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How to Create the Perfect Birthday Montage Video

Jan29

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Hi there, wise Amalah,
I KNOW you’ll have awesome advice for this, because I’ve seen the videos you do for your boys every birthday, and they always make me cry. Like, a lot.
SO – my sweet boy’s first birthday is at the end of January, and I have about 76 TRILLION photos, and a few CD’s worth of video clips, that I’d like to somehow pare down in to a manageable video for his birthday. Meaning, something that the grandparents can watch and ooh and aah over and not fall asleep to. So I think that means my standards aren’t too very high.
Suggestions? How do you manage to pare down 76 trillion photos to 100 or so? How do you pick the most important video clips? And, of course, what music should go along with this video that will make MY audience cry their little eyes out? Any suggestions for great songs? I do like that “I Love You” song from the Plain White Tees. I haven’t listened to it all the way through, but it might work. Or will it seem too much like this is a song for my 21 year old girlfriend, and not my 1 year old baby boy?
Keep in mind I am fairly musically inept. I don’t listen to much music beyond the local country station (which I listen to because it’s all we get). I can buy anything off the internets – I just need some suggestions!
Many thanks for helping to make the grandparents cry!
Alissa
Ha! Okay, let’s review.
Noah’s very first montage video: “So Damn Lucky,” by Dave Matthews. It’s about surviving a car crash.
The second year: “Together,” a long rambling spoken-word poem set to music by William freaking Shatner.
The third year: “Say,” by John Mayer. I am not what you would call a John Mayer fan, but for once I chose a song primarily because of the lyrics were just too perfect.
The fourth year: “M79,” by Vampire Weekend. The M79 is a bus route in New York City, the rest of the lyrics are clouded in symbolism and allusions, so who knows what’s it’s actually about.
For Ezra’s first montage: “Lo Boob Oscillator,” by Stereolab. The lyrics are in French. It’s kind of about the moon. Sort of.
So clearly, there is ZERO method to my montage madness. Sometimes I pick songs because of a single phrase or because there’s just something I relate to about it. “So Damn Lucky” was the perfect refrain, but I also liked comparing the crazy rapid-fire feelings that accompany the first year of life and parenthood to a car crash, if that makes any sense.
Sometimes I pick songs because of the lyrics, but only rarely, because it’s too difficult. “Say” really worked because it went with our first year of dealing with Noah’s speech delays. “Together” had some lovely lyrics, but mostly I just thought it was really pretty. Same with “Lo Boob Oscillator.”
Sometimes I ignore the lyrics completely (though I always do a quick search online for the full lyrics, just to make sure I’m not mishearing something that’s overtly sexual or a curse word). “M79″ technically means nothing to me or Noah, but it gives off this fantastic…TRIUMPHANT vibe that I really thought summed up one of Noah’s more challenging years well. Plus, he loves to dance to it.
And! Let’s not forget my inspiration, the reason I do these little videos at all, was Linda’s video for Riley, which uses a completely instrumental track. I dare you to watch that thing and not sob like an idiot by 10 seconds in.
So really, don’t overthink it. If you like a certain song, even if only the chorus or one verse (or less!) really actually “fits” or has the right “meaning,” use it. People are likely not going to be paying close attention to every word — they’re going to be looking at your photos and video, the music just helps you set the editing pace and know where to place the more emotionally-groin-kicking footage (i.e., you put your baby’s first steps during that final dramatic swell before the song ends).
A few specific tips, though:
* Choose a song that is at least three-and-a-half minutes. Upwards of four or five minutes is best. This eliminates quite a few nice song choices (particularly Beatles ditties, like “I Will”), but trust me, you’ll be out of song by the time you hit the three-month-old videos. You can do a medley, but I’ve found that attention starts to wane during the second song, even if both choices are short.
* Before you start assembling the actual video, GET ORGANIZED. Every year I swear I’m going to be better about keeping all our photos and videos clearly labeled in monthly folders. Every year I make it a few months and then start leaving stuff on memory cards, on my phone, on the video camera, on a backup laptop I only use for part of the year, or start dumping stuff onto our network server without sorting it into folders. Every year, birthday montage time comes around and I spend a good week cursing myself while I track down all our footage and photos.
* Start with video, supplement with photos. Photo slideshows are great, but if you’ve gone and spent all this time picking out the perfect song…there’s just something about video that packs more of a punch. Not to mention that your friends and family have already seen your best and favorite photos. And while nobody wants to sit and watch hours of baby-not-doing-particularly much, condensing a full year down to a few minutes is reasonable and really drives home how much changes in 12 months of babyhood. Let the video guide you through the year, picking just a couple clips from each month, then adjust for length as necessary.
* When choosing video clips, go for a mix of big and little moments. You’re not necessarily trying to recap every.little.thing. your baby did, but just give people a sense of how they grew throughout the year. Certain things, if you have them on video, are great to include: the birth, breastfeeding, the newborn squawk cry, coming home and meeting siblings/pets/grandparents. First smiles, rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking, any big holidays or trips. In between this stuff, splice in the littler things: a close-up of him sleeping, laughing, looking at a book, on a swing, splashing in the tub. You only need a few seconds, so you should be able to cram in a mix of “important stuff you’ll never forget” and “little things you never want to forget.”
* Pick simple photos. The close-up ones that show just how much your baby’s facial features and expressions change throughout the year are the best bets — photos that have a lot going on in the background are going to flash by too quickly for people to take in.
* Research your distribution method. Burning the video to CD/DVD can be a terrific little gift, especially if you include photos that didn’t make the montage and print some cover art for the case. (There are lots of cheap software options that let you create custom labels for the CD and case inserts.) If you want to put it up on your blog or online photo album, read the fine print about privacy and whether your use of the song is enough to get the video pulled. I use Vimeo and have never had a video get yanked (I always credit the artist), but I do always change the default privacy settings to prevent anyone from downloading the source video (though this would be fine if you’re only sharing it with family). YouTube has REALLY cracked down on copyrighted songs being used for ANYTHING, even stuff that would very likely be covered under fair use. This means you can upload something and then a few days later find that YouTube has removed the audio…or the whole thing, and deleted your account.
* Back up, back up, back up. Now that you’ve gone through everything and realized just how many photos and videos you have, you’ll likely realize just how much you have to lose. Burn things to physical discs and keep them in a fire safe and/or safety deposit box. Store things to a home storage server that also runs an auto-back-up program, or pay to have your stuff stored remotely elsewhere. Don’t ever, ever use a regular PC or laptop as your primary place to store media, as they are way too fallible and generally too close to cups full of liquid, precarious edges, airborne toys and little sticky fingers to guarantee that they won’t just up and die on you. (Oh, but I learned this one the hard way. Oooohhhhhh, but I did.)

