How To Shoot A Music Video On a Shoestring

music video

A Music Video On A Shoestring Budget

So I just shot my first music video on a shoestring budget, which you can see above. I usually shoot fairly simple promo videos about personal development, the internet lifestyle, and tutorials on various related things. A music video, given my modest equipment, and skills was a tad more challenging but I’m quite pleased with the results so here’s how it came together.

My first music video is for a song my partner and I wrote and performed with our band Glass some years back. We’ve been re-working a number of songs with new equipment – also our first venture into recording entirely on a Macbook – And chose “Complicated” for the first video. We shot this music video on a shoestring budget – free in fact – as I used kit I already have. Lets run through that equipment first.

Camera wise, I use a Canon EOS7d DSLR. I have a several lenses but for this video I stuck with an 18 – 135mm lens. I have a small studio room (about 3m sq) one wall of which is painted Chroma key green. This video as you’ll see, is shot mainly on Green screen. I also have a couple of inexpensive studio lamps. The music was all recorded on my Macbook Pro using Apple’s Garageband programme. I used various mics through a Focusrite 2i4 interface and a Boss GT100 guitar processor. The video was edited using Screenflow.

My First Music Video On Green Screen

music videoThat’s about it tech-wise. All told this set up would cost around £3500 if you bought it all new or refurbished today. That qualifies for a music video on a shoestring by any standards. Since I own the kit already the actual cost was only our time.

The project started without much of an idea of what it would look like apart from it being based on green screen ideas. This isn’t usually a great idea but if you stick to a few basic principles it does provide a lot of creative freedom. Our approach was to shoot us miming along to the recorded song. We filmed each other playing, cello, guitar, bass and vocals. Top tip: When you do things this way, always play through the entire song. Even if you chop the sequences up in the final edit it’s much easier to line things up in time with the music. You also have the audio from the camera itself – you wont use it but it helps to sync things together.

Given that there are only two of us and that my partner plays cello, bass and sings, she decided to wear different outfits (and a wig) It helps with the whole “Complicated” theme. Most of the sequences were shot against the green wall so that we could change backgrounds as we saw fit. That also allowed us to merge the sequences and perform together as if we were playing live.

The Basic Music Video Idea

The song is basically about a complicated relationship. At some point we came up with the idea of using famously complicated relationships to enhance that theme. We found some short movie clips that seemed to work: Kathy and Heathcliff, (Wuthering heights) Anthony and Cleopatra (Burton and Taylor – about as complicated as it gets!) Maria and Colonel Von Trapp (Sound of Music) and Meggie and Ralph (The Thorn Birds)

Those short clips became some of the background in the video. Top tip: From my research it seems that you can use up to 10% of material like this as “Fair use”. Always a good idea to credit your sources though and of course keep the unedited movie on file. Once its exported you have no way to change it otherwise should any copyright issues come up. We also found some royalty free kaleidoscope pattern videos for backgrounds.

The editing process was fairly straightforward. I imported the music track, the video sequences and backgrounds into Screenflow. Any decent video editing software will work and the process will be similar. I started by dragging all of our performance clips onto the timeline and lining them up to the music. Then I chopped out any unwanted footage from the start and end of the clips. Then a chroma key filter was applied to every clip to remove their green backgrounds.

Mixing It Up A Little

music videoWith our stack of sequences lined up it was time to get creative. We decided which backgrounds worked with the lyrics and song parts. That done we just shuffled things around to suit. This is really just a case of remembering that what is at the top of the timeline stack becomes the foreground. We realised we hadn’t shot anything for the guitar solo at this point.

We decided to mix things up a little and shoot an outdoor section for the solo. Unfortunately this didn’t look great so it was back to the green screen. An old green screen backdrop laid on the floor with the camera tilted 90 degrees allowed us to do full head to toe shots (just – if we didn’t move too much!) Despite the backdrop being a very different shade of green it worked well. I used a previously shot video of a local beech as the background and added an image of a Marshall amp for good measure.

Lessons Learned

So that in a nutshell is the story of my first music video. I’ll be doing lots more and the lessons learned in this first attempt will be really valuable. I love using chroma key but my little set up limits us for reasons of space, to fairly close up shots. From mid thigh at the bottom of the frame to above the head is fine. Full body video is just possible as described above but leaves little room for any lateral movement. I’m looking at creating a green screen sheet that can be used outdoors for full body shots.

There are obviously a million alternative approaches to take when creating a video. At the end of the day the song should be the storyboard. For the next one I think we’ll go for something more cinematic rather than entirely green screen. Watch this space.