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Making a Music Video in China

Meeting Galen

Galen Crew has an interesting story, and it's one that I'm very honored to have a small role to play in. An independent singer/songwriter trying to make it as a freelance producer in Nashville just a few years ago, Galen noticed one day that his music was getting a lot of attention from audiences in China of all places. He began to notice on his social media, with a select few fans in China using VPNs to jump the "Great Firewall" to access Instagram and Facebook to follow him online.

They posted comments on his feeds and let him know that quite a large, growing number of people were really pushing his song "Sleepyhead" up on the charts on a Chinese streaming service called 网易云音乐 (NetEase Cloud Music). The full story:

Through a friend of a friend, the CEO of Healthy Household (and our client) found out that Galen was interested in making a trip to China. In the summer of 2016, they made a deal to help arrange a short tour for Galen, and to help in the negotiation process of getting a touring agency agreement, in exchange for Galen to be the celebrity sponsor for Healthy Household, which is a retail company in the Chinese market. So Galen came to China for the first time in May 2016, and did shows in Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai.

While he was here we covered some of his shows and used that footage to produce a short "brand story" film for Healthy Household. The ad spotlighted Galen's own path to success:

This ad was made for the Chinese market and is featured on

China Tour Video and "Fragrance" Official MV

Galen decided after the success of his first tour to return with the same booking agency a few months later. This time he hit up 12 Chinese cities - Shanghai, Wuxi, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Beijing, Tianjin, and Zibo - a big step up for just a few months later!

After seeing our work for HH, Galen asked us to create a live tour video and music video on his next visit. We had the privilege of capturing live show footage from the road of 4 different cities, and producing the official video of his new single, "Fragrance", which he wrote on his first trip to China.

The "Fragrance" music video was released on February 23 and was a quick hit, with more than 50,000 views on Chinese platforms in the first 24 hours of release. Watch the full video on YouTube here:

Here is a short behind-the-scenes on producing the video, which was shot mostly in Shanghai, but also in Guangzhou, Wuhan and Beijing:

BTS of "Fragrance" official music video

Shooting Galen in China

I met up with Galen in Shanghai to kick off the tour in October. We filmed the show, being sure to get good content of the live performance of "Fragrance". Then the next day we took an afternoon walking around the Huang Cheng Miao area, finding random places to shoot Galen's performance shots.

Just a few years ago a video of this sort would not have been a reality to produce the way we pulled it off. With no lights, no extra crew, and without any sort of film permit, we shot all the exterior Shanghai scenes run-and-gun on the Sony a7sII. Its low-light performance and color space gave us the flexibility to shoot quickly and creatively. If Galen liked a location, we quickly set up the shot, played the track from his iPhone in his jacket pocket, and rolled camera.

Thankfully the crowd didn't seem to care too much. Shanghai has so many foreign tourists and ex-pats walking around that one more white guy lip-syncing into a camera didn't attract much attention.

Frame Rate and Audio Sync

We filmed all the location performance scenes slightly high-speed in order to create a smooth, slightly slow-motion effect in the music video. That meant that the audio had to be played faster as well. We had a 1.25x version of "Fragrance" that Galen sang along to, while I rolled at 60fps instead of 24. I know what you're thinking... 60fps is 2.5 times as fast as 24, not 1.25 times...

We tried the 2.5x speed for the song, and it was just a little ridiculous trying to get a natural performance at that speed. So I acquired at a fast enough frame rate to get even slower motion on parts where Galen was not singing, meanwhile playback at 48fps synced back up with the original track speed, and a 2:1 pulldown in Adobe Premiere Pro was all I needed to get back to 24 fps.

Green Screen Effects - the "Ink Cloud"

Galen is a big fan of Chris Martin. A lot of the movement/dance during the colorful "ink cloud" special effects scenes comes from inspiration in Coldplay music videos. Galen had me watch the music video for "Hymn for the Weekend" as reference for some of the exotic elements of China we wanted to capture. We loved way video director Ben Mor of Black Dog Films used color, timed thematically with the energy levels of the song in that video.

I had in my mind this picture of vapor or mist, maybe because the whole song was about being a "fragrance" of something you can't quite put a finger on. It's intangible, and I wanted to represent that in a visual way but still being very abstract.

We actually shot all the ink cloud scene on green screen without really knowing what we would do with the footage until later.

About a month after the tour was over, and all the shooting was finished, I sat down with my After Effects guy, a friend named 阿超, and we looked at a bunch of different effects. We finally landed on the the ink clouds, and based the color palette on the stage lights from Galen's shows, mainly his show in Wuhan. We used a combination of reds, magentas, greens, and yellows to match what was already in the live shots.

This project was a lot of fun, and I really hope we get to do another music video soon. I love the challenge of taking an abstract idea and representing it in a paralleled visual. Music videos are full of those challenges. It's like visual poetry.

To any other artists out there wanting to produce a MV in China... hit us up on your next project!

#galencrew #china #musicvideo #shanghai #guangzhou #wuhan #beijing #singer #artist #thebund

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