The Great Outdoors: A Guide to Exciting Music Videos
Couch potato. Shut-in. Video games always seem to go hand-in-hand with being indoors constantly and indefinitely. Following suit, the online music community can often seem confined to their living space when creating and filming their works. Although the "Bedroom Musician" process is convenient, inexpensive, and fairly status quo, there is a compelling case to be made for creating these works away from the studio. I'd like to share with you a Youtube Musician's Guide to the Great Outdoors.
Sure, it can be hard to justify such a drastic, arguably risky change of scenery just to make a simple music video. When you consider the world of video games; however, I think there is a huge audience for more elaborate, visually-compelling storytelling in these creations. If you want to entertain the viewer beyond just the audio performance, then it's time to pack your bags for the nearest park or lake. There is potential for beautiful pairings of music and video in our video game niche, and I am constantly inspired by those who take the plunge so to speak.
Take Sab Irene's “My Quest Forest Home” from Octopath Traveler, both serene in arrangement and choice of relaxing nature vignettes. Her choice of scenery enhances, if not completes, the music video for the viewer and truly embodies the exploration aspect of Octopath Traveler. With the potential for all sorts of creative videos in forests, lakes, mountains, and cities, it’s no wonder that so many artists are distinguishing themselves with outdoor videos!
WHAT TO PLAN
If you've decided to embark on this cinematic journey, then you'll need to come up with a game plan. Working outside your usual film space can introduce a variety of challenges that may not be part of the traditional process. Videos that could take thirty minutes to film may require two additional hours due to setup times, traffic, and other circumstances. Additionally, you may want to film B-Roll, secondary footage to be used between more important shots. If you want to go the extra mile, you could develop a loose story for your music video such as recreating a famous scene from a game! Storyboards, scripts, or other tools will help you to keep track of your video ideas.
While you create your Shot List, consider places that allow you to film (often written on their website). Consider the locations where your song plays in the game, and even consider lighting conditions depending on the weather. Just as important, try to recruit a family member, friend, and/or capable assistant to go with you. Having a camera operator or even someone to help with setup and take-down is invaluable. Just remember to compensate them well, be it pizza, a thank you note, or otherwise!
ONLY WHAT YOU TAKE WITH YOU
A brief list of must-have items for any outdoor creator would be:
Instruments of choice with carrying cases
Camera batteries (backups and charger)
Tripod (even for test photos)
Playback Device to hear your song (phone, tablet, computer, etc.)
A few SD Cards or something similar for camera
For specific recommendations, take a look at our article on filming. I'd also like to add a few additional pieces that might enhance your experience.
A Neutral Density (ND) Filter can help control exposure, allowing you to shoot more shallow footage in the sun. Shots using narrow depth-of-field with that signature blurred background are made possible this way!
Another item I would recommend is an external monitor to connect to your camera. Field monitors by Atomos, Lilliput, FeelWorld, etc. can come in 5" or larger variants and allow you to view your footage on the go without peering into a small, often washed-out screen. Even at home, plugging a camera into a computer or TV via HDMI/USB can give you an edge when checking your focus, framing, etc.
Lastly, investing in a stabilizer can make a huge difference in overall video quality and flexibility. There are DIY solutions, ranging from placing your camera on a skateboard to investing in hand-held gimbals that can automatically balance your camera. The end result is smooth professional motion akin to cinematic pans and less disorienting “shaky cam”.
While this might be an overwhelming and arguably expensive list, you can add to your equipment as the need arises and as the ideas take shape. Start small, be creative, and have fun!
PULLING IT OFF
It's film day. Once you've packed your list and checked it twice, it's time to arrive at your location and start working. It's a good habit to scout around your planned location, especially if the weather conditions have changed. Since time/lighting is such a big factor, prioritize your shots so you don't miss out on anything critical. If there are people/animals in the shot, be polite when asking to move out of the shot.
When filming alone, take things extra slow so you don't overwhelm yourself. Take some test videos to ensure that your footage is properly exposed and the color balance is accurate. For LOG shooters like myself, this means over-exposing by 2 stops, while for regular shooters, you’ll want to just expose your videos to the point where your shadow/black levels aren't buried. You can control the exposure through your aperture (f-stop value), ISO values (lower gives a cleaner, but darker signal), and shutter speed as well. Many cameras will even feature a histogram, a graph that measures your videos exposure, so you can avoid any unfixable peaks.
The last step is to check your focus, especially if you’re going to be filming by yourself. Don’t be afraid of Autofocus, should your camera have a reliable AF feature, or you can use a remote-control to set it up manually while you point at yourself; just be sure to mark the spot you plan to be in!
GETTING IT RIGHT
After you've filmed your ambitious outdoor video, you'll find yourself tasked with organizing dozens of clips. It's at this point that myself and my rag-tag crew of friends will grab a spreadsheet, list all the clip names, and watch the clips one by one. If there are throw-away clips, you can always throw them into a garbage folder, but anything hilarious, golden, or unique can go into a Performance, B-Roll, or Blooper folder. Through your editing, you'll be able to integrate B-Roll and scenery footage in places that might not have interesting performances or perhaps even mess-ups in the actual performance.
Be sure to use color-correction on your footage to balance skin tones and colors, as well as to fix any issues you notice. Capturing nature’s beauty or even creating a surreal landscape is a unique challenge unto itself, but the benefits of outdoor footage really shine in editing. You can give summer landscapes a nice heated look, or turn a snow day into a blustery winter scene out of Skyrim with purple/blue color grading.
Although the task of filming becomes more daunting as you introduce new elements, locations, and risks into the mix, the ultimate rewards is better storytelling and a more distinguished final product. Incredible venues, landscapes, and buildings are all waiting to be converted into Bowser's Castle, the land of Hyrule, Shadow Moses Island, or Spiral Mountain. As the author J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “It's a dangerous business...going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”