Thinking of a career as a music video director?
With opportunities for creative collaboration and global travel, it's easy to understand why you would be attracted to becoming a music video creator.
But before you start daydreaming about that Drake or Taylor Swift project you’ve always wanted to helm, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what being a music video director is all about.
Seems obvious doesn’t it? Music video directors are the creative lead for any music video project for which they are hired. While they work with artists, commissioners, and labels, as well as music video producers and DPs, they are ultimately responsible for the vision.
The job of a music video director begins with the submission of a music video treatment and ends with the finished video delivered to the client. Of course, much more is involved from point A to Z.
Before a music video director even submits a treatment, they’re usually sent a brief from the label or music video commissioner, depending on the project. If it’s a super low budget shoot, the brief could come from the artist themselves.
In a word, no. While some aspiring music video directors might go to college to learn design, film, or another related art form, it’s not a requisite in this industry.
Though, there is something to be said for showing proof of your skill set. And the best way to do that is often a reel.
Reels, reels, and more reels.
Shooting independent projects for yourself, your friends, or even small-time clients is one of the best ways to start your career. A few reasons for this.
1. You’ll build relationships along the way &
2. You’ll become a walking resume - developing your proof of concept as a creator.
Then, share your work.
Unless you already have friends or family in the music business ready to connect you to the people writing the checks, you should probably find your own way to get your work out there. If you have permission to share the content, create a youtube channel and share your videos on your preferred social channels, ideally, where you believe labels and artists “live.”
Other people might take entry-level positions on set, like a production assistant or an intern role at a production company that specializes in music videos. But regardless, you’ll still need to prove you can direct, and that points back to a reel.
But don’t underestimate the value of these gigs. Sure, they may pay little to no money, but this is where you’ll get that all-important education. While college isn't necessary, a keen knowledge of how to lead a music video project is.
As you work your way up the creative ladder, you’ll also begin to meet the people who will become your peers, collaborators, and biggest supporters. Remember, the best networking happens on the job. Try to stay attuned to how you can sharpen your communication skills when working with clients.
Here’s the thing about how to become a music video director… You probably aren’t going to get most of your jobs by applying to a conventional job description.
Like many other creative careers, it’s about who you know. It’s your contacts and professional reputation that will get you the most gigs.
That being said, it might be a good idea to be knowledgeable in the following regards:
Everyone wants to jump to the front of the line in their careers, and aspiring music video directors are no different.
But keep in mind that to gain all those skill sets mentioned, it takes time and patience. No single job is going to imbue you with all the expertise you’ll need to become a music video director.
Keep hustling for those gigs and keep meeting people. Sooner than later, you’ll begin to pick up the skills you need to keep advancing towards the ultimate goal of becoming a director.
This is a fun question because it can’t be answered. Well, it can’t be answered exactly. When it comes to budgets on any set, they’re not standardized. That being said, music video shoots are exceptionally low, especially compared to commercials–a segment of the film industry that is closest to the music video industry.
Music videos can range from no budget to 250 or 300k. They can go above that, but it’s super rare. Though, most videos that you see are likely somewhere between 5k and 30k.
This has pretty big implications for whether or not you decide to become a music video director. Because these budgets dictate how much everyone gets paid. As of now, there isn’t a union for music video directors, and the closest thing is associations like We Direct Music Videos that actually advocate for directors who are continuously working for free.
On a similar note, there’s the very real chance that you will be asked – often – to work on projects for free. So should you?
We can’t make that decision for you, especially as you become an established director. Though, when you’re first starting out to you, just landing the gig might be the payout. Someone is taking a chance on you even though you are still accruing the expertise needed to be a successful music video director.
Of course, avoid sacrificing your basic needs for another project in your portfolio. Rather, do what you can on nights, weekends, or any other downtime to get in those pro bono projects to continually broaden your skill sets.
Restrictions, even financial ones, can actually lead to more creative choices (sometimes). So, don’t be discouraged by a small budget. In the music industry, you’re (unfortunately) kind of signing up for it.
Depending on how small your budget is, will force you to make certain decisions.
As one example, is the budget so low that you’re shooting the music video on an iPhone, (and no, not by choice) ? Or maybe, you’re acting as the director, and the producer?
But overall, shooting on a low budget will force you to make intentional and tactical decisions that don’t disrupt your bottom line.
