All posts in “Making a Great Music Video for Zero Budget”

Making a Great Music Video for Zero Budget

“Good ideas will replace a lack of cash any day.” – Mike Rogers

Su Ko D Koi – Japanese girls band

     I was asked by a friend to help with making a music video for a band. My friend is on the other side of the earth, so I don’t know how much help I can be.

     So here is my freebie advice (for what it is worth)….First things first… As far as making a video. My friend wrote that she’s: “been given the opportunity to produce/direct a music video for the title track of a soon-to-be-released CD.”

     I can guess that she reached out to me because she might not know where to start. That’s normal. I’m the same way every time I make a video.

     I always remember one important thing that my hero Quentin Tarantino once said (I’m paraphrasing here):

     “It is not necessary that I know how to do everything: camera, editing, lighting, etc…. As the producer/director/writer it is only important that I have a vision and am smart enough to gather people around me who have more talent and are smarter than me. Also, after I gather them, it is ultimately most important that I am skilled enough in communication to get them to understand my vision….. That’s all.

     I used to be a (sort of) good cameraman and editor and lighting… Now? I have gotten old and my eyes are bad so I can’t see if the shots are in focus…. The editing software constantly changes so I don’t know how to use the new software and am very slow (always was)…. The lighting? I can still do that…. (Yuji Wada who does the lighting for all of Sophie Coppola’s movies – Lost in Translation, etc. – was my teacher and best friend.)

     But it is better for me to find people who are better than me and smarter than me to work on the project. I just have to make sure they understand the vision and to have them help me achieve that vision.

     Always remember: We don’t hire smart/talented people so that we can tell them what to do; we hire people smarter and more talented than us so that they tell us what to do! (We tell them the vision. They tell us how to implement).


     A while back, I stumbled upon this (at the time) unknown girls band, named Su Ko D Koi. I liked them a lot and asked them if we could make their video (as a DJ, I do have an eye and ear for what might become big). We had a zero budget of course. So, we figured the best way is to shoot their live show, rehearsal, and not spend any money. Then we add some “spice” to make the video fun and entertaining.

     The basic way to do this for a music video? Shoot at the venue of a live show for that band. Shoot the live show but also shoot full dress rehearsal a few hours before the live show. (Why at a venue? Because one of the biggest problems with cheap assed videos is poor lighting… At most venues they have professional lighting. Use it.) Also have the band make damned sure the venue knows what is going on (they have to know, someone needs to control the lighting!) Every one shows up to sound check/rehearsal at least 1.5 hours early ready to start.

Use at least two cameras. Shoot the exact same song (Shoot the exact same song (lip synched to CD) three times at full dress rehearsal (these are almost all very close up shots). Then two cameras shooting the song performed live one time. (Tell the band to play live as close to the CD recording as possible because syncing up for edit is difficult and time consuming if versions are different or timing is different.)

     Also remember:

1) For bands that do not move around a lot: Move the cameras around a lot to create the feel of action.
2) At the dress rehearsal shoots: Tell the lighting people to do the lighting the same as the actual live.
3) Make sure the bands tell the venue  way before the day of the shoot. Thank the venue folks for supporting your efforts (make damned sure the venue name appears in the video or at the ending – ask the venue boss for a logo to be sent to you. – Hell, you never know, if you do a good job, the venue might ask you back!)
4) For one song, it takes at least three or four takes at rehearsal to get footage you need. That only takes 15 ~ 25 minutes. But set up takes time… Make sure everyone (and venue lighting people) know what’s going on and arrive 1.5 hours earlier than usual.
5) If the band will be lip syncing to a song, better make damned sure you have that song on a CD (and a backup CD) when you get to the club…. Duh!

The Actual Video Concept?

     This is the producers/directors/writers job (that’s you). Come up with an idea for the base. This will be the “Spice” that makes the video stand out. Make sure everyone “gets it.”

