Music video editors perform an essential role in the music industry. They take an unedited draft of film or videotape and use specialized equipment to improve the draft until it is ready for viewing. It is the responsibility of the video editor to create the most effective product possible that reflects the intentions of the featured music artist—or more precisely, the artist’s record label.
Music Video Editor Career History
The origins of the music video go deeper than MTV’s historic launching in 1981. Almost 100 years prior to that event, a photographer named George Thomas put together the first live-model illustrated song. Set to the song, “The Little Lost Child,” this series of photographic images hit vaudeville stages, and later, movie theaters. Customers lined up to see the shows. Suddenly, a new music sub-industry was born: illustrating popular songs to help sell musical numbers to the public—in this case, sheet music.
The first music videos were called Soundies, and were composed of footage of a band or a solo singer simply performing their song on a stage. These Soundies were used to promote artists as they are today. Nowadays, stylistic (and often provocative) music videos are made to sell albums and concert tickets.
Early video editing was sometimes done by the video’s director, studio technicians, or other film staffers. Now, however, most full-length music videos have an editor who is responsible for the continuity and clarity of the project.
Music Video Editor Job Description
Music video editors work closely with video producers and directors throughout an entire project. These editors assist in the earliest phase, called preproduction, and during the production phase, when actual filming occurs.
However, their skills are in the greatest demand during postproduction, when primary filming is completed and the bulk of the editing begins.
During preproduction, in meetings with producers and directors, video editors learn about the objectives of the music video. If the video is for a young pop star, for example, the editor should be familiar with his or her music and the image usually associated with the artist.
At this point, the producer may explain the larger scope of the project so that the editor knows the best way to approach the work when it is time to edit the film. In consultation with the director, editors may discuss the best way to accurately present the music artist’s image. They may discuss different settings, scenes, costumes, special effects, or camera angles even before filming or taping begins. With this kind of preparation, music video editors are ready to practice their craft as soon as the production phase is complete.
Typically, the larger the budget for the video, the longer the shoot and the longer time the editor will spend working in post-production. Therefore, some editors may spend months on one project, while others may be working on several shorter projects simultaneously.
Editors first take film that has been developed in labs and transfer it to videotape. They then use digital editing systems to convert film footage to a digital format. The system has a database that tracks individual frames and puts all the scenes together in a folder of information. This information is stored on a hard drive and can instantly be brought up on screen, allowing a video editor to access scenes and frames with the click of a mouse.
Music video editors are usually the final decision makers when it comes to choosing which video segments will stay in as they are, which segments will be cut, or which may need to be redone. Editors look at the quality of the segment, its dramatic/entertainment value, and its relationship to the rest of the video. Editors then arrange the segments in an order that creates the most effective finished product. To do this, they rely on notes from the producer and director, along with their own natural sense of how scenes should look.
Some editors specialize in certain aspects of the music video. Sound editors may have training in music theory or performance and focus on the audio element of the music video. Special effects editors are concerned more with the look of the video and are responsible for effects such as hand-drawn and computer animation and other stylistic footage.
Music Video Editor Career Requirements
Because video editing requires a creative perspective along with technical skills, you should take English, speech, theater, and other courses that will allow you to develop writing skills. Art and photography classes will help you become more familiar with visual media. If you’re lucky enough to attend a high school that offers classes in either film history or film production, be sure to take those courses. The American Film Institute hosts an educational Web site (http://www.afi.com/) that offers resources for teachers and students. Finally, don’t forget to take computer classes. Editing work constantly makes use of new technology, and you should become familiar and comfortable with computers as soon as possible.
While some employers may require a bachelor’s degree for video editing work, actual on-the-job experience is the best guarantee of securing lasting employment. Degrees in liberal arts fields are preferred, but courses in cinematography and audiovisual techniques help editors get started in their work. You may choose to pursue a degree in such subjects as English, journalism, theater, or film. Community and two-year colleges often offer courses in the study of film history. Some of these colleges also teach film and video editing. Universities with departments of broadcast journalism offer courses in video editing and also may have contacts at local television stations.
Training as a music video editor takes from four to 10 years. Many editors learn much of their skills on the job as an assistant or apprentice at a film studio or production company. During an apprenticeship, the apprentice has the opportunity to see the work of the video editor up close. The editor may eventually assign some of his or her minor duties to the apprentice, while still making the larger decisions. After a few years the apprentice may be promoted to editor or may apply for a position at another studio or production company.
Certification or Licensing
Music video editors must be experts at using technology and software. Avid, Final Cut Pro, and other digital editing systems offer training and certification programs. Becoming certified is a good way for editors to increase their marketability as well as build their skills. But, as everywhere in the arts, people get jobs through their talent, work, and contacts, not through certifications.