More Tips: How to Create Hollywood-Worthy Home Movies


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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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13 Responses to “How to Create the Perfect Birthday Montage Video”

  1. Isabel Kallman
    Isabel @AlphaMom Jan 29 at 11:12 am Reply Reply

    I would also like to make the following recommendations:
    1) use online programs like Animoto and MuVee. They have algorithms that take your uploaded video footage, photos and music and then with a couple of clicks produce smart videos synced to the music. It has democratized video editing much like we have seen in the photo book space. Plus, they have pre-selected and pre-cleared music to choose from in their library.
    2) You can buy single-use rights to music on Rumblefish, like you would buy great stock photos on iPhoto.
    Have fun!

  2. sheilah Jan 29 at 1:01 pm Reply Reply

    The advice about having your photos stored
    by the month absolutely Saved. My. Bacon. when I made the video for my son’s 7th birthday ( http://hopefullyhome.blogspot.com/2009/12/happy-birthday-my-beautiful-boy.html ). Fortunately, my camera does that by default (happiness to the camera software developers). I had a lot of still pictures but few movies (damn broken video camera) so I started with 10 or so pictures from each month.
    Since my son is past the baby stage I picked activities he did during that month, either in school or with the family. Some pictures I loved because of his expression or because of the others in the picture too. Some I used because they represented best what he did throughout the entire month.
    I also picked a couple pictures of him asleep. Watching him sleep just melts my heart.
    Have fun. You will probably find yourself tearing up in the process. I know I did.

  3. aj Jan 29 at 5:06 pm Reply Reply

    I absolutely LOVE making baby montages. The 2 songs that were perfect for my 1 year old’s were:
    1) Godspeed by Dixie Chicks
    2) Let Them Be Little by Billy Dean
    A couple other favorites are:
    * Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) by John Lennon
    * Blessed by Elton John
    Have fun making it…and keep tissues nearby!

  4. Luba Jan 29 at 6:51 pm Reply Reply

    A technical question: How do you make the actual video? I’ve done purely photo montages/slideshows (with music) in iPhoto. But how do you make one with both video and pictures together?

  5. Kira Jan 29 at 10:50 pm Reply Reply

    I made a video montage of my son’s first year and I’m quite proud of my creation – http://www.viddler.com/explore/kec161/videos/1/
    I used a variety of songs including:
    Baby Mine by Alison Krauss (my absolute favorite) – http://s0.ilike.com/play#Alison+Krauss:Baby+Mine:50308:m10084659
    Beautiful Boy by John Lennon
    Joseph’s Lullaby by Mercy Me
    Happy Birthday from Disney’s Splashdance
    Initially I did try to put it up on youtube but the sound didn’t transfer. I used viddler and it uploaded perfectly.
    I recommend splicing audio from the videos along with the music, especially the baby giggles and gurgles.