As an example, you might limit your locations to two or three, max. Company moves cost money. And if you’re alone, so does gas.
Just as helpful, if you’re alone, or working with a small crew, you may opt to shoot tons of coverage so you don’t have to go back and reshoot anything.
When it comes to shooting a low budget music video, open communication is key.
Setting clear expectations of what you can do with a given budget will lead to a more productive work experience and better final outcome.
These conversations will probably happen between you, the producer, and client during a creative call after they’ve already received your treatment. Though, having an awareness of what things cost to know how to even express your vision in a treatment matters.
Having a real sense of cost will prevent you from scaring off the label (or whoever is writing the check) with absurd ideas not in line with their budget.
It’s possible that you are one of several directors being considered for the job, or you’ve been officially hired based on your connections, previous work, or a little of both.
Either way, it’s time to create a music video treatment.
Before writing a treatment, you might get input from the label that represents the artist or the artist themselves with some preliminary ideas. Or, they might let you have total free rein to come up with your own concepts.
In a perfect world, the creative would drive the budget. But, unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Though, as a director, it is up to you to keep the creative intact as much as humanly possible. You can still do this without needing an absurd budget. You can still be conscious of the dollar and not stifle your creativity.
Speaking of being conscious of money, be aware of your time spent. Spend enough time on the treatment to nail it, but not too much time. You’re likely not getting paid for this and they might not even pick you. Check out the pitching guidelines that We Direct Music Videos has put out to temper your expectations and the amount of work you dedicate to this.
If they do like your idea, don’t be surprised if they come back with notes as well. They might like a general idea but prefer a few tweaks to it.
By creating treatments. This is how directors showcase their ideas for the video to the label or artist. They use images and text.
If this is the first time you have creative control, learn from the best.
For inspiration on how to actually go from concept to execution, look at these treatments from real music videos, you can see how they described the video and the resulting deliverable. You’ll find videos from the Chili Peppers to Cat Power to Nas.
Crash course in how to become a music video director? Jump right in.
Remember to think about budget without letting it dominate your decisions. But keep in mind, the selection process can be rough, if you come up with a creative idea that doesn’t require an insane amount of cash, you’re more likely to stay in the running.
Directors will continue to hone and refine the creative process during pre-production so that they are in complete alignment with the client before stepping onto the set to actually shoot the project.This could include getting on the same page with storyboards or anything else in the treatment. Various calls or emails might be made back and forth to get this nailed down before shoot day.
Unlike other entertainment mediums like film or television, directors who work in the music video world are a bit more hands-on during the pre-production process.
Normally, it would be the realm of a producer to bring on the rest of the production crew like the DP, production designer, costume designer, and so on. But music video directors might take on these responsibilities if the budget says so and those crew positions don’t exist.
It would be a considerable investment to have on hand all the camera, lighting, and sound equipment required for a project. But at the very least, consider investing in a quality camera that you can use to build an impressive visual portfolio even if the rest of the project is done with a bare bones budget.
If you’re beyond this point in your career, then no. You likely won’t have to worry about equipment. Unless there’s something special you want for a particular shot. This may be able to be accommodated by the label’s budget and the production team, but if not, you’ll likely be the one dropping the cash.
Small project or big project, music video directors are the ones running the show during production.
How to direct a music video will vary from project to project and client to client. But depending on budget and how big of a crew there is, the director will be the driving force behind executing the video according to the treatment and storyboards (if there are any). And they’ll rely on the producer on set (if there is one) to cover logistical needs, making sure all necessary elements are filmed on time and on budget.
They’ll also be in constant communication with the label and commissioner about what’s happening. They’ll be working with the band, artist, or actors to ensure they’re capturing the essence of the vision agreed on by the treatment.
Early on, yes. When you’re just beginning your career, many of your shoots may consist of guerilla-style filmmaking, where you’ll almost certainly be your own DP.
Or, this could also be the case if the shoot is so low budget that you can’t afford a DP.
Regardless, getting comfortable with a camera will only make you a better director.
As you move up the creative ladder, you will likely work with a production company to hire your ideal Director of Photography.
A much-needed skill for how to become a music video director is never just assuming that you’ll have enough footage. This is especially true if you're shooting live coverage. Take advantage of the fact that the band happens to be playing a show with a crowd present.
And in general, unless you are specifically attempting a single-take video, you will need lots and lots of coverage.
