How To

Music Video on a Budget – What is your concept?

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock


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This article is part of a series looking into the process of making a music video on a budget. Read the previous article here: Music Video on a Budget – What can you afford?

Music Video on a Budget – What is your concept?

Even if you don’t have a huge budget, the trick is to make a video that doesn’t necessarily look as though it was made on a lower budget. As a rule you shouldn’t aim for what you cannot afford because you’ve only got about four minutes and people will notice mistakes and shortcuts in that time frame. A low budget music video can be saved by one great concept.

Some of the most memorable music videos are also the most simple. Take, for example, 2012’s biggest viral hit ‘Somebody that I used to know’ by Gotye.

The video is extremely bare in many ways; it essentially consists of the two musicians and mostly static shots. The defining feature is the paint that gradually crawls its way across Gotye until it swallows him whole and spreads across the white backdrop, eventually revealing guest vocalist Kimbra. As a visual it is very striking. Between that and Gotye’s unapologetic nakedness, you’ve already got a lot to talk about.

As a metaphor for the song itself it is even more potent: The further insight we get into Gotye’s perspective the more he seems to be running and hiding himself. The lyrics suggest a barely hidden veil between the pretence of not caring about a breakup and being incredibly wounded by it. By the end, Kimbra’s given her perspective of the same story and washed her hands clean of the relationship. The paint peels off her and she walks away, leaving him to deal with the truth.

It all breaks down to a single set, a single camera and some paint.

What sets it apart is the concept, because a simple striking idea can make for a small budget. This video no doubt took a lot of time, and the stop motion crawl of the paint is not particularly disciplined and quite obvious, but it doesn’t matter to the audience. It looks effective and interesting. Immediately it sets itself apart from the standard “here’s a band playing” video staple.

Of course that doesn’t mean that this sort of video would work for every type of song. There’s nothing essentially wrong with the simple “here’s a band playing” format, but it’s been done a great number of times, and it can be easy to make look cheap without enough funds.

The first question to ask is what sort of music you have, and who you are trying to appeal to. If you want to make a video for a party anthem you’ve already got a specific audience. If you get a big house, lots of friends and a few interesting set pieces, you’ve got a guaranteed music video.

With our song the process started simply by listening to it on repeat until we were thoroughly steeped in the tone and content of the music.

The central theme of our chosen track is loss, specifically the loss of a good friend. We wanted to find a way to portray this that would be simple and visually striking. Some of the best concepts come from a single big idea or image, one that would convey a great loss without being too obvious.

This is another important point worth mentioning; but in my opinion an audience will be put off by the sensation of being beaten round the head with a message. As the lyrical content of the track dealt with the idea of loss quite frankly and literally, to then create a music video that also presented loss frankly and literally (i.e a bunch of friends standing at a grave or hanging around a memorial) would feel cheesy and laboured.

Eventually we settled on one key image; a man walking into water and submerging himself. This was our money shot, and after that we worked on creating a narrative around it. We avoided the idea of including the band playing any music, but of course the Musician would feature in the video, alongside a few chosen friends and our Actor.

The Actor said that he wanted to use this image because, when looking at the theme of loss, “for many people water represents a sense of washing away the past, and I think the water also shows how the impact of loss is an overwhelming and immersive experience.”

The image of a man walking into water and submerging himself has a few existing cultural connotations; such as suicide, baptism and cleansing. As a result we felt the need to make sure that those connotations didn’t overwhelm the video. We decided to open the video with our Actor buried in sand with only his face visible, and then rising out of the sand before walking into the water.

We went through several versions of memorials that might exist for a tragic accident, such as a pile of flowers, before eventually settling for a simple ‘cheers’ with a bottle of beer amongst friends.

After we had this idea in our heads we wrote down absolutely everything that could cause a problem or considerably increase our costs.

We would need to find an empty, secluded beach with sand to bury someone in. We’d need to rely on natural lighting, so we would probably need to use light reflectors to make sure that every shot was reasonably well lit. We would need to keep continuity consistent, so we’d need to make sure that nobody interrupted the shots. Finally, unless we were willing to buy multiple versions of the same outfit for our lead actor and be prepared to take breaks between takes to dry up, then we needed to get the final shot of the actor walking into water in just one try.

Current Budget: £0.

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