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Making a Music Video
in Five Easy Steps.

by Mike Grebb.

This article first appeared in The Musician's Atlas' May 2006 Atlas Plugged Newsletter and is used by permission. The Musician's Atlas is a fantastic resource for musicians, containing over 30,000 music business contacts.

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When MTV launched in 1981, it marked a new era in the music business. Suddenly, the visual element mattered like never before, and the "music video" became an important part of the promotion machine for any artist or label. Fast forward to 2006, and video isn't just on TV. It's everywhere. The main culprits are broadband connection speeds and the Internet, which have created a frictionless, robust and infinite platform for bands to use multimedia for promotion.

"There's been an increasing demand for music video content on the Web," says Jason Kane, director of new business development for Blastro Network, which owns which owns the Hip-Hop-oriented music-video site Blastro.com and the Rock-oriented Roxwel.com. "Even smaller bands have to have a video to remain competitive."

The good news for indie bands and labels is that music videos don't need to be expensive or glitzy these days. In fact, fans often appreciate an underground feel that makes them feel closer to the artist. "I don't think for an independent artist that it's practical to spend a boatload of money to compete with the majors," says big-time producer Marcus "DL" Siskind, who runs label Mass Appeal Entertainment and co-owns Carlisle, Mass.-based Blue Jay Recording Studio with Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys.

In fact, Siskind says artists are sometimes better off going beyond the traditional music video. "The behind-the-scenes stuff is almost more important," he says. "It's more grassroots. Fans get more bang for their buck." And even backstage or "from-the-tour-bus" moments should be real and un-staged. "You don't want to do it like it's a TV show," he says. "You want to do it like it's reality."

MySpace may be the most well known outlet for music-oriented video fare, but there's a fast-growing universe of companies focused on letting anyone post any kind of video they want for friends or-in the case of artists or labels-fans. YouTube, for example, has already become the primary destination for shared videos on the Web even though it just launched in February 2005. Not only can you find quirky and bizarre videos from everyday people, the site has created a community of users that are passionate about sharing. And that's good for artists, who are looking for ways to reach fans that go beyond the traditional video.

One great example is a "public service announcement" by the band, Damone, whose front woman Noelle sadly informs the public "declining sales in Rock music have left many bands without the basic means to live, like food and groupies. Won't you please help us save the Rock?" It gets better from there, with complaints that the drummer can't afford drumsticks to throw out into the crowd after shows, etc. "For just penny a days, you can help support Damone," she pleads. "Won't you please help a real Rock band, like us?"

Do you feel above such stunts? Maybe you should reconsider. More than 63,000 YouTube users have already viewed Damone's parody, which includes a healthy dose of the band's music playing in the background. And here I am writing about it. Pretty effective, eh?

Then there's Vmix.com, which is a similar video free-for-all letting users post just about anything they want. Vmix, which was founded by some of the ex-MP3.com guys, is trying to create a passionate community of people eager to sample and/or upload new video content. The site also does its part to keep things interesting (A current promotion asks people to submit their best rendition of the famous "Vote for Pedro" dance performed by actor Jon Heder in the movie "Napoleon Dynamite"). And Vmix plans to cater more to the music crowd in the future. "Music will be a major component of what we do," says Vmix CEO/founder Greg Kostello.

One new section of the site allows users to upload digital photos and create a "slideshow" set music from their favorite band (as long as the band has licensed its music to Vmix). Kostello plans to eventually let people create video slideshows as well. The idea is to strengthen the fan-artist relationship. "If you're actively getting involved in something," explains Kostello, " then you're paying more attention." He says artists will further benefit when people share their slideshows with friends. "They can put their creations on MySpace or whatever," he says. "It can end up spreading throughout the Internet. Every fan becomes a mini-marketer for the band." Vmix users have created nearly 10,000 slideshows since the feature launched in January. Future artist tools include ways for artists to provide pictures and video clips so their fans can create video montage "mash ups."

