How to make an effective low or no budget music video

You’re a starving musician. You don’t have the means to hire a videographer, creative team and stylist to make a music video that will get your song heard by the voyeurs of the world.

It’s true that a good video can put your song in the ears of many listeners who would have otherwise passed it by. A bad video can actually do the same, depending on whether it is bad enough to merit viral status but it isn’t likely to get you more loyal fans and followers.

Once you get the ball rolling, you may have the means to invest in some equipment and software but, for now, you’ve got to use ingenuity.

In 2010, on a whim, I made a zero-budget, no frills video for an unplugged song I’d produced with my husband. The video (made with a Flip and a laptop) caught a little buzz on Youtube and forced me to release the track, which sold more copies than I’d initially envisioned (especially considering I hadn’t even released it). The little video I made in the span of a day ended up connecting us with folks around the world who continue to follow us in our endeavors. That’s a big feat for a pretty low-quality little video!

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That experience inspired me to make more no-budget videos, using free resources and a lot of creativity. Some of these videos involved no live-shooting but utilized free stock footage resources (see below). It was so easy and so much fun that I started making videos for friends’ projects.

Now, that we’ve set up a decent video studio, I can see how valuable my no-budget projects have been in teaching me the process of video creation. The process is a lot of fun and the possibilities are endless no matter the budget. Here are some tips to help you get going on your next no-budget music video…

1.  Get resourceful

If you’re working on a $0 budget, you are going to need to take stock of your resources. This can unfold in a myriad of ways and will, in part, determine the direction of your project.

Get a piece of paper or open your Word program and start brainstorming….

Do you have a flip-camera and a laptop? Does your sister have a DSL that will shoot quality video? Have a friend in the media studies department at the college or one who works on gaming or animation projects? Or perhaps you have a fan who is also a videographer.

Do you have a friend (or ten) who are willing to help you on the project? Artists can be the best asset in your arsenal. Does one of your friends dabble in design or make-up art? Enthusiastic and willing friends are one of the most valuable resources out there!

Perhaps you have absolutely no way to shoot video—no problem. There is plenty of free footage for the taking if you know where to look. Decide what resources you have at your disposal and take it from there.

 2. Pick a direction

Based off of the resources you’ve pooled, the direction your video will take will, in part, plan itself.

For instance—

Say you have two willing friends at the helm; one who has a DSL camera and another who owns a horse farm. Say you’re a country or folk artist….can you see a direction unfolding before your eyes?

Have a videographer at the helm and a friend who owns a boxing club? Do you make rock music? The direction could not be any clearer!

Or perhaps you have no means to shoot video. You can start searching for creative commons video footage and whatever video editing software you can get your hands on. Do you have IMovie? No? Download a free video editing suite from the many options available with a simple google search.

A fantastic resource for footage is at your fingertips on Everything from vintage ephemera and classic films to newsreels.

 3. Create a storyboard

So you have pooled your resources and chosen the direction the project will take. Now is where the project begins to take shape. Planning your video out carefully is one of the most important parts of the process. If you are shooting film, you can go so far as to sketch out the visual perspective of shots and even the lighting. Of course, plans have to be flexible and you may end up improvising to a degree when you’re in the thick of it. But having a clear plan will ensure the structure and integrity of the project and save you headaches in the process.

 4. Remember to keep it as simple as possible!!

You’re mind may begin drifting….you may begin to imagine intricate sets and painstaking animations. Before you get in over your head, sit down and take a look at some of the popular music videos today—a couple of settings, inter-spliced, with two camera angles on the subject. You’ll find that even given the biggest budget, most videos opt for simplicity. There are plenty of reasons to keep a video simple and some of the best ones are nothing more than someone singing a song in a simple setting.Take this video from one of the leading pop artists of today for instance: (note the use of close ups)


 5. Plan the shoot itself

If there will be more than a couple of people helping you through this process you want to make the experience a valuable one. These people are helping you create a platform for your art for free! Number one rule: FEED THEM.

Plan the menu and throw a bunch of stuff in a crock pot, put the bread-maker to use or order take-out if there’s a budget for at least lunch. Hot day? Make sure to have plenty of cold drinks on hand. It’s a nice touch to have some harder drinks on hand for after the shoot is finished.

This is also the part of the process where you hash out all the details.

Are you going to need any kind of lighting? Who has utility lights you can borrow? A couple of dome lamps (the kind you raise chickens with) and a blue light can do the trick for some situations.

Costume, lighting, sets, bubble machines, make-up, what-have-you. If you are going to need it on the day of the shoot, you’ll want to make sure you’ve planned for it ahead of time. The last thing you’ll want to be doing is running around gathering stuff last minute on the day of the shoot.

Don’t forget the music! You’ll need to have the song on hand that will be synced to the film. If you can’t man the boom-box yourself (if you’re in the shots the entire time), make sure you have a volunteer or a remote and plenty of play-head.

Here are some resources for tools you may want to build yourself ahead of time:

Check out this blog by The Beat about DIY camera sliders on a low/no budget.


It’s GO time!

If you’ve done your groundwork planning, storyboarding and gathering everything you’ll need on the day of the shoot, this will be the easy part!

Some tips:

  1.  Don’t lip-sync. Have the vocalist actually sing the lyrics if they are going to be in a singing shot and they will need to be rehearsed. For an authentic looking performance this is absolutely necessary. The vocalist must be prepared to sing in perfect tandem with the recording, no matter what they are used to doing live.
  2. Run each scene/set all the way through before moving on to the next. Your splicing will take place in the editing room.
  3. If you only have one camera, get two good takes of two different angles for editing later. You can muster a pretty good two-camera look in the editing process.
  4. Close ups and ethereal shots can add substance to the overall look of the project. Notice little things in the set that could contribute atmosphere to your video and take a moment to get a shot. (i.e. You’re shooting at an old camp in the woods and you see a spider making a web in the window. Get a shot of that! You’ll be glad you did later).

 7. Putting it all together

Ahhh. So the hard work is done, right? Wrong. The final cut is the place where all of the time and effort you’ve put in pays off through what can be a painstaking process of careful selection and elimination.

First of all (and especially if you shot high-quality video) make sure you have the storage capacity for uploading your video. Depending on the system and software you’re working with you may need to finagle a little at this junction. If you’ve shot HD on a DSL, you may need to dump all of your footage on an extra hard drive. Make sure the computer you’re working on has the processing capability to handle what you are intending to do. If you’ve shot your footage on a flip and a laptop, you probably wont have to worry about storage and processing power. Video and audio editing take up a lot of space and processing power. Make sure your system can pick up what you’re putting down. Issues you can run into if you try to overload your system will thwart you to a pinnacle of frustration you’d be better off to avert. You don’t want your computer flying out the window.


  1.  Use the live track to match up your audio if your software doesn’t provide auto-syncing.
  2. Make sure to use a high-quality, professionally mastered, audio recording (preferably an AF or WAVE file no MP3s). Youtube and other sites will double-smash your MP3. A nasty or low-quality sounding track will make your potential listeners tap the back button.
  3. When your project is finished and ready to share, make sure to upload the highest quality possible to sites like Youtube and Facebook.
  4. Share it and have fun with it. Ask your friends to help you get the word out by sharing your video with their online community. Post it to forums, get it on music blogs….your video will not watch itself!

Enjoy the process!

I’d love to hear from those of you who’ve been through this process! More to come soon as we journey into the next level of video making here on the farm.

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