By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 11 minutes
Two months ago, Meghan Trainor was an unknown songwriter. Even today, she isn’t a big, established artist… at least, not yet. But, if her first single’s smashing success on YouTube is any indication of the future of her career, she will be.
Trainor, a 20-year-old singer-songwriter, is the artist behind the single “All About That Bass.” The catchy pop tune stands tall on its own merits, but the accompanying music video is pure brilliance. And audiences seem to agree. The video, which was released on June 11, already has over 21 million views. Not too shabby for an artist’s first single.
So, what’s the big deal?
You Could Learn a Thing or Two from Trainor
This performance stands out because it has hooks in the video as well as a social message that connects with a large number of fans, not to mention that it also creates a little controversy. The hooks have to do with the unusual way that Trainor portrays herself and the other performers in the video. Not just the fact that they are happy with their size and shape, but some of the unexpected things that happen in the video. They also turn the tables on “skinny” people by using humor, casting, and choreography to make their point.
Done? Good. I bet you noticed Sione, an example of casting brilliance. He is over the top with his dance moves, and he adds a dimension of depth and fun to the video that has helped to propel it into a huge number of views.
After viewing the video, are you compelled to share it with someone else? If so, then you begin to see how a video can go viral.
Note that it does not matter why you want to share it, just the fact that you do. This important point is quite often lost on musicians who make their career in music. Launching a video that is well done, but not compelling, is not enough. By compelling, I mean: what does the viewer feel compelled to do after seeing your video? If the overwhelming answer is to share it with friends, then you have a winner. Otherwise, as a good friend of mine would say, “You have a double handed death grip on a loser”. The world is full of music videos that go nowhere, and they cost just as much to produce as a compelling video. Learn to let go of the loser before you start… or do what it takes to turn it into a winner and then hang on tight.
The song “All About That Bass” by itself probably would not create the kind of buzz necessary to get 21 million listens. It is the entire package—the song combined with the video—that knocks it out of the park.
But let’s face it: video can be expensive. It would be fair to say that an inexpensive songwriting/performing/video-creation endeavor could easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. On the other hand, indie musicians are a very creative group used to working with very few resources. So, why not figure out a way to write and shoot a compelling video without a huge budget? It takes a combination of talent, flexibility, planning, funding, and desire to make all the parts work together smoothly, even more so on a small budget. It is not for everybody.
Let’s take a closer look at Trainor and her video; then, we can explore what indie artists might do to leverage their music in this same way.
What Trainor Does
Trainor writes about a very of-the-moment issue (body image) and has a positive message.
Body image issues are nothing new, but they have become a much more public issue in recent years.
Social media sites have turned into a battleground over women’s bodies. Memes proclaim that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, incredibly thin models are lifted up as ideals (after being photoshopped into even more idealized versions of themselves), and women with “extra” weight are publicly ridiculed for their weight and their choices (in clothing, in food, in living). On the other side, there is backlash against “thinspiration” and excessive photo editing, heightened awareness about the dangers of eating disorders, and encouragement to be healthy and to love yourself as you are.
And that’s where Trainor’s message lies. She sings:
“I see the magazine, workin’ that Photoshop. We know that shit ain’t real. C’mon now, make it stop. If you got beauty beauty, just raise ’em up, Cause every inch of you is perfect, from the bottom to the top. Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size… I know you think you’re fat. I’m here to tell you every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.”
Now, Trainor is, admittedly, not a size two. The girl has some curves. She also doesn’t appear to be unhealthy or overweight.
But her weight and shape aren’t the issue, nor are they the focus of her message. Her message lies in her acceptance of her body for what it is. It’s not a skinny beautiful body. It’s not a fat beautiful body. It’s simply her beautiful body. And that message is something that girls everywhere—maybe people everywhere—need to hear. And, as an artist, Trainor does a good job of leveraging this topic by producing a compelling song/video combination.
She stirs up a little bit of controversy.
If you read the public comments on Trainor’s video, you know what I’m talking about. There are a surprising number of hateful comments on a video that has such a positive message. (Well, maybe not surprising, if you’re used to the internet.)
But don’t assume that some negative comments mean Trainor and her message are unpopular. Less than one tenth of one percent (0.001%) of the people viewing the video have taken the time to comment on it publicly—some comments are good, some are not. And for every “thumbs down” on the video, there are almost 22 “thumbs ups”.
Most importantly, a huge number of people have been compelled enough by the video to share it with others. That is all that matters.
Every part of the video—the concept, the casting, the styling, the shooting, the editing—is extremely well done.
