Whether you’re creating a two-hour film or a 30-second commercial, your story should have a narrative. In this video, director and YouTube creator Josh Olufemii breaks down the importance of using a narrative — even in a visual medium like music videos — to increase engagement and viral potential.
I remember saying music videos are short, they’re three minutes, you don’t really need to incorporate a story. Then I realized that’s actually not true. Even if you just incorporate a shallow story, a shallow narrative, the virality, and the engagement that you’re going to get just by incorporating that, will be bigger than you think. My name’s Josh Olufemii. I’m based out of Los Angeles, California, and I direct and edit music videos. I also do video production for corporate accounts, I’ve had my YouTube channel for five years, and I have a website luxuryleaks.com.
Why narrative is important for visual storytellers
So over the years I’ve actually learned how crucial it is to incorporate a narrative in every type of project, regardless of the length, I feel like narratives in general, create engagement and maintain someone’s attention because there’s a progressive nature to it. And there’s always that mysterious conclusion at the end of the narrative that you’re actually excited to find out about.
The framework of narrative
So what are three things that make a strong story? Number one, there needs to be a main protagonist. That’s the main person that the story is centered around, and that’s trying to accomplish a specific goal. Number two, there needs to be an antagonist. That’s the main thing that’s preventing that person from reaching their goal. An antagonist can either be another person, or it can even be an antagonistic force, like say maybe poverty, is preventing the protagonist from reaching their goal. Number three, there just needs to be ebbs and flows as far as the narrative goes. There needs to be a sense of uncertainty and maybe a few twists. Then it’s nice to have some type of conclusion in the end where you know, whether or not the person reached their goal.
Using set design to elevate visual storytelling
It’s been really cool seeing the rise of K-pop over the last decade, and how their creative excellence has really started to affect how we create music videos over here in the West. They really put a lot of attention into complex set design. One of the most underrated elements of the music video is an excellent location. And when I’m in my pre-production process, that’s the first thing I look at after the story. First, I figure out, okay, what’s the narrative going to be? Second is how am I going to gain access to a location that’s going to convey the emotions I’m trying to evoke through this narrative in the best way. The cool thing about K-pop videos is that they build a lot of their sets, and they do a really good job at it too. So how that translates to me is, I’m going to try to incorporate an art director in every one of my projects, that’s able to actually create awesome set builds. Or I’ll make sure to location scout properly beforehand so that location I end up shooting in, whether it already exists or was built from scratch, is memorable. Another thing that K-pop music videos do well is creating depth. Whether it be spatial depth, where they actually shoot in a location that has an obvious foreground, midground and background. Or it may have lighting depth, meaning that the lighting setup allows for a lot of things in the background or foreground that have contrast in light intensities. The reason why you want to incorporate depth in your shots, regardless of the type of depth you’re talking about, is because it gives the audience’s eye something to look at. Again, it maintains someone’s engagement with your work.
How to incorporate narrative into a music video
So I’m going to give you an example of when I was able to incorporate a pretty simple narrative into a pretty short music video from my bro Mickey Singh. The song was called Kand. The song was basically just about heartbreak. So in my mind, I was like, okay, I want the narrative to involve him being with a girl at the beginning of the song, and then losing the girl by the end of the song. So what you basically see is mixed in with all the performance setups, our B-roll cutaway shots that incorporate him and the girl kinda caressing and being lovey-dovey. And then slowly as the song progressed, the tension started to build and they started to kinda drift away. And by the end of the video, they completely just cut each other off and they’re done. Again, it was a very simple video.
We only had one location to shoot it in, but the fact that we incorporated just a simple narrative to message match with what you were hearing in the lyrics, I think is what really drove the engagement that we got for that video.
I have the interesting duality of being a teacher, as well as the content creator. It doesn’t matter what I create, whether it be a music video for an artist, or a corporate video for another client, all of that feeds into my content that I’m actually teaching on my YouTube channel. My favorite thing about being a YouTube content creator is being a student through the entire process. I used to think of myself as, oh, I’m the teacher, you know, I’m going to learn stuff and I’m going to teach people. But what I realized is if you are a student, it’s going to make you an even better teacher.