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Your masters are finished. Your listeners are eager for content. Now it's time to plan the marketing campaign of your release! Making a music video can be exciting, energizing, and adds to the legacy of your musicianship. It's extremely important to plan ahead and set expectations early on. Creative work breeds a ton of ideas, but also takes organization to refine those ideas into something meaningful. This article is aimed at helping you determine what's realistic at different price tiers, outlining the 3 stages of music video production, and maximizing production value.

Pricing & Production Stages

There are 3 stages to creating a music video:

-Pre-production, aka the planning stage. At this stage we determine timeline, locations, sets, props, talent, and all other details. Our goal is to make all major decisions before the shoot.

-Production, aka shoot day(s)! This is where we'll record all raw video.

-Post-production, aka editing. Clips are assembled, vfx work is added, and exports are sent for client review. This stage usually involves a series of drafts and revisions.

The project budget will essentially determine how much time you can afford to spend on each of the 3 stages. While Lightly Salted Production offers music video production at any price point, we find it helpful to categorize budgets as one of 4 tiers.

Tier 1

Your most affordable option, if you have a minuscule budget, is going to be a video where the artist performs the song on camera at one or more locations. With this kind of shoot, a lot of production value lies in the quality of the location, so it's important to pick a good one! The personality of the performer is also something audiences will hone in on more since there isn’t going to be as much going on as there would be in fancier edits. In pre-production, we'd identify locations and outfits. More locations will add to the overall time and cost of the project. Production at this level involves a few takes of the song start-to-finish at each location, and the edit would bounce between different takes.

Tier 2

Your mid-tier option takes this "performance style" option and adds other story-driven visuals or B roll. With a medium sized budget, you can spend more time on each of the 3 stages of production. You’ll want to spend significant time on pre-production at this level and determine what kinds of visuals will lend themselves best to the song. A classic example would be a break-up song, where you’re cutting back & forth between a band playing, and a character emoting about their loss. You might also choose to allocate some of your budget to post-production and add in visual effects. (VFX can eat up a lot of time, so it’s important to set clear expectations up front about how much money should be dedicated to creative experimentation). We often request reference videos to properly convey a desired effect. Having references during pre-production helps us plan both the shoot and edit.

Tier 3

With more time and more money, you can schedule extensive pre-production sessions and plan out all of your shots beforehand. You can also start to justify doing location scouts, where a videographer and client go to potential locations and do a dry run to see which spaces resonate with the artist. Investing more money also gives you more flexibility for effects in post-production.

Tier 4

Of course, if you have money to spend on it, at the very highest level of production there are companies that will offer full storyboarding and give you a shot-by-shot preview of the music video, so the whole thing is planned to a T before you do any shooting.

General Advice

It's extremely beneficial to have both the video production team and the client listen to the song a number of times before pre-production. Think about the lyrical and thematic content, and how you might want to show that visually. Here's an extremely literal example from a song called “The Way it Goes”. In one of the verses the artist is rapping about smoking outside while his girl is inside causing drama... so we built a narrative around that. The 2 go out for drinks, she uses the bathroom and he sees that there’s another guy texting her, so he goes to take a smoke break.

In a later verse, he raps about wanting to raise his kids in a better environment, so we decided that after this smoke break, our character would just wander the streets for a while and soak in his reality. We even pulled up to the rapper’s childhood home for a performance shot.

If you don’t have a specific location in mind for a shoot, we tend to recommend local landmarks. About 90% of this video is just the performer walking down a bridge, but we moved around him to create different backgrounds. The Kodak Tower, Genesee Brewhouse, and High Falls are all famous and distinctive parts of Rochester, NY. You’re not going to find another city where you can get those hallmarks, and that means it’ll resonate with the people of Rochester more. Whether you’re new to music and trying to start a grassroots movement or an established musician acknowledging where you came from, this is a universally great way to show some local pride and get viewers to root for you.

Post-production always involves a series of drafts and revisions, so be prepared to give and receive feedback. Don't forget about little details like a title card, credits, or any calls to action at the end of the video to market more of your work.

Producing a music video is fun, rewarding, and a great way to connect with your audience. Ready to get started? Let's talk!

