Having spent all day yesterday in Manchester city centre making the music video for our song “Eight Miles Down”, I thought it would be interesting to note a few observations.
Have a song with a storyline
We decided to use “Eight Miles Down” because, of the three songs we recorded recently, it has the strongest storyline. You can read my notes on how the song came about. Briefly, “Eight Miles Down” tells the story of a friend’s suicide and the effect it had on the world around him. It’s not an easy story to tell.
Let the video tell your story
Songs about tragic subjects can’t always be told literally. Quite rightly, most people don’t want to see a music video that shows somebody pretending to kill themselves. (If you do, there are lots of other places on the Internet you can go for that.) That being the case, you have to use a metaphor.
The arts – especially visual arts like cinema and painting – are full of metaphors or visual clues and hints. Sunshine for happiness, night time for fear and dark thoughts, flowers blooming or spring time for life and birth: you know the stuff when you see it.
Get a director
We were lucky enough to find our director, Lance Burkitt, through Twitter (here, or here via his own website). As a former musician, he has a good feel of how these two very different media, music and video, can fit together. I was especially impressed when he turned up to filming knowing already the lyrics, the song structure and the exact timing of the song’s main points (verses, choruses, middle eight etc). Even I don’t know the last of these!
If you can’t find or afford a director, you can brainstorm the band for ideas. Try to avoid the obvious, please, such as a video of the band standing in a room, playing the song to camera. That’s fine if you’re young, edgy and good looking, but if you can’t do it as well as this (The Jam – Going Underground) or its modern equivalents (The Hives – Hate To Say I Told You So and The Strokes – Reptilia), it’s not going to impress. Why not try a variation on the theme instead: Jet – Are You Gonna Be My Girl. It’s had TEN TIMES the number of views on Youtube of the official version, which is still very nice.
If you haven’t got anyone in the band who is the left-field, creative type, you might end up being just too literal. You don’t want to be like this – Spinal Tap: Stonehenge – do you?
Take your time with filming
Film more footage than you can use. It will give you more choice when editing and, when you review the footage later, it might also bring out ideas you hadn’t prevously thought of.
Spend time on the editing
I’m frequently guilty of breaking this rule myself when writing songs. The excitement of experiencing the finished product makes me rush through the editing or assembly process so i can “hear what it sounds like”. All I can ask is, please don’t fall into this trap. Of course you can make a rough mix to get a feel for the overall flow of the video. Just don’t think that the rough version has to be the final one.
If you’re using an outside director, this step will be out of your hands. You’ll have to put your trust in the director. You employed him for his creative vision (That was the reason wasn’t it? Not just because he’s your mate and can hold a camera the right way up?) so give him time to see it through. You won’t regret it.
These won’t apply to every band nor to every song. Videos for euro dance music, for example, don’t seem to involve much more than than the inside of a nightclub and a few, attractive, smiling people in swimwear enjoying a foam party.
Heavy metal videos can probably get by with the band wearing black (leather jackets and studded belts are compulsory), a few shots of the moon and close-ups of the lead singer pulling some “angry faces” at the camera.
Here are some photos from yesterday’s filming:
Here is the finished video on Youtube: