Somehow I managed to find myself working on the set of two music videos over the last couple of weeks. Making a music video is usually a bit easier than most other types of productions, but it has some of its own unique challenges. But after reading this article you should be well equipped to face those challenges.
When shooting a music video, usually you can leave out some equipment, such as field microphones, mini disc recorders, and mixers. However, there is one piece of equipment that you wouldn’t normally need, that is invaluable in a music video shoot, a PA System. You’ll need something for playback so your band/artist can hear to lip sync. Especially in the case of a rock band, a simple stereo won’t cut it. Drums are loud, as well as the most important instrument to synchronize with the video. You need to be loud enough for the drummer to hear while he’s playing.
Another invaluable tool is a megaphone, especially if a crowd is involved.
You’ll also need to connect at least one cable from your PA system to your camera’s microphone input. This is simply to provide a reference for synchronizing the song later in post. But please, do not connect your camera to any powered output from your PA. There is a really good chance you’ll destroy your camera’s microphone preamps. Be very careful that you do not send a high power signal into your camera’s XLR inputs. If worse comes to worse, avoid this step, and synchronize using the cameras onboard microphone.
I highly recommend you shoot with at least two cameras, and this guide will center around using two cameras. So, using two cameras, the first thing you’ll want to do is synchronize their time codes. Fortunately, most higher end cameras allow you to synchronize their time codes via a firewire connection, and the really expensive cameras have even better options. Set each camera to a free running time code, and then jam sync them. Check your manual on how to do this. Now when you go into post, you should be able to sync them up perfectly in editing even if your camera people are starting and stopping at different times.
Essentially, all music videos can be broken down into two parts, a synchronized performance part, and an unsynchronized story part. The story part couldn’t be easier…simply point and shoot. The story part is only as elaborate as the special effects you are trying to achieve. You don’t even have to worry about setting up the PA system, or capturing field sound.
The performance part is a bit different. So what follows will be the procedure I prefer to use to shoot a music video.
As stated above, first set up your PA system, and synchronize the time code of your cameras. If you intend to have a whole crowd in the performance, don’t bring them in just yet. You want only the most dedicated fans that are going to be on the front row, in the initial shots. Anyone who isn’t in the shot, should not be on set at this point.
Master Shot The most important thing you can do is knock out the master shot right away. This is essentially a wide shot covering the entire band or group of performers, lip syncing to the entire song. For a band, with your ‘B’ camera focus on a medium shot of the main singer. If necessary, you may want to cut this into a few shots, in case your band gets sweaty or tired towards the end of the song. However, what you ultimately want to achieve here is a wide shot of the band performing the entire song all the way through. If you get this shot, no matter what happens, you can still finish the video.
Musicians are notoriously moody, and unreliable. You are going to be working all day at this….most musicians have never heard of such a thing. So, by knocking out that master shot, you have enough coverage to fill in all the gaps of your story section.
After your master shot is through, you have a wide shot and a shot of the singer all the way through the song. Repeat this again for your guitar player, bass players, drummers, extra singers, or that random guy in rap videos that throws money around. With two cameras, you should be able to get coverage of the entire group with just three set ups. While you are doing the last members, have other members of your crew set up jib arms or cranes if you intend to do those sorts of shots. Once you finish your last shot of group members, you should be able to let the band take a short break while you put the cameras on the jibs.
Do a few cool sweeping shots. Pop the cameras off the jibs, and have the crew start taking them apart. At the same time, go hand held and go nuts. Get in close up on each member of the group, but try to avoid too many shots of the hands of any of the musicians. Your goal here is to get shots that could essentially be put anywhere, so avoid shooting anything that will be obviously out of sync. You don’t have to go through the whole song at this point if people are getting antsy.
Finally, if you have a crowd in the performance, bring them in. The reason you don’t bring the whole crowd in until this part, is if you had them on set the whole time by now they would be bored. Get the crowd in, and have someone enthusiastic pump them up with the megaphone. Get a bunch of cool shots of the crowd going nuts from the angle of the stage.
You now have the entire performance part of your music video.
If you plan on having a ton of shots that include both a large part of the crowd, and the performers in the same shot, then its probably best to do the crowd shots first. If plan on doing a bunch of sweeping shots of the crowd with a jib, get that completely set up before anyone shows up, and do that first. Essentially, you need to gauge who is most likely to get bored, leave, or cause any form of problem and get their portions finished as fast as possible. Except in rare cases, none of these people your working with are actors. They don’t know what its like…not used to the “ok stop….that’s great…oh…crap….wait…do it again from the beginning”.
If you have dancers you don’t have to shoot dancers first, but you do want to get dancers in as few shots as possible. Each time the dancers perform there is the possibility, however remote, that someone will get injured. It happened on one of the shoots I just did. Just doing some basic swing dancing moves, a girl’s arm was pulled out of socket. Fortunately, it was a big enough shoot that there were some medial professionals on hand, but obviously that’s not always the case.
With these tips, you should be able to handle almost every popular style of music video shoot. Happy shooting.