There’s no denying that in recent years, the quality of smartphone cameras has shot up tremendously. The Google Pixel 6 boasts a 50MP sensor & an aperture of f/1.9. Apple has offered RAW capture since the iPhone 12 Pro. Across the board, phones are now equipped with multiple lenses, incredible stabilization & tracking features, and some smart features never seen on professional mirrorless or cinema cameras. This all means that the gates are lower than ever before for anyone looking to create content.

Does that mean that we don’t need high-end camera equipment anymore? Of course not! Professional camera bodies offer more control over a bunch of different settings that you just can’t easily access from a phone. They are built for professionals, which means a steeper learning curve and more time spent both planning and editing, but this gives you significantly more control over the final image, photo or video. Let’s go over some pros and cons to phone cameras, and some pros and cons for mirrorless cameras.

Smartphone Camera Pros

The best thing about this camera is that it’s always with you. Spontaneous shoots are no problem! They also often have RAW capture, high MP counts, & multiple lenses (RAW is a format like jpeg or PNG, but the file isn’t compressed in any way. This means you have a lot more flexibility over things like lighting and color when you go to edit). And since phone cameras have evolved with consumers in mind, they’ve become loaded with smart features you wouldn’t see in a pro camera. In-app correction, portrait mode, and tap-to-expose features all make it easy to get content out there quickly.

Smartphone Camera Cons

All that good can’t come without some bad, and the biggest drawback here is the miniscule sensor size. Tiny sensors mean tiny pixels, and the less surface area a pixel has, the worse it’ll perform in low-light situations. Phone cameras are still notoriously crummy-looking in less-than-ideal conditions.

Low-Light shooting on the iPhone XR

Their fixed apertures mean that the only way you’ll get decent depth of field is with portrait mode… which is a software simulation and doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. You’re also limited to automatic lighting controls, unless you want to shell out extra money for 3rd-party apps that open up manual control. And while you might have more than one lens, most of the zooming you’ll be doing will still be digital. Digital zoom means you’re basically just cropping the picture before you take it. You aren’t using the full sensor and the resolution drops the more you zoom. Optical zoom manipulates the space between the different elements in your lenses so that you’re actually punching in, using the full sensor and retaining all of those pixels for a nice hi-res image.

Digital zoom on the iPhone XR

Mirrorless Camera Pros

With much larger sensors, mirrorless cameras give much better performance in low light. They’re also extremely modular and can be rigged up with flashes, monitors, batteries, different lenses, and other accessories to better suit the situation you’re in.

Mirrorless Camera Cons

The images these cameras produce might be pretty, but they’re also much larger than a phone and extremely conspicuous. Moving equipment around can add time to a shoot and sometimes all of that extra gear weighs you down. Professional mirrorless cameras also cost somewhere in the 4-figure range, while you’re not paying any extra to make use of the camera in your phone.

In conclusion

While they perform the same task, the features they offer give these camera types two very distinct use cases. Phones are great for social media managers & influencers who don’t want to have to obsess over every detail and need to produce decent-quality content quickly and efficiently. Mirrorless cameras are great for professional videographers or enthusiasts who want that greater level of control to produce a high-quality image.

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This entry is a transcription for the video below. Check it out!

If you make videos, you’ve probably seen one of these before. It’s called a gimbal and videographers use them to get extremely smooth footage. There are times where this is an incredibly useful tool, but it’s not a cure-all and shouldn’t be used in every situation. Gimbals are great for shots where the camera is moving, especially if you’re following a subject. If you’re shooting long-form content like music performances or a wedding ceremony, gimbals help make sure that the whole 30 or 60 minute shot is usable.

For stationary shots, though, you’re better off going handheld for some natural movement or a tripod if you want the shot locked off. These kinds of shots put emphasis on objects moving onscreen within the frame, rather than the movement of the camera itself. If you as the camera operator are pretty much standing still during recording, odds are, you don’t need a gimbal… and you’ll be surprised how often that’s what you’re doing!

Amateur gimbal operators tend to capture footage that bobs up and down. To fix bad gimbal form, you need to use your arms and legs like a suspension system. Don’t lock your elbows in, and walk heel-toe with a slight crouch so that your whole body is nice and springy.

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