My longtime friend Christian Beach is a talented musician based in New Jersey who fronted a few industrial and alternative rock bands from the early 1990s into the early 2000s. Around 2006, he made the transition to a traditional singer-songwriter influenced by Hank Williams Sr., Bob Dylan, The Band and contemporary artists like Jeff Tweedy (Wilco).
Since he released his first solo album in 2009, I have run his website and created promotional materials like flyers and buzz cards. Every now and then, I’ll send out a press release.
After releasing that CD in 2009, Christian continued to write a bunch of new songs and produced demo versions of many of those songs over the years. However, a follow-up release never came until the digital release of a six-song EP called DoubleLife in April 2020—just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shortly before the official April 10 release date, Christian asked me about doing a video for the first single “Highway Sun.” Obviously, we were both under stay-at-home protocols so I couldn’t physically assist him, and it wasn’t like we could hire a videographer to shoot something. There really wasn’t a budget for that anyway. But we discussed some things Christian could do on his own and I emailed him some general directorial notes (suggested camera angles, specific shots, etc.). He shot video on his iPhone of himself miming a performance of the song from a few different points of view and sent me the raw video, which I edited together in iMovie and produced a standard “in-the-studio” music video for him. The whole thing took less than 24 hours to create.
Keep in mind that Christian and I had never worked on a music video before. He is not a videographer. And I am by no means a professional video editor. We were definitely OK with embracing “quarantine quality” with this project.
For the video of the EP’s second single, “Food on the Table,” we both wanted to do something a little “extra” so I thought the process of making that video would make for an interesting read for independent musicians in these times looking to create interesting music videos for little to no money and without access to usual talent, tools and/or resources.
The song “Food on the Table” evokes some vivid imagery and when I saw that Christian was considering it as a second single, I sent him an email with this initial description of what I had in mind:
We should discuss next steps and video ideas. I want to explore what kind of public domain footage there is out there that we can overlay on top of studio shots. I’m thinking just you playing guitar under the dangling light with a black blanket or tarp hanging behind/around you…very minimal and dark (at least two angles). Maybe even black and white, too?
Oddly enough, here was Christian’s reply:
Hey Brian it’s so interesting that you mentioned the video idea for Food, and it’s exactly what I had in mind. Public domain footage and overlay of playing. I must have been sending out brain transmission to you. In fact I was going to ask you about the idea. Very strange.
So I knew we were on the same page. Regarding the “dangling light,” that refers to a light bulb literally dangling from the ceiling of Christian’s basement studio. It wound up featuring prominently in the “Highway Sun” video, and I figured we could use it again for the “Food on the Table” video, but it turned out to be a bit problematic (more on that later).
There are a lot of tense and anxious moments alluded to in the song. During the run-ups to the verses and the bridge, I kept envisioning quick cuts between a close-up of Christian’s foot tapping and his guitar playing. Eventually, I hit upon the idea of the light bulb swinging in the background of all that. All of it seemed to lean into the tension. This time, I not only emailed Christian these directorial notes…I sent him a crudely drawn storyboard.
Before Christian started shooting his parts of the video, I began researching public domain video footage and realized pretty quickly that it still costs money to acquire most public domain footage because you still have to pay a service to access the video. I turned to the public domain images on the Library of Congress website, and found a few interesting American folklife galleries. I wanted the images to convey life in the country from the 1950s or earlier. I spent a day or two downloading some options and documenting the appropriate attribution required to use the public domain images.
I first made a preliminary base layer video featuring the main title sequences at the beginning and end of the video, the selected photos and the transitions in and out of the performance footage, which Christian hadn’t done yet. Here is an excerpt of that initial video.
I sent this video to Christian to show him what it would look like, aside from his parts, and he approved. Here are clips of the footage he sent me* that night.
Main performance video
Close-up on guitar
*Christian didn’t really send them…he uploaded the raw footage as private videos to his YouTube channel. Since we’re both managers of the channel, I downloaded them from the video manager so I could import them into iMovie on my end. That’s how we handled transferring the files back and forth during production.
Unfortunately, my direction to feature the overhead light led to the lighting for the primary performance video less than ideal. In hindsight, I would have directed Christian to just be concerned about lighting the scene well, rather than going for that look in my head. The conversion of the video to black and white and the addition of the swinging light bulb faintly swinging in a background layer helps to mask the subpar lighting a bit (and, yes, you can see it’s an LED bulb, which is kind of anachronistic in relation to the video’s imagery; I tried to crop the footage close enough so it wasn’t as noticeable). At the very least, it attempts to make the footage appear a little more ghostly than poorly lit.
Because iMovie only allows for the use of two photos/videos at one time, I created two full-length videos with different layers of elements and then placed them on top of each other in a completely new project to complete the final cut of the video. Granted, this added even more compression into the visual mix, but it was necessary to achieve the desired effect in iMovie.
The Final Product
All challenges considered, I think the video came out rather nicely.
The video has gained a bit of traction on social media platforms, and New Jersey Stage published an article about the video from a press release we sent announcing its release.
BlowUpRadio.com, an online radio station focusing on New Jersey music, featured the video on its website and gave us a nice shout out on Twitter complimenting us on the end result.
& let me just add @bktandem directed & edited this video and did some amazing work on it, especially since this was shot during our current quarantine with him not in the same location as @ChristianBeach
— BlowUpRadio (@BlowUpRadio) April 22, 2020
So even when everything is closed and everyone is staying home, there are still plenty of creative ways to get things done. Look at how major broadcasters and content creators have adapted. If you think a bit, as they say, outside the box—and your comfort level—you can still create artistic content that connects with and engages your audience.