How to Create Value for Yourself as a Music Photographer
Every year the barrier of entry for music photography seems to get lower. This isn't a bad thing, in fact I think it's awesome. But what it means is that the number of people working toward becoming music photographers is much higher. It's not an uncommon thing to be a music photographer these days, and there are thousands upon thousands of us.
Cameras that can perform in low-light are no longer super expensive, starter prime lenses can be bought for cheap, and it's easier than ever to start working for a publication of any size and get photo passes for shows. Boom! You're in.
I often hear photographers complain about other photographers who are undercutting their prices or offering to do jobs for free to get the experience. It's a very real issue but the fact of the matter is that there are people out there willing to pay music photographers. If you're being undercut for a gig, yeah that sucks, but if you're working with the people you want to be working for - the ones that value your work - you can meet your personal definition of success and also create work that you will be proud of.
The artists I work for don't just value having "someone" out there to take photos, they want the right person. Every musician has an artistic vision for how they want their band to be represented, and some have higher standards than others.
There are thousands of aspiring music photographers out there and standing out from the crowd isn't easy. This isn't a tell-all blog post for how to become successful but I wanted to share a few things that helped me get to a place where the bands I work for see me as a valuable asset of their team.
Oh, and in this post I'm talking about working directly for bands. That was my goal and that's who I typically shoot for, so I just want to make that clear!
#1 - Make it Art
It's photography! If you want to stand out, do it differently. There's obviously huge subjective arguments as to what makes a good and bad photo and you can spend years at an art school becoming knowledgable about this. But fact of the matter is you should be proud of your photos, and hopefully they will feel like they are uniquely yours. I try to be a really good photographer. I try to get unique angles, catch the most exciting, fun, and memorable moments, and edit in a style that I not only love, but also hopefully makes my images recognizable.
#2 - Be Cool
I know that headline sounds stupid, but I'm serious. When I work for bands, they want someone they can trust and someone they enjoy being around. Photographers are really disposable. There are so many of us! So you have to be cool, and you have to be trustworthy.
Being on tour is like being roommates with someone, times ten. You're cramped in a van or bus or whatever, and have no personal space and are around each other 24/7. If people don't enjoy being with you or you don't click together then nobody is happy. And hey, sometimes personalities don't mesh and that is nobody's fault. But building a trusting relationship with artists you work with is so important. If they can't trust you to be around and capture every aspect of their lives then neither of you will be happy, and you won't be producing the best photos you can be.
Your photos can be incredible, and you can sometimes be hired on that alone, but if you are not a solid person to be around then you probably won't be invited back.
Nearly all of my touring work is from referrals, which is awesome! That means people are vouching for me as a good person to have around and they think I do my job well. That means so much to me. I feel like very few artists are willing to hire people that aren't vouched for or don't know personally.
#3 - Create Amazing Content
Ok so you're cool? Check. Creative? Check. Now get to work! I do my very best to optimize my workflow, know my gear, and try to understand what my artist needs and wants.
Understand what gear can help you do your job best, and either get it or work towards getting it.
Most people can't buy all of the gear they'd like right away, but anyone can research and recognize the tools they are working toward getting, and why they are better.
Know what types of photos do well for your artist.
Some artists get incredible feedback from behind the scenes stuff, some get way more engagement from live shots.
Gain an understanding about social media, and teach your artists.
Your content is a marketing tool. Your photos make shows look fun and exciting, and that in turn sells concert tickets. This is simple but true, and I feel like very few people recognize this fact! Someone commenting on a photo your artist posted saying "WOW THIS LOOKS AMAZING, NOW I'M GONNA BUY TICKETS" is exactly what you want. It can be art and also be an effective marketing tool at the same time - they're not mutually exclusive.
Also, you have to understand social media. Does your artist want to post 30 photos individually on their Facebook timeline every day? Maybe not the best idea. Teach them to regularly update their Instagrams, use photos to promote ticket sales, etc. A lot of artists are really good at this, but some aren't. If your artists are using social media right then your value as a photographer and content producer goes through the frickin' roof. This is so important.
Learn how to produce more content, and don't be afraid to abandon it if it fails.
Try new stuff! I've tried creating daily square Instagram videos for artists, shoot acoustic videos, post entire photo albums to a website, upload videos directly through Facebook, shoot and edit tour weekly updates. There's so, so much more than just 'take photos' that a photographer can do on tour.
However, sometimes only taking photos is the best thing you can do. Some artists don't benefit that much from tour updates, and they take up a ton of your time as a photographer. Figure out what works and what content is worth your time producing. If you try to do too much then the quality of everything you're producing is going to go down.
Ask your artist and their team what they need.
Talk to your artist, their publicist, their manager, their label, and figure out their needs and wants. You want your artist to be successful and your title may be photographer, but you are really a content producer. So anything relevant to producing content for your artist is something you should be willing to do - and sometimes that means getting extra money for things, which never hurts.
There you have it. These are just a few ways to create value for yourself as a photographer beyond just taking good photos. Hope this post helps!