Aoede’s 7 Tips to Save Your Next Music Video

Considering making an original music video?

You may want to check out the 7 tips below to save you time, money and added stress. I just completed my first music video, “I Lost, You Win,” after more than three years of investment where I learned these lessons directly… the hard way. I’m now working on my second video and vowed to avoid the same pitfalls by following these lessons. Perhaps you can learn from my mistakes!

1. Always have signed contracts no matter what.
2. Do a lot of research on those you hire.
3. Be realistic- about the money, time, skill, manpower, equipment, location, direction, leadership it will take to realize a vision.
4. Assume that things can always can go wrong and have a Plan B, C, D.
5. Go in person to scout locations.
6. Don’t spend 90% of your budget on equipment and crew.
7. Know how to let go. Be willing to simply admit something didn’t work and move on.

1 . Always have signed contracts no matter what

In the beginning, it is usually such a love fest between you and the the very people you want to hire to help realize your vision. They get it! They throw scripts at you that you fall in love with! They talk about the great locations they have in mind for the perfect 2-day shoot; the stellar crew that could execute it within your budget; the perfect girl to star opposite you; all the festivals and opportunities just waiting for you to submit the video; all the great exposure you’ll get; and they are EXCITED about putting your music to moving pictures. It’s like the romance stage of a relationship when everything is beautiful: his annoying quirks are still charming, and he doesn’t even smell or comment on your morning breath yet. That’s exactly the time to do the contract…before the romance stage turns into the domestic stage or worse… If it is low budget ($2,000 or under) like mine, having a written agreement that spells each provision out is essential. There are even templates for contracts you can find online that you can modify to meet your needs as appropriate. The key is for both parties to agree on acceptable language, and sign the contract, before any work has been done on the project. At least you are both protected in the event unforeseen circumstances occur (see my blog posts on “I Lost, You Win-the video that just wasn’t meant to be” for more on that!). (Note: I am not an attorney; please don’t construe any of this as legal advice!)

2 . Do a lot of research on those you hire
Is it just me, or do a lot of music companies-especially in cyberspace-now seem to be including music videos among their services offered? In my case, I was looking for someone locally in the San Francisco Bay Area to produce an original video on a tight budget-no more than $2,000. I was not looking for someone to take live footage and create a “band” music video. I think where I failed is trusting that people whose primary experience was shooting live music videos could just apply that experience to produce and complete an original music video. Researching the particular company you are interested in hiring allows you to determine whether they have done similar projects and with what success. If their portfolio or reel is not available for you to review online, you could ask them for completed videos of a similar nature so you can get a visual sense of what you might be getting if you hire them. If they haven’t done the kind of work before that you are envisioning, you may want to consider additional research and reaching out to other companies with that experience.

3 . Be realistic-about the money, time, skill, manpower, equipment, location, direction, leadership it will take to realize your vision
This was one of the most difficult things for me in my video because I was not the expert in what it took to realize my project’s vision. I was relying on those who I hired to know what a sensible budget was, and whether they could execute the project within that budget, time and available resources. I trusted that the producer would provide all necessary leadership and direction and knew how much manpower would be required, exactly what it would take to get the right shots, how much time it would take to get each shot as proposed in the script, whether the location was suitable for getting all the needed shots, whether lighting was adequate, whether they could get the needed footage, and the list goes on. I think one way to know if your project is realistic and can be completed within your budget, time and available resources is to get multiple quotes. If the majority of folks are telling you it will take 3 times the amount of time, money and resources than the company you are considering hiring, take that to heart. Consider scaling down the project if you really must hire that company who believes in your vision, so that it can be completed within time, budget and with available resources. Additionally, spelling out the specific roles and responsibilities of the Producer and Client in the contract could also help ensure just what it takes to execute your project, and whether the project is realistic as proposed. Decide what role you want to play in your project. In the case of “I Lost, You Win, I deferred mainly to my producer. You might want to assume more of a shared role to have more direction and say in the project.

4 . Assume that things can always go wrong and have a Plan B, C, D…
Murphy strikes especially when we don’t expect it. In my case, the shoot was outdoors, during very cold, foggy evenings, in a remote, inaccessible location that required all equipment to be hauled in manually. So many things could have gone wrong just on the basis of that alone that we didn’t consider-or if it was considered, it wasn’t shared with me. Consider all aspects of your project and agree upon contingencies. Have back ups at the ready. Always pad time as it always takes longer than you think it will to do pre-production and planning, shoot, review hours of footage, narrow it down, edit, revise, etc. In our case, ironically, the generator failed during the shoot. Had we thought that that could have happened, perhaps we could have arranged backup power to be onsite. Consider as well having backup storage for movie files so the raw footage is not only on one person’s computer. Remember: hard drives do fail! Put the footage on an external backup drive! Redundancy is good!

5 . Go in person to scout locations
This is pretty obvious, but in my case I relied on a video of the location and on my producer’s sense of whether the location was suitable for the shoot. If it is a location you are unfamiliar with, it is important to see the location in person with the producer to assess whether it is indeed suitable. After spending hours driving, my drummer left and went home even before any shooting began because the shooting location was so inaccessible he couldn’t carry his drums safely to it (there was no vehicle access! Everything had to be carried over ¼ of a mile on foot!). Had we known the constraints of the site ahead of time, we could have agreed upon a better, more accessible site, and perhaps had band footage as well!

6 . Don’t spend 90% of your budget on equipment and crew
Again, pretty obvious, but in my case, I was told what it would cost to hire needed crew and all the necessary equipment, and having no experience in these matters, I trusted that was the required budget to execute the project. I think it makes sense to consider all aspects of the budget and whether they are realistic. Where can parts of the project be changed to cut some of the costs? Where are the costs pretty fixed? If you supply manpower (friends often want to part of your video!), can you cut some costs there? If I was told now that most of my budget would be used to hire crew and equipment, I would brainstorm with the producer to find ways to even out the budget. Can you find a local film school to collaborate with for example? It doesn’t always work, and you want to ensure the right people are on your project, but it doesn’t hurt to consider all options, especially on a tight budget!

7 . Know how to let go. Be willing to simply admit something didn’t work and move on.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things just don’t turn out as you planned or expected. Even if all of these lessons are followed, you just may not be happy with the raw or edited footage, or maybe there isn’t enough footage to complete the project, or maybe you and the producer have totally different visions after all. I think it is important at this point to do some soul searching. You may decide to let go and move on. This could mean finding someone else to help finish the project. This might mean deciding if you really have any more budget to do additional shooting or editing. If not, you may have to determine whether you can salvage footage and create something with it-a making of video perhaps. When I finally let go-saw the mistakes I made and admitted something I tried didn’t work-I was able to move on, find someone to step in, and complete the beloved video…more than three years from its inception.

Hopefully, by avoiding my pitfalls, you won’t find yourself in the same place three years from now!