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My First Job in Film: What is a pop promo?

What is a music promo?

Music videos exist in various guises, some purely commercial made as a conduit to drive music sales, some are made out of artistic expression combining a narrative within the video. The length of a promo can be anywhere between 2 minutes to 10, depending on how the director and record company wish to use the video. Michael Jackson’s Thriller video directed by John Landis runs at 13 minutes and was the first of its kind to combine short film storytelling with a contemporary soundtrack. Much the same as commercials, music videos are a creative collaboration between filmmaker, record label and artist.

Music channels such as MTV, ViVa and 4music offer round the clock talk shows and music videos, if you are interested in a career at a music channel visit our sister siteMFJTV. The music videos these channels are built around have always been a fertile ground for young filmmakers, David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Gore Verbinski and Alex Proyas to name but a few established directors worked on music videos, commercials and then features.

Working in pop promos has to be one of the most competitive industries of all, as record labels will have around 40 companies pitching for one job. More akin with commercials, music videos can be a volatile mix of creatives working in the short film format, and you can often find commercial companies offering music video services alongside. Music videos are a commercial enterprise, after all, used to promote the music in a visually pleasing way. Although music videos are still being produced, the decline in revenue for the industry has been well documented over the past ten years. Consumers no longer purchase music in the same way, in fact, many don’t even purchase it at all. Promos are still being produced; no self-respecting artist would release a single without a promo as well. 

Which companies make promos?

Music videos are made by companies that specialise in this one format; promos can also be made by commercial, corporate and film production companies. For an established band who has the backing of a record label, they will most likely have an existing relationship with a producer or production company. For a band that has yet to be signed, there are other avenues to pursue. Friends being one, the other options are online websites that match independent professionals with bands looking for a video.  

how much does it cost to make a promo?

Janet and Michael Jackson hold the record for the most expensive music video to date. 1995's Scream cost $7 million to make, adjusting for inflation that’s $10,870,714 in today’s money. Most promos, however, are more modestly priced than this, some can be made on a shoestring and still be a used as a credible marketing tool with the right concept.   

How long does it take to shoot a promo?

Traditionally music videos are shot in a day- the day can be very, very long!

what crew is involved?

How a music video is produced depends on the idea. If working with a mainstream band you can be looking at a full crew, on productions that are being financed by the band themselves, you could be looking at a crew working for expenses. Most likely you will be looking at:

Pre-production
  • Producer 
  • Director 
  • Production manager 
  • Production coordinator 
  • Art Department 
  • Costume Department
Principal photography
  • 1st AD 
  • 2nd AD 
  • Floor runners 
  • Camera Department 
  • Grip Department 
  • Lighting Department 
  • Costume Department 
  • Makeup Department 
  • Art Department
  • Playback Operator
Post-production
  • Editor 
  • Assistant Editor 
  • VFX Supervisor and team (if applicable)


Who hires the crew?

The Heads of Department will be hiring their crew. The production manager will be making the phone call to discuss rates and sending out call sheets.

Where do I find these jobs?

Look at the MFJF collaborations boards, and at our resources section to find out what your options are. There are lots of signed and unsigned bands looking to make music videos; it can still be a useful marketing tool for any band trying to make themselves attractive to record labels. As such directors who are working in another area of the industry may decide to cut their teeth on music videos as a gateway into the film industry. They can ask friends working in the industry to work for free for a favour; some crew members will be working on unpaid work to gain more experience too. 

What experience do I need to work on a promo?

Music promos are still very much in demand, so the chances of being able to work on them early on in your career can be quite high. Admittedly you might not be working on Beyonce's follow-up to Lemonade, but you can meet some professional crew working in the industry. Take some earplugs; you’re going to need them, especially if it isn’t the sort of music you enjoy. If you get a chance to chat to crew make sure you make an impression quickly as there is very little waiting around time on a music video. The majority of promos are shot in a day, expect to fetch breakfast, lunch and supper under the direction of the production coordinator. If you're working for free and trying to look for experience in camera, grip or electrical, let members of production know to see if they can assign you to the department for the day.

If you want to direct music videos you should be looking for opportunities in production companies that have a branch of the business dedicated to this output. Work on your own projects, there are hundreds of bands out there looking to make a music video you will not be short of subjects.