final product.

Example: Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk”

Fun fact: An earlier version was deemed so bad that Mars tossed it in the virtual trash on his Mac.

Narrative videos

Artists get to unleash their creativity in a narrative video.
A writer or director thinks of a story that corresponds with the song and there could be multiple storylines running at the same time, too.
The music video we praised at the start of this post fits perfectly into this category.

Example: Michael Jackson – “Thriller”

Fun fact: In 2009, “Thriller” became the first music video to be inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.


Conceptual videos

Conceptual videos can be vague and absurd. They’re normally centered around an idea, theme, or emotion, and can be open to interpretation.
There could also be an element of storytelling, but with almost no rules you have yourself a playground with endless possibilities.

Example: The Strokes – “Ode To The Mets”

Fun fact: The band’s singer began writing the song while returning from the 2016 National League Wild Card Game which the New York Mets lost. Despite the timing and the title of the song, it’s got nothing to do with baseball.

So, now that you know the three main types of music videos, let’s get into the basics of how they are made.

We’re going to focus on live videos for this piece. Animated ones have a different process since the visuals are put together on a computer.

How are music videos made?

Music video production can be divided into three stages: pre-production, production, and post-production.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what goes into music video production:

Stage 1: Pre-production

  • Concept
  • Storyboard and shot list
  • Budget
  • Hiring talent

Stage 2: Production

  • Getting the cast camera-ready
  • Planning the set
  • Directing
  • Sound, lighting, grip
  • Filming
  • Back up your shots

Stage 3: Post-production

  • Editing
  • VFX

Now let’s take a closer look at each stage

Pre-production

All the planning, brainstorming, and budgeting are part of pre-production.

  1. Defining the concept
    This is where the director, screenwriter, and storyboard artist plan the music video concept while keeping the budget and/or time constraints in mind.
  2. Preparing a storyboard and shot list
    A storyboard and shot list guide the rest of the team throughout the production process.
    A storyboard acts as a visual guide while the shot list clarifies what the cinematographer needs to capture throughout the day.
  3. Setting the budget
    The producer and executive producer handle the finances, purchase what’s needed and make sure everything stays within budget.
  4. Location scouting
    The location scout or assistant director will work closely with the director and production designer to find and secure locations for the shoot.
    Related: Location Scouting: Get Started
  5. Hiring talent
    Once the music video’s concept is defined and a budget is determined, the casting director sets off to hire the talent needed. This includes choreographers, backup dancers, actors, etc.
  6. Costume designing
    The costume designer creates ensembles that reflect the video’s storyline and requirements.

Production

At this stage, everything is set up and the cameras start rolling.

  1. Getting the cast camera-ready
    The make-up artist, hairstylist, and wardrobe supervisor get the artists ready for the shoot.
  2. Planning the set
    Props The prop master supplies props required for production.
    Lighting The lighting designer takes care of lighting placement to achieve the right tone for the video.
  3. Directing
    1.The director executes his vision with the help of an assistant director and a production assistant.
    2.The production assistant cues in talent at the right time so everyone is present on set when required.
  4. Filming
    With the help of a camera operator and camera assistant(s), the director of photography shoots the video and makes sure it aligns with the director’s vision.
  5. Sound, lighting, grip
    The production sound mixer records sounds as required. The chief lighting technician manages the lighting on set while the key grip sets up equipment securely and lays down tracks needed for shooting.

Pro tips:

  1. Create a backup
    If you’re shooting a music video, make sure you have enough space on your hard drive to give the director a copy of all the shots. Keep a copy with you as a backup.
  2. Organize your footage
    Organize your memory cards and make separate folders for each set of shots for ease of access.

Post-production

This is the final leg of the production journey and it’s where the video gets its final shape and vibe.

The final product depends greatly on the editing style, which is why the director will review rough cuts.

  1. Footage edits
    The editor sits with the director to finalize the video.
  2. VFX
    If the video uses special effects, this is where the magic happens.

Final thoughts

Live music videos are a massive undertaking. Complex ideas usually require much greater effort to pull off and wouldn’t be possible without a visionary director and a highly talented team.

For administrative assistance, contact Revolution. We provide a cloud-based entertainment payroll system along with a suite of software that will help you manage your production easily.

Note: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, productions have to meet strict guidelines. Take a look at these COVID-19 updates for more information.