In the abnormally over-saturated social media and music age, the chance for an unsigned artist or band to get recognition by releasing a song without a video is little to none. Unfortunately, most high-quality music videos released by famous artists start at $20,000 and it goes up from there. When most unsigned artists or bands are typically left broke after recording their album, a meager budget is all they have left for a music video.
But there is good news!
There are more than enough ways to make the highest quality music video possible with a low budget. It may not be as professional looking like a $20,000+ music video, but with hard work, preparation, and the power of the mind, anything can be possible. After 15 years in the music business with over 17 low budget music videos under my belt, I put all the best tips I have learned throughout the years of shooting the highest quality music video possible with a low budget below.
1. Ways To Find Incredible Locations (Free)
Location can be the make or break of your music video. Let’s face it, us small budget musicians are trying to compete with signed artists using pirate ships and different planets as their locations. The second a random social media scroller sees that your music video is shot in a garage is the same second they scroll away. Here are some ways to find a good, but also free location.
Ask the venue you’re booked to play if you can shoot a music video before and during your show
One of my bands has done this many times, and it was consistently successful. While the band gets a decent location (depending on where it is) the venue owner gets free promotion of his or her venue. Make sure to let them know that you will be posting the venue name in the credits. It would be best if the place will allow the band to come in the club early to shoot close up shots before the show. Then during the show, get a wide shot of the band playing the song being used for the music video. If possible, have the drummer use a click track. Below is an example video of one of my bands. We used a venue for the music video before and during the show.
Drive around to search public locations
Call me crazy, but it works significantly better than you’d think if you haven’t tried it. Take about 3 hours from your day to drive around and scout locations. Keep your eyes open for train tracks, beautiful landscape, mountains, trails, abandoned warehouses, and anything else you can think of. Watch for signs and ask around to make sure you do not enter or shoot on private property.
Ask The City Where You Can Legally Shoot
I was having trouble finding a good location for my band to shoot a music video back in 2015. I used a unique approach as I went to the city capital to ask a City Official where I was legally allowed to shoot. Without a phone call warning, I walk directly into the cities capital asking, “where can I legally shoot a music video?” The people at the front desk relocated me to an office on the ground floor. I spoke to a man for about 10 minutes as he has worked with several moviemakers in the past. He gave me a few areas that we were legally able to shoot a video, and we hit the jackpot, landing a massive abandoned warehouse in the middle of nowhere. That’s what I call an incredible use of my tax dollars.
Ask friends for ideas
Of the many friends, you and the rest of your band have, at least one of them will have an incredible location to shoot a music video one way or another. You will be astounded by how excited they get as they’re willing to help you. After all, they get bragging rights if your music video goes viral. This approach has worked for me on two separate occasions as my friends owned some incredible open fields to shoot some live performance scenes.
Ask yourself what you have access to that has been forgotten
I used to work at a bar in 2015 that had an unfinished upstairs. Although it was an awfully unsanitary area to eat considering the complete mess, it made for the perfect live performance scene. Another video was a tiny piece in my backyard that nobody would have known unless I told them. Use the incredible power of your mind and get creative. Ask yourself and your band what do you have free access to, how can it become a possibility, and can we execute. You will be amazed that some of the incredible locations you can use were right in front of you the whole time!
Below is a video showing the actual music videos that were filmed with each tip to find a free location
2. Throw A “Party”
Here is the proper way to word this to your friends…
“I’m having a party on (date), my band is also going to be shooting a music video in the background but just ignore them and have a good time. Come and bring all your friends unless you or they don’t want to be in a music video, BYOB.”
One of my bands did this very idea. There was a point I completely forgot we were shooting a music video since we were having such a good time (after a full bottle of wine). I suddenly remembered that it was still a music video shoot when the director let me know it was time for the band’s live performance scene.
The best part was the next day as the memories of the party slowly started coming back to me while I was editing it. The director may need to direct the audience for a few scenes, but in my experience, directed scenes last about 30 minutes of the 4-hour party. Make sure only to invite people that won’t cause insane drama or fights after a few drinks.
Below is the music video we shot where we threw the “party” I was talking about. Around 1:09 is when the party started. At 1:56 exactly, I forgot who I was.
3. Get Crowd Reaction Of The Live Performance
Getting the crowd’s reaction on a music video during your band’s live performance is an incredible return on investment. Not only is it completely free, the fans are exhilarated that they’re in the video, but it’s also precisely what venues are looking for when booking your band a gig. These shots are possible if your group shoots a music video at a venue or house party during the show. In the video below, you’ll see crowd reaction examples starting at 2:48.
4. Get Interviews From Your Fans
I have yet to try this for a video, but it’s most definitely in the foreseeable future. As mentioned above, getting your fans to confess how much they enjoyed your show to stick it somewhere in your video is a win-win across the board; It’s free, It excites the fan, and venue owners/booking agents look for this.
