Five tips for a successful YouTube music video

YouTube has long been synonymous with music videos of all kinds, bringing a cheap and effective way for bands to get their music heard. With the potential for millions of people to view your music, it's no wonder that a lot of time and effort goes into to making the video appeal to audiences. The formula for this, however, remains elusive.

What you can do, if you're planning on delving into the over-subscribed YouTube music realm, is make sure you get a few of the basics right; this, apart from the music of course, being a major factor of whether it hits or misses.

One such video that's been causing a bit of a stir recently is The Fellows' new single Dip My Dick (In Your Drink) although, perhaps, not to everyone's taste (pun intended) it is certainly to Stephen Fry's who retweeted the video saying:

"Legalise tweed. Gentleman's hip hop. The Fellows. A genre the world has been craving without knowing. Oddly lovable."

So, as views of the Dip My Dick video tick over at pace, Pocket-lint took some time out to interview Dip My Dick's co-director Martin Scanlan (who along with co-director Mark Norfolk, shot the video) to get some tips on how to shoot a YouTube music video on a budget, and, hopefully, make it a success.

Tip 1: Concentrate on the things you can do well for free

The emphasis here is, clearly, that you need to produce something that has all the hallmarks of a quality product without having to spend huge sums. When asked what the key to this process was, Scanlan was quick with a response:

"It's key to concentrate on the things you can do well for free."

The Fellows were very lucky in that a lot of the cast were professional actors who also happened to be friends. Although this is an advantage, when organising and relying on a number of people it seems that having fun is one of the most important aspects.

"You can see on the video that everyone is having fun, and it costs nothing and makes the video look good - both actors and non-actors alike are relaxed and have good energy."

To keep costs down and quality up, Scanlan emphasised a few things that you need to focus on.

"The initial idea for the video is free. Make sure it's a good concept and run it past a few people. The cast can be friends and family, and above all make sure you have a laugh. Other than that, good composition is essential and that's free too. Spend a bit of time on your framing. That's really important. If you're imaginative, the set can also be free."

Tip 2: Plan ahead

It may sound obvious but it's essential that you have a clear plan, especially if you're asking people to turn up to perform in your video for free. There's nothing that'll take the sparkle out of a video quicker than a discontented cast and this can be easily avoided by prep.

"It's important to have the time to stop and think. As there's a time pressure, good planning will allow you to think about the shot and make sure framing and focus is exactly what you want."

Along these lines it also allows you to be efficient with your time, meaning any costs that you have budgeted for won't run over. It took 2 days to shoot The Fellows' Dip My Dick (In Your Drink) and that quick turnaround Scanlan puts down to being organised.

"Talk about exactly what you're going to do before hand from start to finish. And let everyone involved know how long you'll need them for and what they'll be doing. The clearer you are, the smoother it'll go."

The final fallback for planning should always be to make sure there's plenty of food around for the cast and crew. A well fed team is a happy team.

Tip 3: Keep things portable

In order to keep things portable and relatively cheap, the video was shot with a DSLR camera - a Canon EOS 550D. 

"You can get decent shots and it'll give you a narrow depth of field," Scanlan says, "even though they don't necessarily give you a film look. With careful use of depth of field and a good knowledge of the camera's functions, it can still make it look cinematic."

"Generally you can film quickly; we filmed the whole party scene in an hour and a half. A DSLR is also much less obtrusive than a massive camcorder and it means that people can relax more."

This method of keeping things portable by using a DSLR, also proved valuable when filming footage outside on Hampstead Heath, in this case, although the shoot was cut short when a parkie took aversion to the team filming without permission.

"Although I wouldn't recommend shooting without permission, a DSLR allows you to shoot quickly in guerilla fashion - although the downside is that you'll end up shooting very quickly and, in our case, we didn't get all the footage we'd hoped for.

"What I like about them [DSLRs] is that you can shoot very quickly. We tried to be fairly surreptitious but we did have a semi-naked man dancing around for the video. We got busted halfway through the sequence, so we ended up leaving and having to shoot in another part of Hampstead Heath. Not ideal but the DSLR allowed us to get into position, and out of it again, quickly. If you are questioned it's also easy to pack up your stuff and move on."

Although Scanlan didn't officially recommend the guerilla approach to filming, this may well be something you end up doing. Getting permission to film is not always practical or cheap, however it's best to be discreet and guided by your own conscience here. You know what we mean.

Tip 4: Always shoot too much and be brutal

You can always delete but it's a pain to add. Filming is usually a race against time to get as many ideas in as possible. So when you get around to thumbing through shots in post production, you don't want to be scrabbling around for decent content.

"Coverage is the key. It's always better to be looking at a huge amount of footage rather than looking for it. Unless you're trying to do something clever like a one-shot video, always shoot too much."

If your idea is good and you have a lot of footage, it will mean it'll be far easier to sustain interest. In the case of The Fellows video, it's very much a story-driven video narrative built around the music. In total, there was around 6 hours of video shot for a 6-minute video.

"We always had something to cut to in post production, and that made making an interesting video far easier."

This also means that, if for any reason, certain scenes don't work out - maybe you've spent an hour shooting footage that just doesn't look right when you get it onto your computer - it's easier to cut them loose.

"Be brutal. Edit out the parts that don't work and stick with the ones that do. It also needs to be a collaborative effort. We were lucky as there were always at least three of us looking through the video and checking to see what worked."

Clearly the more people you have involved in post production, the more it will remain objective as to what's working. This may sound obvious but, if you've just spent an hour getting the shot right only for it not to work, it's sometimes difficult to bin it.

Tip 5: Watch other people's music videos

If you want to be inspired, and possibly pick up some filming tips, you can do a lot worse than drawing inspiration from other film makers' work.

"With the wealth of talent out there and the huge resource that is YouTube, you'll be able to gain a lot of inspiration from previous efforts."

Not only this but it'll also help with the more technical aspects of the shoot. If you're not as experienced as Scanlan, then watching how others have framed their shots and used lighting, camera angles and performance to add interest will stand you in good stead.

"There's nothing wrong with performance videos but their very nature means it's set around one idea and they can, sometimes, become boring. There has to be a lot of content to keep interest up. Make sure that there's plenty going on and that the video runs along at good pace."

You can check out Martin Scanlan's blog, convergenceblog.co.uk, which has a nice collection of his previous work. The Fellows are planning a charity gig on 3 Nov at Headrooms, St John's Path, Clerkenwell. It'll be a charity bash to help raise funds and awareness of a cool charity they're helping with, called Yaarah Schools.

So if you're interested in learning more, you can follow The Fellows on Facebook or go directly to The Fellows website.