To edit music videos, you should be able to work well with others and remain open to suggestions and guidance. A successful editor also has an understanding of the history and evolution of music videos and a feel for the narrative form in general. Computer skills are also important and will help you to learn new technology in the field.
Exploring Music Video Editor Career
One of the best ways to prepare for a career as a music video editor is to stay current on music trends and new artists. You should also be familiar with all different kinds of film and television projects, including documentaries, short films, feature films, TV shows, and commercials. Study as many different projects as you can, paying close attention to the decisions the editors made in piecing together the scenes.
Large television stations and music production companies occasionally have volunteers or student interns. Most people in the industry start out doing minor tasks helping with production. These production assistants get the opportunity to see different professionals at work. By working closely with an editor, a production assistant can learn general video production operations as well as specific editing techniques.
Music video editors are usually employed by record companies and postproduction companies. Keep in mind that the music video industry is not the only avenue for employment. Many editors work on television shows, commercials, and films. They may develop ongoing working relationships with directors or producers who hire them from one project to another. Many music video editors who have worked for a studio or postproduction company for several years often become independent contractors. These editors offer their services on a per-job basis to producers of music videos, commercials, and films; negotiate their own fees; and typically purchase or lease their own editing equipment.
Because of the glamor associated with music videos, this is a popular field that can be very difficult to break into. With a minimum of a high school diploma or a degree from a two-year college, you can apply for entry-level jobs in many television studios and production companies, but these jobs won’t be editing positions. Most employers will not consider you for an editor position if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree or several years of on-the-job experience.
One way to get on-the-job experience is to complete an apprenticeship in editing. However, in some cases, you won’t be eligible for an apprenticeship unless you are a current employee of the studio or production company. Therefore, start out by applying to as many studios as possible and take an entry-level position, even if it’s not in the editing department. Once you start work, let people know that you are interested in an editor apprenticeship so that you’ll be considered the next time a position becomes available.
Those who have completed bachelor’s or master’s degrees have typically gained hands-on experience through school projects. Another benefit of going to school is that contacts that you make while in school, both through your school’s placement office and alumni, can be a valuable resource when you look for your first job. Your school’s career services office may also have listings of job openings. Some studio work is union regulated. Therefore you may also want to contact union locals to find out about job requirements and openings.
Once video editors have secured employment in their field, their advancement comes with further experience and greater recognition. Some editors develop good working relationships with music video directors or producers. These editors may be willing to leave the security of a job at a production company for the possibility of working one-on-one with the director or producer on a project. These opportunities often provide editors with the autonomy they may not get in their regular jobs. Some are willing to take a pay cut to work on a video they feel is important.
Some video editors choose to stay at their production companies and advance through seniority to editing positions with higher salaries. They may be able to negotiate better benefits packages or to choose the projects they will work on. They may also choose which directors they wish to work with.
Some sound editors may wish to broaden their skills by working as general video editors. On the other hand, some general video editors may choose to specialize in sound effects, music, or some other editorial area. Some music video editors may move to television, motion pictures, or commercial work.
Music video editors are not as highly paid as others working in their industry. They have less clout than directors or producers, but they have more authority in the production of a project than camera operators and technicians working on the set. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual wage for television and video editors was $44,750 in 2004. A small percentage of editors earned less than $22,250 a year, while some earned more than $98,790. The most experienced and sought-after video editors can command much higher salaries.
Most of the work done by video editors is performed in studios or at production companies. The working environment is often a small, cramped studio office full of editing equipment. Work hours vary widely depending on the scope of the video. Music videos are often filmed to be aired in conjunction with single and record release dates, so editors may be required to work overtime to meet deadlines.
During filming, music video editors may be asked to be on hand at the filming location. Locations may be outdoors or in other cities, and travel is occasionally required. More often, however, the editor works in the studio.
Disadvantages of the job involve the music video editor’s low rank on the totem pole of industry jobs. However, most editors feel that this is outweighed by the honor of working on exciting projects.
Music Video Editor Career Outlook
The outlook for film, television, and video editors is good. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment for editors will grow about as fast as the average through 2014. The growth in popularity of cable music channels will translate into greater demand for video editors. This will also force the largest production companies to offer more competitive salaries in order to attract the best editors.
The digital revolution is greatly affecting the editing process. Already, there are more than 25,000 Avid media systems (digital editing equipment) worldwide. Editors will work much more closely with special effects houses in putting together projects. When using more visual and sound effects, video editors will have to edit scenes with an eye towards the special effects that will be added. Digital editing systems are also available for home computers. Users can feed their own digital video into their computers, then edit the material, and add their own special effects and titles. This technology may allow some prospective editors more direct routes into the industry, but the majority of video editors will have to follow traditional routes, obtaining years of hands-on experience to advance in their careers.