What Should a Music Video Budget Be?

The landscape of music production, marketing and sales has drastically changed many times in the last ten years. The relationship between music videos and the music industry has also been in flux. The amount of music being recorded and distributed is higher now than ever before, and more music videos are being made than ever before, though the budget range is extremely wide. Some bands pay for their music videos out of pocket, while bands signed with major record labels are often appropriated with a music video budget that is considered to be part of the marketing strategy for a given album or single.

Scott Zuniga music video directed by Garrett Gibbons

Example music video budgets:

  • Macklemore “Wings”: $18,269 (2011)
  • Michael Jackson “Beat It”: $150,000 (1983)
  • Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson “Scream”: $10,000,000 (1995, adjusted for inflation)
  • Average studio music video budget: $200,000 – $500,000 (2010)

We see those numbers and we see what the final product ended up being, but without direct experience with film production budgets it can be challenging to know where the money goes. Many bands are wrestling with the question of how much money a music video will cost, and emerging filmmakers also struggle to know how much they should charge for their work.

Here is a breakdown of some general costs that are typical in film production (and specifically in music video production):

Estimated production costs:

  • Producer fee: $500 – $1250/day
  • Director fee: $500 – $1250/day
  • Camera operator: $500-1000/day
  • Camera equipment rental: $150 – $3500/day
  • Key grip + assistant + lighting gear: $1000 – $1750/day
  • Wardrobe: estimated $20 – $1000/day per character project
  • City permits: $25 – $1000/day (depending on the city, exact location, whether roads need to be closed, etc…)
  • Location fees and rentals: $250 – $2500+/day
  • Actors: $200 – $1200/day (each)
  • Extras: $50 – $200/day (each)

Estimated days of post-production required: 2-3 days

  • Editor fee: $500 – $1250/day
  • Redundant Hard disk archive: $200 – $400
  • Visual FX artist fee: $75 – $150/hour
  • Colorist fee: $100 – $200/hour

Additional costs:

  • Band member compensation
  • Development/Pre-production (scripts, storyboards, strategy, etc…)
  • Additional actors and extras
  • Marketing hours
  • Props/furniture rentals
  • Set construction
  • Production insurance
  • Catering (food)
  • Etc…


I’d like to share four specific music videos I have worked on in recent years, each of which is an example of a different budget range and level of production value. Please note that nothing is set in stone, and different markets and individuals will yield different levels of work at different price points, but this should give a general idea of what I have experienced.

Level 1: Shoestring Budget ($2,000 – $5,000)

At this level, my work usually fits the following characteristics:

  • One full day of shooting (or possibly two half-days)
  • One camera operator
  • Skeleton crew (one or two people)
  • Filmed on DSLR or mirrorless cameras
  • Few paid actors, if any
  • Many production roles will be combined (for example, the Director may also produce and edit; the Director of Photography will probably be responsible for all grip and gaffer work, etc…)
  • Permit fees are often avoided by carefully selecting production locations

“Overcome” by Alabaster is a music video in this budget range that I directed, filmed and edited. We filmed the entire thing in about 6 hours (including setup), all in the same location. We filmed the band first, then quickly filled the room with fog, threw up a 2K light, and brought in the dancers. I worked with the two dancers for a little less than an hour before we had to break down.

Level 2: Modest Budget ($5,000 – $10,000)

Here are some characteristics of this budget range:

  • Several days of shooting
  • Small crew (four or five people)
  • Filmed on higher-end video, DSLR or mirrorless cameras
  • Costumes are an option
  • Several paid actors can be involved
  • Minor visual effects are possible
  • City permits may be required for outdoor shoots on public streets

My music video for “Jekyll & Hyde” by Theoretics fits in this range. The band relied heavily on friends and favors, but still had to hire four or five paid actors to participate. We used a lot of interesting locations that each required a fee. We needed to close off a few sections of street to film several segments, so city permits (and correlation with local police) were necessary. Our production was small enough that we didn’t need big trucks or generators, so we were able to qualify for a less-expensive type of film permit with the cities involved; the same level of production insurance wasn’t required by the cities we filmed in since we were under $10,000 (that type of rule changes drastically from city to city, so call the film permit office before planning your shoot).

Garrett Gibbons music video director

Level 3: Healthy Independent Budget ($20,000 – $50,000)

At this level, the production feels more like an independent film set, rather than a student film or enthusiast project. It’s not a full-blown film crew sort of feel, but it’s about as close as anyone independently financed generally gets. Here are some characteristics of this budget level:

  • Several days of production
  • Medium-sized crew
  • Filmed on RED, Alexa, or other higher-end digital cinema camera packages
  • Experienced, professional actors can be involved
  • Full production insurance is required in most cities
  • City permits are required in most cities
  • Visual effects can be a major element of the video

The music video I directed, filmed and edited for Adam Zwig, “Everybody Love” was within this budget range. Paying actors was a huge part of the budget (I think we had more than thirty actors involved, though not all made the final edit), and the theater setup with the band also had a large number of costs associated with it. This video features a few thousands dollars worth of invisible visual effects as well, where some aspect of the shot was changed after it was filmed, to meet the client’s evolving vision for the video.

