Photo by Catherine Taylor

If you’ve got a camera, you can make a video. That sums up the advice of six experts working in both the indie and big label music video biz. Whether or not it’ll be a good video is another question. But given the drop in price of cameras, the connective power of social media and the major labels’ attention to YouTube hits, comments and likes, having a video can’t hurt. But how to get one made, that is the question. “It really depends on if we believe in the song, if we believe in the artist,” said Joseph Zentil a director at Strange Customs. Before you can get to your first video shoot, however, a few things need to happen. First, it helps to have a fan base, otherwise you’ll have a hard time explaining to a company why it should invest time and money on you. Second, you need money. The going rate for the services of independent firms is $5,000. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, you have to have an idea. “What makes a killer video on any budget? I think it’s a good idea, fundamentally,” said Gabe Spierer, director of video content for Beggars Group.
The trick to making a good video, whether you have $500 or $5,000, is the concept. Ideas that represent the band’s aesthetics, that are as much of a statement about the artist as the music itself. Artists who work closely too with directors can yield incredible results. Kevin Custer, director and editor at Toaster In The Tub, a production company, said he likes to get all of the lyrics from an album, not just the song for the video, and find out the personal history of the artist. “Look for that nugget, that little thing that’ll set it apart,” said Custer. Stephen King, managing director of the U.K.’s Believe Digital, agreed, saying he insists that his artists work closely with their directors and establish a relationship, sometimes working on more videos and beyond. He put one of his artists in touch with director Lars Von Trier despite his artist’s doubts about getting to work with the Danish director he so admired. Von Trier not only directed the video but paid for it with his own money. “It’s about making something genuine,” said Armand Zentil, brother to Joseph and co-creative director at Strange Customs. The brothers have worked on videos for artists such as D-PRYDE and most notably Kreayshawn. All the panelists emphasized that talent is a must; no matter how good your video looks, it won’t count for much if your song is terrible. They didn’t suggest, though, that you should simply strike out on your own and produce, direct, light, star and edit your own video for a YouTube release. Without a label backing you or tremendous buzz, link posting and re-Tweeting, you may find your hard work only netting you views in the hundreds instead of hundreds of thousands. To attract any sort of label attention, if you’re a young band, you’ve got to mobilize the powers of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to your advantage.
Their advice somewhat went against the DIY philosophy that you can and should do things yourself, whether that be self-releasing your music or in this case making the video. Even if you haven’t got the cash to hire their services, many on the panel working at independent outfits said they enjoy working for free if it’s a project they believe in. They also encouraged connecting with them or film school students willing to work on a video for their film reel. Artists should not be scared to reach out to directors because they may not have any money, said the panel. “As much as the filmmakers are seeking out artists to collaborate with, artists should seek out directors to work with,” said Joseph Zentil. In the mid 1990s, when music videos and the recording industry were in their heyday, the philosophy and culture of the music video world was shaped, according to Ian Wolfson, owner of Rex Arrow Films. That period may have engendered in generations of young artists the idea that music videos are what you get once you’ve got a fancy record deal or a big tour. In reality, as the panel noted, the game has most definitely changed.