This guest post comes from Caroline Bottomley, managing director at Radar Music Videos

We explore budget options for commissioning affordable music video and we share real commissioners’ and experts’ guiding principles for setting budgets.

  • What are the flaws of paying £500 for every music video?
  • What costs money and why should you care?
  • What price points do smart directors set?
  • How do labels and artists approach music video budgeting?

What are the flaws of paying £500 for every video?

  • Some great videos are made for £500 but it doesn’t mean all videos produced for £500 will be great. A great new director may have pulled out all the stops to make a showpiece music video on £500, but it doesn’t mean to say they’ll do it again.
  • Smart directors on their way up make strategic choices about which low budget videos to pitch for. Directors assess whether they like the music and whether the artist will bring the director kudos and recognition. Cool labels and hot artists can attract good directors with lower budgets.
  • Setting a music video budget is about risk and probability. You can find directors to work at that budget but you’re more likely to get consistently good videos at £5000 budgets because you get a better class of directors pitching for the work.

What costs money and why should you care?

  • The quality of the video conveys the quality of the artist.
  • “The video isn’t promotion for the thing, the video IS the thing”*
  • Though good ideas don’t cost anything, most good ideas benefit from using good equipment to realise them properly. Spending money should improve perceived quality.
  • Commonly, spending money on a good camera, ‘proper’ lighting and a sharp edit give a video a better atmosphere and style. A good grade will make colours really pop.
  • If you’re worried your money is going straight into director’s pockets, it’s unlikely. Directors usually make music videos for the work they hope comes after it, ie commercials & fashion videos. A career-driven director will put every cent up on the screen.
  • Educate yourself about what costs money – ask directors for a draft budget, talk to them about it.

What price points do smart directors set?

  • We headhunt directors at Radar and we’ve asked a lot of great new directors ‘how low will you go?’
  • The most common bottom line for already-successful music video directors is £5000. Usually, those directors are already professionally repped and / or are signed to an established production company.
  • Directors close to being signed but not signed yet, will commonly operate to a £2k bottom line. £2,000 gives them enough to hire the equipment and professional crew that gives them more range to express their ideas.
  • Bright star directors nearer the beginning of their careers, eg with 2-3 music videos to their name, are more likely to work for £500 or so. They’ll pull in favours and work particularly ridiculous hours to prove their worth.
  • New directors, friends of the band and boutique ‘art’ labels are where you’re most likely to find directors who’ll work for no or nearly no budget.
  • Note – the smaller the budget, the more chance you’re attracting less-experienced directors.

How do you approach music video budgeting?

John Benedict, MD Just Music
“We make very occasional exceptions where the budget is bigger because of the artist’s profile. Paying more can give you an edge that gives the video a special spark. When we pay more, it’s to achieve the extra care, the extra detail. It helps achieve a sense of personality – the budget is about funding a vision for the music.”

Paul Riddlesworth, Too Pure Singles Club
“We never spend money on music videos. It’s up to the band to commission and pay for their own music videos. I don’t know what bands pay for their music videos. It’s a system that works well.”

Tony Morley, MD Leaf Label
“We usually spend £500 and need a good reason to go above that. We’ll usually spend more if we know the director, ie they’ve already done a very low video with us, we’ll trust them to spend more budget on their next music video for us.
The most we spent for a single video was £1,500. It was because it was a great idea. It’s worth spending more for when you expect videos to really take off. We’ve had that happen with Vessel. Efterklang videos are always really popular.”

Simon Drake, Director of Naim Label Group
“We usually spend between £1 and £2,000. Budget is proportionate to the strength of the artist. £3k is the most we have spent on a music video, but that was because three of us had to go to New York to work with a legendary director, who was ironically doing us a real favour on the video itself! In the end, that video didn’t achieve the reach we anticipated, which goes to show how risky it can be overspending on videos. You have to be conservative, but great ideas and a good eye don’t cost very much, nor does enthusiasm. Some of our best video output has been favours, in all cases passion for the music is essential.”

Michael McClatchey, MoshiMoshi
“£3,000 is the most we’ve spent on a music video (for Slow Club, Beginners) and that was because Daniel Radcliffe was in it and we needed insurance. We didn’t set out to make a celebrity video – we had the idea before the ”star“ – but we knew Dan was a fan so asked him on the off-chance. Having him in it certainly didn’t do any harm when it came to getting press and views! On Slow Club’s previous album we made a video featuring Mackenzie Crook so it’s become something of a tradition and we might try and do it again. We usually pay £300 for our music videos”

Emily Moxon, Label Manager Brownswood Records
“We decide on the budget based on the profile and potential of the band. Our budgets usually range from £500 to £2000. We generally allocate more budget for videos with female artists or performers, which is consumed by hair and make-up and wardrobe as well as lighting.”

Nathan Barley Phillips, founder Basick and Destroy Everything
“The most we spend is £2,500 for a music video. Budget is decided based an a projection of sales. We also need to allocate budget for overall promotion of the artist, we look at what means we have to work within. If we’re trying to break an artist we look for directors who can work with a lot less. The average budget is around £1,000.
It’s hard deciding budget, there’s no formula, it’s largely a gut feeling. Who is the artist, where are we in the promotion cycle, where does the video fit in the overall promotion budget?”

RobAnderson, label manager of Distiller Records
“We usually spend £500 to £1,000. We have tight budgets and can generally get something good for that money. We’ll spend more if we can justify it. The most we spent on a video budget was five figures, It was a front-line release, a global campaign, great idea and there was a lot of faith in the artist.”

Paul Jonas, Managing Director of TruThoughts
“Budgets REALLY vary. We have about 20 acts, ranging from bedroom producers to 80k selling acts. We commission £200-£500 ‘buddy’ videos – i.e. made by friends of the band. We commission £2,500 for acts who sell maybe 10-15k+ albums. It’s always a risk, there are so many bad videos out there”

Phil Legg, Futureproof
“We used to spend £7k on videos but after the last 6/7 years that’s dropped to £1k average. Lower than that, we go for pulling in favours and spend £350. Or go up to £2,000/£2,500 as long as I think I can get a copyright I can exploit – it depends on the relationship with director. We spend more to get extra amount of creativity.”

Clare Byrne, Senior Product Manager at Ignition Records
“Video budgets start from £500 but we usually commission anywhere between £2,000 and at the top end £30,000 plus. Budgets are determined by a number of factors including the status of the artist, whether the video is going to be used internationally and expectations for coverage – will it be serviced online only or is expected to be broadcast on TV too?
We usually anticipate some flexibility with the budget depending on the treatment (eg location / narrative / band performance etc).
Other factors can include anticipated financial contributions from international label partners.
We encourage creative input from the artist and wherever possible we aim to get additional footage eg B roll / behind the scenes footage – as much content as possible is always helpful particularly useful online.”

And finally, a cautionary note from Charlie Watson, Label Relations Manager, IMD Fastrax
“Budgets get used up on creating content and there’s not enough left for distribution. Labels need to remember promotion and distribution costs”

Radar is an online music video commissioning network. 100 great music videos from talented, new directors were commissioned through Radar last year, for over 80 artists and labels worldwide. Clients range from numerous unsigned artists to Jessie J, Tiesto and Alt J, who commissioned their biggest-ever video through Radar. Radar is free for labels, artists and managers.

Many thanks to the contributors listed and the directors who added their advice, including Edward Drake.

*comes from Jordan Berliant, The Collective.

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