Get multiple angles. Get b-roll. Get everything.
Consider how rapid-paced the editing normally is in a music video. Shots last no more than a few seconds, for interesting and attention-grabbing visuals, this necessitates a considerable amount of footage to play with.
How to become a music video director in essence means how to collaborate with an artist and execute the vision they have for the project.
Some artists will defer to the ideas of the director. But in the vast majority of cases, they’ll want to have some creative input as well. And of course, they’re hoping that the director will make them look good on camera no matter the vision.
A few key tips when working with artists:
Trust and transparency are the building blocks of a successful relationship and subsequently, a successful career.
There is no wrong answer to this question.
When learning how to become a music video director, some professionals may find great fulfillment in trying out different genres and stylistic choices.
Others may find that they like sticking to a particular look and tone.
Again, you can stick to a particular type of creative vision or not. Just know that you will then grow a reputation based on that decision, which may affect what type of clients will want to work with you.
Producing vs. directing is synonymous with logistics vs. creative. And within a medium like film, these roles are clearly defined—the producer typically handles the business aspects of the project while the director focuses on the creative aspects.
And this is generally the same for music videos. But due to the low budget nature of this particular role in this particular industry, sometimes the director acts as a one-person show, taking on the role of a producer (managing logistical concerns), alongside creative execution, sometimes even shooting or editing the footage themselves.
Once the shoot has wrapped, it’s time to cut together the music video. Should there be a budget to justify it, a music video director will have an editor to assemble the footage.
If you’re involved in the edit, you’ll quickly discover that post-production should be thought about during the production phase to make the post process as smooth as possible.
How much music video directors make depends on the parameters of the project and the reputation that precedes the director. But it’s important to note that there has been a push towards greater equity for directors, as even well-known music videos have been directed by those who haven’t received much monetary benefit. Many have worked jobs just to break even.
Though, generally, we’ve seen directors come out with a day rate of $800 to $3,500 for actual shooting days.
A signed artist backed by a major music label will likely have a bigger budget to spend. Should that client want a high-end video with special effects and multiple locations, that too will necessitate a bigger budget. But that doesn’t always translate to a larger music video director salary. If there’s union talent, the budget will also impact their financial bottom-line. And could affect the director’s pay negatively or positively depending on how it's allocated.
We’ve mentioned before that a considerable part of how to become a music video director entails more than just knowing how to write treatments and cut footage – you must also know how to forge and nurture relationships.
That certainly will mean creating friendships with musicians and bands. Depending on how successful they become, it might also mean striking up relationships with the labels and managers who represent them.
It also wouldn’t hurt to build relationships with other music video directors. Yes, in a very obvious regard, you’re in professional competition with them, but other directors can also become your best allies.
If they’re already busy on a project, they can recommend you for another. If they’re tapped for a project that ultimately doesn’t align with their creative sensibilities, maybe yours do.
Never underestimate the potential for professional success through music video creator relationships.
Mostly yes. But that’s typical for anyone who works in a creative medium like film, television, or music videos.
However… Some production companies market themselves as music video all-in-one shops, directors included. So in theory, you may find an employee opportunity at one of these companies.
It might afford you some measure of job security but know that joining such a company may also affect your income opportunities. You may be restricted as far as taking jobs outside of the business, and for those you are given through it, you will likely make the same annual salary no matter the budget of the project.
This is important to keep in mind if how much music video directors make is a major consideration for you.
The life of a music video director is not unlike nearly every other professional who works in the creative sphere – it’s up to you to make it happen.
You may be up for the challenge when you’re first starting out and eager to get work, but truth be told, hustling is a way of life for beginners and veterans alike.
Beyond keeping up with your professional contacts, always be honing your craft.
Even if you decide to focus on a particular style like experimental or avant-garde videos, keep up with the last equipment, shooting conventions, and editing techniques to ensure that you are the first person called for that next big music video project.
Perhaps the most considerable learning curve of all is figuring out that elusive tightrope walk between honoring your client’s vision and channeling your own creative inclinations so that you feel fulfilled at the completion of each project.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but learning how to become a music video director happens on the job. This is where you discover how best to communicate with your clients, (and how best not to). You learn how to negotiate a rate that reflects your expertise and experience. And you discover, maybe the hard way, how to write treatments that win pitches.
For more on how Wrapbook can support your next music video project and keep you tax compliant in the process, learn more here.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.