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How to Create the Perfect Birthday Montage Video

By Amalah

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!

Ha! Okay, let’s review.

My firstborn’s, 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 my second son’s, 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 for creating your child’s birthday montage:

1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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.”

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) 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

Published January 29, 2010. Last updated August 30, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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