Great video content is one of the most effective ‘tools’ a jazz musician has when it comes to convincing a promoter, winning a new fan or motivating a journalist.
As a jazz booking agent I’ve experienced first-hand the effect a simple but well-produced video can have when it comes to getting a gig. It cuts through the noise and gives the club or festival 2 quick things:
- The chance to fully understand the type of band it is, in less than 5 minutes
- A look at how they can promote this music to their ticket-buying audience
Today’s interview guest is British filmmaker and director of photography Dan Redding who has worked with many musicians on the British jazz scene, and beyond.
He’s going to give some insight into both how things work when you want a professional music video produced for you – as well as tips on how you can make the best out of a do-it-yourself situation.
Stick around until the end of the interview for some examples of his work…
How did you first get into jazz?
I started playing guitar when I was about 15 and was mostly into rock stuff. I kept playing and went to a music school and then onto a degree course and it was there that I first started listening to and absorbing jazz music.
I was absolutely terrible at this point, but kept persevering and eventually got a few jazz function gigs (first one was a Volvo garage in Stockport for £100) and just kept playing until I became passable as a jazz guitarist.
You produced a series called The Music Quiz interviewing some of the best musicians on the London jazz scene. Do you think musicians should utilise video more to put across their ‘story’?
I think a lot of musicians feel embarrassed to be in front of the camera, unless it’s in the context of performing.
But the way people absorb media and interact has changed a lot with the rise of social media. Like it or hate it it’s here to stay and more musicians should make use of that facility.
There are a lot of ways to promote yourself these days and the way people make money from music has changed beyond all recognition. If you’re a talented musician then there’s a huge fan base and market just waiting for you if you can offer them something they want to engage with.
I think that video lends itself particularly to music education (teaching) but that it can also be a platform in itself to launch you as a performer and artist.
I’ve seen some beautiful editing you’ve done from live gig footage. What are the most important things to keep in mind when filming in such an environment?
Each gig is very different and each venue offers it’s own unique challenges.
Small venues pose the greatest challenge, and it can be hard to get musicians out of the mindset of just thinking in terms of coverage: usually one of the first questions I get asked is “How many cameras do you have?”, without the musician giving any thought to aesthetic or movement in the shots.
Most musicians want to see the whole gig back, but often we get a far better result from just picking 1-2 tunes and focusing on those.
Getting the best result often depends on the co-operation of the artist, venue, lighting team (if any) and soundman.
With some gigs I film, I’m aware that the camera work is secondary to the performance – and that’s fine if established before and the artist manages their expectations accordingly.
With other gigs I’m given a lot more control.
It’s those gigs that tend to come out the best, where we can plan the shots and consider the lighting a lot more beforehand to get the best result.
Budget is also important, as I don’t want to be doing the sound recording at the same time and ideally I’d like several camera people to make sure we’ve filmed it in the most interesting dynamic way possible.
But at the end of the day, if someone plays something incredible and it’s captured on a smartphone then that can sometimes be a more powerful advert for their project. After all, playing live music is hard enough without the knowledge that you’re spending 2 months’ wages on a 2 hour recording that might not get you anything you’re happy with…
If a musician wants to be able to produce regular quality content themselves, what would be the key bits of equipment to buy and in what order?
Most people already have it.
The best camera for the job is the one you already have. Just use your iPhone or buy something that suits your purpose.
I started with a small zoom recorder that did HD video & stereo sound recording and I loved making videos on that.
If you want to buy a DSLR and take it to the next level then you can, but be prepared to go down that rabbit hole. You’ll need to understand exposure, buy lenses, buy lighting and have a computer that can handle your editing needs and it can be frustrating when your first attempts don’t come out the way you hoped.
If you persevere with that and understand that there will be a learning curve, the it can be really rewarding and fun.
What’s your set up in terms of editing?
Not sure how nerdy you want me to be about this but I have a pretty comprehensive setup these days!
I have just about the best computer I can buy and 2 x monitors, with an external sound card and 2 x studio monitors.
Generally you don’t need all that stuff.
You need a good mid range PC and you will need to make proxy files (smaller versions of the large compressed files generated by DSLRs) and then you’re good to go. I would strongly recommend buying a good monitor and a colour calibration device (unless you find one with it built in), if you want to get serious about editing.
For musicians making video content on a mobile phone, what’s the best app to work with?
Editing software is referred to as NLE’s (Non linear editors) and there’s a fantastic free piece of software made by Blackmagicdesign called “DaVinci Resolve”.
It’s not for the fainthearted, but there are hundreds of tutorials on YouTube teaching you everything you could ever want to know. Once your learn one of these NLE programs, you have the basic understanding of how all the rest work.
You work with a lot of jazz musicians. What do you think is the main benefit to them in having super high quality and creative video content?
It’s your business card these days.
Most clubs and venues don’t want to listen to your whole album, but they can engage with a video easily and get a better look at what you’re all about. I think it’s easily the most effective way of getting the word out about a project or new release.
