For me, editing a live music video is about recreating the performance through the eyes of the audience. Imagine you were the entire audience; not just one person, but everyone in the venue. What would your collective experience be? You’d be watching the performance from the front row, from the balcony, and from the crowd. Your focus would shift from the bassist to the lead singer, to the drummer as he laid down a fill, and to the people rocking out in the front. When I’m cutting together a live concert video, I’m trying to recreate that experience; bringing the viewer into the space and creating the feeling of being right there.
My second goal is to follow the music. The musicians are already telling a story through their words and notes; my job is to support & mirror all those elements. A bad edit will work against the music, cutting out of time and focusing on the wrong subjects. A good edit flows with the beat, amplifying the hits & emotional energy of the music. When I’m putting the edit together, I’m focusing on four elements; subject, balance, distance, & pacing.
Editing live music videos is mostly a pragmatic process; my main goal is just to focus on the most interesting element at any moment. On my first pass, I’ll go through all the different angles and pick out the best moments from each (I’ll also cut out any uninteresting or unusable footage). For the lead singer, I’ll pick out the verses & choruses. For the guitarist, I’ll pick out riffs that stand out and any solo sections. For the drummer, drum fills; and so on.
In my second pass, I’ll go through and pick the most interesting moments from all the angles combined. Now I’ve got a good starting point to build my edit from.
The next thing I’m focusing on is balance. Am I leaning too heavily on close shots and not using my wide & medium angles? Am I using too many shots of the guitarist and not enough of the bassist? There is a hierarchy to shots; my close shot of the lead singer is going to get the most screen time, as they’re leading the performance and it’s usually one of the best-looking angles. But it’s important to use all available angles to keep your edit dynamic & engaging.
Distance is a powerful tool for conveying emotion; close shots are more dynamic, while medium & wide shots convey a sense of space & scale. As a general rule, I’ll use wide & medium shots when the music is more sparse or slow (such as in the beginning of a song or during a breakdown), and I’ll use close shots when the music is faster & higher energy (such as solos, builds, & endings).
Pacing refers to the amount of cuts you’re making. Just like with distance, pacing is a tool to reinforce the energy of a performance; when the music is slower, quieter, or has less people playing, it calls for longer shots and less cuts. When the music becomes faster & louder, it calls for shorter shots and less cuts.
By paying attention to these elements as you edit your video, you’ll be able to follow & support the energy of the music, giving it as much emotional impact as possible and recreating the experience of the audience. While this post focuses on the big picture, my next post covers the frame-by-frame of where to place the cut; read on.