With the popularity of YouTube and Vimeo and the wider explosion of social media, a musical act's visual representation is as crucial as its recorded music.
There's no going viral without a video.
Easing the way for local bands on a budget is Sac Music Seen, a program within the Sacramento Film and Music Festival. Sac Music Seen pairs local filmmakers with local bands that want a video made.
Matched during an official "listening party," participants get three months to make their videos. Results of this year's Sac Music Seen program will be displayed at 6 p.m. Saturday on the big screen of the Crest Theatre. The broader film festival runs Wednesday-Sunday.
Sac Music Seen gives bands and filmmakers "access to something they don't necessarily have," said festival co- director Tony Sheppard.
Experienced video directors waive their usual fees, thus reducing musical acts' marketing costs. Beginning filmmakers can make that first short film without worrying about the inevitable bugs associated with recording on-set sound.
"We basically say, 'Why don't you make a three-minute film, and we will provide your entire soundtrack?' " Sheppard said.
But telling stories through song rather than dialogue presents challenges, director Sam Dobbyn said. Dobbyn and collaborator Paul Kramer shot a 2012 Sac Music Seen music video for whimsical pop band the Kimberly Trip.
"You don't have to write dialogue, but at the same time, it is just as creative," Dobbyn said. "The visuals have to make sense to the people watching it."
Promotions producers for KXTL (Fox 40), Dobbyn and Kramer shoot video as part of their jobs. But their video for Kimberly Trip's "Drama @ the Coffee Shop" is their first Sac Music Seen entry.
The song's title, and its refrain of, "I don't need another frenemy," gave the filmmaking pair a bit of a head start at the envisioning stage.
"I just heard the song, and something popped into my head," Dobbyn said. Dobbyn and other Sac Music Seen video directors heard one-minute snippets of eligible songs in April at the Sac Music Seen listening party. The directors list their top choices among the songs and usually get their first picks.
The full story line for the "Coffee Shop" video, starring the Kimberly Trip and shot over 14 hours in a single day at Midtown Village Cafe, is under wraps until Saturday. Dobbyn described it broadly as "a love triangle in a coffee shop."
Kimberly Trip songs tend to be narratives, with lots of video-friendly humor and pop culture references, Kimberly Trip guitarist and songwriter Jeffry-Wynne Prince said. "I think that is why year after year we get picked by great directors" at Sac Music Seen, he said.
"Coffee Shop" marks the Trip's fifth video for Sac Music Seen. The band members directed and produced one video themselves. But they usually turn over their song to the director's vision, serving primarily as actors.
Prince is wild about the finished video for "Coffee Shop," the first single off the band's new album "Unicorns, Glitter and Heartbreak." He appreciates his band's videos primarily as alternative forms of artistic expression, he said. Their marketing potential is a bonus.
But Kimberly Trip did get mileage out of the Sac Music Seen video for their 2005 song "OCD Guy," directed by Heidi Boucher.
"We had distribution in the Philippines, and MTV Asia played the video," Prince said.
Not every song played at Sac Music Seen listening parties sounds as video-ready as "Drama @ the Coffee Shop." But Sac Music Seen takes all musical comers, as long as the lyrics stay "pretty PG-13," festival co-director Nathan Schemel said.
"We created a very unbiased machine," Schemel said.
The festival directors' musical preferences do not factor in the process.
"We played something at a listening party one year, and we thought the equipment had gone bad," Sheppard said. "It was this sort of white-noise electronic music. And I am sitting next to this (filmmaker) kid and he is kind of bopping his head to it. It's his first choice, and he makes a fantastic music video for it."
Always highly inclusive, Schemel and Sheppard also allow in music videos made outside the program, as long as the participants are locals. Those videos are judged, at festival awards time, by different standards than videos made under Sac Music Seen rules.
Through Sac Music Seen and the festival's other participatory program, the 10 X 10 challenge in which filmmaking teams get 10 days to make a 10-minute film incorporating a particular theme the festival has been an incubator for emerging talent, Sheppard said.
The two programs, started in 2004, have helped usher in more than 300 finished works.
Longtime Sac Music Seen participant Ryan Todd now makes videos for a living, through his production company Electron Gun and the humor site Smosh.com. He also directed the locally made feature film "Sensored," which opened the 2009 Film and Music Festival.
Some of Todd's first film projects were for Sac Music Seen. The experience helped acquaint him, Todd said, with "that general first feeling of getting a crew together and of having to work really fast with a lot of people."
Plus, Todd added, "it was kind of nice that there was no sound."
SACRAMENTO FILM AND MUSIC FESTIVAL
What: A five-day festival offering short and feature-length narrative films and documentaries. Wednesday's opening-night events include a reception with food from Panda Express, a program of shorts by local filmmakers and a fashion challenge. The festival also will honor longtime Sacramento filmmaking advocate and former Sacramento Film and Music Festival co-director Laurie Pederson with its Film Arts Service Award.
When: Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The festival runs through Sunday.
Where: Crest Theatre, 1013 K St., Sacramento
Cost: $15 Wednesday night. $10 for other features and shorts programs. $60 for an all-festival pass
More: To see Sac Music Seen videos from previous years, go to http://www.sacfilm.com/sac-music-seen.html