How to Make a Music Video on a Budget

Caleb Rexius, filmmaker and founder of Filmpac, gives an overview of the start to finish production of Shy Honey’s “Potion” music video.

Today, we’re going behind the scenes and walking through how to make a sick music video, on a budget. You can watch the video here, or keep reading.

Watch Video:

The month is April 2021, and we at Filmpac are launching our music licensing platform, something that has been years in the making. And to hype it up and help advertise, we decided we should make a music video for one of our featured indie artists.

We’re working with Anna Gilbert of Shy Honey, who I’ve actually known since we were teenagers at the same high school. She’s an incredible vocalist, pianist, and songwriter. She’s also an artist on our Filmpac roster. She’s awesome. I called her up, and we made a plan. 

So what I want to do in this post is just briefly walk through what my creative and production process looked like.

I’ve produced and directed a number of music videos in the past, even some for Grammy Award-winning artists like: Chris Tomlin, Matthew West, TobyMac, and more, and though I wouldn’t say music video production is my specialty, I’ve seen enough to know what to look out for and what to focus on, and I want to walk you through it.

This isn’t necessarily an in-depth step-by-step tutorial; but rather it’s more of an overview.

But at the end of this read, I want you, the reader, to feel like, “yeah I could do that“. 

First Up – 3 priorities:


After choosing a song and listening to it a few times, I texted Anna with an overall, big-picture vision for this video…and she was immediately down.

So we talked on the phone for a while to brainstorm. I wanted to make sure I understood her brand and her audience, and no one knows their brand and audience better than the artist themselves.  It doesn’t mean that all of their ideas are gold, it just means, simply: the artist’s opinion matters.


Something she said on the phone (and we both had to laugh) was: “I just don’t want it to look YouTube-y“, and what I think she meant was that there are ton of up-and-coming uber-talented creators, and they have nice cameras and can make some good stuff, but you can tell when something is directed by someone with experience and a truly creative eye. 

I think what she really meant here was to make it stand out. In a sea of boring music videos online, make it stand out.

When you see these high-profile artists push out videos, usually they are memorable and distinct, and that’s what she wanted. That’s what I want too.


Shy Honey has a bit of an 80s pop synthwave feel to it, so let’s give a little nod to that era with some of the details in wardrobe, old tube tvs, some extra fog, some neon lights, and maybe even an old landline phone 😉

Those were the 3 priorities that began to inform what this should actually be about, and truthfully, we could have taken this is a number of different directions, literally hundreds or thousands of different ideas. But personally, I am trying to do this on a budget – a time budget and a financial budget – so I’m running each of these ideas that come to mind through my filter of: what can I film in 1 day, in a small studio, and spend $0?

3 Primary Music Video Components: Singer, Setting, Story

#1 – Singer

Sometimes the performance shots are the entire video, and sometimes there’s no performance aspect at all.

Sometimes the singer/performer is also the protagonist or lead role (there are a lot of ways that this can play out), but our plan here was to split about half and half between singer (Anna) and story shots (model).

Anna had a wardrobe idea, and I had a backdrop idea that would be applied to the performance shots as well as part of the story with a slight variation (which I explain later). 

#2 Story

When it comes to story, directors have a decision to make on how literal to take the lyrics and/or how to visualize them.

I personally wanted to just take the basis of the song (a young lady’s infatuation with a love interest) and then freestyle some abstract visuals that can represent the song in a cool, current, contemporary, artistic way.

I think music video storylines can lack clarity, and that’s totally ok.

We have more limitations if we are trying to make a short or feature film – we would have to make sure the story is super clear with a defined arc – but that’s not the case here, not for music videos, so that takes some pressure off.

Essentially, I want our protagonist to emerge in this dream, in this infatuation state, with some cool visuals and abstract movements. I think I can put something together to fill the 3-4 minute song.

#3 – Setting

The literal set is inside our small Filmpac studio.

But figuratively, the setting is that we are inside of a dream: an 80’s-inspired, dream-like environment where our protagonist can’t stop thinking about her love interest.

I really wanted a huge wall of old TV’s displaying TV noise or other cool abstract stuff, and flashing lights all over the place, but in reality, I was brainstorming this entire concept 1-2 days before filming day, so this is where that “limited budget” part comes into play.

I don’t want to spend a bunch of money and time rounding up all the assets to make that big complicated idea happen. But, what I do have at my disposal that can work is this:

  • I have 1 old TV from a previous shoot that I kept
  • I have 1 new-ish TV from our office area
  • I have 3 unused, basic, cheap monitors
  • I also have a few extra accessories like tube lights, industrial shelves, a fog machine, and lots of extension cords.

What can we creatively build with that?


Let’s talk about the cinematographer/director combo for a moment.

