Dec 7, 2016, 03:57

Two years ago my band made a conscious decision to release our music upon the world the way the world prefers…shareable on YouTube. With a gorgeous lead singer, some digital savvy, and enough ADHD to ensure our songs will always be short; we felt the raw ingredients were there.

Two years (and seven videos) later, I can honestly say it was the most exhausting and exhilarating creative experience I’ve ever had. Due to the sheer power of Final Cut Pro, Pro Tools, Logic Pro and Smartphones, there were moments during post I fantasized about traveling back to MTV Studios circa 1981 via time machine, crashing an executive meeting and blowing all the poorly lit, two-camera performance videos I adored as a kid out of rotation. Compare these two snippets:

Having said that, my bandmates and I gleaned hard-earned nuggets of wisdom about making music videos that would benefit fellow musicians considering the video path. While we expected the technology to be amazing; and we weren’t afraid to ham it up on camera, there are the things we wish someone would have told us. Here they are…
1) If You Have to Pay For Someone…..Pay for a Lighting Director.
Because I’m a control freak and cheap skate, for one of the first videos I appointed myself as lighting director. How hard could lighting be?

It turns out the rig I borrowed could barely light the room. Therefore we had to turn on the fluorescent (yes…fluorsescent) lights overhead. We now lovingly call that our “cheesy 80’s tribute”. Lesson learned.

Now watch this video where we shelled out a couple hundred bucks for someone who actually operates lights for a living:

If you have to pay someone… for a lighting director. Much like wedding photos or delivering babies, it matters; and it has to be done right.

2) Don’t Show Up On Set Without a Written Plan.

Musicians have a healthy respect for just letting things happen organically. While that’s true when two people are casually cutting vocals over a bottle of wine, it’s most certainly NOT true when twelve people are wrestling with lighting angles, learning how to operate newly purchased cameras, trying to lip-sync correctly to lyrics, trying not to look fat and behaving respectfully to folks working for free.

By the time we finished shooting the full-band interior shots in this video (where we rented a clubhouse and tried to wing it) nobody was speaking to each other. In a vacuum of leadership, everyone turned into freakin’ Martin Scorcese.

Later, we knew better. For this shoot, a two-page game plan (or “treatment”) was emailed to everyone beforehand. It laid out who would shoot what and when. It laid out the whole night hour-by-hour.

The experience on set was awesome. We had a master plan to follow. We had fun. We joked around. The shots look great.

3) Don’t Assume Bystanders Will Cooperate.

Our lead singer thinks I’m being naive, but this one really bugs me. If you walk out of your home and see a movie or music video being shot on your street, you should feel proud to live somewhere worth putting on film. You should be thankful for the enormous revenue (long term and short term) that local politicians bend over backwards to get. Those politicians know the benefits of a 100-person crew eating at your restaurants and immortalizing your neighborhood is far better than having a chemical plant in your backyard.

Despite all this, my band mates and I quickly learned that showing up to a place and rolling camera ALWAYS generates challenges from bystanders. For this shot, taken of me performing on a moving vehicle on a public road, a group of jagweed college kids heckled us and tried to ruin the take:

Our guitar player, while recently filming a video with another band, was jailed (yes, jailed) for not obtaining a permit. It’ll probably boost their record sales.

I understand the law is the law. And I understand that no one likes their routine to be disrupted. But art has to come from somewhere. And if you find yourself in the midst of it – much like a wedding ceremony or the playing of the National Anthem – shut up and have some respect. Your life would be unimaginably different without that song/movie/book you loved as a kid.

So two years after all this, I will never watch an indie film the same way again. Making films is super-hard. But there was fruit.

Life-long bonds were forged between my “bandies” and me by that adversity. I would throw myself in front of a moving train for those idiots. And by the grace of God I’m now engaged to be married to our lead singer who has become the Love of My Life.

Ricky Gervais once said that his impetus for creating the smash hit TV show The Office was “for once, to create something for which I didn’t have to apologize.” Because of Sweet Soul Sister, I can now say the same thing.

Here’s to making cool stuff with your friends.


Mike Bielenberg is a professional musician and co-founder of, a production music marketplace with over 48,000 tracks online where media producers, video producers, filmmakers, game developers, businesses  and other music buyers can license high-quality, affordable royalty-free music from an online community of musicians.

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