Ten Steps to Create a DSLR Music Video - dummies

By John Carucci

Whether your DSLR filmmaking project is a performance piece or something conceptual, the intention of its makers is to take viewers beyond the music: not too far, but just enough. Try to remember these ten tips to get cracking on making a hot music video.

Find the right music

Or even better, let the song find you. Sometimes you have control over picking the song; other times, it’s decided by someone else. Maybe the band prefers a specific track, or the record company wants a video for the single. There’s nothing worse than starting your video only to find that the song wasn’t right for some reason.

Determine what it takes to produce your video

Everything has a price, and that includes your time.

Consider the following:

  • Calculate your time: Consider what it takes to produce the video in terms of shooting and editing time.

  • Figure your expenses: Driving to the location, buying props, and other costs add up.

  • Consider location: Make sure it doesn’t take up all your time to get there.

  • Get the necessary permissions: Nothing is worse than being told you’re not allowed to shoot after dark.

  • Think about your reason for doing it: What makes you feel strongly about the subject matter?

  • Think about being paid: If you’re going to be paid, calculate your shooting days and estimated editing time.

Have a concept for the video

Before you start running and gunning with the camera, consider the actual intent of the video. The more expressive you become, the more cohesive the video concept is.

Do the following to discover your concept:

  • Listen to the song. Consider how it makes you feel and act on it.

  • Go with your instincts.

  • Watch music videos. See how professional directors approach the material.

  • Observe editing styles.

  • Know your audience.

What type of music video do you want?

After you’ve figured out the concept of your video, decide on a format. Some music videos use abstract visuals for their storylines; others rely on performance footage. Others use actors, animation, or stock footage to tell the story.

Here’s a basic rundown:

  • The basics: The full production, replete with costumes, props, and various locations.


  • The live performance: This sometimes sounds different than the mastered studio version.


  • Narrative: A narrative video plays like a short movie that uses the music as the soundtrack.

  • The stock footage video: A stock footage video can be handy as a training exercise.

  • Animated video: This video uses either CGI or Flash-based animation.

  • The studio video: Think of it as the “headphones and soundboard video” because both are prominently shown as the artist records the song.


Break down the music beats

Every song has a rhythmic structure, so figure it out before you begin to edit. It’s easiest to import the song into the timeline of your editing program to observe the peaks and valleys of the waveform. After you find it, you can lay the visuals over it and change scenes on the beat.

Consider the following:

  • You don’t need to change visuals on every beat.

  • When changing scenes, do it on or before a beat.

Work from a video script

Whether you prefer coming up with a full script or an editing plan, it’s important to plan your video before you begin to work on it.

Try one of the following:

  • Synopsis: Write your intention for the video.

  • Represent your intention: You can break down the song by section, time, and beats.

  • Write a traditionally formatted script: This script sets up the scene and the shot types.


Use light for your video

Instead of flat, even light, go for something more robust:

  • Use color. Especially with an HD palette, color looks better than ever before.

  • Be dramatic. Don’t shy away from using a single light shining up on the subject.

  • Remember that natural light is your friend.

  • Take advantage of the sun. Early morning and late afternoon sunlight work best.


Get the lip-synch right before you record your video

Lip-synching is necessary with music video because it needs to match the mastered track for the song. But it can’t be any less believable. People don’t approve of lip-synching usually because they can tell the person is not really singing.

The following tips may help:

  • Have the song playing loud and clear on set. Hearing the song clearly helps the artist sing the song, and comes in handy when you’re recording.

  • Be sure the artist sings with the song instead of mouthing the lyrics.

  • Practice, practice, and practice.

Follow through on every film sequence

Maybe you’re only planning a few scenes with the artist lip-synching to the track, or maybe you want to show a sequence of action to use for a scene. Always shoot more than you need:

  • For scenes: Start the camera before the action begins, and stop well after it ends.

  • Lip-synching: Have the artist sing the entire song. You never know where you’ll need the footage when it comes time to edit.

  • Repeat: Do everything again until you get a result you like.


Shoot to Edit

More often than not, a music video lives and dies on the way that it’s edited. The pace of the video is as important as the content.

Think about the following:

  • Make the music track the first clip you import.

  • Place lip-synching clips above the audio file and match the audio. After you’re satisfied, turn down the audio of the synched track so that the master is all that’s heard.

  • Try not to use lip-synch for the entire edit.

  • Fine-tune your video.

  • Make sure the beats match scene changes.

  • Show your edit to a target audience. Take their advice, and observe their reaction to specific scenes and segments.