8 Do's and Don'ts Of Making Your First Video

So you’ve spent hours in the studio tracking your epic debut concept double album. Now what? If you’re thinking of making your first music video as the next step in your career, don’t get all flustered yet. You don’t have to be OK Go to make an awesome budget-friendly video but you do need some good ideas, a healthy amount of pre-planning, and some serious dedication. With that in mind, here are a few things to strive for and to avoid when shooting your first silver screen masterpiece.

Do: Stage a live performance

The live performance video is a classic for a reason. It’s simple, easy to set up, and doesn’t require your awkward bassist to pretend that he knows how to act. Perfect. Just remember to have adequate lighting “ even workman’s halogen lights will do “ and a tripod so that you can capture at least one full steady take of the band in addition to your cameraman’s love of zoom-in close-ups. Just remember to synchronize your playing with what’s actually happening in the song. You don’t want to look like this:


Anthems of Awesomeness

The Yearbooks

The Byrds, the Zombies, Fountains of Wayne, OK GO ¦ mop-topped power pop has a long history here in the U.S. and overseas. Its combination of hooks, guitars, swagger, and rhythm has proven to be an indelible attractor. So if you’re into power pop, it’s likely you’ll be into The Yearbooks. The Chicago-based band is made up of singer Sars Flannery, guitarists Eric Hehr and Bill Friel, bassist Drew Potenza, and drummer Adam James. Together, they crank out hooky rockers with karate chop guitar riffs and propulsive rhythms. Start your introduction with She Did It With Her Eyes. It’s angular, edgy, and jagged with airy vocals”part Strokes and part Death Cab For Cutie. Season of Love, with its staccato guitars, throbbing bass, and strutting drums, is the sound of being cool. Listen and learn.

OK Go: From Band To Brand

The big music moments of this year’s Super Bowl weren’t just limited to Madonna’s Roman Empire-inspired theatrics or M.I.A.’s middle finger gesture during the halftime show.  OK Go debuted their new music video for “Needing/Getting” right before the game. As we’ve come to expect from the band, the video was a wonderful little piece of musical engineering ingenuity.

The clip is probably the most technically impressive video effort from the band so far. MTV reported that the video used over 1,100 instruments”many found and reappropriated from junkyards”and that the cost for the production, over six figures, was the most expensive for one of their videos to date. But OK Go must be laughing all the way to the bank. After all, that’s not just any car that they’re driving. That’s the new Chevy Sonic that they’re rolling in, pounding on trash cans and whipping at electric guitars.

So this is it, then. OK Go has moved from being a band in the conventional sense to being a literal vehicle for marketing. And the transition happened so naturally that nobody even noticed. It doesn’t hurt that the days of bands being decried for selling out, for “going corporate”, are long gone.

OK Go had their popular beginnings like many bands that came up in the alternative rock sweepstakes of the early aughts. They had a minor hit when their single “Get Over It” earn them some radio play and some features on MTV and VH1. Then their backyard choreographed, no budget video for “A Million Ways” debuted on YouTube and became a viral smash. Instead of writing off “A Million Ways” as a happy accident, the band brought out the treadmills for “Here It Goes Again” and the rest is history.

No matter what you think about OK Go, they do their videos well. Also, according to lead singer and mastermind behind much of the band’s visual works, Damian Kulash, they’re not conceived of with a cynical, money-oriented agenda. After all, Chevy wasn’t the one that approached the band with the concept for the video. It was the other way around.

“”It was an idea I had about a year ago. Our co-director, Brian L. Perkins”he’s a old friend of mine, he was in my college band, and he’s directed some of our other videos”works for an agency that works with Chevy. I told him if you ever have a car company crazy enough to try something this awesome, then I have this idea,” Kulash said in a feature on MTV Buzzworthy. And surprise surprise, Chevy liked the idea too.

To his credit, Kulash stays hands on with all of his projects. The filming of the video seems like it was shooting the video was a big headache and Kulash was there for every step of it. Damian himself spent days before filming began tuning instruments in the desert. Car and Driver Magazine has an excellent feature on the “making of” process, sharing schematics for the tricked-out car to documenting the various technical issues that the crew encountered in the Mojave. But the band, and Damian, remained upbeat through the whole process. Then again, they were getting paid to do stunt driving in the desert in a musical rally-sport course. If you want to spend your day making stuff, somebody is going to have to help you pay for it, says Kulash. If only all of our day jobs were as cool.

The EditoriaList: Ten Best One-Shot Music Videos

The one-take video. Gimmick? Sure, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but we’re talking about music videos here, folks. These are essentially ads made to sell records, so let’s appreciate that the artists and directors here made the effort. And an effort it must be to coordinate some of these more complicated shoots. Oh, you know what I learned? That Rube Goldberg machine video from OK Go was not one-shot. Cheaters! They make the list anyway for their Internet-burning treadmill video. Cheeky bastards.

10. Undone “ Weezer

The video that launched Weezer. It was years before fans stopped asking drummer Pat Wilson to do his little butt-shake dance.


