Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Hello everyone! Here is a post on how I make my music videos from start to finish. I hope this will answer most of your questions and also encourage you to make some of your own music videos (if you're interested in doing that). :)
Firstly, I would like to clear the water on a reoccurring question I receive. People often ask me who films my videos and creates my arrangements... That would be me! ;) I create everything, from the arrangements/recordings to capturing the footage and editing. I've spent a few years researching/learning how to do these things and, if I'm going to be real honest, I don't know even a small percentage regarding it all. The information is endless on arranging, orchestrating, filming, editing, mixing, mastering... the list goes on. Instead of getting bogged down by how much I don't know, though, I've decided to blaze the trail regardless.
Over the past couple of years, I've figured out what works for me, and that is what I will share with you today. I want to make sure that everyone knows that they can make awesome music videos. Like, super awesome music videos. You by no means need to know everything. Oftentimes we use not knowing how to do something as an excuse not to do it. Don't be that person. Something my Grandpa always said was, "If you don't know how to do something and someone asks you if you can do it, say yes. Then go figure out how to do it." If you've always wanted to make music videos but never knew where to start, I'm making this post to show you my (very raw and honest) process that will hopefully give you that little nudge of encouragement you need.
Choosing a Cover
Choosing a cover is often a hair-pulling experience for me. Depending on my mood (I'm a musician, I'm allowed to be moody), I'll pick something based on how I feel in that moment, what my week/month has been like, what God is teaching me, or anything of the sort.
Once I've figure out what song to play, I usually spend about 1-2 days listening to numerous recordings of it (over and over). I want to hear various arrangements, all in different styles, so that I can decide how I'd like my cover to sound. What form is the song in? Do I want to tread outside of the norm and add a new interlude? What key do I want to play it in? These are all questions I'll ask myself. Once I have a pretty good idea of what I want, I'll sit down at my little midi keyboard and get to work.
I use a 60 something key midi keyboard that has retired from online stores (may he rest in peace) but here is a keyboard that's very similar to mine that you can buy on the Amazon.
I hook this little dude up with my MacBook Pro and DAW (Logic Pro X). I'm a huge fan of Logic. If you are just starting out, Garageband is definitely a good second choice (it comes preinstalled on all Mac computers). It's pretty much the same as Logic, just less fancy. I started out with Garageband when I began getting more serious about recording and it did me well for a few years.
In addition to this, I use East West Hollywood Orchestra and a pair of Sony DJ headphones. I'm a huge fan of East West and having an orchestra at my fingertips makes me feel all powerful. I call it the box of magic because dreams come true in that box. The cymbals, drums, brass, and strings all bring my ideas to life. I made this purchase last year in September and have never regretted it.
Logic also has a few plug-ins with fairly good sounds. I've used the Celtic harp for a couple of my videos and the piano that I always use (literally, for every one of my videos pretty much) is the Steinway plug-in. Add a little SilverVerb and warm up the EQ and you're good to go. You might want to experiment with some of the other sounds Logic has (pads, loops) and see what neato things you can create. :)
Once I have my Logic session opened, East West plugged in, and my midi keyboard and headphones ready to go, the next hair-pulling event takes place.
I'm a messy arranger. In normal life I'm pretty organized, but for some unknown reason to me I throw my tidiness out the back door when I'm beginning a new project. Often the ideas I thought I had acquired during my listening sessions don't end up working. Other times everything goes smoothly, which probably only happens once or twice a year. I record, delete, record, delete, get half way through a project, delete, change the key... sometimes it seems never ending. The location I'm in falls victim to my hurricane and instruments/equipment will be spewed across all open surfaces. One thing always stays consistent, though. I always start with piano. Piano is the foundation for the house I want to build. Chord progressions, melody lines, key changes, everything. I try to outline the entire song with only piano first, then add all of my chosen instruments later.
I get a lot of questions about what sheet music I use. I use absolutely no sheet music. To me, sheet music has too many suggestions and oozes of someone else's ideas. I like to sit down and do my own thing, changing the chords from the original or repeating the chorus/bridge/verse if I want to. For arranging purposes, I rarely ever glance at a sheet of music.
I do understand that there are two types of musicians in the world: 1) the musician who can play by ear and creatively improvise over chords, and 2) the musician that cries in the corner when asked to play without sheet music. I loved ear training and improv in music school because it's all I knew growing up. I didn't know how to truly read music until my college years, so I listened to recordings and imitated them on my violin. I don't recommend (and never will) that a student learn music only by ear. They should learn to fluently read music in addition to ear training. True music literacy is important. But anyway, I observed the bitter suffering of a few fellow music students in improv and ear training classes who just couldn't do it. Wherever you fall (maybe you're a mixture of the two depending on the situation), you will either need to find sheet music to help you or you can nail down those chords and melodies just by listening.
