Music Video Commissioning – Pitfalls and Bear Traps

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Music video commissioning is one the most important tasks of any promo campaign. A good video is crucial, and, as music video production is time-consuming and often the most expensive line item of the campaign budget, the music video experience can be disastrous if things go wrong. Our service and this article aim to help you get the best music video you can, every time.

Radar is an award-winning service for commissioning music videos. We look for promising new directors worldwide and connect them to labels, managers and artists. Radar is a free service for commissioners – we make our money through charging directors a monthly subscription.

We’ve helped thousands of commissioners ranging from major label commissioners to brand new DIY artists and here we hope to help you avoid some common pitfalls so you can focus on success. Here goes!

Writing a good brief

  • Spend time preparing this. A good brief will strike a balance between making it broadly clear what kind of video is going to make you happy, and giving the right director enough room to contribute their own creativity and expertise.
  • The music video should be consistent with the artists’ look and feel; give guidelines about what you mean by your look and feel.
  • ‘Open to all ideas’ isn’t as helpful as it sounds. Give directors parameters to work within, share your likes and dislikes. Choose other music videos you like and say why you like them.
  • The opposite – giving directors a shot-by-shot description of what you want – is unlikely to be successful. Directors want the opportunity to express their own creativity.

Setting a good budget

  • There’s no such thing as the ‘right’ budget.
  • Bigger budgets attract more of the better directors.
  • If you use Radar, you have to state the budget up front, as part of your brief. As over-runs on budget are a common feature of music video production, we have a valuable feature to deal with that – fixed budgets. Commissioners have to agree they will pay the budget stated if they commission – and equally, directors agree they will make the video they pitch, for the budget agreed.
  • You can indicate you’re willing to release more budget for the right ideas – this encourages directors to pitch on spec for a bigger budget.

Shortlisting directors and pitches

Good research and analysis is a critical part of shortlisting.

  • Is the pitch well-written and presented, does it give you a clear and realistic picture of what you can expect to see in the video? Does the idea seem achievable with your budget?
  • Previous work. All pitches on Radar contain a link to director profiles, where you can see directors’ work. Past work is the single best indicator of the quality and type of video you’re likely to get with this director. What are their other music videos like? Can you see complete videos? Don’t rely on reels – it’s easy to edit excerpts from average videos into a good-looking reel.
  • Social proof. Do all the website, twitter, tumblr, facebook links in the director’s Radar profile work? Are there any weird gaps in their story? E.g. they say they’ve made 5 music videos but you can only see 2.
  • Check the director’s Radar profile for reviews (this is a new feature, so don’t be put off if directors don’t have many/any yet) or contact the director and ask for people you can speak to.
  • Beware of directors offering to work for less than budget to get the work – it might encourage you to overlook other issues you might later decide are important after all.

Choosing from your shortlist

How do you feel about working with these people?

  • Attitude – are they polite and responsive? Or a bit arrogant, defensive or smarmy? If the director is active on social media, do they talk like someone you want to work with?
  • Ability – can they be clear about how they’ll create the video, or are they a bit defensive or obfuscating?


  • Ask for sketches, storyboards, shot lists or similar tool. Being able to see a preview is one of the two most useful tools you need as a commissioner. It will give you a way to better understand what your prospective director is planning and will give you essential insight into how the finished video will look.
  • As you’re still shortlisting at this stage, it’s not fair to ask for too much detail from the director – but you need enough information to build a competent picture of what the video might be with this person. (nb, It is fair to ask for more detailed storyboards or shotlists as soon as you have commissioned a director)


A contract is the other most important commissioning tool you have. A good contract will take you through all of the following issues and more:

  • Budget.
  • Storyboarding/shotlisting.
  • Sign off/ approval on casting, not forgetting dancers – check dancers’ credentials.
  • Delivery date.
  • Approval schedule (often tied into cashflow). Clarify what you can expect at each point, eg first cut, rough cut, fine cut, delivery (you don’t need all these stages – discuss with your director).
  • We recommend 50% up front and the rest on delivery. Never pay 100% up front. Ask directors during shortlisting how they are planning to cover the 50% costs which won’t be paid until you get the finished video.
  • Production insurance.
  • Rights ownership.
  • Kill fees. These are not necessary, but you could agree to make a payment less that the total budget to finish the relationship if you’re not happy with the quality of the video by a certain point in the schedule.

NB: if you have an account on Radar and are shooting or are based in the UK, go to your account page to access Radar’s exclusive £10 discount on the Wiggin UK £35 production contract.

Production and Delivery

The discussion and agreement you’ll have had when setting up your contract will act as a confident guide, taking you through the actual making and delivery of the video.

We cannot emphasise enough how important it is to have a contract. If we ever hear about things going wrong with a commission, invariably it’s because they have not used a contract for whatever reason (“it was such a low budget it didn’t seem worth it”, “we got on really well at the beginning” etc etc). Use a contract! Make your life easy!

NB: if you’re in the UK, here’s a contract for £25, courtesy of Radar and via respected media production lawyers Wiggin. Go to

At this URL, login and choose the Video Production Contract at the bottom. When you’re given the option to apply the discount code, use 1PY3WQYC for your special Radar discount.


This guide will help you avoid the more obvious problems of commissioning music videos. It can protect you from commissioning directors with a poor track record, commissioning ideas you don’t really like, and ultimately protect you from losing your money.

You’ll notice we recommend you spend time briefing and researching – possibly more time than you were expecting. Spend that time, ask for that storyboard, agree a good contract and with a fair wind, you should all end up happy.

RadarThis post is brought to you by Radar Creatives. Radar is the biggest & best creative directory of filmmakers, designers & photographers for music marketers worldwide.

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