Behind the Scenes: Music Video Production
Water Rocks! has produced a wide array of videos over the past few years, ranging from music videos, to short educational public service announcements and longer documentaries. However, there are a number of finely orchestrated steps that take us from songwriting all the way to a video release. Using the music video “Use Less Water,” together let’s walk through the steps of planning and production that make a video come to life!
A music video must, of course, start with music! All of our music videos feature original songs by the Water Rocks! Team. For “Use Less Water,” Program Director Jacqueline Comito came up with the initial idea for the song, and then suggested that idea to Water Rocks! musician Todd Stevens – a song that addresses water quantity, the amount of it we use every day, and how everyone can do something to reduce consumption.
Todd then independently researched water consumption issues and then went to town writing the song, composing the lyrics as well as music. He recorded a sample audio track for the Water Rocks! Team to hear – we gave it the green light! The song was then written out as sheet music, using Finale music notation software.
The notated music files were then passed along to other Water Rocks! Team members (Alex and Ann, in this case) to review the sheet music. It’s then time to begin practicing and learning the song. Often, this is an iterative process -numerous revisions are made throughout, whether it be changes to the lyrics, notes, instrumentation, or changing the key of the song to put it in a better range for the vocalists. Any time there are changes, the music goes back to Ann to work her magic with the Finale software.
All of the Water Rocks! music tracks are recorded at Junior’s Motel Recording Studio in rural Otho, Iowa. Each vocal and instrumental line is recorded individually on its own separate track. Often, we will start with a trio of drums (Todd), keyboard (Ann), and vocals (Jackie). It often takes multiple attempts to get a version we’re happy with – but we’ve learned that you can’t rush things in the studio! After drums, keyboard, and the lead vocal are laid, then we begin “layering” other tracks, like acoustic guitar and multiple backup vocal tracks. Finally, when each track is recorded to our liking, we work with studio manager Kirk Kaufman to develop an audio mix of the song.
The completed song is then shared with one of our Water Rocks! videographers – in this case, Alyssa Dreeszen of Essential Video Midwest – to develop the concept for the music video. Often this is a very collaborative process between Program Director Jacqueline Comito and the videographer, bouncing ideas back and forth for the theme of the video, the setting of the video, the storyline, etc. For “Use Less Water,” for instance, Jackie came up with the concept of this being set out a park, as a feel-good, campfire sing-along. Once the concept is agreed upon, further preparations may progress, including scoping out locations for the filming, planning for actors and actresses, costuming, and getting a date scheduled with 20+ people that will be involved!
Once the pre-production is complete and the concept for the video is established, it’s time to really dig in and start nailing down the details. That begins with scheduling a filming date with the Water Rocks! team and videographer Alyssa Dreeszen. At the same time, the Water Rocks! “talent scouts” are actively recruiting actors and actresses to help out with the video shoot… thankfully, we have summer interns that are eager to help out, as well as connections with a number of middle school and high school students in the central Iowa area! Check out the Water Rocks! Student Repertory Players page for a full lineup of students that have helped us out with video productions. Other preparations include securing a location for the video shoot costuming, props, audio equipment, musical instruments, transportation, and of course FOOD to feed the masses during the shoot! These responsibilities are shared amongst members of the Water Rocks! team.
From start to finish, the video shoot itself typically takes anywhere from 3-5 hours. Program Director Jackie Comito and videographer Alyssa Dreeszen work closely together in planning out the storyline for the video. Once everyone is on site, we usually run through the song 5-8 times in its entirety with Alyssa filming different angles throughout – some of the
full group, some closeups, from a variety of different perspectives. The videographer also captures supplemental footage called B-roll.
For an outdoor video shoot like this, timing is critical in terms of the natural light! Generally early morning and later in the day, when the sun is lower in the sky, are the best times … this also allowed us to transition into the evening hours as the sun set to get the great shots of everyone gathered around the fire making s’mores.
After the live video shoot, we enter the post-production phase… that is all in Alyssa’s hands! Alyssa reviews all of the different video footage that she filmed, and begins the time-consuming editing process in terms of selecting shots and syncing them up with the music. Once Alyssa has a complete draft of the video ready to go, she sends that to the Water Rocks! Team for review. We will watch and offer feedback – then Alyssa creates a revised draft, and we go back and forth again in the refining process.
While our videos with Water Rocks! are certainly FUN, each one also has an educational aspect to it as we strive to help young people better understand water, soil, and natural resources. In addition to the song itself, the Water Rocks! team creates enhanced learning activities to accompany each video, which can be used by teachers and parents to help students dig deeper in exploring the content of the music video. Available as free downloadable PDFs on each individual video page, these activities are highly interdisciplinary and range from simple science experiments to writing activities to artistic endeavors. The activities are also aligned with educational standards in the Iowa Core and Next Generation Science Standards. Multiple team members are involved in the process of developing the enhanced learning activities as well, including staff members as well as student interns.
That’s it for the video production process. Next time you watch a 3-4 minute video, you’ll have a little more insight into how it all came to fruition – many hands involved over many weeks and months! So take a look at Use Less Water and let us know what you think! And if you have an idea for a future song or music video, let us know – we just might run with it!