How to Make an Epic Music Video on a Budget (with Examples)
So despite rumours that music videos have had their hey-day, in actual fact, making and releasing a music video is currently one of the best ways to promote your music on YouTube (or other video platforms) to a huge online audience, while also establishing your music branding and visual aesthetic as an artist - both in one go. And the best part? Your budget doesn’t matter!
PS - Once your vid is good to go, you can get your music videos on Vevo with Ditto Music.
8 tips to make a music video on a budget (with real examples!)
Now I know what you might be thinking. Surely a $10,000 + music video is gonna blow my DIY home-movie out of the water?
And honestly, 9 times out of 10, it probably will.
But the point of creating a low-budget music video and uploading to Vevo or YouTube, is not all about getting a tonne of views, but it’s more-so a way to show-off you and your image, strengthen your music’s meaning, and connect with fans on an artistic, visionary level.
And with the release of so many high-production and billboard style music videos daily, creating a low-budget music video could actually be a really adverse way to cut through the current noise!
Which segues us nicely into our first (and probably most important) point…
1. Be unapologetically DIY
There’s arguably nothing worse than a music video that tries too hard to look professional, and then falls completely flat in the process.
And let’s be honest – if you’re on a tight budget, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have the right tools and equipment at your disposal to pull off a really high-quality looking video.
So we say – do the opposite. Which means making the low-production element of your video intentional and deliberate.
OK Go’s video for ‘Here It Goes Again’ is one of the most iconic examples of this.
It’s the ultimate no-frills video. It’s a group of guys dancing around on none other than a couple of treadmills, with a cut-off backdrop that looks like it’s been hand-crafted with aluminium foil.
And you know what – it works! Really, really well.
And what makes this music video work is the sheer simplicity and creative energy maintained throughout it. Viewing and entertainment-wise, it’s made high quality by the fact that it isn’t – and more important, it doesn’t pretend to be.
Now it’s also fair to say that this aesthetic may depend on the sort of image you want the video to propel, or that you want to propel about your music or vibe. But when making a low-cost music video, it’s definitely a good way to go.
The point is - be honest and be unique. A music video doesn’t need to need to look like it’s had a big budget for people to want to view it. So instead, highlight exactly how it hasn’t. And rinse it!
2. Get organised
Making a music video is a big project. And with that, comes the need for successful and effective project management
In other words, getting your ducks in a row ahead of shoot day.
Are you choreographing a dance routine? Have you made a checklist of all the equipment you need to bring? Do you need a specific prop or costume to execute the video’s overall concept?
The key is practice and preparation. Without these, your shoot will be chaos.
Another good idea to get organised is discussing everyone’s involvement before the shoot. Who’s doing the final edit and cut? Who’s in charge of costume changes? Who’s getting everyone to and from the shoot location? Roles can change along the way for sure, but it’s still a good idea to get a fairly rough idea of where each person stands, ahead of the day.
You might be trying to shoot for as little money as possible, or even completely free, but if you do have a little bit of cash to play with, create and design a budget-plan to keep in mind.
You can then refer to this every time you go to source a tool or piece of equipment, and allocate the majority of your budget to the things that are most important – i.e. lighting, location, props, camera equipment – and vice versa.
3. Recruit friends or other creatives
You don’t need to spend money on paid actors and professional videographers.
Not when you can round up a couple of you best pals and fellow creatives to help get the job done!
For the most part, recruiting people you know is the perfect alternative to hiring paid actors or extras, to form part of the video’s narrative or create the illusion of a crowd.
And if you just so happen to have a couple of famous friends like Kim Petra… a few cameo appearances couldn’t hurt right?
But getting people you know involved can also be a really great way to cut costs on equipment and expertise. Got a friend of a friend who has a video camera and some editing experience? Ideal.
Or maybe you know of some residents in a posh neighbourhood that you can ask for the lend of their home to film in? Trust me, it’s been done…
This method was actually at the crux of Lil Dicky’s cost-cutting strategy for his ‘$ave Dat Money’ video. Very apt for the song’s overall theme of thrifting cash.
And even if you don’t, your pals are still useful to have around. Multiple friends means multiple phone cameras which means multiple camera angles. You get my drift?
When you’re thinking about who to recruit, try to cater to certain peoples’ interests or skills. Have a look at your own creative connections and see who you could rope in from a filmmaking, graphic design or photography background
Plus you’d be surprised how willing a fellow creative may be to lend a hand. Like you, they’re probably eager to practice their craft, develop their own portfolio and gain more experience – whatever way possible.
