The Business (and Sometimes Art) of Music Video Treatment Writing


I receive several e-mails each week from people asking me how to break into the business of music video treatment writing. As I have written over four hundred treatments for various record labels, artists and directors, I have some insight into this area. There are several elements to consider when writing a music video treatment and I will try to outline them here.

Before you attempt to write a single word, it helps to understand a little bit about the "biz." The music video industry has undergone major changes in recent years. Many record labels have gone out of business or consolidated. There are far fewer "big budget" videos being produced, yet with broadband Internet access, there are far more avenues of distribution. *

There are three main players: The Record Labels, The Production Companies and The Directors. The record labels represent the recording artists. The Production Companies represent directors. There are also directors who are not affiliated with any particular production company. They often solicit work on their own, or hire an independent representative to work for them.

When a record label wants to make a music video for one of its artists, it approaches several production companies and directors who they think would be appropriate and solicit bids. They will say, for example, "We want a music video for Britney Spear's upcoming single, 'I Wish I Had Talent,' and we have a budget of 750,000 dollars."

The production company will scramble to assemble a bid, consisting of a treatment and a budget, which they will then rush to the label as quickly as possible. Generally, it is assumed that the proposed director will write the treatment himself or herself, but this is often not the case. A lot of directors, including some of the most noted in the business, do not like writing treatments. Often it is because they are asked to bid on so many video jobs that the amount of writing - on spec - gets to be overwhelming. Sometimes it is because they don't have a good solid idea. Most often it is because they are not good writers. They may be masters of visualization, they may know how to place a camera and work with the talent to get a dynamite performance, but this doesn't necessarily mean they know how to translate their concepts to the written word. In other cases, the director may be extremely proficient with the written word, but still want to collaborate with an outside writer to come up with the best treatment possible. So they will hire, usually through the auspices of the production company that represents them, someone to write the treatment. This could be anyone from the secretary at the production office, to the producer of the video. Often, however, it is a freelance writer.

There are three main components to consider when writing a music video treatment: SELLING, CONTENT and BUDGET. The one that beginning writers seem most concerned with is the content; that is, all the visual aspects that will be photographed and (hopefully) translated to the screen. Be advised, the other two components are equally important. If one does not take SELLING and BUDGET into consideration, the content will be woefully irrelevant.


Since the treatment is written as part of the initial bid to convince the record label to award the job to the production company and/or its director, it must be an effective SELLING TOOL. In addition to the great content and visuals you will include in the treatment, you must be cognizant of what it is the label and the artist are looking for, and - for lack of a better word - regurgitate it back to them. The artists are concerned with how they will be presented. The label is concerned with selling albums. So in the text you must convince both that these needs will be met. If you are writing for a rap artist who has mentioned that he wants to drive a current model Lincoln Navigator, make sure that you refer to this exact vehicle in the text of the treatment. Regardless of whether you think it's a terrible idea, or whether or not the vehicle makes it into the finished video, your main concern at this point is to get the job. Don't be obstinate. If the label says they want to stay away from using a lot of extras, do not set your video at a concert with hundreds of screaming fans.
Get it? Give them what they want, keeping it within the context of the other two components: Content and Budget.


Treatments are generally written in the present tense, with the writer describing all the visuals that will be in the proposed music video and tying them into the various verses of the song.

Being as descriptive as possible is crucial. Often you may think you have the coolest imagery for the video, but if the reader does not understand what ideas and images you are conveying, or does not get the same mental images as the writer, it will all be lost. Find the right adjective. Normally, writers do not want to be redundant, but in a music video, it is sometimes important to "hit the reader over the head." Imagine your audience will be composed of everyone from a Nobel laureate to a second grader with a learning disability. Is the performance set inside a "blue room"? Or is it a COBALT BLUE ROOM, with a low fog that permeates every corner. Description, description, description.

Performance vs. "B Roll". When you see the artist playing an instrument and/or singing to the track, this is called "PERFORMANCE." Everything else that takes place in the video is referred to as "B-ROLL."

Generally, you want to describe three or four performance set-ups, that will be intertwined with your B-Roll visuals. Describe how the artist will come across in his or her performance. Strong? Powerful? Seductive? Flirtatious? Sexy? It helps to know a little about how the artists perceive themselves. You can usually find this out by visiting their official websites and reading their bios.

B-Roll could be narrative or interpretative. That is, it could tell a linear story, with a beginning, middle and end, or it could just be imagery that you feel works well within the context of the song.

As with any form of writing, the more you do it, the better you will get. Keep writing music videos, whether you are getting paid for it or not. Watch MTV. Study your favorite videos and then write what you imagine the treatment must have looked like. Study other treatments that have been written, and then come up with your own style. While there are no hard and fast rules about format, it is important that a treatment communicate its ideas in a clear, concise and creative manner.


Usually, the writer will have an idea of the budget range the label or artist wishes to spend. A treatment written for a five-hundred thousand dollar video will look very different from one for a five thousand dollar video. If you have any production experience, this will be a little easier to determine, but if you are strictly a writer, then you must use your common sense. Major effects are expensive, whether they are "mechanical" effects that you will perform on the set (such as a car crash or explosions), or digital effects that you will add later in the post production process. In the half-million dollar video, it is perfectly okay to include a few of these effects in your treatment. In a budget of under fifty-thousand, it is best to avoid them. Smaller effects that can be created using lighting and smoke, etc., are relatively inexpensive and can be accomplished on even the most modest of budgets.

The lower the budget, the fewer the extras, locations and effects you should incorporate into the treatment.


Now that you have a basic understanding of the process of writing music video treatments, you are probably wondering where to start. How do you get your first job? First should have two or three samples of your work. Find a few new songs that you really like and write your own treatments for them. Since you are not under a deadline, you should take your time to make these samples sparkle.

Next, contact every production company and director you can find and let them know you are available as a treatment writer. You can locate them by doing some basic research on the Internet, but a good place to begin is the Music Video Production Association . The MVPA has lists available on its website of its member producers, directors and production companies.


Once you have turned in your treatment to the production company and/or director, and they have sent it off to the record label, you can sit back and cross your fingers. Usually you will hear very quickly whether or not the music video has been awarded to your team. Don't be discouraged if they go with somebody else. There are so many factors involved when a record label decides to whom they will award the job, many of them political and totally out of your control. In the event that the record label likes the treatment but has some issues with it, you should be prepared to do a couple of rewrites.

Music video writing can be a fun and creative way to break into the music video business, but don't expect to make a lot of money from it. The biggest rewards are the connections that you will undoubtedly make as a result of your efforts.