When I moved back to Memphis in 2006 I was chomping at the bit to start shooting. Since I was inexperienced, I needed guinea pigs. I turned to my roommate’s band, Hey Heidi-Rae, and pitched to them a music video concept they gladly agreed to.

For grins, I dusted the resulting video off recently for a local music video festival. Despite the circumstances it was shot under, I don’t think we did half-bad. Enjoy Back to the Blackboard and read on to see what I learned from the experience:

1. The singer should actually sing.

This is in no way a knock on lead singer Jesse Pritchett. Having never shot a music video, he did what he assumed was right: lip-synch to the song as we played it back during takes. Heck, I didn’t know any better either! Unfortunately, once I sat down to edit there were large sections where his mouth didn’t line up with the song.

But, it’s more than just making sure mouthes match words. When a singer sings, there is an emotional connection to the song that cannot be faked. That emotion is what must come out in the end. When the singer lip-synchs, they’re focused on performance, on hitting marks. When they sing they’re lost in the moment, and that’s where the magic happens.

2. Don’t overshoot.

It’s tempting to shoot a ton of footage and hope, like a kaleidoscope, it falls into something beautiful. The problem with a kaleidoscope, though, is that for every good combination there are countless bad ones. You really need to know what you want to accomplish before you set out.

I overshot and editing was a massive headache. There was so much footage it took weeks to sort through it all. The strain this placed on editing diminished the energy and creativity I was able to put into it. I even made the mistake of overlooking important narrative information in favor of beauty shots.

3. Keep the concept simple.

Intricate concepts and stories take time to properly set up and pay off. Your average music video only lasts 3 or so minutes, so you have to get in and out as quickly as possible.

At its core, the narrative I wrote for Back to the Blackboard was relatively simple: The band members had holed themselves up in a house, each chasing empty perfections. Upon realizing the futility of their efforts, they join each other outside to enjoy the freedom of just being in the moment.

The problem was the level of detail I created. Each band member had their own version of the story, complete with plot points, twists, and turns. There was barely enough time to establish who each of them were before I had to push them outside for the finale. The concept would have been stronger if I had just focused on one or two band members and let the rest be background players.

Bonus Tip: Be Consistent with Your Shots

This is a nit-picky thing, and there’s certainly no rules when it comes to music videos, but I wish I had been more consistent with some of my shot setups. Cutting between kinetic moving shots and placid static shots looked unprofessional.

Sometimes you may want that jarring contrast, but I’m willing to bet when you see that in a video the edit came together that way because the shoot wasn’t well planned, not because the director chose to shoot it that way. Chalk up another one for knowing what you want in advance.

Have an idea in mind for your final product, and your final product will be worth watching.

Questions: What music video questions do you have? Any disaster stories you can share?

Dan Baker

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Dan works out his social anxieties by producing and directing films. He's a proud New Mexican, and prefers green over red.

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