This Su Ko D Koi video was completely inspired by the ending theme of the Monkees TV show from the sixties (See below). This video was a smash success and one of their most viewed videos of all time (even though the budget was basically zero). 170,000 views in less than 2 years (actually, over 200,000 views adding in another link that we have deleted now.)

Here is the original Monkees TV show ending for your reference:

Original Monkees TV Show ending:

We use this low-budget concept for almost all the videos we make. My partner (and video genius extraordinaire), Ken Nishikawa, (and I) make these videos for basically free for bands because music has given us a good life and we want to “pay back” and help Indies bands…. In most cases, if we don’t help these indies bands make a professional video, they’ll never have one.

Su Ko D Koi is now becoming very famous in Japan…. The next band, Shonen Knife, has been famous for a long time. We shot their video in order to give ourselves some credibility. Oh, and they also paid us a little bit because they are so cool – and famous! But the basic plan: Shoot dress rehearsal before a live show and the live show to cut costs remains the same.

This video was inspired by 1960s Beatles videos and an old 1930s movie of the title I’ve forgotten.  The archival scenes inside the video can be used for free from here (read terms of use: You’ll have to write to them to get clearance, but they are happy if you credit them and use their footage!

Shonen Knife – Ghost Train:

     The Shonen Knife video was made for less than a few hundred dollars. But you don’t have to tell your client that. There are LOTS of band video on the internet around that cost several thousand dollars that are terrible! The trick is to get your $100 video to look like it cost $5,000 or $10,000 or more!

     Always remember that: “Good ideas will replace a lack of cash any day.”

     That’s my best advice on making a great band video.

Some others we made using the technique above:

The Pats Pats – A.A.A. (We did shoot some shots with them hugging and playing with a cat…. But the cat wasn’t cooperative at all and got mad and scratched one of the girls (uh oh!) so we trashed all those shots…. Working with animals? Not recommended.) Oh, and can you tell that this Pats Pats video was shot at the same venue as much of the Shonen Knife video was shot at?

Make sure the venue you choose has great lighting – dark clubs are not good.

This next one is an old one from a punk band from Kobe. I want you to look at this one as it uses archival footage from too (like the Shonen Knife video). Once again, there’s tons of great footage at but you have to write to them…. Don’t be lazy! It just takes a few minutes to write to these kind people and ask them for permission! And, as in this case, it’s well worth the effort… Not every Japanese punk band can be in a video with the legendary Bela Lugosi!

The Soap – The Street

The next video of Japan’s seminal rock band, the Privates, was shot before a live show at a club in Shinjuku. The club’s stage was so small that we moved the band to the crowd area and shot there. This was done with three cameras and four takes lip synched to the CD. This club is small and, since the Privates were playing there, it was sold out months in advance (of course)… So there is no live footage because that club was sardine can packed that night!

This video was directed by Ken Nishikawa. Brilliant editing by Ken too… It reminds me of trippy music videos from back in the days when people dropped a lot of acid (Repo-Man reference for those of you paying attention.)

The Privates – Action Woman

Here’s another old one: Moja! This got great reviews…. Moja is interesting as they are a very difficult band to capture their true spirit in a video. Has to be live…. Lots of spice.

Moja – Hello Hello

Ken and I with the team also made a full length motion picture that hits theaters in Japan in Sept. 2017. The same concept for the music videos. Lots of fast cuts, on sync, good lighting….

Oh, and the last important thing, always believe in the project. You have to believe in yours. I always believe in mine or I don’t do them. As for this movie, we have garnered a deal with a very famous Japanese major film studio for release as well as some film festivals. I found out later that my team didn’t think that was possible (so maybe I need to work on convincing people and explaining the vision). But I expected to sell the movie and I expected success.

Believe in your project. Believe in yourself.

Ghostroads – A Japanese Rock n Roll Ghost Story

The ideas above will work for all music videos. So what are you waiting for?

Thanks to my genius friend and partner Ken Nishikawa. Without him, I couldn’t do anything!