The music video in 2022 and beyond

Established video director Ashleigh Jadee and emerging filmmakers Amber Akaunu and Lauren McCollin share their experiences of the evolving music video scene and discuss what's next for the industry.
Filmmaker Ashleigh Jadee shooting a video in an industrial kitchen with a Canon EOS R5 C.

Ashleigh Jadee, pictured using a Canon EOS R5 C, has worked with many big names in the music business as a photographer, producer and music video director. During the pandemic, she also began mentoring and collaborating with several up-and-coming filmmakers. "These collaborations should be the new way of working," says Ashleigh. "I'm training the mentees up, and when I get new opportunities to do music videos, I co-direct with a mentee. That way they have a good quality production for their showreel and first-hand experience." © Ashleigh Jadee

Internet killed the video star. Or did it? In 2022, the music video industry is a long way past the days of exclusive broadcast spaces like MTV and Top of the Pops, and has exploded elsewhere on easily accessible online platforms such as YouTube, TikTok and Instagram. Anyone can go viral in this bold new creative era, but the space is crowded.

To make a name for yourself as a filmmaker like Ashleigh Jadee (@ashleighjadeeee) – and land those big artists such as Skepta and Roddy Ricch – developing a distinct style and personal branding is key. That's a philosophy that Ashleigh has shared with Amber Akaunu (@amberakaunu) and Lauren McCollin (@lauren.mccollin), two young filmmakers she has mentored via Instagram since the start of the pandemic.

Absorbing Ashleigh's experience and knowledge, as well as collaborating with her on projects, is propelling Amber and Lauren's showreels. And with high-quality camera kit for video such as the Canon EOS C70 and Canon EOS 5D Mark IV in their hands, they're emerging as new and unique female voices in an evolving UK film industry, well equipped for the challenges ahead.

In talking with Ashleigh, Amber and Lauren, we learn how the scene today is a more level playing field, the current influences on music film production, and how to stand out in a marketing-led industry.

During a night shoot, filmmaker Ashleigh Jadee stares up at a camera monitor. She is surrounded by cast and crew members.

Ashleigh's relationship with Canon camera equipment goes back a long way. "I was 19 when I got my L-series Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM). The lens was £1,500 but I wanted it and I knew it would last me a long time," she recalls. "Every shoot I did back then went to pay it off. I gave that lens to one of my mentees last year, so I had a perfect 10 years with it!" © Ashleigh Jadee

Filmmaker Lauren McCollin, wearing a grey top and large hoop earrings, films with a Canon camera held at shoulder height.

As an emerging filmmaker, Lauren McCollin (pictured) often has to get creative when filming. "Lighting is a DIY approach mainly because of budget," she explains. "On my first shoot, I used a couple of softboxes while I only had the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM. On the second shoot, we added the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM) and LED lighting for various colours. Other times we've used reflectors in natural light and lens filters." © Lauren McCollin

High-quality kit for less

"Camera gear is 100% what has levelled the playing field in the music video industry," says Ashleigh, whose first video-capable camera was the Canon EOS 60D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 90D). "When I was starting out in the industry, the first thing I did was get my own camera. Then I realised I could switch from photo to video and also edit, so I reached out to artists, asking if I could shoot video for them. That's what's happening now on a larger scale. So many people are able to see that they can get a hybrid camera that doesn't cost too much, create videos with people they know, and then load it to YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, where it can [potentially] go viral."

Ashleigh's mentee Amber secured a grant which helped her buy the Canon EOS C70. "I remember feeling quite powerful with it in my hands," Amber recalls. "It's an extension of the vision I have, especially because of how easy it is to use and how light it is compared to other high-quality cameras. I can have a lot of movement and be experimental with it, and the built-in ND filters are great to make quick adjustments when I'm out filming. It has all the tools I need."

Lauren also has nothing but praise for her Canon camera. "I shot all of the Shelana Azora music videos with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV," she enthuses. "It was my first camera that really had proper video features; working with 4K video and slow motion 60fps for cutaways. When you see the level of your work improving, you end up putting more effort in because you can see you're going somewhere."

Canon's range of hybrid EOS R-System cameras, including the Canon EOS R5 C, the EOS R5 and the EOS R6 are designed with creatives in mind, offering powerful pro video features in compact and lightweight bodies.

Platforms and networking

In addition to top-quality but affordable equipment, something else that has made things easier for aspiring filmmakers is accessibility to both product and tuition. Emerging talent can enjoy free music videos and low-to-no-cost education online to inspire and sharpen their craft – "YouTube university", as Lauren jokingly calls it. It's also easy to access and share content on the primary platforms where music videos are consumed these days: YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.

"Creatives are getting younger, both the artists and those behind the visuals," says Ashleigh. "People are wanting to create better art, and they are figuring out how to do it with the tools they have."

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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With video shoots operating under tighter budgets, smaller crews and travel restrictions, the pandemic has also helped accelerate new talent. Lauren and R&B singer Shelana's collaboration was truly local, for example, as they lived just down the road from each other.