The video’s concept is simple: reinforce the song’s message by showing people comfortable in their own skin having fun and loving themselves—regardless of their size, shape, or age. There’s no complicated storyline to confuse the viewer, nor is it simply just another music video of a performer singing their latest release on a stage.
The casting is impeccable. Trainor’s message isn’t limited to one group; it’s for everyone. It’s appropriate, then, that the people in the video are different sizes, shapes, ages, and genders, and they all look like they’re having fun, dancing and shaking whatever they have (or don’t have).
What This Means For You
Trainor is 20, and she’s new. She seems to be pretty talented (especially considering she had a songwriting contract at 18 and an artist contract at 20). She has a label that is obviously willing to invest in her, and she has an extremely talented team working with her.
Your situation is probably different. You might be starting your career in music, or you might have been at it for a long time. You’re likely talented and creative and have music ready to release or that could be re-released with better promotion. You probably have a loyal local fan base, but you’d love for it to be bigger. You’re probably wondering how to branch out—how to get bigger and better gigs along with more visibility.
Given that you’re in a different situation than Trainor, what on earth could she and her video possibly teach you about your career? Plenty.
Songs that strike a chord with you will probably strike a chord with others.
In a behind-the-scenes video, Trainor says, “My producer and I wanted to write a fun song… Why not do a song about loving yourself and loving your body? Because I don’t think girls love themselves as much as they really should. I think girls will really relate to it.” In an interview with the Today show, Trainor says that this is an issue she has struggled with personally. That personal experience and conviction help Trainor come off as a credible source on the subject, which means it’s easier for her fans to relate and connect with her.
What does this mean for you? Well, first, you don’t need a team of professional, award-winning songwriters to write a good song. You can leverage your own life experiences, just like Trainor did, and create music that reflects who you are.
Second, you should try writing about something that resonates with you on a personal level. Pick a topic that moves you, or an experience you’re intimately familiar with, and tell the story in a way that takes listeners along for the ride. If you connect with the song, it increases the odds of your listeners connecting—both with the song and with you.
Most importantly, consider whether that connection will cause your viewers to share the video. Get creative with the process, and be sure to create a hook, something in the video that will make fans take action. Without a hook, it will not work.
If you want a second opinion, try playing the song for the rest of the band, an impartial friend, another musician, or a songwriting group. Be open to their feedback and criticism, and genuinely consider what they have to say. Even if you don’t make the changes they suggest, the advice might come in handy on future songs.
You don’t have to be a superstar to get lots of good attention.
Before this release, Trainor was relatively unknown. She might have had a small local following, but she certainly wasn’t a household name. So, how did she get so many views?
Simply put, Trainor thought outside the box—with her message, her styling, and her casting. Her positive message is on a topic that few artists address. The styling of Trainor’s video is surprising (in that it’s rather different from most other videos out there), but it’s wholly appropriate for the song. In Trainor’s video, Vine sensation Sione makes an unexpected appearance, which helps create a hook for fans of the video because of his unique style. Sione’s 440,000 fans (yes, you read that correctly) on Vine probably headed over to check out Trainor’s video, and I can guarantee that some of Trainor’s viewers headed over to Vine to find out more about the dancing man. Both artists benefited from the collaboration.
That type of collaboration doesn’t take a label or tons of money. More importantly, thinking outside the box doesn’t take a label or tons of money. To be a successful independent artist, you must be creative, flexible, and resourceful; a ton of money to fund your project is not required to make this work.
This might mean you tell your song’s story from an unexpected angle. In Five Seconds of Summer’s video for “She Looks So Perfect”, the characters in the video strip down to their underwear. This in itself is a little surprising (but fits with a line in the chorus). What is unexpected is the type of people who strip down: highschoolers, a store clerk, a middle-aged mom, a cop, a grandmother, a pair making eyes at each other in a diner. Basically, everyone but the young and fairly attractive band members. It’s not just young, fit, beautiful people stripping. It’s everyone. This is the hook for an otherwise unremarkable video that now has over 67 million views.
As I said at the very beginning of this article, Meghan Trainor isn’t a big, established artist… yet. I think she’s incredibly talented, and I think she has a talented team helping her. I’m extremely curious to see how she follows up on this first single. Only time will tell.
As for you, the indie musician with your own style and talent and career, I want to know what you think of Trainor’s video and what you’ve learned from it to use in your own career. What’s your next move?