Can you talk a little about the different types/styles of jazz music videos you’ve been involved with?
I think it’s very important when you’re starting a new project to know what you want.
A few years ago everyone wanted an EPK (Electronic Press Kit), which was basically an interview with cutaways to live tracks and B-roll of the band/artist.
But often the artist would ask me for 2-3 tunes on a multi-cam and an interview and an EPK. That’s just too much for me to do to a really high standard so these days I tend to be pretty upfront about what the deliverables of the project are and how long I prepared to be at the studio and spend on it editing.
For most budgets, I think it’s better to talk before the session and work out what parts you want to film.
Be aware that often filming your album recording is not the most riveting footage, as someone trying to record an album is often not really performing as they’re just focusing on not messing up their ridiculously hard tune in 11/8 and remembering where the 3rd shout chorus is that goes into 15/4!
So basically, it’s sometimes better just to plan 1 solo or 1 head (tune) and use that as the sync/core of the video and put all the shots of the guys hanging out over the top of it.
[Cameramen: don’t forget to film them hanging out and don’t hang out too much with them or you won’t capture any of it!]
If the artist is the charismatic articulate type then an interview might be cool too.
What jazz video of yours was the most challenging to make and why?
Often it’s only challenging if the band are unprepared or some kind of disaster strikes.
I did a classical recording where the sound went down and the artist was in tears and we only had the venue for a very limited time. Luckily we managed to plug the microphones all into the preamps on the camera (as it was just a solo viola) and get the job done. That one came out really well in the end.
Another really hard session, was when I went with Scott from Scott’s Bass Lessons to New York and we had to start filming on 3 production cameras I’d never worked with before. I couldn’t even find the on button, let alone work out most of the other settings and we had a band arrive to film and do an interview with within an hour of setup. That was a bit hairy, but again we pushed through.
I think more generally though, the only problems come if you don’t see eye to eye on with the artist. If we’ve spoken enough before hand and planned everything, and everyone is aware of what we’re producing and how, then there’s no problem.
If a musician is trying to make a quality video on a very tight budget, which parts can most easily be DIY’d and which should they hire someone to help with?
A lot of people take the sound from a studio these days without getting it mixed and mastered there and occasionally the same thing happens with video.
I think editing can be accomplished by those with the patience and eye for it, but I’d recommend cutting your teeth on a few home projects before you take home the footage from a 7-camera shoot.
As with audio, there are a lot of cheats that can be done to make an edit look better.
Using cuts from other takes, where something more visually interesting is happening can work really well, but a lot of artists are afraid of this.
I know that Michael League of Snarky Puppy said that he edited some of their shoots himself (not sure which ones), so it can be done!
Your filming for Scott’s Bass Lessons sees the videos repurposed for various social media channels. What are the key differences between these platforms that musicians should be aware of before posting?
I’m not sure I’m 100% the guy to talk to about this, other than the technical aspects.
I know that Scott always says that when you’re starting out you should just pick 1 social media outlet to work on, and go at that as hard as you can. He says that Twitter is basically dead, and for the purposes of music promotion I’m inclined to agree.
Instagram is great, but requires more regular content. Facebook is great, but since they made it more commercial it’s a lot harder to gain traction without paying for promoted content.
I think YouTube is probably the best outlet for musicians that want to make regular video posts. I heard the other day that some people on TikTok make good money by just asking for donations and writing songs on there. Seems very alien to me, but interesting to see how people are making money in music these days.
What’s one simple ‘trick’ to make a budget video look better?
Colour correction and grading can play a big part.
Retro instagram-style filters and plugins that make your footage look like tape or film can make a difference.
You can also do cool things with aspect ratios, like film it in 4:3 (like old TV) or 1:1 for instagram feed.
A lot of guys on youtube also use a 2:1 aspect ratio (I only found this out the other day).
So I think some basic colour correction, and an understanding of aspect ratio can go a long way. You can also get some really effective results just using cheap incandescent lighting, light bulbs and lamps to light your scene.
What should musicians be aware of when in comes to budgets for a music video?
I think whatever you want to do, you need a budget in mind, so when you approach someone they know if it’s feasible and can talk to you about options.
I’m not sure I can comment on the budget for a video as it’s so tailored to each production and each artists needs. Just as a generalisation, it costs about £150 ($200) per day to rent a pretty good DSLR, with lenses and accessories.
So I guess you’re looking at around that amount per camera and then you have to pay a videographer for their time, plus someone to edit after.
If you approach a company with a cool creative project they may be sympathetic. Especially if you have a very strong brief and and a focused idea of what you want made.
Big thanks to Dan Redding for taking the time to answer these questions. If you want to check out his work, you can find him at danredding.co.uk and check out, in particular, his videos for jazz musicians, like this one below.
You can also read more Jazzfuel articles on the topic: