Making Music Video Magic

Still from Silent Rival's "Just One Voice" Video, by Cherie Sinclair
Still from Silent Rival's "Just One Voice" Video, by Cherie Sinclair

With the music done and dusted now it’s time to think visuals. Award-winning Exec Producer Cherie Sinclair—who’s worked with everyone from Tegan and Sara to Austra—offers her advice on where to begin.

In a world dominated by screens and streaming, it’s becoming increasingly important for music to make a visual impact. Many artists working today devote large amounts of time and resources to creating iconic videos and visuals that help cement their legacies as interdisciplinary creative masters. But pulling off a well-executed music video can be difficult, especially when you’re just getting started. Cherie Sinclair owns and is an executive producer at The Field Inc. in Toronto. She won this year’s Prism Prize Special Achievement Award for her work on videos with artists like Tegan and Sara, Austra, and The Sheepdogs. Here, she shares some tips for making music videos with a lasting impact.

Spotify for Artists: How does someone get started making a music video?

Cherie Sinclair: It has changed a little bit, but it begins, of course, with the song. It used to be, most record labels had somebody that was solely responsible for the music videos at their company, and they [would] spend a lot of time getting to know who the directors were that were available to them, and they would get music. They'd be the person to come to [a director] and say, "We have a song, we want a music video." Sometimes there's a brief with it that outlines what they're looking for. Sometimes they come and say, "We just want to get different ideas." Sometimes they come with a specific director in mind. Other times they're like, "We have nobody in mind, we just wanna see what's out there." But like I said: It begins with the song. You need a song.

What can artists do to best prepare themselves for the music video-making process?

If I was an artist, and I was out looking at different music videos, I would try to figure out who directed those music videos, and I'd try to reach out to them. Most music-video directors have their own websites, so it's easy to track them down. I'd say that's the best thing—try to figure out who you want to work with. Because I think so much time and effort is spent writing the song, recording it, etc., artists should be involved and want their song to be portrayed in a certain way. So they should do their research on the directorial talent that's out there.

What's the best way for artists to communicate with the filmmakers once they find them?

It's pretty important for artists to have a sense of how they want to be represented. It's really important and refreshing when someone knows what they like and what they don't like. After speaking with directors, artists should say, "We're on the same page. I want to see the kind of ideas you come up with. I want to see what kind of vision you have." The artist should stay involved heavily throughout the process.

It must be frustrating to have a band come to you and say they want something but have no idea what that is.

It makes it difficult to make people happy. Because they got up and they wrote that song and that song came from somewhere, artists should definitely have a vision of what they're comfortable with. And if not what they're comfortable with and who they see themselves as, then they need to at least know what they don't like. They need to verbalize and vocalize their preferences. They have to understand that now, with music videos, they can live online forever. It's a shame to have to take a video down after a few years or even a couple months because an artist later on says, "That's not really who I am." On the day of filming, if an artist can't say to the director, "Hey, can I just look at the monitor to make sure I'm happy with how I look?" then they need to have somebody they trust—who knows them well and can speak on their behalf—do that for them.

What do artists need to keep in mind when working with filmmakers?

They need to be true to themselves and be honest with everybody around them about who they see themselves as. Also, throughout the process, if there's anything they read or see that they aren’t completely clear on how it’s going to be executed, they need to stand up and say so.

Is part of the production team's job making sure artists feel comfortable enough to say those things if they need to?

One hundred percent. The one thing I think is crazy is when you're asked to make a music video and the artist and director haven't had any correspondence. Because if you're going to be in front of that camera, with them telling you things they want to try to achieve all day, and it's a stranger, I find that's a very awkward relationship. Some of the best music videos come out of collaborations. It should be a collaboration 100%.

What makes for a successful collaboration?

The director has to be passionate about the track and they have to connect with the track. If they do, usually once they start talking or working with the artist, they find they have a lot of similarities—whether it's other artists they like, different films they like, wardrobe, modern pop culture.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

—Matt Williams