In his 1964 book, Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan famously proclaimed “The Medium is the Message.” Fifty two years later, the digital age is In full swing.
In 2016, social media is all about video. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo, and the 800 pound Gorilla YouTube all want your content. 20% of American adults read at a fifth grade level or less. The overall average reading level is 9th grade. Many people avoid reading anything longer than a paragraph. Attention spans get shorter every year. As the amount of information on the Internet multiplies geometrically, Engagement ratios for photo/video content far surpass text. As metric tracking improves, it is clear that video is the best way to go viral. The services all know it, so they are pushing all of you to grow their audience.
In the 1980’s, MTV set the standard for music videos unreachably high. Pat Benetar, U2, and other major label artists would create videos costing in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Michael Jackson’s Scream video reportedly cost over 7 million dollars to produce. But flash forward 30 years and that’s been turned on its ear. The major labels are largely irrelevant. An iPhone is a better movie camera than you could buy for $100,000 in 1985. Your laptop or iPad can be a professional recording studio. For less than $5000, you can create an arsenal of tools to make videos that look and sound great.
But why should you? Music lovers are buried in an avalanche of music and media. The low cost of entry has proliferated opportunities. It has never been harder to break thru the noise floor and get your music heard.
And then there are the four major enemies of the touring musician: travel, food, lodging, and time. My four piece band in high school often got $300-500 a gig, back when $500 was worth $2000 in today’s dollars. Now that’s a good gig for musicians with 40 years of experience under their belts.
The success of any modern music group depends on their fan base and mailing list. Growing those is the only sure way to a sustainable career. So what is a better investment for you, driving 5 hours to play to a bar where 50 people might come out to see you, or creating a video or concert window performance that will generate half the income, but grow your fan base more effectively and cost you 80% less. (And leave you with an extra day to write a song or rock your baby)
Don’t get me wrong. I love live performance and I hope it never goes away. But on the low end of the scale touring can be very unprofitable. It doesn’t cost Bruce Springsteen any more to drive to DC than it does you. And, even if he flies first class to LA, his airplane doesn’t get there any faster than yours. Once you start drawing bigger crowds and selling more merch, that’s when touring starts to become affordable.
So what’s an up and coming performer supposed to do? Press is good. You can get some good mileage out of winning song contests and live showcase events. Music discovery through services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora can gain you fans. Despite the horribly low pay rate for musicians using these services, I think they provide valuable and important exposure opportunities to new audiences.
But nothing captures the attention of fans like videos. Ignore these at your peril. There are so many types of video you can use.
Back when the physical medium of music defined the product, it was the product. You would get a 12″ square slab of graphics and lyrics that you could hold in your hands and read while Karla Bonoff sang the story of your life. But in the new millennium, much music is formless, existing only in the digital domain. Driven in part by the transition of television from a story driven medium to a character driven medium, the product is no longer “Restless Nights”, the product is you. Audiences are used to intimate access to performers, They have been keeping up with the Kardashians and the Osbournes for so long, they expect to know details about the artists they emotionally invest in.
This is good and bad. It’s intrusive, to be sure, although a media savvy person can sculpt their online persona. The good news is that, effective branding carries over from project to project. As you build audience loyalty, it can be increasingly easy to crowdfund new projects and snowball your mailing list success. Katy Perry (@KatyPerry) has over 93 million twitter fans. It’s not hard to monetize that audience.
So, what are your options? Simplest are talking head videos. Open up your smartphone app and just start talking. If you are smart enough, pretty enough, odd enough, inspiring enough, or funny enough; you can make a lot of friends. There are videogamers who make thousands of dollars playing on twitch.tv
Here’s a talking head piece featuring Dan Pelletier.
Not much more difficult are lyric and pictorial videos. Load your song into the laptop and then slather it with photos or textify the lyrics so people can read along. Lyric videos can double the exposure of your song if used in conjunction with performance videos.
Here are 2 Cheryl Wheeler lyric videos
And a couple of pictorial videos
Story videos are essentially what made MTV compelling before they discovered that they could attract more viewers by just showing pretty people without the music, especially in embarrassing or sexually suggestive situations. These types of music videos are the hardest and most expensive to produce as they often involve location shooting, sets, costumes, computer animation or special effects. If you have enough time and skill, these can still be affordable and realized on a small personal computer, but they can be a huge time sink. If you enjoy that creative process, have at it.
And this brings us to my favorite music video, the live performance.
There’s nothing so compelling for me as watching a great performer deliver a song. Marveling at their musicianship. Seeing the emotions run across their face. Feeling the excitement of reliving that moment with them. It’s Magic.There are technical elements that must be paid attention to, of course. Camera placement and lighting. The physical setting of the shoot. And, perhaps most importantly, sound quality.
Audio has always been the red headed stepchild of video. Producers and cinematographers obsess over the visual image and they argue that it is a visual medium. I believe that, because it’s music, that the audio should receive equal or greater attention. My number one criticism of the videos that people send to me is that the large majority of them sound just Horrendous. I would rather have to see a microphone in the shot than listen to a recording done down a well. (While you’re down there, could you look for Timmy? Lassie is still upset.)
Pick a location free of sonic and visual distractions. Light it in and effective and interesting way. And spend time getting the audio right. If there are a number of musicians and instruments, you may want to multitrack the audio and mix it after the fact. When doing this, I like as much isolation between the tracks as possible. Multi tracking also allows you to do dynamic or ambience processing afterwards. If you do it in protools you have access to autotune and other plugins. All the general rules for making records apply to your videos as well.
You can do it all in realtime with a single camera or shoot with multiple cameras. You can shoot “B roll” of a second performance with audience reaction, different views, or supplemental material. Apple iMovie can assemble a beautiful finished movie for you with professional looking titles and video effects. Even more professional looking results can be generated with Final Cut, Sony Vegas, or Adobe Premier. If you are serious about this, you can get amazing dedicated DSLR or video camera at bargain prices. To interface these to your computer, you may need a box like the Black Magic Intensity.
You can shoot on location
Or in front of a neutral backdrop
At a gig
From a showcase
Or even from a recording studio
Once you have the video, what do you do with it?
It’s important to note that live videos can be an essential booking tool. Presenters know how powerful punch ins an other studio tools are in recording today’s music they want to see you actually perform a song. They want insight into your charisma and stage presence. Many showcases and contests require videos for entry it’s good to have something to show them
For more information on using the internet effectively, view my handout Your Internet in 2016