I’m directing and DP’ing this shoot, which is not uncommon, but it does mean I’m balancing the communication of what I’m wanting to see with the actual art and technical side of capturing it correctly in camera.

Sometimes it’s nice to just wear one of those hats, but today, on a budget, on a timeline, its all me, and that’s okay. 

Artist Performance:

In my personal experience, artists are generally good on camera.

They’ve had enough stage performance (and imagining themselves in music videos of their own) that even if they haven’t spent a ton of time right in front of the camera, they generally can crush it on screen.

It’s always fun to see, and I love being super encouraging and affirming to them upfront about that.

If we can really get a positive vibe in the studio and make sure everyone is having fun, the final product will reflect that.

Anna is no exception here; she’s crushing it and we’re getting some simple, yet really cool-looking performance shots.


Casting can be difficult; it can make or break a video.

I chose Jazzy (model/protagonist), who is also a friend of mine, and is just unbelievable on camera.

She looks amazing, has a cool vibe, and does especially well with big expressive emotions, so I brought her in for this part. 

If you want to learn more about direction big emotions, read the blog here – Directing Emotion: 5 Tips

A quick, practical, simple tip for wardrobe selection: because we’re on a timeline and a budget and I don’t want to spend money or time figuring out her size and outfit, all I did was browse through her Instagram, found an outfit that she already has that I liked, and said, “hey – wear that”.

That’s part of being scrappy and on a budget – we don’t have a wardrobe team for her – so let’s just rock with what we have. Easy.

I’m trying to minimize how much raw footage I have to scrub through and put together, so I only shot with each of them for about 2 hours.

We got the right stuff. And now we’re on to editing.  


Technically, there are a few things I do here first. I get all the performance takes lined up and synchronized. This used to be more difficult, but now Premiere Pro makes it really easy with just a few clicks.

I shot this on RED (RED Gemini at 5k WS, 23.976fps, 5:1 compression), so these are massive files and my computer was immediately struggling to play back smoothly even on the first scrub through, so I’m going to render proxies to make that easier. I can walk through that more in-depth on another video.

Creatively, the editing aspect is fairly straightforward, though it does take some discernment to figure out things like how long to stay on a shot, when to introduce the story element, and when to introduce a new visual component. 

Music videos can get boring and repetitive, and that’s going to be my biggest challenge here: to keep it engaging throughout. It’s tough enough to make an engaging :30 TV ad, and it’s even more difficult to keep the viewer’s attention for 3-4 minutes.


Right when I pulled all of the b-roll into the project, I realized I really don’t have enough to tell a really full detailed story, but I do have some components that can emote an intriguing and somewhat ambiguous story of love and heartbreak.

I love the bridge of the song, but it’s an instrumental build, I don’t have anywhere else to go with the established storyline, and the lyrics can’t really carry it (because there are none for this part).

So as I was listening to it for like the 50th time, I heard a voicemail in my head, a voicemail message something like “Hey it’s me…I wanna see you…bla bla bla”, so when I was done filming with the model, we literally recorded a voice memo on my phone. Super simple. Lofi.

We recorded a few variations of what a voicemail might sound like in this kind of situation, and I think it turned out cool and gave the music video a little bit of its own identity apart from the song itself. Sometimes it’s kind of cool to hear something different on a video than what you would hear on the actual recorded song.


For some of these slow mo expressive parts, I used a color invert to really pop out some color and give that part even more of an unworldly and dreamy feel. I used it sparingly, and tried to keep most of the shots clean, but for a few parts (especially on the instrumentals), it can be a nice change of pace. All I did was:

  • Duplicate the layer and put it on top of the other (or use a separate layer completely)
  • On the top layer, apply an invert effect with “Red” channel.
  • Change the blending mode to “Color Dodge”
  • Scale clip up larger than the one below it.

There are lots of ways to do this, and I just had fun trying to be creative with it.

Final Thoughts:

I love how this turned out. I’m happy and the artist is happy.

And I especially like when I can create something like this in a short amount of time, and on a very little budget. I can get bored and fatigued with projects that last weeks or months, so the fact that this was 1 day of planning, 1 day of shooting, and 1 day of editing kept me fresh and motivated.

If we spent $100k, could it have been bigger and better and cooler?


But one thing I’ve always found with small budgets and scrappy filmmakers is that the pressure and restrictions from having limited resources can either be a breeding ground for complaining, or it can be a breeding ground for creativity. Once again for the people in back:

limited resources can either be a breeding ground for complaining or creativity.

So, let’s all choose creativity – every time. 

Watch the final music video here

Watch the behind-the-scenes video here.

Caleb is a filmmaker, composer, and founder of Filmpac.

FILMPAC Filmpac is a premium stock footage + music membership library.