Exclusive Q&A: Corey Smith Blazes His Own Path

If any mention of “DIY” only brings to mind the unintelligible screaming of safety-pinned punks, it might surprise you to hear about the incredible independent success of a country artist like Corey Smith. On the strength of his devoted fan base and catchy tunes, Smith has sold over 900,000 digital singles and over 200,000 records independently. Though he released his most recent album The Broken Record on Average Joe’s Entertainment, Smith has stayed true to his independent roots, re-recording past crowd favorites such as “Twenty-One” with new studio polish. We recently caught up with Smith to chat about his grassroots success, his collaboration with producer Rick Beato and how a teaching gig isn’t that different from a music career.

OS: You’ve had an incredible amount of success without any type of record label backing.  How did you garner such a loyal grassroots following?

CS: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this question over the past few years, and unfortunately I’m still a long ways from answering it.  There are many, many tremendously talented artists out there and, for whatever reason, only a few of them are able to break through and gain a substantial fan base.  If I knew the secret formula, I’d be able to make a fortune writing books, teaching classes or running my own record label.

There was a time when I thought I had the answers, when I thought I understood what was going on, but experience has proven me wrong time and time again.  Fans aren’t a product of just the songwriting or just heavy touring or just social media or just file sharing. They are a product of all those things and more.

All I know is I love writing songs.  I love recording them.  I love performing them.  I can’t imagine my life without music in it, without art in it.  Like breathing or eating or drinking, it’s become a part of who I am and ultimately, the joy I get from the process of creating is the only true measure of my success.

Am I happy I have a fan base? Truly.  Do I know how it came to happen?  Not really. But I thank God that it did.


Industrial Revolution: Video Now

In my last post, I suggested that television killed the radio star. That grisly investigation is still ongoing, but meanwhile we should take a look at the previous suspect and whether or not it has been marked for death by the passage of time: the music video.

When independent artists tell people they’re making a video, the most common response, even from other artists, is Why? No one is certain that videos are a bad idea, but many wonder whether spending the time, effort and money on such a venture is worth it.

So, is there a point to making a video? The ample opportunity offered by the Internet and the changing expectations of music fans have made the answer to this question an easy yes. The doubt expressed by some comes primarily from a pre-Internet, old music biz mindset: if there are no longer television outlets that will play your video to millions of people, then making one seems futile. The diversification of MTV into primarily non-video programming has filtered down even though its sub-channels (MTV2 and the like). Though they still play blocks of videos, that time is valuable and isn’t going to feature unsigned and unknown talent. The imminent return of 120 Minutes may change this to some small degree, but there is certainly not much hope now to get your video on TV if you’re an independent artist. Yet to declare defeat is to ignore all the video outlets on the Internet, from right here on OurStage to YouTube to Vimeo to an artist’s own Web site and Facebook page.

Savvy artists understand two primary benefits of having a video to disseminate across the Web.

  1. Music fans, particularly younger listeners, now have an expectation that a band or song will be easy to find and listen to online. While strictly audio outlets exist, the number one go-to site for free streaming is YouTube. Even artists that have not made a video will frequently post a few tracks with just a still photo or slideshow accompaniment, just to have a presence there. But an interesting video is the best way to keep the interest of today’s media-bombarded attention span.
  2. Touring has become less and less financially feasible for independent artists. In place of touring, videos are a legitimately useful representation of an artist for an interested music fan. Many fans actually prefer to check out a few songs by a band in the comfort of their bedroom, rather than see the band live. They might like it so much that they are compelled to seek the live show, but mostly, fans are satisfied with what is perceived as the best possible impression an artist has to offer: their videos. (The pros and cons of this state of affairs is another issue altogether.)

As the target vehicle for videos has changed from television to the Internet, so has the artist’s intent or goal for the video. The music video that finds the most success today is not just a creative meeting of music and imagery. Going viral is pretty much the holy grail of media exposure for everyone from a 12-year-old kid with his dad’s camera to an international mega-corporation trying to promote its new product. Music videos are no different. For many bands making videos, the desired response has shifted from Oh, that’s cool to I gotta post this on Facebook. There have always been creative videos being made, though by 1986, they had arguably exhausted their potential for innovation, from the excellent extremes of Peter Gabriel’s landmark claymation video for Sledgehammer to The Replacements’ defiantly minimalist Bastards of Young clip, which pretty much focuses on a speaker the whole time.

Cool videos continued to come and go, with declining public interest and consumption. Fewer and fewer were made, making the quality videos stand out even more, which kept the genre alive. When Internet technology and home computing technology got to the point where watching a video online wasn’t a frustrating mess, things started to pick up on the video front. Then in 2006, OK Go released the carefully choreographed DIY video for their single Here It Goes Again and it exploded, with over a million hits in a week, a 2006 YouTube Award and a 2007 GRAMMY Award. Not only was it fun to watch, but it looked reasonably low-budget, thus inspiring a new generation of indie bands. Their kind of viral success is still unlikely for most bands (Rebecca Black notwithstanding) but OK Go breathed new optimism into the making of music videos.

Videos started as promo clips and that is what their primary function has always been. To perseverate on one medium” television”is understandable, because that’s where music videos found the greatest success. But that ignores their promotional value in favor of the cultural. Music videos will always serve a unique and practical purpose apart from pop culture, and now is a great time to take advantage of their usefulness.