Thursday September 3, 2015

• Making a Music Video With a Phone

When Airplane Mode set out to do the video for “I Said So!,” we knew we wanted to do it for as little money as possible. No money, if that was an option. Not because we wanted to be cheap, but because we wanted to see how far we could go with the resources we had at our disposal.

Step 1: Use an iPhone

The entire video was shot on an iPhone 6 Plus ($299, or $749 for an unlocked 16GB model). At first we used Hyperlapse to try to further boost image stabilization, but after two days of shooting we realized that Hyperlapse’s magic worked by downsampling the video to 720p. If you’re not obsessed with image quality (and we kind of are) this might not be a huge deal to you, but the 6 Plus already has remarkably good image stabilization on its own. Further stabilization adjustments can easily be made in Final Cut Pro later, though we never had to go that far. Most of our shots were static anyway.

We switched over to using the stock iOS camera app, bringing everything up to full 1080p, and couldn’t be happier with the results.

Step 2: Bug Your Friends

Early on, the idea was to just show people dancing around in New York City. We briefly considered hiring professional actors, models, and dancers, but as we refined the idea into something simpler, we realized that we could just ask our friends to stand in.

We got plenty of shots with complete strangers, but there didn’t seem to be much difference in enthusiasm either way. We played the song and asked people to dance, and aside from a few gags, everything you see is a genuine reaction.

Not counting drinks, asking friends for help cost us nothing.

Step 3: Remember to Art

Camera work matters, and is harder than it looks. My only real formal training in anything is photography, so we at least had that going for us. We went with mostly static shots because we wanted the motion to come from the people dancing, not the camera work. Lots of single shots with vaguely Wes Anderson-style framing.

Our shots aren’t random. In every case, we’re framing the subject with something. New York City is always in the background, being its beautiful self. The people provided dynamism, while the backdrop gave us vibrance.

Step 4: Study

The tools here — a camera and some editing software — are easy to pick up, but can take some time and practice to master. Particularly editing.

Our song is bouncy indie rock bubblegum, so we cut on the beat every couple measures. Some people (like Suit Guy Clayton Morris) are a little less dynamic, so it plays better to show them on the verses where the song is a little less energetic. When the riff kicks in, we show more of the high-energy dancers. It’s all about matching the visuals to what’s happening in the song.

And sometimes we have an opportunity for an editing joke, like cutting to a shot of my dog when I sing the word “walk”.

Like photography, editing is an art. (There’s a reason they give out awards for it.) For a music video, you mostly want to cut on the beats, but when in doubt, watch your favorite videos and get a sense of what they’re doing. When mixing and mastering a song, they say to rest and calibrate your ears by listening to a target mix — some piece of music that sounds roughly like what you’re going for. Cutting, pacing, color-correction, and titling all benefit from the same trick.

If you’re reading this, you have access to the largest collection of knowledge in human history, which helpfully includes tons of free YouTube tutorials. If you’re looking for help or inspiration, it’s never far away.

Step 5: Edit in Final Cut Pro X

Final Cut is used by professionals who edit Hollywood movies, and it’s a little nuts to think that anyone with a Mac and three hundred bucks has access to the same tool. At $299, this may seem expensive, but what you spend here, you’ll save everywhere else. Filters, audio and video correction, stabilization, titling. The people who edit Taylor Swift’s videos are probably using the same thing.

If you’re on a budget and don’t already have Final Cut Pro, you could use iMovie (from which FCP X was born). It doesn’t have the depth of Final Cut, but can certainly get the job done for simpler edits.

Step 6: Upload Everywhere

YouTube is huge, especially for music. In fact, some might say that having a song that isn’t on YouTube is like not having a song at all. It’s where people (especially people under 30) go when they want to search for a song.

But it’s not the only game in town.

There’s also Vimeo, Facebook, and Apple Music Connect. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. Vimeo is less discoverable and costs money, but their production tools and presentation are very professional. Facebook is a little scammy on video view counts, but everyone in on Earth has a Facebook account.

And then there’s Connect, which is still too new to really be understood, but they don’t provide view counts as far as I can tell. iTunes is the world’s largest music store, and as I type this, they have our video featured under the “New” tab. Time will tell if this turns into anything, but it cost us nothing.

There’s also a step 6.5: Don’t be afraid to promote. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Tell anyone who follows you on any social network. These people are interested in what you’re doing, and you’ve just done something cool. Don’t go overboard, but give yourself license to annoy a few followers in the name of reaching a bigger audience.

And when you’re done, go make something else you can get excited about.