How to Edit a Music Video

How to Edit a Music Video

I just finished editing a music video for a new artist. It’s quite good!

I’ll post it once it’s released :)

The cinematography is excellent — done by a friend of mine, and her style right now is on fire. She did all these analogue trippy effects with prisms in front of the lens, etc. So lush.

I was given the task of doing the assistant editing (syncing the performances with the actual song / assembling the “best of” clips/ etc) … But the studio got so slammed with work, they just passed the entire thing off to me. And the final result was so pleasing to everybody, looks like they’re keeping the cut lol

We’re now in talks to do a second video as a team: the artist / the cinematographer / & myself. Dope!

I learned a lot about editing music videos. Gathered advice from industry professionals, and also made observations of my own by watching my favorite music videos.

Here’s a few tricks I picked up in the last few weeks —

  1. Synchronize all the performances on top of each other, creating a multi-camera timeline.

    This one may be obvious but it took me a few hours to realize. Don’t just individually synchronize the clips and place them next to each other on the timeline, to be logged individually. I mean, yes… Log each take individually (Meaning: Watch each shot with the synchronized song, and cut out / separate all the best stuff). However, on top of this, have a master sync timeline for each location where the music track is laid down and the video tracks have every take in that location stacked on top of each other. This way you can quickly scrub to any point of the song and look at the various takes for that lyric. The reason you want to do one of these per location, and not for the entire shoot, is because then things might get confusing real quick. If you shot in 5 different locations, have 5 different stacked timelines with all the takes in that location. This step will make the final crunch time of the video delivery much easier.

  2. The key spectacle are the various locations.

    You’re going to want to strategically reveal & withhold the presentation of your various locations, as this is the spice the music video is cooked with. If you’re filming, and not just editing, then capture the complete performance of the musician(s) in various locations — As many sexy locations as possible, preferably places that will elicit sensations of high contrast when juxtaposed next to each other. Consider multiple outfits for the performers, also.

  3. The climax is the first chorus.

    Unlike traditional cinema, the climax for a music video occurs near the beginning of the video… not near the end. Consider your own music video watching habits: You tune in to the first part of it, get the idea, then walk away… leaving it on playing in the background. Or you skim through to the end. Or you just click away. Most music videos are not watched as complete cinematic experiences… And so you want to start hard. Best foot forward.

  4. Start your edit by dropping in the very best clips of the performance. Build around those.

    This is just “Editing Movies 101” but it applies extra with music videos. Once you’ve synchronized everything on your timeline, create a new timeline with just the music track. Begin dropping in the clips you know are stand-outs in terms of cinematography & performance. Remember: Anything that makes you feel an emotion is good footage! The more extreme the emotion felt, the better.

  5. Separate all the moments where nothing happens.

    While editing I realized I was coming up with a lack of extra footage. I believe this was an oversight of the directorial department, but it was no biggie. I noticed there were plenty of “down time” moments captured by the cinematographer in between takes. During these moments the performer would either do a cutesy face, or laugh, or just stand in an intense manner that looked fitting in certain parts of the song. I separated all of these moments as I was logging each take… and they came in quite handy as I was patching up the gaps in my edit as time went on. Put them in a timeline called “psychedelic scraps” or something.

  6. Do not apply any special effects… until the very end (if necessary).
    Edit the music video with just the razor tool, possibly some dissolves. Too many videos are burdened with special effects. Most music video editors start there, then work their way toward a cut. No no no! Forget about the special effects. Get that solid cut of your music video using a razor blade & tape (metaphorically speaking). If it works on that dimension, then you have a good video. The likelihood you need any effects at all is quite low. Only use the special effects card if you feel the edit, in the end, is quite standard or dull.

  7. Come up with an emotional / sensory theme or two. Forget about messaging.

    This one may be controversial but it works for me! Drop the idea of any intellectual theme being communicated. It’s a fucking music video. If any message comes across, great. Hopefully it’s a positive one. But for the most part, people just wanna bop. I developed two sensory-emotional themes while editing this video. I call them - “Man, I’m so glad I’m high right now” and “Ugh I really wanna fuck her.” At any given moment during the video, I want the audience feeling either one of those things, or both.

    Come up with your own sensory-emotional theme: Something you want the audience to feel or experience. NOT SOMETHING YOU WANT THEM TO THINK. Big difference. Something you want people to feel. So long as it’s fitting to the footage you actually captured (specifically, the best footage you captured / already selected in your logging) , this will be a very useful structural reference point. It also embeds in your video an actual experience — people can tune in & experience a thing, as opposed to most music videos… where people experience, essentially, nothing.

    Make people hungry. Make people horny. Make people high.

  8. We don’t need it good. We need it Thursday.

    Finally, like my mentor Herschell Gordon Lewis used to say: We don’t need it good, we need it Thursday! I spent two weeks editing mine. It was also my first rodeo in the music video world. I could probably shave a few days off my next edit. But the trick is to just deliver something with a few dazzling spectacles thrown in. Create something interesting that can captivate attention, & you did your job. Doesn’t have to be perfect. But it does have to be.

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