I figure what better time than now to say to the artists what every single music-video maker in the world wants to—in hopes they’ll stop destroying the genre I love.
Artists—musicians, rappers, singers—listen up. This list is for you.
1). You’re in it for your ego
Ego-driven artists’ tend to have the same videos: tons of close-ups, unnecessary hand movements in place of legitimate dance moves, and then depending on the genre, blunt smoke and “people having a good time.” This culminates in a boring string of images demonstrating your non-existent vulnerability and refusal to be anything but a carbon copy; you just look so fucking cool all the fucking time. That’s both lame and a false representation of the human condition—people see through it.
I have a question for my fellow artists—are you a person? Like, if a family member died, what would you do? If you were standing over their casket, would you make duck-faces and expose your abs, or would you drop to your knees and sob uncontrollably? If you answered yes to the latter, congratulations, you are, in fact, a person. Now start acting like one.
2). You give lists of reference:
Sometimes I’ll get emails like this: “Hi, Josh. These are some of the videos I really like . . .” OK! I like the Boyz 2 Men, “Water Runs Dry” video. I love the “Safety Dance” video. But what do these music videos, already set in the annals of music video history, have to do with you? Sending a list of music videos you would want your video to like is—unless it’s a lighting or color palette reference, which is usually never the case—a complete waste time.
The only thing your list tells me is that you’re devoid of creativity and you have no idea what you want. And honestly, if you don’t know what you want, that’s why production companies exist. With that being said, giving us a list is by no means going to bring you closer to making a good music video; it’s only going to put us inside a box, restraining our creativity.
By and large, the artists’ on your list got where they are being themselves—something unique and original. Instead of making a list of videos, how about a list of emotions you want the video to convey? How about thinking about your music—what does it mean to you? From there, you can talk to the production team, and they can assist you through the ideation process, narrowing down specifics, ensuring that you have something that engages the viewer/listener. Remember, you want to end up on someone else’s list. So try to be original, and most importantly, be yourself.
3). You want to direct the video:
In the midst of an open heart surgery, no patient has ever said, “Hey, doc, no anesthesia for this one. I’ll be calling the shots here. They’re my arteries, and after all, I am paying for this.” So why are music videos any different. Let us do our job—we’re better at this than you!
Many of us, meaning filmmakers, attended film school or studied independently. We’ve put in lots of time and dedicated ourselves to the trade. I would never jump in a studio and tell a singer what notes he or she should be hitting during the chorus, and I expect the same consideration from the artists I work with. Making music videos is a team effort, with all parties involved granted the creative input needed to produce something special—something everyone can be proud of.
4). You want more than you paid for:
Perhaps the most prevalent, big problem with this industry, is clients wanting the world for very little money. Remember the aforementioned “list givers?” Well, what I failed to mention was (I was waiting for this example) the very same artists’ looking for a duplication of a high-end, major-label video are, laughably, also the same ones with budgets less than 1,000 dollars. So when you ask me to make a video that looks like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, just remember that it cost money—more than a grand.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: you get what you pay for. Whether you know this or not, 80 percent of the budget (the money you give us) goes directly to the cost of production. So, for example, if you want to shoot a video inside a mansion and you or I don’t have free-access to one, then that location will have to be paid for. Everything you ask for, in most cases, will have to be paid for.
5). You have no story:
During my time watching music videos (starting in the mid 90’s) I have never heard anyone ever say “Hey, did you see the video with all the guys smoking blunts in it;” or, “Did you see that video? Man—look at all those hundred dollar bills they keep throwing on those succulent but-cheeks; or, “See the video—the one with that girl staring into the camera mouthing the words? That was great. Like watching someone do Karaoke.” You get the point. But, unfortunately, artists just don’t seem to get it: you need to tell a visual story, something that is, at the very least, conceptual.
Shane Snow, journalist and co-founder of Contently, has a poignant slogan on the wall of his Soho office, “Those who tell the stories rule the world.” Think about what a story does. It impels conversation—people share stories, spreading them when and wherever they can. The question is, do you have a story? If not, remember this: you won’t be part of the conversation, and if you’re not part of the conversation, you don’t exist. Make sure people walk away from your video and want to talk about it. You can does by telling a story.
Are you an artist making some of these mistakes? Are you a filmmaker that vehemently disagrees with my list? Leave a comment and tell me what you think. I’d love to have an honest, open-discourse.