My Cardinal Rules For Producing a Music Video

December 11, 2006

I have to admit that I am guilty of annoying people when they are trying to watch MTV. When I tell them what I think of the editing of the video that they are enjoying. I frequently say something like “You know, if that video were cut more on the beat it would work so much better.”

When I’m not bothering others I usually tap the beat out myself, and decide where I would cut it, if I were the editor. So I decided to write about this topic if for no other reason to simply help me organise my thoughts.

I genuinely believe most music videos that are being produced could profit from some better editing. For example, the artist could be walking along, but in perfect rhythm to the music. With the proper coverage and the director and artist paying close attention to the rhythm of the music this is the kind of raw material the video editors need to really work his or her magic.

Even less than perfect footage can be transformed into dynamic, visually charged material for the video that might have otherwise ended up on the “cutting room floor.”

The video above is brilliant example of both sides of the equation. It is one of my all time favourite songs, but it was not until yesterday that I saw the music video on YouTube. The song is happy, the beat is lively and the colours used in the video are vivid. Not only is the video’s cinematography exciting but the editing is, for the most part, quite good. There are several points in this video where the editing is not good and is not executed directly on time.  You can not only tap your foot to the beat of the song and to the beat of the cuts the editor executed. The activities and movement of the characters in the video are enhanced by the precision editing making this a truly excellent peice.

There are a few cardinal rules that I use when editing video footage to music, including but limited to:

  • Create Entertaining and Engaging Visuals
  • Fast cutting, But not too fast that becomes distracting.
  • Cut the video to music, not vice versa.
  • The use “tap your foot” method I described above

Watch the music video above with a director’s eye and you will notice everything I am describing. Start tapping your foot on the first beat of the song and watch the visuals closely. In the first few cuts, watch the singer tapping the bar and the raising of the ketchup bottle, even the sweeping brush is going with the beat. The perfectly timed editing occurs throughout the song. Particularly note its use when the sink is spewing water towards the end, the action in the video is ON the beat.

To a music video editor, the concept of rhythmic editing should be the most obvious and important factor. But for those who “don’t get it”, there is still hope! I am no expert at producing music videos, but I have directed, produced and edited a few and I always try to follow the “rules of rhythm” when editing music videos.

I owe a lot of my understanding of rhythm and “editing on the beat” to my studies of the record spots produced by my friend Joe Klein. His tutelage has helped me grasp some of the fundamentals of editing audio and I was able to carry them over to my video editing endeavors. If you have a music video project that you are working on and have found this useful, feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment.

5 Responses to “My Cardinal Rules For Producing a Music Video”

  1. Andy Melton Says:

    My, my, my, you sure are picky! lol

  2. Artie Wayne Says:

    Sebastian…I must say you’re one of the best Video Producer/ Directors I’ve worked with. Your “Rock and Roll Heaven” Video Is A Masterpiece. You’ve obviously taken what you learned about editing from my former client, Joe Klein who introduced me to you, to heart.

    I also want to thank you for building my blog and showing me the ropes. Last week, 50,000 had blogged onto my site…this morning it was up to 105,000!

    Wishing you the best in the new year, Artie

    P.S. I’m re-posting our interview “Sebastian Prooth And The Bloggin’Truth” tomorrow http://artiewayne.wordpress.com

  3. nick Says:

    Sorry, don’t mean to be rude… but have just read your Cardinal rules for producing a music video….. and then watched what your piece Rock & Roll Heaven…And i’m afraid to say, that you write a mean edit…but sure as hell aren’t very good at actually doing it….


  4. Nick: Thanks for your comment. I produced R&R Heaven in August of 06. I have since learned more and taught myself more about these things. Your “sure as hell aren’t very good at it” wasn’t needed but you’re entitled to your opinion.

  5. sakutan Says:

    Hiya! Thanks for your tips! They’re great! I just have one question… what is the relation between brands and a music video? I mean, if my music video is going to be aired on TV, can it have brands on screen? Like for example I film it on Starbucks (ofcourse with its permision), can it be aired if the starbucks bran is on the background?
    Thanks!


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