This part of my music video making is somewhat hilarious, but also very realistic (I think). I've noticed that when you produce a certain quality of music/video or reach a certain subscriber count, people often assume that you must have some fancy set up. I'll get questions like, "What's your recording studio look like?" Pff... studio. For the past few months, I've been recording in a storage room full of boxes with the same $250 microphone I bought four years ago. Extravagant, I know. ;)
A storage room is honestly perfect for recording. There are a lot of boxes and things to hold in the sound, although the visual display isn't that inspiring. As long as you have a quiet room, your recording should turn out pretty nice. I'd like to announce that by no means do you need a recording studio or nice setup to make a good recording, although those things are enjoyable and useful. The beauty of creating music is that it can happen almost anywhere... even in a storage room or closet. Maybe even your bathroom. The acoustics could be great in there.
Onto equipment. I use a little condenser mic (Rode Nt1a) that I've held onto for a few years now. It does a nice job even though it's a low end mic. I haven't had the opportunity to try out other microphones, but I do intend to upgrade in the near future to a ribbon mic. In addition to the Rode, I use a Scarlett Solo audio interface for that phantom (of the opera) power. I don't have much to say about it aside from the fact that it does what it's supposed to do. ;)
This is the part where I pull out my fiddle (and penny whistle depending on the song) and record the solo parts. Sometimes I will end up changing parts of the arrangement when I add the violin because an idea was sparked. Solo instruments can really help bring certain accompaniment parts to life and also help locate what things need to be taken away. I will mess around with the fiddle for quite sometime, often situating the mic in different ways until I find a sweet spot. I will also experience extensive self-doubt, anger toward the violin for not sounding the way I want it to, and perhaps fury in the moment I decide to give up trying to fix my crappy performance. True thoughts my friends. I love/hate the violin.
This is a subject that I don't have much to share on because I literally have no idea what I'm doing. I mean, I kind of know, but there is a lot I don't know. I do very basic things at this point, like make sure the song doesn't peak. I bring out certain instruments and lower others depending on what I want to hear. I usually add reverb to my fiddle and penny whistle (SilverVerb in Logic), and I especially will if I record any singing parts because I'm trying to cover up my lack of ability. As my friend Hannah once said, "Reverb covers a multitude of sins." Actual truth.
In this process, I experiment. I mess around with EQ. I can't really tell you exactly what I do here. I just make sure things aren't harsh and that the levels are, to my knowledge/limited understanding, good.
To me, filming is one of the most enjoyable parts of making a music video. I wholly enjoy trucking through the woods in any kind of weather to capture a beautiful scene in nature. I often go out numerous days for one video, especially if I want a certain feeling to come across that only two or three shots out of twenty could communicate. Filming is kind of like a wild goose chase, but in a semi fun way. I try to find that perfect scene but don't always find it. When I do, though, it's worth all the work.
A few months ago I was able to purchase a new filming companion. His name is Skeeter and he is of drone decent. I did a bit of research and decided on the Mavic Pro Platinum. Since then, I've been able to capture scenes from above and have thoroughly enjoyed every moment.
For filming the shots with my face in them (haha), I use a Canon 5D Mark IV. This camera has been a wonderful investment that I've used for about three years now. It has a neato wifi feature that makes it much easier for me to film myself. I hook my phone up through the Canon app and can see everything the camera sees while standing in front of it. I can adjust the focus, lighting, and hit record all while facing the camera.
Here is a quick run-down of how I film myself:
- Hook up phone to blue-tooth speaker
- Connect to camera wifi and open camera app
- Press record
- Quickly open song file and press play
- Throw phone on ground
- Grab violin and act like you're not stressed
- Perform and pray that the wifi doesn't drop
- Realize you forgot how to play the violin
- Start over
- Do this numerous times, catching various angles
Sometimes (most of the time) the wifi connection will drop between the phone and camera or the bluetooth speaker will disconnect, which makes for a very fun and exciting, super duper great, memorable time (grits teeth).
I remember the day I first installed Final Cut Pro on my computer. Rejoicing ensued. A great hurrah took place. The moment had finally come. I could finally realize my music video dreams. I remember feeling like it was actual Christmas day. I'd have to say that I still feel just as fondly about Final Cut today. It's the only editing software I use for my music videos and does all the things I wish a video editing software would do.
Upon uploading all of my videos into Final Cut, I then begin to sync each of my performance videos and then decide on what nature footage I would like to incorporate. Sometimes I'll pull from past footage if I'm in a pinch (save all of your footage onto an external hard drive. Your future self will thank you). I start from the beginning of the song and work my way straight to the end. The video effects I use are often very minimal, but I always lean toward HDR Tools because I like the little bit of rich darkness it adds. I'll add transitions (cross fade is where it's at) and conclude with an end screen that showcases my patron's names. This process often takes me only a few hours (3-6) and when the final product is finally visible and ready to share with the world, I often sigh with relief and go to Taco Bell to celebrate another