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I Want My MTV: How to Make a Rock Video Without Ever Leaving Your Editing Room

We’ll look at how the above song, “Rock & Roll Safehouse,” was recorded next week. But first, how to make an early MTV-style video without leaving your editing room. First, some background on the song, which I wrote last year. It was inspired by an interview with Elvis Costello in the 2016 book Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop, written by the Wall Street Journal’s Marc Myers, in which Costello said:

Soon after I completed [1977’s “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes,”] I was signed to Stiff Records, a British independent label. Stiff sent me off to Headley Grange, about an hour and a half southwest of London, to rehearse backed by members of Clover, an American country-rock band that was in the U.K. to record an album. Headley Grange was a former poorhouse that became a rock ’n’ roll safe house where record companies lodged their bands and had them work on material before recording. It was cost-effective for them.

The “rock ’n’ roll safe house” phrase was great; it also conjured up images of TV series like Miami Vice, where the cops are always hiding people out in an undercover “safehouse” before a case goes to trial. Headley Grange was where Led Zeppelin wrote or recorded much of their best material, including both “Stairway to Heaven” and “Kashmir,” and where Genesis wrote their breakthrough Lamb Lies Down on Broadway album. The phrase also evoked Nellcôte, the French villa where the Rolling Stones, as tax exiles, recorded much of their epochal 1972 double album, Exile on Main Street. Both locations conjured up mental images of rock bands under pressure (or at least enough pressure to add some drama to the song), surrounded by their roadies, hangers-on, and other louche people on the make.

The song was also a way to commemorate the project studio it would be recorded in, built after our 2016 escape from California, and the subject of its own two-part article at the Lifestyle section last year.

After completing the song, I knew two things: I definitely wanted to make a rock video to accompany it, and I definitely did not to want to appear in that video. After years of stiffly appearing in my Silicon Graffiti commentary videos for Ed Driscoll.com, and after looking at the painful footage last year of Joe Scarborough looking like a middle-aged dork in a business suit strumming a Fender Jaguar guitar in his pundit-turned would be rock star video, I did not want to go the same campy route.

Breaking into the Video Vault

Fortunately, there was an affordable alternative available to me. During the period of 2008 through 2012 or so, back when I was doing my Sillicon Graffiti videos, I accumulated a fair amount of stock footage from Digital Juice for B-roll material. Since most of it was going to be projected behind me on the monitor of a newsroom virtual set, I didn’t really care if it was standard definition or high definition. I just wanted something to provide visual interest while I droned on in a suit.  My stash of Digital Juice stock footage had loads of stuff, ranging from rock bands jamming, to party people partying, to slow-motion footage of bottles being dropped and broken. None of which found a home on Silicon Graffiti. All of which was perfect (or at least much better than nothing) to illustrate a song about rather louche types recording a song in an imaginary mansion.