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Make A Cheap Music Video Of Your Band

2:54 pm Home Recording

This is the story of how a really cool music video got made on a very low budget. It all began with the first CD of original songs by Rusty Strings, the band I run sound for, called Please Stay Tuned. The band asked me to do the cover art for the CD, and the design concept I came up with involved having the band photographed striking the same onstage pose repeatedly, but in five different outfits: formal wear, winter coats, Hawaiian gear, super-casual, and bathrobes. For some reason they went along with this idea!

Since the band would be posing on a stage for the CD art anyway, we decided to take advantage of the situation and shoot video of them lip-syncing to one of their songs in the various outfits. Luckily, we had access to a local coffeehouse with an actual stage from 8 AM to 1 PM on one August Sunday, time enough to go through the song twice in each outfit, with two video cameras running continuously during each pass. The band hammed it up, lip-syncing to the version of the song that would be on the video, while the camera operators shot a variety of long shots and closeups of the various band members. It was fun!

The First Cut

We ended up with a lot of video! Think about it - five outfits, two times through the song in each outfit with two cameras going - that’s 20 full-length clips of the song. It’s as if we had captured a single performance with 20 cameras. At four minutes each it would take almost an hour and a half just to watch all of the clips!

I used Final Cut (Express version) on a MacBook laptop to create and edit the final video, which switches back and forth among the various outfits as the scenes change while staying in sync with the pre-recorded song.

First, I imported all 20 clips into Final Cut, a process that was fraught with format difficulties which I will gloss over here in the interest of time. The next step was to put a series of markers in each clip to indicate where each measure in the song began. I played the clips and pressed the “M” key on each 1-beat while listening to the playback audio picked up by the camera mics, making sure to begin marking with the same measure each time. (That way the solo section, for example, started at Marker 60, which was at Measure 60, in all 20 clips.)

Then I made a chart of the song with the measure numbers, divided into song segments (”Verse 1″, “Bridge 2″, etc.), down the left side and the video clips (identified by camera, outfit, and pass number) along the top. Now to watch the clips! As I watched each one, I identified which measures had usable long shots (LS) of multiple band members or closeups of individual people (identified with that person’s initial). If a long shot or closeup was especially appealing and needed to be considered for use, I wrote it in red. You can see the chart I ended up with here.

Ready For My Closeup

Now I went through my chart, circling the shots that I wanted to use for each measure in my “first cut”. My goal was to include as many “red shots” and comical antics as possible in the final video (think Monkees). At this point I chose randomly if there were two or more red shots for a given measure. In addition to including red shots, I also wanted to start with the formal wear and then gradually sneak in the other outfits.

Once the chart was made, I simply used Final Cut to pull together all of the circled shots. Earlier, I had placed markers on the Final Cut timeline corresponding to the 1-beats in the imported audio track, making sure that they started with the same measure as before so that the solo started at Marker 60 on the timeline as well as in each clip. Final Cut’s “Snap” function made it easy for me to align the snippets pulled from the various clips with the timeline markers.

What followed was a fairly long period (weeks) of tweaking - trying this shot instead of that one, moving a transition earlier or later than the 1-beat to catch (or miss) some action or expression, making dark shots a bit brighter, etc. There was also the matter of making the joke-y bits at the beginning and end, adding the MTV-style titles, and creating the credit screens. Once all that was done, we had ourselves a video!

I decided to have the video emphasize the band rather than the video itself, so I resisted the temptation to use any of the many video effects available in Final Cut, except at the beginning and end of the video. (Who would have thought there would be an effect called “Bad TV”?) The only “effects” I used in the video itself were a cross-dissolve between shots when the costumes change and the titles.

Cheap At Half the Price

Now that you know what we did (and I urge you to borrow from or outright copy the idea if you’d like!), what was the actual cost? Not all that much, it turns out. The video cameras were standard consumer jobs owned by two of the band members, whose wives volunteered to operate their respective cameras. Another friend helped with behind-the-scenes technical details. The coffeehouse owner let us use the space and the PA for free.

The one price-y thing we did have was two big (1000 watt) lights with diffusers set up on either side of the stage (you can see them in the video), but we could have gotten by without these, perhaps by shifting the action outdoors or just using ordinary floodlights. The other somewhat expensive (and time-consuming) item was the Final Cut Express software, which sells for around $200 and turns out to have a definite learning curve. (Note: Do NOT try to do this in iMovie! It is not timeline based and will give you fits trying to sync the video with the audio.)

OK, so here’s the final video. As you can tell, it was extremely fun to make and it was relatively easy to produce. You can do it too!

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