Level 4: Commercial/Studio Budget ($50,000+)

  • Several days of production
  • Full professional film crew
  • Filmed on RED, Alexa, or other higher-end digital cinema camera packages
  • Experienced, professional actors can be involved
  • Full production insurance is required
  • City permits are required
  • Visual effects can be a central element of the video

At this level, everyone involved is a professional who is present to do one task. There can easily be fifty people involved in the crew (ranging from production assistants to hair and makeup artists to caterers to runners to DITs), and the post-production pipeline is similar to a feature film (a full crew involved in the editorial department and post-production process).

I edited “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Justin Bieber in 2011. I don’t know the exact budget, but my rough estimate is that it cost around $150,000, based on my experience with similar projects. SONY Pictures and Island Records were the two corporate entities who financed the project, and the set was run like a feature film with a $10-20M budget. It was filmed on two days in Los Angeles: Justin was filmed for a large part of one day, with the second day being focused on the dancers. The set and props were built in the week leading up to filming (I believe that the set was brought in and assembled on the day previous to shooting, but it may have taken two days), and most of the costumes were rented in Los Angeles. It was filmed in stereoscopic 3D at 5K on twin RED Epic cameras, and I edited it in 3D on a Final Cut Pro 7 setup using Cineform plugin tools to manage the 3D aspect of the editing process. The edit was rushed to coloring and conforming so that it could play as a pre-roll to the kids movie “Arthur Christmas” for its premiere.

Comparing Budget Tiers

Some of you may look at the difference between “Overcome” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and conclude that money is wasted at higher levels of production. While that may sometimes be true in some aspects, it’s important to recognize that the benefits of a large crew and a full professional toolset tend to manifest themselves in extremely important ways that may not be obvious to the casual viewer.

For example, the Justin Bieber video was thoroughly pre-visualized, with mood boards and color palettes compiled in advance so that they could be approved by the various levels of executives involved. There was plenty of time to do everything correctly and predictably, and there was very little risk of the final product turning out differently than expected.

Much of “Overcome” was improvised on set, and required a lot of improvisation and split-second decision-making to pull the shoot off. The dancers hadn’t rehearsed nor had any choreography prepared; I relied entirely on their ability to interpret my direction while I filmed them. We experimented a lot and weren’t entirely sure what the final product would look like while we were in production.

Chilling with this group of sorry actors.

A photo posted by Garrett Gibbons (@garrettgibbons) on

Essentially, the more money goes into a music video (or film), the higher the likelihood will be that the result looks professional. I have seen many bands film music videos for $500 with a first-time director who has very little film experience, and sometimes they turn out well. More commonly, the band has a very amateur-looking music video that becomes a liability to their brand and the authenticity of their image.

Music videos are expensive, but if the band is educated in terms of how much to spend and what to expect, they can carefully select a director who can help them achieve their goals within their price range.

Update: This excellent mini-documentary features all sorts of music video-related wisdom from some great directors whose work I have enjoyed and respected for years. If you ever plan to be involved in a music video in any way (director, editor, DP, camera operator, producer, band member, actor, etc…) you really need to watch this as soon as possible.

The Videographers Guide Ep. 1 – The Music Video from HBTV on Vimeo.

This entry was posted in Film, How-to, Publishing, Rants, Video.


  1. Stephan Gray September 1, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    I can’t wait for the day when I can spend $5k on a music video! I’m not going to get into specifics of how I’ve cut corners or stretched the budget in the past. But I will say with my past in commercial production $5k can and will go VERY quickly…..on he first day. Anybody who doesn’t see where the money goes, see if they’ll come out to set for a day. I’ve never had a naysayer of where the budget is going, come out to set and still wonder by the end of the day. It’s always he opposite.

    Have fun with the dough Garret!

    • Garrett September 1, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

      Ha, we’ll see if the fans will put it up!

      But yeah, $5k is nothing, but it’s enough to get something respectable out there if the director, producer, DP, editor, VFX artist and colorist are the same guy and willing to drastically drop their rates to make it happen.

      The steampunk motif is going to be a trick to pull off on that budget, though….

  2. Terry Lee March 3, 2012 at 5:09 am #

    Hi, just wanted to share a video I made with just a simple DSLR camera. I hope you like it. http://youtu.be/LGEl2HGVDck

  3. Nelly Maldonado August 25, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    I shot my music video with my own Camera so my budget was very low but the hours spent were above 60 hours not including sound recordings.


  4. Matt Williams December 22, 2012 at 5:56 am #

    First of all, I’m a big fan of Theoretics. :)

    I’m working on my second video, now. I agree with what you said about the budget. I shot this video for less than $300. It shot this for my girlfriend, Vocalist, Debbie Poole, so I cut a lot of slack. :) I mostly bartered with people (the limo, the house, the club, the shop, etc.). The actors were friends of my daughter from UMBC. I produced it, directed it, filmed it, edited it….everything. If I had had $5,000..MAN the work I could have done. Typically, that’s what I WOULD have charged for local artists. They don’t have much of a budget anyway, and much of their finances is getting watered down by clubs who don’t pay much to begin with, so I understand what they are going through and cut them some slack, but not for less than $5,000.

    Anyway, check out the video I shot (Nikon D5000). Hope ya enjoy it.


  5. Zoe January 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    Thank you so much for this article I am a film student and this was very helpful in giving me a idea of how to build my bid and budget. I love the Jekyll and Hyde scene when he is mixing the potions and they are bubbling and smoking very kewl

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    […] Another thing we have found is that the average music video costing is between $200,000 and $500,000 this is on this link http://garrettgibbons.com/music-video-budgets/ […]