May 26, 2021

How to Edit a Music Video

While music videos are fun and straightforward to watch, they belie the complexity of the editing techniques used to make them so entertaining. Music videos cut between shots, on average, every 1 to 2 seconds… so if your song is three minutes long, you might have over 180 cuts to make!

Many directors and editors feel music videos are playgrounds where they can try new techniques and experiment with the art form – view this as your chance to impress others with your editing prowess! As you delve into editing your music video, consider the following tips to keep your content fresh and your audience engaged.

Cut to the Beat – But Not Always!

It makes sense that the beat of the music should drive the pace of your edit. If your song is slow and heartfelt, a more languid music video will likely communicate your message better. Similarly, if you’re editing for a 120 beat-per-minute dance anthem, quick cuts will better energize and excite your audience. You may be tempted to line up your cuts with every note of a guitar solo or thump of a kick drum. These techniques work to synchronize your video with the music – but if used for an entire song, can quickly turn monotonous.

Audiences need to see variety to stick with your music video for more than a few moments. You can keep their attention by occasionally cutting on off-beats, or even contradicting the pace of the song by rapidly cutting during slow sections or holding on shots even while the music takes off. If you cut to the beat relentlessly for three minutes, you run the risk of boring your audience with formulaic editing.

Come up with your own unique ideas when working on your music video!

Switch Scenes Often

You can notice a trend when watching music videos: they typically film the performers playing the song in multiple different costumes and locations. Some music videos even have characters and plots like a short film, alternating scenes with the band. In truth, music videos are doing whatever they can to stand out from one another and hold your attention for as long as possible. If you hold for too long on one scene in your video, you may find that your audience is finding something else to watch. You might want to section out your edit so that each scene corresponds with a different verse of the song, or you may opt to cut more rapidly between them for an exciting and disorienting effect. Whatever you decide, make sure that the choices you make communicate the message and feeling that the musical artist is trying to convey.

Experiment with Music Video Techniques

There are countless tools at your disposal to make a visually interesting video: match cuts, jump cuts, smash cuts, green screens, dissolves, overlays, blending modes, split screens… the list goes on. You might feel tempted to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks! You can do this early on to discover the visual style needed for your music video, but at some point, we recommended narrowing your techniques down to just a few and focusing on them. For instance, a video that uses digital glitch effects as well as old-school film burns and scratches may be confusing to the audience. You must first develop a visual identity for your film, and then decide on how to use that aesthetic to excite and entertain your audience.

Take Inspiration from Your Favorite Music Videos

It’s ok to borrow concepts from some of your favorite music videos – in fact, it’s encouraged if you’re just starting out! Making music videos takes a great deal of work and ingenuity, and the editing process can be quite intimidating for those just starting out. You may want to watch some music videos by your favorite artists to find visual motifs and ideas, before adapting and personalizing them to make them your own. But remember: lazily copying others’ ideas will not help you improve as an editor. You must branch out, try new things, and develop your own style to truly come into your own.

You can learn how to edit a music video alongside classmates at F.I.R.S.T. Institute!

Students in the Digital Filmmaking & Video Production program at F.I.R.S.T. Institute work on short films, commercials, and music videos as part of their curriculum. Learn more about the music video creation process now.