Performance: A Vastly Overlooked Element in Music Videos
Thinking about your music video with messaging in mind
I'll be the first to admit that performance videos aren't the first to light me up creatively. As a cinematographer, the cool factor comes from the b-roll or story mostly that we utilize to make our social feeds and demo reel look "fire." but I believe there is an art to the performance video. I see it's of significant importance for brand building and crucial to growing artists.
Most artists write songs with meaning, as songwriting is personal. The music video is an opportunity to use a megaphone to communicate their idea fully and gain fan base support or create a connection. While I think the story pieces are essential, I also think a more important aspect is overlooked that fuels an artist's career. That all stems from the performance pieces of their music video. Why is this part skimmed over, and why don't many artists take it seriously? Afterall, your performance is really a part of the larger story at hand.
We kick every project off with a discovery call, as we've extensively covered in many other blogs (Pitching Better Projects and The Value of Relationships). While this exercise builds trust and gets us excited about a project, it also gives our artists a chance to express their vision however clearly, or loosely they have in mind. We hear all the time how artists don't want another boring performance video. We get it, but also we work to help them get why this part is vital for their band's success and how they don't have to be boring.
So let's get to why they matter. I'm assuming most get this, but sometimes artists need it laid out more strategically. We see ourselves less as "music video people" and more as marketers or partnered art directors. Most artists we work with play shows or hope to and many of the artists we seek are focused on branding more than getting a flashy music video, so each element of the video should have some intention behind it. Your performance is an essential piece because it gives the fans a taste of what's to come or what they expect from a live scenario. Music informs fashion, character, playfulness, energy, and many other aspects, so we look to find those unique pieces and highlight them within the video. Most of the "boring" performance videos can be attributed to lack of care, rushed process, or just missed attention to detail. I'll admit that the performance isn't my favorite visual piece of most music videos, but it's where I put 80% of our effort because the fans care, and artists want to feel confident. Guiding this process with care makes the experience for all better. And if you put the time in, you can still be very creative here.
A few months back, we were approached to solve this very problem, and it was nice to be sought out for our attention to detail by Goldthread for their recently released music video "Legacy." At the time, they mentioned they had this wild underwater b-roll, and the video was complete, but they wished they had better performances from themselves. I reviewed the cut agreed, and we started ideating together.
9 out of 10 times, we handle projects from start to finish, but we still work as a production partner and fill in the gaps too. Ultimately this is about helping artists more than fueling egos. They didn't have a bad video; it just needed help in a specific area. I reviewed what was good and what they had in mind. The trick was finding the film's universe through lighting and then matching what existed to shoot footage that would fit and keep it affordable. I like approaching things realistically, and within budget, so it can be a win-win for both parties.
Below is a more visual ride of how the project unfolded and how we made the looks described below possible.
The Making of Legacy: Behind The Scenes Experience
Shot by: Ross Theisen
The underwater vibe played two ways into what we shot for performance, then stemmed a few steps further as I got familiar with the track's meaning. We planned for single-member shots because they are all together in the story pieces, so separating them made more sense visually and for the edit. I also like this because it gives each person a chance to bring their individual energy, rather than being together in unison. Lighting was pushed cooler and with strobing. We love strobing, but this was mainly to signify a storm, matching the emotional tones within the song and dealing with your inner battles, much like a storm or season you hope to pass.
The central lighting gag we worked towards was a simulated underwater feeling, which we achieved with matte board and taped on mylar to refract lighting uniquely. You can see how we achieved this in the behind-the-scenes video, and I think it played out well for the edit. The last piece we brought together from the meaning was from the inner battle. I feel we all have to face ourselves at times, and this can be hard, so I wanted to use glass as another layer of diffraction to push in front of the lens for video portraits. It's always a cool look but fits perfectly with the narrative too.
Outside of technical lighting, the main takeaway was creating enough unique reasons to use lighting as a character to work with Goldthread rather than rush through it. While performance might not be the most exciting piece visually, it's probably the most important and massive reason why we double down here with many of our videos. Plus, if that piece lands well, we can borrow creative ideas from the performance to bring the story or b-roll to life. It's usually the most significant hurdle for every project, but once you nail it, you know the project is great, and your artists are confident.
I'm super proud of how this project came out and getting the chance to work with another great artist like Goldthread. They trusted my vision, process and came to have some fun. Their final music video was the result of a bunch of creative artists working together. Enjoy the video and show them some love.
Underwater Video: Brett Stanley Photography
Video Editor: Mercedes Arn-Horn
Location: Serif Creative
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