Since MTV launched in 1981, music videos have become a respected and distinctive form of artistic expression as well as an essential marketing tool for popular music. At the head of every music video is a director: the experienced professional who supervises the production team, oversees filming and editing, and, in some cases, provides a guiding creative vision. Although over the last two decades music videos have shifted away from their television origins, finding a larger audience on websites like YouTube, the music video production process has remained mostly the same—and it all begins with finding a director.
Music video directors walk a fine line between expressing their artistic vision and satisfying clients, which requires a nuanced blend of conviction and adaptability.
The process begins when a record company, manager, or artist sends a song—often a single from a forthcoming album—to an assortment of production companies and freelance directors. Each one competes for the position by submitting a "treatment," i.e. a written concept pitch describing the director's vision for the video. If chosen, the director begins to assemble a production team, which may include storyboard artists, location scouts, camera operators, lighting crew, costumers, makeup artists, and casting agents.
Overseeing the production team or, on smaller-scale videos with limited budgets, assuming many of the production duties themselves, the director prepares for filming by hiring actors, scouting locations, storyboarding shots, and more. During filming, which generally lasts several days, directors may have complete creative control over the look, feel, and narrative, or may collaborate closely with artists and their teams. The same goes for post-production, when the director, editor, and artist shape raw footage into its final form.
Music Video Director at a Glance
There's no degree requirement to work as a music video director. Many start out making student and independent films and may also work as volunteers, interns, or production assistants (PAs) on video shoots in order to learn the ropes. When it comes to acquiring their first music video directing credits, some befriend musicians in the local scene and make low-budget videos that demonstrate their creativity, while others slowly work their way into the director's chair by assisting established directors. Successful music video directors might become filmmakers or television directors, or develop close creative partnerships with famous recording artists.
Most music video directors are freelancers, although some work for production companies that specialize in music video work. In order to even be considered for jobs, music video directors must network with artists, managers, and record labels and cultivate a positive reputation within the industry. While established directors might be hired upfront based on their past work or collaborations with an artist, most have to earn the job by submitting treatments. As such, writing effective and persuasive treatments is key to finding work.
- Film production
- Film editing
- Writing (treatments and scripts)
- Hiring and managing a production team
- Working within a budget
- Time management
Music video directors walk a fine line between expressing their artistic vision and satisfying clients, which requires a nuanced blend of conviction and adaptability. As leaders, they must be at ease with and confidently give direction to all kinds of people—including stars—and must possess the discipline and time management skills to shepherd a project to completion, even while working under a tight deadline. Knowledge of and passion for music are essential not only for directing videos, but for connecting with artists and finding work.
Like many in the film industry, music video directors are freelancers who spend a good amount of time hustling for gigs and likely work side jobs until they get their big break. Planning a music video shoot and hiring the production team can take anywhere from a couple of days to a month, while shooting usually takes only two to three days and editing about two weeks. In between projects, music video directors likely work on television and film shoots and spend a lot of time networking at music, television, and film industry events. While music video directors can work anywhere in the country, Los Angeles and New York City are hotbeds.