Shooting a music video

While music videos are a necessary promotional evil for most bands, there is still no cool way to make them happen. Photo: Hinton1994

SANTA CRUZ, January 1, 2014 — Being in a working band exposes one to a numbing array of tedious activities. Despite the culturally implied glory of rocking out on stage, and the exaggerated, bacchanalian adventures musicians are supposed to engage in on the regular, the lifestyle features more down time then up.

Few of the trappings of band life are as mundane as shooting a music video. 

It is true that the finished product is often polished and professional. If the director knows what he or she is doing, it may even flatter the band, making members appear more captivating and invigorated than they truly are. The entire video will last the length of the average rock song, these days around two to three minutes. For this fleeting bit of celluloid immortality, a band will endure hours of preparation and silent repetition. 

First, it needs to decide if the video will be strictly performance based, have a story, or a mixture of both. If there is a story, someone needs to figure out what it is, and then somebody has to write a treatment for it. Like scripting the world’s shortest movie, actors have to be cast, locations scouted, and some skeletal storyline must be sketched out, then approved by the band (no small feat).

Figuring out what type of video the band wants to shoot can often hold bands up indefinitely. Not everybody shares identical visions of what the song means, or what kind of presentation the band ought to put forth. If the band can come to a consensus quickly on this, it will be ahead of the game. With any luck, the label will already have relationships with a few directors who will work expeditiously and relatively cheaply. Once the treatment is set and location agreed upon, the real fun begins!

For the rest of the band, the performance will be just like playing live with no volume, strange but doable. For the drummer, it is an entirely different situation. He will need to rent or buy quiet drum heads and cymbals, specially made to look like the real thing but manufactured to be all but silent during playback. Once these are in place, the drummer will sound like he is playing a set of pillows, and the cymbals will sound like hitting a muffled trash can lid. If fortune smiles on the singer, he or she will have a microphone to sing into, as opposed to singing awkwardly into the open air, gesticulating awkwardly. 

There will be speakers in place facing the band, and once the director shouts “roll playback,” the band has to commence with its performance. The singer must actually sing, as lip syncing will look phony. The band members will jump, lurch and flail away as they normally would, trying to ignore the odd sounds made by the clunky cymbals behind them, as well as the cameras in their faces and the flashes of light all around them. This will often go on for several hours, until the director is satisfied that they have what they need. 

While music videos are a necessary promotional evil for most bands, there is still no cool way to make them happen. By the end of the shoot, there is a good chance the band will have heard the song enough times to never want to hear it again. The finished product usually looks fine but, as it comes and goes in a couple of minutes, the band will always remember how long it took to shoot and wonder if their rock and roll lives are all they expected them to be when they started.


Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.


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Russ Rankin

Raised in the decidedly non-traditional hockey region of Santa Cruz, California, Russ Rankin fell in love with the game as a kid while watching the "Miracle On Ice" 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He began playing recreationally as an adult when the Sharks joined the NHL in nearby San Jose and regularly attends Sharks home games. His favorite NHL team is the New Jersey Devils, which he has been following since the 1987-88 season. In 2007, with more and more U.S. born players (particularly from California) making an impact in the WHL, Rankin pursued his passion and knowledge of the game into a job scouting California for WHL clubs. He can be seen at rinks all over the state searching for the next great crop of players.

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