  6. Della Feb 01 at 11:58 am Reply Reply

    If you’re unable to use actual video creating software (too expensive, too complicated, takes too long), let me put a shout out to Smilebox.
    At both its cheapest, free, and its most expensive, $30/yr, Smilebox mainly allows you to create digital scrapbooks, greeting cards, slideshows and so on. So it’s great for that – you can make a photo or video greeting card to send to anyone via email. They have several hundred templates, slightly customizable (very slightly), and if you pay to play, you also have the option of using any of their 2000 songs (?) or using your own mp3 music from your computer.
    http://smilebox.com/playEmail/4d5449794d44557a4d544d3d0d0a&sb=1 my own example – people viewing it can click on the individual photos or videos to enlarge them or play them.
    HOWEVER. If you do spring the $30, it allows you to burn your scrapbooks to DVD. Not just a computer DVD, but the kind you can mail to your 80 year old grandparents and they can throw it in their DVD player and watch it. FER REALS.
    The main catch: If you have one with multiple photos like my example above, it is very time consuming to create the DVD video, because you have to sit there and click each individual thing, and then click to close them, and then click the next one, etc… It can look REALLY COOL because your mouse doesn’t show up on the video, but like I said, TIME CONSUMING.
    Instead, when I’m going to burn a DVD, I just use a plain slideshow and it automatically advances them for me – I only have to keep an eye on it from across the room and hit “stop recording” once it’s done. Inserting photos and videos is drag and drop, although it takes some time to load videos into it. And you can’t show just part of a video. However, if you’re having trouble paring it down to the best 40 pictures and 30 seconds of video, Smilebox will fix that for you. So far, I’ve made up to a 30-minute-long video and it fit on a DVD just fine.
    And before anyone asks, no, they didn’t pay me anything or give me anything and I don’t work for them, I just used it and it really works well for me. Especially for my g’parents who can NOT use a computer but LOVE their DVD player.

  7. Stephanie Feb 01 at 12:15 pm Reply Reply

    Those videos are amazing! What video editing software do you use? We have a PC, and I think it’s preloaded with Windows Video, but it’s horrible and freezes, and I hate it. Any suggestions out there?

  8. Susan Feb 01 at 3:47 pm Reply Reply

    I used Picasa to make Snackbox’s 1st birthday video. I haven’t figured out how to burn it to anything, so it just lives on our blog (http://7flemings.blogspot.com/2009/12/happy-first-birthday-ryan.html). Picasa was the obvious choice because it was free and that’s what I use to organize my photos on my computer and online, so it was really easy to drag and drop them into the video function.
    I picked “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” by Bruddah Iz because it is almost 5 minutes long (lots of photos!), and Hawaiian, natch.
    My tip for video clips – keep ‘em super short, around 6-7 seconds. Otherwise I found it slows down the momentum of the montage.

  9. Jenny Feb 02 at 10:52 am Reply Reply

    For a couple more song suggestions:
    Hello World by Lady Antebellum
    Sweet Child of Mine (the original by Guns ‘n Roses, or there are some great instrumental/acoustic versions out there).

  10. Frema Feb 03 at 1:20 pm Reply Reply

    Just chiming in to say that I fell in love with “M79″ because of Noah’s video for the same reason you mentioned, and now it’s a constant on my running playlist. It always gives me an extra burst of energy.
    Songs I used for my kids:
    Kara’s first year: “Baby Don’t You Cry (The Pie Song)” from “Waitress”
    Kara’s second year: “Wonder” by Natalie Merchant
    Nathan’s first year: “Sweet Pea” by Amos Lee and “Love is All Around” by Toby Lightman.

  11. Alissa Feb 04 at 8:06 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for the suggestions! Dixie Chicks! Of course! I love the Dixie Chicks, and I own that album. I just listened to Godspeed (like actually LISTENED to it, as I never listen to lyrics). Already I am crying, and I haven’t downloaded a single video.
    I’ll post the final product when it’s done! By the way, I use Corel VideoStudio for my video editing. I love, love, love it. So easy!
    Thanks, Amy and commenters!

  12. stacy Feb 09 at 4:03 am Reply Reply

    Thanks!! We’re coming up on the 1st birthday in just 4 weeks, and I am starting to get organized to make the video. Well, my husband is a video editor so he is making it, but I have to do all the legwork. :-) What program are you using Amy? Can you put that in the post?
    Also, I am already teary just reading a dang how-to. I should get the box of tissue ready…

  13. Stacy Jan 23 at 9:04 pm Reply Reply

    I used Five Days Old by Laurie Berkner Band for my daughter’s first birthday montage.  Made it in iPhoto.  Now I’m searching for the right song for her second!

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