4. Get crafty with your concept
The commonality between all good low-budget music videos – is a cracking concept.
And what do we mean by concept?
Essentially it’s an interesting visual element or creative hook that gives viewers something to engage with.
Now that can feel pretty monotonous diving head in. So it’s good to think about it in terms of what we mentioned at the beginning – establishing some visual brand awareness.
Which means, the overall vibe of the video, should match the vibe of your music or overall aesthetic as an artist/artists (that is, unless you’re tryna a pull off a Tarantino-esque style!)
Look at what you have already for seeking visual inspiration – your song - as well as your other assets like press shots, social content and album artwork. Can you maintain a sense of cohesiveness with those visuals in your music video?
The idea is to find one thing that works and centre the video around that concept. Limiting your concept to one visual hook keeps things simple. And with little equipment, money and editing experience, keeping things simple is where it’s at.
Take a look at Fatboy Slim’s video for ‘Praise You’.
Shot guerrilla style, the concept is basically a group of really ‘bad’ flash mob dancers, dressed in awkward-looking clothing and bad tracksuits. It’s a great watch. And can you believe it only cost $80 to make?! (I mean you probably can)
Or you could even go more straightforward, and make the concept a live recording of you or your band performing the track.
Check out this example from the Arctic Monkeys for ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’.
This can feel really quite authentic and have way more visual impact than you’d initially think. Plus it puts your music really at the fore.
5. Choose ONE location & stick to it.
The no.1 rule when it comes to choosing your location, is exactly that - choosing one.
Choosing a single location will not only keep it easier and simple for yourself and others, but it’ll also keep the costs down on travel to and from various locations.
Which brings us to the next thing - don’t choose a location that’s way out of everyone’s way. There’s scope of course. But don’t waste time and money from the get-go trying to coordinate a trip that requires 3 trains, 2 ubers and a helicopter ride.
It just ain’t worth it.
And in the case of public versus private locations, ideally you want to opt for somewhere private - firstly to avoid the potential hassle of applying for a permit, but mostly to avoid the risk of unwanted photobombers.
See if your friends or family have connections with any cool private locations you could shoot in – such as a gallery, derelict building, mirrored dance studio etc.
Maybe even you nan’s old retro living room? Who knows…
Or alternatively – don’t use a location at all.
Instead, position you or your band in front of a cheap green screen and replace it later with some cool visuals via a video editing programme. This could actually produce better results than a fancy set location and prove even more unique – use your imagination and get creative!
Take a look at how Grimes did it for her track ‘You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around.’
The entire video is made up of green screen footage, purposefully. Calling it her ‘quarantine art kit’, with it she also shared a bunch of visual tools and plug-in for fans to produce their own edited version of the video.
6. Good lighting is EVERYTHING.
Truth be told, lighting annihilates every other aspect of your music video shoot.
Shocking fact, I know.
But the fact of the matter is, if you’ve not got the lighting right, it doesn’t matter how great your dance routine is or how much money you’ve invested on really great camera equipment. With bad lighting, you might as well not have bothered.
The cheapest and easiest way to make best use of lighting, is to choose an outdoor location and shoot into the natural light. Or alternatively, shoot in a room with lots of windows and hence, lots of natural light.
But I mean – if you have some money at your disposal. By all means use it. A lighting kit really isn’t that expensive to hire – around $75 for a day. And if you think it’ll take your music video to a whole other realm, then go for it!
7. Consider your camera operation
The whole point of a DIY operation, is to make use of what you have. And the same rule applies for camera equipment.
You really don’t need to go out and buy a whole load of really expensive camera equipment, not if you’ve got a smartphone that’ll do the job just nicely.
Don’t believe me?
Check out the below video – ‘Nancy Lee’ by Vintage Trouble – which was shot entirely on an iPhone 4.
Now admittedly, the director of the music video was an Emmy award winner.. but the point to note is - how he uses the overall vintage aesthetic of the track’s lyrics and narrative concept, to match up cohesively with the less than perfect fps of an iPhone 4 camera.
But I’m aware that we aren’t all Emmy award winning video directors..
So depending on the size of your budget, if you have the money to invest and video shoots are gonna become a regular thing, here’s a few of pieces of gear we’d recommend having a look into;
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Have you got experience making DIY music videos? We’d love you to share any of your own advice or things you’d wish you’d known in the comments section below!