Monday, April 06, 2009

Sometimes You Just Want to Shoot Bands

Maybe that pun was intended because sometimes I have "just wanted to shoot bands" or some of their members, organizers, conceited lead singers or drummers, or even a few of their "followers" or roadies. Not really, but I wanted to give you who have not pursued this particular video production market possibility an inkling of some of the problems you might experience in the process. Consider it a sort of subtle hint.

Beyond that. And, beyond the starving artists participating and wanting something for nothing, or everything on the cheap, including your valuable professional services, there are a slew of wannabees, start-ups, semi-pro, valid, active, marketing savvy and talented, getting there, and almost there bands who will gladly pay for some dedicated and reasonably priced production work.

I have to warn you one more time this is a "you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find..." operation but, also repeating, the aggressively smart and talented bands/groups will value your dedication, commitment and determination. And, it doesn't hurt if you enjoy their music and/or the venues where they perform, as well as the places they practice. Road trips taken for some documentary work are usually a blast, and a heck of an experience if you have a lot of stamina, free time to do this, and the ability to stay up late at night and recover enough to get going the next day.

Keep in mind that many of the performers in these bands also are working stiffs, busing tables, taking orders, washing dishes, or cars, or whatever they can during the daytime to pay the bills and rent while they are working hard at night to make it - either practicing or performing for pennies at some local dive, joint, rave, private party or what have you.

They are NOT hard to find...

Attend any event anywhere you have access, and the desire, and you will find bands trying to break into the field and become "discovered". Introduce yourself. Have good looking business cards and maybe even some kind of representative sample footage on hand out DVDs that you can offer. Impress upon them from the get go that you are a professional and are interested in producing video for them, from documentary to performance to whatever. The more enterprising of these folks already have poor, to good, to great, CDs, t-shirts and other front table paraphernalia they offer for sale during their gigs. If they do not have one, they're going to be interested in what you can offer in providing them a DVD they can also sell, market and distribute.

I work only with bands...

...who produce their own written, composed, performed music - not groups who rehash some other artist's copyrighted work. I get them to sign releases so stating, also allowing me to produce these videos (not as a work for hire) and retaining the rights to use footage for further promotion and business marketing.

If these guys have an agent (I often and usually have a very different, less kind name for most of them) you'll have to work through him or her, and it will often muddy the water a bit, or restrict you to the point that trying to produce video for some groups will be impossible. Make your choices, but don't go for stuff that is going to make you work any harder or smarter than you'll already have to with bands.

I have three approaches to... performance production. The vast majority of the groups with whom I work want me to produce, lip synced or live, performances. Some of these want me to shoot live at a performance, live during a controlled practice, or live and performing in a controlled environment specifically for the purpose of producing a quality DVD for marketing and sales - or lip synced to a quality-produced CD.

Others, especially those who make a lot of road trips, hitting venues all over the place, will get off on the idea of having a documentary that includes comments, day-in-the life episodes, snippets of live performances here or there, and maybe one or two complete songs they have performed as a bonus for those purchasing the documentary DVDs.

Finally, there are groups who have hired me to produce something they can share on local cable public access channels. These do not always conspire to generate perfectly wonderful productions - I have had to videotape in back yards, garages and roof tops - ambient sound (think planes, helicopters, trains, automobiles and emergency vehicles) be damned. No, I mean NO, audio control whatsoever. Hey, it's their time, money and gig, and I often will not want to share company credit on the end products.

A LOT of groups will want you to do literally, or figuratively, something professional for nothing, making all kinds of kisses in the wind, and promises they'll never be able to keep - even if they originally were well intended, and wanted to. Even a modicum of success will often render you a figment of their imagination or a Alzheimer's like loss of memory. They move on, you gave and remain - no fame. Turn anyone down who does not want to pay for your services unless you love them, need them, want them and enjoy hanging with them, or are an independently wealthy roadie willing to sacrifice yourself on the altar of the band.

What's a fair price?
Pretty much, depending on your desires, needs and abilities, anything you are willing to do it for. Be realistic in your assessment of time, materials and quality, and the value, then make your decision on more than an educated guess, or emotionally influenced basis.

I charged EVERY band that has brought me in for this an up front flat fee, regardless of the amount of effort, equipment, interested assistants or whatever, I have brought into the equation. I shot them for up to two hours, provided them with a RAW DVD and they made the picks, then put it together for them for $400. They, in turn, agreed not to copy, sell or package this DVD through ANYONE but me, and in turn I made them short runs to put on the table during gigs, along with their t-shirts and other stuff - 30 @ $8, 50 @ $7, 100 or more @ $6. I did not make much on the DVDs (I ONLY use standard-size blanks, not the odd-shaped or mini-disks), but the formula worked for me, generally speaking. That was then, this is now, world economics be damned.

MORE hours equaled MORE money charged.

NOW I have a basic price where I'll cover up to two hours of a performance (the group handles all access and clearance for me with the venue or other involved parties); up to two hours at a controlled practice session; two hours at a closed production session for $1,000. This includes one DVD, and they have signed releases, clearances and guarantees that I am the sole provider for duplication services or copies.

An outright work for hire with the group avoids the above, allowing them to reproduce, duplicate and sell the product anyway they want without having to deal with me. This costs them $3,000.

Yes, most of these groups and individual members are poor and starving, emaciated even, but if they really, really want professional services and quality productions, they'll find a way to pay for these very reasonable fees.

I have other approaches, and will often work with a strongly motivated and talented group, developing something both of us can live with, but the above is my first and often only approach to most.

I have to say I have not yet entered into a basic two-hour production arrangement where two hours covered it. I nearly always will go over due to a host of reasons wild and wacky, to sane and real - often blown circuits, speakers, busted strings, bad takes, etc.

How I do it...
You have read before that I will not use house sound, group mixer or any other available board unless it is someone I have specifically hired and worked with to handle my audio. I do this, but it will cost the client much, much more.

I have a gaggle of Zoom H2 recorders and place them where I need them for live audio acquisition, and use the on camera mics as well, mixing as needed, especially for live event/performance coverage.

I will shoot multiple takes during controlled performances and lip sync gigs until I am satisfied that I've obtained the angles and cuts I want, and sometimes have returned for pick up shots if the situation can be recreated, or the same venue is involved. Rarely though.

Lip sync to quality CD recording is relatively easy if you don't acquire a heavy amount of ECU's (extreme close ups) on the lips, or even close ups (CU's) for that matter. There's usually, and often, a lot of alternative shots that do better than planting your camera's lens on Mick Jagger's lips, even if he and all the women think it's the sexy thing to do. Not.

There is no way to cover all the elements that will crop up, things that will come up behind you and kick you in the asperations, but this article should give you a general idea of what is possible and potential in working with independent musicians and bands.

Remember, if you market, you will make it. © 1990-2009 Earl Chessher

1 comment:

Nancy said...

hi there, thanks for writing this ! I thought your fees were quite reasonable. Have you had feedback from the band that showed the band landed gigs because of your DVD? If so, you could show that to the next customer for proof of value. My husband is in a couple of cover bands and I've done some filming and produced straight results - that is - no effects or anything special mostly because the band just wanted to see how they look and sound. I would like to get into making my videos "cool" now with effects etc. I am not willing to do more than 1 camera however. I would love to see a sample of yours. Thanks again.