Moving forward, Ashleigh envisions a further blurring of lines. "I'm seeing new independent artists investing just as much of themselves into their videos as signed artists do and moving the same way as a label would," she explains. "They understand marketing a lot more because they have to do so much of it. At the same time, they don't want to spend too much on the video because they need to save money for marketing."


Building your brand behind the scenes

Style, lighting and visual effects are all key components of a music video director's toolbox, but Ashleigh also knows how important it is to reveal the person behind the lens to an audience that hungers for accessibility and relatability. "I'm big on personal brands," she says. "A lot of creators, especially women, show our work but we don't show who created it and how we created it. I got a lot of engagement when I started doing behind the scenes videos from shoots and people follow me because they want to see me at work. I'm not just a name on a video now, people are invested in me as a person.

"My favourite part of MTV was the behind-the-scenes footage," Ashleigh continues. "That's what inspired me to do my own. BTS makes you appreciate all that goes into a production, breaking the misconception that it's just one person with a camera. We shoot a lot of BTS with Canon DSLRs."

Amber, who is based in Liverpool, and who gives us a quick look behind the scenes on a shoot above, agrees that putting yourself in the frame is crucial to succeeding in today's music industry – it's also something that she finds personally rewarding. "A big part of my identity is being a black woman from Liverpool – it's a perspective that isn't often shown in the media," she explains. "I definitely try to lean into that both behind and in front of the camera, directing my audience to black northern culture and letting them know that is actually a thing! Liverpool has the oldest black community in the whole of Europe – so that's something that I'm passionate about."

Shooting for social media

'Shoot for the edit' takes on a whole new meaning when producing music videos for social media. With audiences searching for the videos themselves, or coming across them through friends, "you need to create something that captures people's attention, something that they haven't seen before", says Lauren. "When you're on set and you get the shot that you know is going to turn heads, that's it!"

"There are many deliverables," picks up Ashleigh. "The client wants a trailer for Instagram at 10 seconds, converted for Instagram stories aspect ratio. You have YouTube, 15 seconds for TikTok, Spotify is eight seconds... There are so many different exports."

A close-up of a Canon EOS C70 with a bespectacled figure standing behind it.

EOS C70: the perfect tool for music video production

DoPs Michael Janke and Belrie on why the Canon EOS C70 is ideal for filming music videos.

The artists are also being influenced by the demands of different mediums. Ashleigh has seen songs become a lot shorter, usually around 2.5 minutes. "That's because if you like the song, 2.5 minutes is when you are just getting into it, so you've got to play it again. The same applies for the accompanying video. Ultimately, artists get more streams and make more money."

Content is evolving as well. Putting dance into music videos, for example. "I was on a music video shoot and they had a TikTok dance that they choreographed specifically to put in the video to then be able to reach their audiences as a marketing technique," says Lauren.

"That relationship between artists and TikTok and music videos and even the charts is really interesting – it will develop and become more official," adds Amber. "TikTok is unofficial but it is dominating the charts in an official way!"

Filmmaker Amber Akaunu smiles at the camera against a bright yellow background.

This year, Amber Akaunu, pictured, is travelling to Nigeria where she plans to explore her heritage – with the help of her Canon EOS C70. "I'm really looking forward to documenting and connecting with local artists and filmmakers and hopefully using that as a basis for my work going forward," she says. © Amber Akaunu

A group of individuals set up camera equipment in a large open room.

"I feel like I can make a name for myself in this space, if I'm open to learning, constantly working on my craft, meeting and networking with the right people," says Lauren. "It's who you know in the music industry, but it's also what value you can bring to people's productions, to the artists. We're all individuals and have our own unique ideas, but being able to collaborate and build up your knowledge – like working under Ashleigh – I've learnt so much." © Lauren McCollin

Embracing your unique creative voice

Established artists like Ashleigh need new challenges to help keep them sharp. The five-minute-long music video Hustle tapped into her creative need to build a narrative. "When they mentioned dancers I thought it had to be artistic, telling a story through their body movement. I loved doing that video so much because it pushed me."

"Creatively, you lean into what makes you unique. It's the same for us all – your culture, ideologies – lean into that and let it come out in what you create," says Amber. "When you're from a marginalised community it can be hard to be authentic in spaces where you are the minority. Being a black Liverpudlian with Nigerian roots, the authenticity is coming out in the work that I produce and it pays off 100%."

What's new and what's next?

Ashleigh has observed the limited shelf life for new stylistic ideas that then get overused in music videos, whether they're a 360° camera spin, a Dutch angle, mixing between 4:3 and wide aspect ratios, or even the TikTok dance challenge craze. So while the trend merry-go-round continues, perhaps the future is where wider industry collaborations are made.

Lauren singles out the music video Woman by Doja Cat. "She partnered with Girls Who Code to create a music video where viewers can change the video details through code, for example changing the artist's nail colour." The idea behind the concept was to help women get into coding and show the potential for music videos becoming interactive.

Ultimately, it's a good time in the UK for filmmakers like Ashleigh, Lauren and Amber to bring their unique voices onto the music video scene, where, as Ashleigh says, "You have to find your style, perfect it, and then you'll be known for it and people will come to you for that look."

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