How To: Making a High-Quality Lyric Video that People Will Actually Watch


I was able to get "Big Day for the Little People" done in less than 2 days because of previous & spectacular failures. I will focus on those here. I created that video using Sony Vegas, which I preferred to Final Cut because the interface is essentially the same as Sony Acid, which I grew up making beats on. Regardless, all video editing software is based on the timeline, and I won’t be addressing the finer points of the software itself at all.

The most important step was preparing fully prior to starting the actual video arrangement. I started with a printout of the lyrics and made notes next to every single bar – what kind of images it invoked, general notes on what to look for. I would say roughly 20% of the total workload was just spent on Google Images and Archive.org gathering the images. In previous attempts, I didn’t have a full folder ready to go, and this resulted in tons of wasted time interrupting my workflow to go back and seek out new images to fill unexpected gaps. So my advice: have every frame accounted for prior to opening your video software at all.

My next step was processing the images, which I did in two shifts on two different computers (thank you, Google Docs!) using two different image editors: Adobe Photoshop and surprisingly capable free alternative, GIMP. I started by taking a thumbnail view of the entire folder and flagging all the images that seemed dark or muted. I processed these in a batch to increase the brightness and contrast. Then I ran a batch process for the whole folder to emphasize vibrant blues & oranges – which is the current standard for "professional" Hollywood posters.

I sized everything to 1080 x 720, because the sad reality of our digital wonderland is that your artwork will pretty much only ever exist in a youtube player. Personally, I am happy to trade off some definition & saturation in exchange for the biggest global audience on Earth, but I respect the purists who work in more ambitious formats.

Finally, I added all of the actual lyric text in Photoshop – although both Sony Vegas and Final Cut Pro offer flexible, powerful options for working with text, I just didn’t want that step in my workflow at all. This is a personal choice; I don’t want to be thinking about design while I think about sequence.

The advantage of this front-loaded approach only becomes apparent in the final phase, which I did in a six-hour shift. There were a little under 200 different images involved in this video, but I had them all saved as sequentially numbered .jpgs, so the only real work I had to do in Vegas was micro-adjustments in the timeline. I would guess that I rendered and critiqued at least 10 test videos before I was satisfied. The tighter your cuts, the greater the impact, whether you’re doing a mixtape, directing an advertisement for BMW, or just making a lyrics video for the sake of art.

Humpasaur Jones is a recovering marketer who has retired to his native Vermont to focus on his life goals of rap, rap and rap. He is currently gallivanting around New England doing shows in support of his latest project, Breakup Music.

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