5 Tips for Making a No-Budget Music Video

the blurts shooting our no-budget music video in the Java Joe's parking lot. - Pyragraph

Against all odds, my band the blurts just finished shooting and editing a music video which was conceived, shot and edited in just over two weeks — including learning and recording the song. The idea was hatched while I watched the final episode of “Breaking Bad,” and despite the fact I have zero extra time in my life I was just totally taken with this crazy vision (yes I had a couple beers in me) so I decided it was worth badgering my bandmates to agree to do it in an insanely short time frame. Somehow, we did it. Behold.

Besides sharing the final result with you, I figured I’d offer a few lessons learned as well. There’s no magic easy formula for doing a music video, but it’s definitely possible to do a decent job with minimal resources. And much like having a baby, there’s no “good time” to do a video. Forget about waiting for some magic moment when you and your bandmates have a few free weeks lying around. Don’t fool yourselves! Instead, if doing a video is something you’ve been wanting to do, just prepare with a bit of planning and dive in. I hope these tips help get you over the hump.

How to Make Your No-Budget Music Video:

  1. Cozy up to a videographer. My husband Turtle O’Toole is a camera operator and used to do a lot of video editing, so he was our man. As with many creative projects, knowing someone who has the technical know-how is crucial to getting it done. You don’t need to be married to a videographer, but it really helps to have a friend who knows how to do video since most bands don’t have the budget to hire a video production company, even a budget-rate firm. This shit is expensive, and for good reason. Even a tiny production takes a LOT of work.
  2. Storyboard it out, duh. It’s embarrassing and eye-opening for me to realize that through all the hacky video projects I’ve done over the years, this is the first time I really took this step seriously. Damn, what was I thinking?!? Drawing out each shot that we envisioned in the video made shooting tons more efficient, AND made the editing process way more simple and mechanical. Do not, I repeat DO NOT make the mistake of just going out and shooting a bunch of cool/weird/arty footage and think it’ll all come together during editing. Not only will you have infinitely less control over the end result, this approach is likely to turn the editing process into epic hellishness. Seriously, I have been there.
  3. The structure of your song can go a long way in structuring your video. Related to #2, one of the reasons I was always loathe to storyboard (besides the fact that I can’t draw for shit) was simply that I was overwhelmed by the idea of drawing out all those shots. But a few things about doing a music video made this less overwhelming: For one thing, songs aren’t that long. Ours was only 2.5 minutes long. Even better, the simple verse/verse/bridge/verse structure helped break it down into such digestible sections that storyboarding them out didn’t seem like a big deal at all. And it wasn’t! In this video it basically worked out to a new location per verse or bridge. Simple and easy.
    My super lame drawings were crucial to the success of getting this video done.
    My super lame drawings were crucial to the success of getting this video done.
  4. Include enough to keep it interesting, but not so much that your video is manic. Avoid storylines that need logical progression or resolution. Simply changing locations is an easy way to add visual variety. Mix up your shots: Include some wide shots, some medium shots, and some close-ups. If you can come up with an overarching concept, great. Just remember to keep it simple. Our original concept of our band members all trying to kill each other morphed into actual killing scenes, and we did worry a bit whether we were getting too complicated. We just made sure with our storyboards to keep these scenes super simple and I think they worked out pretty well. You be the judge.
  5. Back that shit up. Turtle and I now chuckle about the incident some 14 years ago when he was editing a project for the millionth day with me over his shoulder, in full project-binge mode — and suddenly the project was gone from the hard drive. We were running on no sleep and greasy takeout and our brains started melting with panic. After about half an hour of him desperately trying to find it I snapped and hurled a styrofoam cup full of coke across the room. Then he found it and I felt really stupid. It was hilarious! Ha. Ha. Ha.
  6. Bonus tip: Have nice bandmates, and be nice to each other, and bring snacks to the shoot. Really, even just a few hours of shooting can make otherwise easygoing folks tense and testy. I knew my excellent bandmates would be good sports, but I made sure to have both healthy and naughty snacks — and plenty of bottles of water — to keep everyone happy. It mostly worked and helped us keep our murderous impulses for when the camera was rolling.

Please enjoy the video, and if you do, don’t be shy to share it.

Editorial note: Upon final tally we spent just over $13 on hot dogs. 

Karl in sugarskull paint, in our no-budget music video - Pyragraph
Spoiler alert: Karl dies. Photo by Karl Wulffraat.

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  1. I love this video, it’s so funny!!! One of my favorite parts is where you’re all laughing after you poison the long-haired girl and you’re high-fiving your bandmates with your long arm. I think the quickness of putting it together after being struck by a vision is what made it gold. Like, sacrificing everything for the muse. Which we’ll learn more about in that upcoming interview Brendan’s doing with the author of the book on artist rituals. I would totally watch this video on a loop… which I’ll do now…

    1. Thanks Tonya! Funny, I JUST today finally signed up with Gravatar so I could set my avatar…I’ve long been confused about it, and still don’t totally understand it, but basically I went to gravatar.com, created a profile and set my image. It’s kind of confusing because as is the trend these days Gravatar tries to force you to sign in using a social media account; I ended up signing in with my WordPress account. I ran into a number of weird errors and roadblocks but pushed through…and now I FINALLY have an avatar to comment at Pyragraph!

  2. I’ve always wanted to make a music video, but I don’t have the budget to make one like the videos I see online. I liked what you said about keeping the logical progression in my storyline and to add visual variety. Those elements seem essential in creating a video that’s visually appealing to viewers.

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