Such integration can make fans feel more like they're participants in an artist's success. "The public wants to be involved and meet their idols," says Vmix partner Damian Haggar. He says bands could even ask fans to take random video with their cell phones at concerts and send it in to a particular email address or video sharing site. "You've almost got an instant video," he says. "It's user-participation video." (Another new site called Eyespot allows users to upload and edit video right on a Web browser! It's in beta right now but worth a look for any bands that want to easily edit their own videos or let fans do it).

Dave Uosikkinen, drummer for The Hooters and head of content acquisition for Vmix, says fans simply expect a video component to their artist relationship. "The visual is such a great user experience," he says. In fact, Uosikkinen plans to take some behind-the-scenes video on the road this summer to post at Vmix, hoping that it will keep fans even more engaged with the band. He's currently brainstorming clip ideas. "What's the drum tech doing the with set up?," he says. "It could even be an instructional type deal." Another idea being batted around are songwriting instruction videos with Rob Hyman (keyboards, accordion) or front man Eric Bazilian, both of whom have written hit songs for The Hooters and other big artists. "There's a lot you can do with it," says Uosikkinen.

When it comes to traditional music videos, the competition is fierce. So artists must take it seriously from the production standpoint. "The first thing you have to figure out is what you want to do," says Blastro's Kane. "You have to storyboard it or write a script. A lot of people don't do that because it's hard." Other advice? Kane says creativity is key: "You have to do something beyond `band plays in darkened warehouse'." (Check out this engaging low-budget video on YouTube by the band
Low Water. )

Kane suggests getting a producer and/or director that understands how to create music videos (of course, this depends on your budget... but you may be able to cut a better deal than you thought. My suggestion? Find a film-school student or young director looking for projects to add to their resume. Someone like that will often work for free or just the cost of equipment rentals or supplies).

Kane's final recommendation is, "don't skimp on the editing process." That's an important point. Editing can make or break a video because it controls pacing. A good editor can make every cut correspond to a beat and create a rhythmic flow that perfectly matches the song. Again, go for somebody hungry and cheap if you don't have the money to pay a professional editor.

Even music venues are getting in on the video revolution. Los Angeles club The Gig, for example, produces a multi-camera live concert video for all bands that cycle through its doors and then posts the shows on its Web site. "There is no second take," says owner Peter O'Fallon. "If you screw up, it's in there. We push the bands to excellence." O'Fallon, who during the day is a big-time Hollywood director with episodes of hit shows like "House" and "Las Vegas" under his belt, is a self-described "old Deadhead" who wanted to bring that tape-trading sensibility to video. "The truest sense of an artist is that live performance," he says.

Of course, there's a caveat: While artists don't have to pay for the video production, they do need to sign a waiver granting The Gig rights to later market the performance as a DVD or in another medium (This would come into play if a band later became huge; O'Fallon could release the performance as a DVD release and potentially make some pretty nice coin). "We've had people balk at that," he says. "And we say, `then, don't promote yourself'."

The Gig also designates certain bands as "featured bands," which includes some promotion on the Web site and future revenue sharing opportunities. With hundreds of bands cycling through The Gig every year, a DVD release featuring a show by one breakout band could fund The Gig's substantial Web costs (all those gigabytes of storage space to keep all those shows archived) for quite some time. "It would pay for storage overnight," he says. "I'm not sure how this is going to evolve yet. But I hope to make it a place for artists." The Gig also helps featured bands sell merch through the site.

One thing is for sure: The world of video creates a lot of opportunities for artists, labels and venues alike. Fans want a window into their favorite artists. And video can help make it happen in an amazingly intimate way. "I think they want what's real," says Uosikkinen. "They want real moments. That's what really intriguing for users." And for anyone trying to reach them.


(Mike Grebb is a writer, journalist and singer/songwriter based in Washington, D.C. He has written for numerous publications, including Wired and Billboard. His debut solo record, Resolution, is available at www.mikegrebb.com, as well as digitally on iTunes, MSN Music, Musicmatch, Yahoo! Music Unlimited and other sites. And you can also be his friend on MySpace! www.myspace.com/mikegrebb).

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