Most music videos that use this method have clips of the fan’s interview laid on top of the music at instrumental breaks. This typically works very well, helping the video to capture a specific emotion in the music. This method is very reliant on the type of song.
5. Learn To Edit Video
If you want to save 1000’s of dollars with complete control of how the final product looks for years to come, I highly advise you to get video editing software and learn to edit. Learning to edit video may seem entirely out of your paradigm before you try it, but believe me, you will quickly learn to love it once you get started.
To get started, find a video editing software that you prefer. To list a few include Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, Movavi, Filmora, and many more. Do some research to find out which one is best for you and your budget. I personally use Adobe Premiere CS6.
This is the all-time cheapest, easiest, and most underrated video editing software app to date. LumaFusion makes it possible, comfortable, and well underpriced to edit videos on your smartphone. The app may not have as many features and effects as a professional desktop video editing software, but if you’re here to save money on a music video, a one time $20 investment in editing video for life on your phone is one hell of a deal.
Below is a music video of one of my bands that was edited by LumaFusion. Our drummer Allen Parker did the editing and directing of this music video. In total, we spent 0$ while going for an old-school grungy look.
7. Use Your Cell Phone To Shoot The Video
If you’re at the point where you can’t afford a camera operator, nobody in your band can get a hold of a camera, and have no friends or family with a camera, there is still a way! It is highly possible to shoot a quality music video with a smartphone, preferably one that can shoot 4K. Don’t get mixed up and think a phone that shoots 4K video is anywhere near the quality as a 4K camera, but it will get the job done. If the storyline, locations, creativity, performance, and the final edit is very well done, you can make a great music video shooting it with a cell phone.
The music video below was shot by my iPhone 7+. I think it’s one of our best videos to date. To be fair, we also used a gimbal to smoothen out the shots which we will talk about next. (video gets good at 0:21)
8. The Art To Calling In Favors Or Deals (Win-Win)
Why do I call it an art? The only way to really do this properly in my experience is to get creative. Here is the basic process.
- Think of each and every one of your friends and family
- Think of the things they have, have access to, or services they can provide that may benefit the video in any way
- Think of the things that they want or need that you have access to or a service you can provide
- Shoot them a deal for a trade
Then the creative side of this process, what do they want or what can you do for them? Even vise versa, what can they do for you? Everyone is willing to negotiate, everyone is willing to budge, and many people have specific needs that can be provided by you.
9. Cell Phone Gimbal
If the band is set on using a phone to shoot your music video for whichever reason, I highly recommend using a smartphone gimbal. If your not sure what a smartphone gimbal is, basically it’s a device that you attach your phone to allowing you to create incredibly smooth shots. Using a gimbal substantially increases production value for your music video and many videos to come.
I’m not a gimbal user pro, but I can confidently say that I took a lot of time to carefully research each smartphone gimbal till I finally landed the Zhiyun Smooth-Q 3 which has treated me flawlessly ever since.
10. Find Students At A Creative Career College
Look up every college for creative careers in your area. When you find the ones with a video production program of some sort give them a call to ask what’s the best way to go about finding students who want to help in a music video. There will be more than enough students that will be happy to help for free strictly for the learning experience.
You will be able to find people who can help with lighting, set designing, setting up props, personal assistants, extras, or just an extra creative mind/helping hand. If you’re really lucky, you may be able to find somebody who is willing to shoot the music video for very cheap just to build their resume. This brings us to our next tip.
11. Find A Cinematographer That’s Trying To Build Their Resume
I only recommend this option if you or any of the members of the band are in complete control of the final edit. If you decide to go about this option, make sure to bring a hard drive on the day of filming to transfer all the footage that very day. Long story short, I had to learn the hard way by getting a cheap camera-man who was only looking to build his resume.
My first choice to go about this would be to find a friend or a recommendation from a friend for trustworthiness purposes. Social media can be a great tool to get the word out. My second choice, as mentioned previously, would be to find students at a creative career school with a burning passion for cinematography.
Most importantly, there’s a high chance many of the shots would be shaky or not in focus with an inexperienced cameraman. Make sure you get as many shots with as many angles as possible, so you have enough footage to piece together the right parts in the final edit.
12. Find Actors That Want To Build Their Resume
Just like the previous tip, find acting schools online, and explain to them the situation and what you’re looking for. I do know for a fact that more than enough actors will be thrilled to play a part. Keep in mind, getting new actors or cinematographers that want to be apart of a music video for free is not a win-lose deal! It’s a win-win, your band saves money, the actors or cinematographers add to their reel.
I have been spoiled in the past for getting some incredible up-and-coming actors to be apart of our music videos considering our drummer is an actor himself with many friends in the business.
13. Use Your Money For The Greatest ROI
If your band has a $2000 budget, think of the things that you guys are capable of doing on your own such as any of the previous tips, then use the $2000 on the most beneficial of your music video. A great example of this is my latest music video where we rented out an incredible outdoor Airbnb in the mountains for 24 hours.