So many bands and musicians have had success through viral music video outlets like Youtube. The demand for video is only increasing so it’s time for you to get in on the action. Youtube is still the second largest search engine in the world, and in case you forgot, that’s how Justin Bieber was discovered (how could you forget?) You could easily spend thousands of dollars on a sharp looking, professionally-produced music video – but if you’re just getting started, you probably can’t afford that. That’s no excuse for bypassing music videos altogether though. As a musician, you can’t afford not to have them these days, so here are six steps on how to make a music video on your own for free for those of you who are brand new to the world video:
1. Choose your strongest song. Assuming that you’re a recording artist, you probably have a least a handful of brilliant songs already recorded that you can choose from. Be sure to pick your strongest song, but don’t just take your own word for it – get some second opinions! Chances are, your favorite song isn’t necessarily your strongest song – at least not according to everyone else. Ask your fans, friends, and family what they think is your strongest – then do yourself a favor and take their word for it. This should set the stage for more consistent results from the music video you’re about to make. Understand that your music video will be an incredibly powerful promotional vehicle for whatever song you choose, so make it a strong one!
2. Choose your video equipment. Assuming that you already have a laptop, computer, smartphone, tablet, or camera with video capabilities – you’ll have plenty of equipment options to choose from. If you don’t have access to any of these devices, you probably have a friend who would be kind enough to let you borrow something. All of these devices come with some sort of internal camera and video recording capability, so choose whatever works for you. Since you’re making a music video, the audio component of whatever device you choose won’t matter because you’re eventually going to replace the audio with the pre-recorded audio of your strongest song. I use a Canon Vixia consumer camcorder myself – which is HD quality for a reasonable price – but you can use your shiny new iPhone 5, MacBook Pro, or something as affordable and easy to use as a Flip MinoHD Camera.
3. Create your concept. What kind of imagery comes to mind from the song you’ve selected? What kind of music video do you want to create? For example, you can choose to create a more traditional, story-driven music video, or a live performance-style music video. With a story-driven music video, you might consider doing some acting or filming various places, people, things, or circumstances that support your storyline or imagery. Get creative here and make the most out of what you have to work with already. Is there anything just lying around the house that you can incorporate? Include footage of you lip-syncing a performance, lip-syncing a studio recording session, or capture footage your band performing the song. This will also work exclusively for a live performance-style music video, and you’ll be better off lip-syncing to your pre-recorded song verses singing it live for sake of better audio quality.
4. Choose your locations. Keep it simple and stick to 1-3 locations for your music video. They can be anywhere that supports your storyline or imagery – even three different rooms in the same house works. Is your song dark and brooding? Consider darker locations with softer lighting. Is your song happy and inspiring? Consider brighter locations with wide, open spaces. Shooting outside during the day always offers ample lighting, and cloudy days are particularly helpful in regulating the light because clouds act as natural light diffusers – so long as it’s not raining on your video equipment! If you want more indoor lighting regulation, be sure to have some good lighting options on hand – such as strong overhead lights with dimmers or spotlight lamps – and experiment with each lighting source.
5. Shoot your video. Experiment with various camera angles and positions before you start recording full takes. You might discover you have a more visually striking side or angle, and you might discover the same about your location. Once you’re ready to press record, plan to perform or lip-sync to your song 2-4 times, and aim for 2-4 takes for everything you decide to film as a general rule of thumb. This will give you more than one option for every point in the song, just in case you had something between your teeth during the first take. Nothing is more discouraging than putting the time and effort into filming just to realize you have to do it all over again, so always create options! This rule of thumb is particularly helpful when you’re filming yourself because no one will be behind the camera to keep an eye on things while the camera is rolling. Consider various different angles for each take so your options are diverse when it comes time to edit. Different angles might include a wide shot, a waist shot, a close-up shot, and a handheld shot.
6. Edit your video. Editing your own music video can be as much fun as creating a concept and shooting your music video, so don’t be afraid to learn. It’s exciting to bring your footage to life, and it requires more of your own creativity. There are some powerful video editing software options available for premium prices – such as Final Cut and Adobe Premiere – but since we’re talking about making a music video for free, lets take a loot at the freemium alternatives. If you have a computer, you should already have access to free video editing software that is easy to use and simple to figure out on your own. If you’re on a mac for example, you should already have iMovie, and Windows Movie Maker for PC. Youtube even has its own built-in video editing application, though I can’t say I’ve tried it yet. Whatever software you use should have the option to eventually mute or disable the audio from your video footage once you import/upload it into a new project. You might want to keep it enabled until you’re finished editing though, as it will be a necessary point of reference for the song as you extract each clip you want to use to lay over the recording of your song. Once a clip is added to your video timeline and matched up correctly to the appropriate section of your recorded song, you can then disable the video clip’s audio channel. Get creative and play around with all the different takes and angles you’ve captured until you have built a completed music video that you’re happy with, free of charge!