The Last VJ's Guide to Making a Good Music Video

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It appears -- and every record label, manager, and publicist that I ask agrees -- that I am petty much the only mainstream journalist who dedicates himself to covering music videos as a regular, in-depth beat. I try to focus on at least one a week, though it obviously depends on what kind of product I receive or find since I generally refuse to feature anything that I can't explore the full artistic meaning of.

Over the last three years I've done more than 100 articles on new music videos, and I'm eager to do more.

In the beginning, music videos were insane and seen just as novelty. MTV scrambled for content because there just weren't a whole lot being made. That's why you saw so many Residents videos in steady rotation despite being a very underground act: They were one of the few bands that were really into the medium, so into the playlist they went. In today's terms, it would be the equivalent of the Irrepressibles sharing the same level of exposure as Katy Perry.

Nowadays the idea of music television is pretty much dead. Record labels realized that they could make a substantial profit by having their bands' videos played, so there was suddenly a glut of them, all highly controlled by the business folks.

Music videos went from a unique form of art to nothing more than commercials, and eventually the public stopped caring because there wasn't anything interesting about it. A lot of people who email me regarding my coverage are surprised they even still make music videos.

Well, they do, and thank god for YouTube and thank a much better god for Vimeo, where nudity is OK! Bands are still making music videos, either directing them themselves like Blitzen Trapper and Town Monster, or turning them over to directors who go out and make insanity out of the song just because.

I'm hungry for those gems, but I still throw out three or four videos for each one one I put to press. Why? Well...

5. Basic Performance Videos Usually Suck

There is almost nothing more boring than a video of a band playing the song in their rehearsal space or even onstage. Oh, sure, there are some famously great ones: Poison's "Talk Dirty to Me" survives on sheer energy, and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is generally regarded as one of the greatest videos ever despite the fact it's little more than Nirvana playing a high-school gym. In general, though, there's no point in just trying to capture a concert on film and call it a day.

Invest in an awesome side story to compliment like Cradle of Filth did for "Lilith Immaculate," or paint yourself a bizarre color and freakify your setting like Nurses did in "Fever Dream." Something. Whatever you do, don't just throw on your street clothes and get cute with camera angles.

That kind of thing is cool for established fans, but you're not going to win over anyone new by making a video that looks like you couldn't come up with a good idea.


4. Get a Director

Maybe you've got music and filmmaking skills like Taylor Momsen, and you know how to storyboard out an idea and get a coherent film out of it. Probably not though. You have to remember they are two separate skills, and adjust what needs to be done accordingly.

There's a lot more than just pointing a camera at something and just cutting it until you get a video out of it. Lighting for instance. Poor lighting is the hallmark of amateur music videos, which is why so many of them are shot outside. If you don't have these skills, then consider finding someone who does. Hell, some of them will even do it for free.

And if you absolutely have to do it yourself, please look up some tips on reducing shaky cam and being able to see your actors before you start rolling.

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