I write my own songs. I made my own videos. – Lana Del Rey
by Walter Price
The other day this band talked with me about having me shoot and edit some video for a DVD they’re looking into producing. Fine, I went about thinking about shots, storylines and the other sorta associated idea things. Keeping in mind the legacy of the music video budget debate, I knew if I accepted this task I’d be working DIY. AKA: Low cash.
In 1983 Michael Jackson blew the door off of what should be done in music videos and what should be spent. His John Landis directed extravaganza “Thriller” cost $500,000 ($2 Million in today’s money) and set the bar high. Super high. It seemed that every label wanted to outdo, outspend and push excess to the limits. Mind you, the labels pushed for these high budgeted clips but the artists got the bill. If you check history it seems that a good portion of these music makers had no idea they’d be responsible. But that topic is for another day.
“The landscape of music production, marketing and sales has drastically changed many times in the last ten years. The relationship between music videos and the music industry has also been in flux. The amount of music being recorded and distributed is higher now than ever before, and more music videos are being made than ever before, though the budget range is extremely wide. Some bands pay for their music videos out of pocket, while bands signed with major record labels are often appropriated with a music video budget that is considered to be part of the marketing strategy for a given album or single.” – Garrett Gibbons
This is now and in 2015 the video is still wildly relevant and really the best way to get your music’s story out but there is absolutely no reason you should spend hundreds of thousands or more on your production.
For example, California’s The Blank Tapes have varying budgets of between $0- $500 per video and they seem pretty cool. Tell the story, trip the viewer out and delight the band’s YouTube Channel. Job done, budgets in check and the band grow in popularity. Singer/songwriter J.P. Kallio says he doesn’t even have budgets for his vids. His are usually live clips not very dynamic is storylines but they do the job. Sometimes shot from his phone. DIY!
Another problem with smaller artists or bands is that the eager to splurge on super gloss at early stages of a career without upfront money or backing if you will usually is a bad idea. Yes you will most likely have a killer video like the one Rich Girls made for “Sink Like Stones”. Badass video with a dark story and it truly gets the track’s message out. But the thing cost was in the neighborhood of $6000. And as vocalist Luisa Black told me this was down from the production company’s first budget estimate of, wait for it, $30,000! Holy cow man I could build you a cool house for that.
Keep in mind that Rich Girls went full Hollywood style production style for their music videos. Which is cool if you have the revenue stream(s) to back it up but in this time of the music fan wanting everything for free it’s hard to have that stream starting out.
“If we were doing something less story-oriented I think we could cut costs considerably. But the Rich Girls videos are more like short films. In the next one I want to do a sequel to Worse where there’s a battle between the girl character and Richard Hell but I don’t think that’s going to help the budget much.” – Luisa Black
Blogger and film maker Garrett Gibbons estimates the average studio music video budget sits in the ranges of $200,000-$500,000 in recent years. That is mind blowing! If you read this website on the regular I’d assume you’re not in for that sort of budget for your marketing film.
Level 1: Shoestring Budget ($2,000 – $5,000)
- One full day of shooting (or possibly two half-days)
- One camera operator
- Skeleton crew (one or two people)
- Filmed on DSLR or mirrorless cameras
- Few paid actors, if any
- Many production roles will be combined (for example, the Director may also produce and edit; the Director of Photography will probably be responsible for all grip and gaffer work, etc…)
- Permit fees are often avoided by carefully selecting production locations
Level 2: Modest Budget ($5,000 – $10,000)
Here are some characteristics of this budget range:
- Several days of shooting
- Small crew (four or five people)
- Filmed on higher-end video, DSLR or mirrorless cameras
- Costumes are an option
- Several paid actors can be involved
- Minor visual effects are possible
- City permits may be required for outdoor shoots on public streets
Level 3: Healthy Independent Budget ($20,000 – $50,000)
At this level, the production feels more like an independent film set, rather than a student film or enthusiast project. It’s not a full-blown film crew sort of feel, but it’s about as close as anyone independently financed generally gets. Here are some characteristics of this budget level:
- Several days of production
- Medium-sized crew
- Filmed on RED, Alexa, or other higher-end digital cinema camera packages
- Experienced, professional actors can be involved
- Full production insurance is required in most cities
- City permits are required in most cities
- Visual effects can be a major element of the video
Cool, but I do have to wonder why or why you wouldn’t stick to the lower end of the scale if you have a little know how or have the ability to rally your friends and family to help you out. Especially at the beginning of your indie career. At the end of the day it’s a crapshoot if anyone will ever see your music video regardless of how awesome your music is.
I’ve invested in an entire DSLR rig and full on Magix editing suite for shooting clips for The GTC and my entire budget was near the lower end of what it would take to hire someone like Garrett Gibbons to do it for you. You could do the same and produce a whole bunch of clips with varying degrees of cool as you figure out your equipment. Plus it’s fun and the more you learn about all that goes into your craft, including video production, the better.
“Videos are as important as ever these days, even if the big music networks never play them anymore. I don’t really get that. Regardless, musicians have total control of their art these days and there’s no better way to spread your songs around then with an interesting video, and it’s a cool way to further the artistic vision of a song.” – Adam Burnett (Dangermaker)
This is my point. Do for yourself when you can and when you can’t or just don’t want to, work with people who are creative and understand money and the struggling artist. I bet you could build a reasonable community of film makers and musicians that all want to be in the game and are willing to work together on making things happen and some money along the way.