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Tips for Editing Music Videos

written by: Shawn S. Lealos•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/10/2011

One of the more lucrative and creative endeavors for a director is to work with music videos. Whether you’re editing your own production or someone else's, here are some tips to consider before getting started.

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    Editing a music video is a challenging but fun project for video editors. However, it is important to get the footage right in order to edit the video properly for the musicians and director of the video. The musicians, director and editor must sit down together ahead of time and work on the theme and ideas for the video.

    Some music videos simply take concert footage and edit it together with the song. In cases like this, a number of shots need be included in the video, from wide shots of the band to close-ups of the musicians, It is also important to shoot a lot of cutaway shots.

    If the music video is going to tell a narrative visual story to accompany the song, a detailed shot list should be put together by the director and delivered to the editor. The two artists need to get together before editing begins to hammer out the theme and mood of the video so they are on the same page before work on the video’s editing begins.

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    Putting Together a Live Concert Video

    Listen to the song numerous times before starting to edit. It is important to understand the beats and flow of the song before anything is edited. It is the job of the music video editor to make sure that all cuts and movements in the video are synched to the music.

    Since you’ll be editing the video around the song, you’ll need to first add the song to the audio track. Once the song is added to the timeline, it is time to get started on the music video editing. If you are editing together a live footage music video, there are a lot of precautions to worry about.

    Start out by using the main master shot of the band playing the song by synching the song and concert footage. After the main footage is added to the timeline and synched, it is time to start working on various cuts and angles. Using the knowledge you have of the song, take one specific instrument to work with at a time.

    Falcon 5-0 For example, find where the guitar delivers signature riffs or breaks into a solo and start working through the footage of the various close-up and medium shots of the guitarist in action. The lucky thing is, unlike lip synching, it is not as important to be exact when it comes to the guitar work, so you can use what looks best without being perfect. However, keep it as close as you can to avoid the video looking wrong. There also might be a reason to add extreme close-ups on the guitar itself. In this case, make sure it is for the exact moment of the song, synched as close as possible. Otherwise, don’t use it.

    One of the main subjects of the music video is of the singer as he belts out the lyrics. There should be many different angles on the singer throughout the song and you have to make sure to get the lips synched as best as possible. You may not have a good shot of specific parts of the song and that is when you need to cut to another band member, a wide shot of the group or a cut-away shot like the crowd.

    Make sure to use various angles, cutaways and action or close-up shots to keep the video from appearing repetitive and boring.

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    Telling a Story with Music

    There is a difference when working on a music video that tells a story. A great example of these music videos include those by The Beastie Boys or ones directed by Spike Jonze, where the music plays but a story plays out on the screen.

    There are times where the people in the video might be lip synching the words and that must be expertly synched up but, other than that, this is all about the beat of the song.

    Throughout the editing, refer to the screenplay and shot lists to create your rough cut of the music video. Include the shots in the order that the director shot them in but keep the tempo of the song in mind when choosing which angles and shots are used. It is the editor's job to make sure that the action flows with the beat of the music. Feel the beat, rhythm and tempo. Are there any panning effects? Edit the clips based on these. If the song is fast, cut in short and/or fast clips. If the song has a slow tempo, use longer shots. Timing is essential when editing!

    Remember that editing the music video that tells a story is the same as editing a short film but with concentrated efforts at pacing based on the music.

    If there is dialogue in the music video that is separate from the song, record those in a studio and make sure that all ADR is synched perfectly to the images.

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    Article written based on author's own experience.

    Photos from author's personal collection.