The Airbnb had multiple locations within it, where we were able to achieve two different areas for band scenes, plenty of B roll, and a few acting scenes. The investment was a bit over $1000, but it was well worth it. We utilized the location to the maximum potential possible. Make sure to ask permission to shoot a video from the Airbnb considering they may make you sign an agreement.
The video example is below, but to be clear, the editor and cinematographer in this video was a man named Nick Nicotera, who used a high-quality camera. All the band scenes, scenes at a table, and scenes on a balcony were all shot at the same place within 24 hours using the bulk of the budget we had for the most significant return on investment.
14. Free/Cheap Props Are Everywhere
Some of the best ideas could be right in front of us, yet we grow numb to them. Look in your attic, room, garage, and the closet you forgot existed for anything that could boost your video visually in any way. Things like Christmas lights, tiki torches, random decorations, etc. can be found everywhere. Another thing you can do is find a prop shop or thrift store in your city. Prop shops were explicitly designed for us creatives for videos. Unfortunately, many cities do not have one, so be sure to ask google.
Here are some other ideas for very cheap props that can make an incredible return on investment if used properly are listed below.
Fake money– used 100’s of times but still never gets old.
Confetti– Used in slow motion around a live performance scene adds an incredible effect to the video. Depending on the color of the confetti, it can be used to spike a happy or dark emotion for your video.
Fog machine– If you can’t find one in your attic, you can get a cheap one on Amazon. Using a fog machine with the correct lighting can make a live performance scene shot in your room look significantly better.
15. Use A Drone (If Possible)
Using a drone for aerial footage is one way to boost the production value of your video, even if it’s just for a single clip. If you can work out a favor for favor deal to land a free drone, it will be very beneficial. Luckily, almost everyone has at least one friend that has a drone that hasn’t been used for a year waiting to be in the air. Make a post on social media or some phone calls.
16. Natural Lighting
Your two best friends that show up every sunny day that never charge you a dime. Magic Hour and Golden Hour are the best times to shoot a video during the day both with their own unique qualities.
Magic hour is the moment in the day just before sunrise or right after sunset when the sun’s light is evenly distributed throughout the plain, giving a beautiful look. It only lasts about 25 minutes, so time is of the essence. Make sure that each and every scene’s preproduction is to a T for the shots you want to be filmed in this short time. A shot list will help you to make the most out of your short time.
My personal favorite, Golden Hour is the moment of the day just after sunrise or right before sunset lasting about an hour each time. During this time, the earth is filled with a beautiful golden look. Many cinematographers claim the hour after golden hour in the morning, or the hour before Golden Hour at night is an incredible time to shoot as well. To find the best times to shoot video in your area, there is an App called Golden Hour One that tracks the sun for you.
17. Learn Basic Special Effects (Or Stock Footage)
Learning basic VFX can go along way with the creation of music videos. Depending on how much time and effort your willing to put into learning, special effects can open up a whole new world with every music video to come. In my opinion, special effects are harder to learn than standard video editing, but the potential can be astounding. The most popular software for VFX is Adobe After Effects.
If you don’t have the time to invest in learning special effects but want it for your video, there is a great website where you can purchase special effects to add to your video. www.actionvfx.com has an abundant amount of special effects that are reasonably priced. Depending on what you get and how you use it, it may very well be an incredible investment for your video.
18. Crowd Funding
Crowdfunding can be the way to go if your band has an incredibly enthusiastic fan base! I have personally never used this, but I have seen some artists and bands that I’m friends with have great success using various forms of crowdfunding.
Here are a few companies for crowdfunding artists and bands
- Artiste Connect
19. Make A Detailed Story Board And Shot List
I had to learn this tip the hard way far too many times. I would think the exact shots I need are all set up in my head just to get to the location as the crew and I have no idea what’s going on. Everyone is screaming out thoughts while nobody is on the same page. We barely squeak by the miserable shoot just to realize the number of things we missed during the edit.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did, get off your pointless social media scrolling phone and set up a meeting with the band and crew with a notebook to write out the exact storyboard and shot list. Try to get as detailed as possible because the more detailed each shot is written down, the more efficiently the shoot is going to go. This is especially important if time is of the essence.
20. Rent An Incredible Camera
In the case where you have a friend that’s willing to shoot your music video but doesn’t have a camera while unwilling to use a cell phone, it’s in your best interest to rent a high-quality camera. The current website that I use for renting a camera is www.borrowlenses.com. There are many incredible 4K cameras and lenses that you can rent for 7 days for around $150.
These are the 20 tips that I have learned to shoot the highest quality music video with little to no budget. If at least one of these tips helped you and your band, then I feel like I did my job. Thank you!
If you’re interested in putting on a better live performance, here are 16 Tips And Tricks To Boost Your Stage Presence For Guitarists And Bassists.
Stay present in the moment, enjoy the journey