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Making The Most Of Having A Low Budget

February 11, 2022

Don't let a low budget get you down. 

While it used to take full-fledged facilities and tens of thousands of dollars just to record a single track or make a short film, affordable content has never been more in reach. And with equipment getting more affordable by the month, creators have an opportunity to set themselves up to make content for next to nothing.

But if you find yourself still wishing you had a little more cash to dedicate to your content, well, don't worry. We've all been there. 

In a video, RootNote co-founder Jeremy Burrchard spoke with actress Masha Abramzon on how they put together a 15-minute short film for less than $400. The film has already been selected for 6 film festivals, despite being shot all in one location and with a crew of only 4 people. 

Low Budget Lessons

One of the key takeaways from the conversation is that having a low budget can actually inspire you to be more creative. Limitations have a way of encouraging you to come up with a new way to look at what you're trying to accomplish. 

For instance — if you don't have the money to buy a new sample pack for your music, consider creating your own. With just one mic and a hand you can turn just about anything in sight into percussion. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails famously sampled television static to use as a snare sound in "Closer." (And he definitely had a budget to spend if he wanted to). 

It can also be helpful to craft your content around your resources. In the video, Burchard notes that COVID restrictions and budget inspired him to write the entire short film for the house he lives in. 

When you approach your content with a, "What can I do with this?" mentality instead of a, "What can't I do unless I have this?" mentality, you end up creating more (and more often). 

It's More Fun With Friends

When you're trying to make something happen for not a lot of money, the people around you matter a lot. Sure, you can go solo on some projects. If you're a solo artist, in fact, you're probably used to trying to figure it out yourself.

But having people in your immediate sphere who are willing to work with you tends to make it more fun. Trusting others to do what they do best allows you to focus on what you love doing the most. Plus, you all get to pitch in and hone new skills. Ultimately, the whole "rising tide floats all boats" saying is never more true than it is with creators helping each other out on low budget projects. 

But this is important, too. If you can, try to compensate your friends for their help. Even if it's just $20 or buying dinner. It's less about the actually amount and more about the gesture of acknowledging that what they've done provided value beyond simply creating art. 

If you've formed a collective with your friends and everybody also takes ownership of the final product, this might be slightly different early on. But even in that case, just remember that you should always try to budget a little bit of "appreciation" cash. 

Audio Is Always The Most Important

If you have a smartphone, you've got a camera that is plenty capable of great video. But you don't necessarily have a microphone capable of capture great audio. 

So if you're trying to create a short film or another piece of content where the audio isn't pre-recorded, you need to focus time and resources on making sure the audio is top-notch. This means being sure to have a separate device for recording dialogue and spending extra time editing to make sure you add things like music, sound effects, and "foley." 

Foley is the sounds that you'd expect to hear when you're watching action take place but that might need to be recorded separately. For instance, if a character is walking, there's a good chance your'e not actually capturing the sound of the footsteps as they walk, but instead adding that in later. 

These little details really elevate your content and can be done for very cheap. That's the best part about audio — while it's the most important part of content, it's also one of the most affordable and easily accessible pieces. There are tons of online resources for free or very cheap that allow you to access sound libraries and add sounds to your videos. 

Likewise, if you're recording a song, there are tons of resources to help you elevate the quality. If you're trying to record all by yourself without using any samples, just remember that typically the most "important" instruments in terms of perceived quality are kick, snare, and vocals. 

You Will Always Be Your Worst Critic

At the end of the day, don't let fears of low quality stop you from putting something out. For one, nobody will every be more as intimately aware of the perceived "flaws" of your content than you. Most people do not notice the difference in "quality" between two pieces of content if it's within reason. 

It's the same reason people still love listening to music recording 50 years ago. It doesn't distract from the overall enjoyment of the song just because it was all recorded in mono and some of the vocals were pitchy or everything wasn't perfectly lined up.

The most important part of what you create will always be the idea itself. You can sing a great melody into an iPhone and be more captivating that a super slickly produced song about nothing. As long as you care and are intentional in what you're creating, budget should be the least of your worries. 

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