I have been debating on writing this blog for a while. I get asked questions frequently on how I got started amongst other things about being a music photographer, so I decided I should just compile everything I've learned over the last five years into one big post for people to read. I'm not the most amazing writer in the world, but I did my best on this.
I'm not going to claim I know everything because I don't. I'm still learning every day about how to further my career and what to do/not to do. But that's how it is with every career. You never reach a point where you know everything there is to know. What I've written for you below is everything I wish I knew before I got started. This is advice - not fact. The things I've shared are what I found work best for me. It may be different for others.
I hope you enjoy it. Let's begin.
Finding the Right Camera for Yourself
The camera equipment you own should reflect what will work best for the type of work you are doing. For music photography, one of the main things you want is a camera that can handle low light situations well (small amounts of noise at a high ISO). You also want to buy lenses with a minimum aperture of f/2.8 or wider. What that basically means is the smaller the number, the more light the lens will let in. Concerts are usually pretty dark unless the band has their own production going on, so having a wider aperture will help you not have to bump your ISO as much. The lower the ISO, the less noise you will potentially have to deal with when post-processing.
As for cameras to buy - I can’t really tell you what you should get. It’s all a matter of preference. I recommend looking into Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras. I personally prefer Nikon DSLRs, but all three brands have stellar gear. It’s just a matter of personal preference. If you have a Best Buy near you, go check out the cameras they have on display. You can test out the cameras and get a feel for how they’re set up. I ended up going with Nikon because I liked how everything was set up on their cameras.
Suggestions for beginner DSLRs:
● Nikon D5600
● Canon T7i
● Sony a6500
Suggestions for lenses:
● Primes: 24mm, 35mm, 50mm f/1.8 (or f/1.4) - you can go for the brand your camera makes or for the Sigma Art versions. If you’re on a budget: f/1.8 lenses are cheaper than f/1.4 ones.
● Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8
● Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8
● 24-70mm f/2.8 - get the same brand as your camera or the Sigma Art or Tamron versions. All are good options.
My current setup:
● Two Nikon D750’s
● Nikon 50mm f/1.8
● Nikon 85mm f/1.8
● Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8
Where do I buy my gear from? My preferences are Greentoe and Best Buy. I’m not affiliated with them in any way, except for a referral link from Greentoe that I can send people at my own free will (every user gets one). These companies have just been the best for what I need personally.
Greentoe is an excellent site that lets you tell them the price you want to pay for your camera gear. They send out that amount to a list of authorized dealers, and then if someone is interested in your price or has a counter offer, they let you know. You can always reject the counteroffer if you believe it’s too high. Your bid also factors in the cost of sales tax; shipping is free.
Best Buy I enjoy for their credit card they have. You can do 12 months of no-interest financing on purchases over a certain amount of money. Sometimes I will opt for going through Best Buy vs. Greentoe because I would rather pay for something over time instead of dishing out $2,000 up front. Just make sure you pay it off within 12 months or earlier! I budget mine to pay it off in 10 months just to avoid paying any interest.
Buy an External Flash
There is a never-ending debate on whether or not you should use flash at a concert. When you’re working with big artists, flash is almost always prohibited. The standard rule for photographing shows is “first 3 songs, no flash.” It can be distracting to artists and the audience, which is why most artists have the rule in place. However, when you get started, you will most likely not be working with big artists. An external flash will be your saving grace in small, poorly lit venues - aka the places you’ll most likely begin your career in. Yongnuo offers some cheap flashes that work well, but I personally went for the Nikon brand. If you’re on a budget, Yongnuo will be just fine.
Even though you may end up in venues where there are no photo restrictions, always ask the bands if you can use flash beforehand. Email their publicist and kindly ask. Explain the venue lighting situation and see if it would be allowed. If you’re at a local show, the band probably doesn’t have a publicist, so try to email the band or shoot them a quick message over social media. I don’t like contacting artists over social media (more on that in a bit), but for something like this, it’s okay. I don’t use flash under any circumstances without the band’s permission and always recommend to go this route.
How to Get Started
The best way to get your foot in the door is by starting out with photographing local bands. If you’ve never done concert photography you’re probably like “huh? Starting with local bands?” The thing is, as someone who hires photographers and co-runs the photo team for a magazine, who you’ve photographed isn’t important. It’s the quality of the work you produce that matters most. Sure, sometimes we may need people who cover a specific genre, but if your portfolio is full of awesome photos of local bands in that genre, that’s perfect. I’d rather see an awesome portfolio of local bands than a mediocre portfolio of well-known bands.
Another reason to start with local shows is because most venues that local shows happen at don’t have a photo policy, and anyone can bring in a camera sans photo pass. Always check with the venue and see if they have a policy to be safe though. Sometimes it will be listed on their website, or you can send them a quick email. If you know people that photograph shows at the venues in your area, politely ask them if they could give you a rundown of what kind of credentials may be needed.
You will probably have to purchase your own tickets for the first shows you do, and that’s okay. Everyone has to start somewhere. Eventually, once you have some content under your belt, you can try pitching to local bands to get you into the shows for free in exchange for photos. You could also, at that point, start pitching getting paid for the work you do.
Once you have a portfolio together, you can start pitching to outlets to work for them as a photographer. The music photography industry is rather oversaturated at the moment, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get any yeses right away. You can also pitch to larger bands about working for them. Bands often have management contact info on their Facebook page. You won’t always get a reply back, but don’t take it personally. Managers are busy people and replying to photographers isn’t on the top of their to-do list.
An alternative to starting at local shows is to start your own online music publication; whether it be just a website or a magazine. I got started this way, but I honestly don’t really recommend it unless you have a lot of free time. You’ll have to regularly update the site with content such as news, interviews, album reviews, etc. You can recruit people to work for you, but you still will be responsible for overseeing all of it and managing everything. Also, it can get expensive because you have to pay for a domain and a host site (unless you go with a free option, but those aren’t always the best). It can also take you years to see any sort of profit from the site. If you feel like you can really commit to something like this, then go for it.
Get a Portfolio Site, Buy a Domain, and Get a Professional Email
Having an Instagram account you update regularly isn’t always going to cut it as your portfolio site. Sure, the music industry can be pretty relaxed on hiring people for gigs. You can get a job just by replying to someone on Facebook. Or a friend can just hit you up over text and be like “Want to come on tour for a few days? Yeah? Okay, sick see you then.” But when you are reaching out to people that don’t know you or are applying to gigs, you need to look 110% professional. When we hired photogs for New Noise, we asked for portfolios and social media accounts. If you provided your Instagram as your portfolio, I most likely skipped over you.
A lot of people make the mistake of skipping out on portfolios, domains, and professional email accounts. Yes, most of these things cost money, but it pays off in the long run. I have been hired for gigs where portfolios were required, and no social media accounts were able to act like one. I can’t stress how important it is to not have a yourname.yourhostsite.com URL. It looks unprofessional to a lot of people. I personally am not a fan of them. GoDaddy has domains for about $15/year, and usually there’s a coupon to get your first year for $1. It’s such a small amount of money to make you look better to potential clients.
As for a professional email - I’m not saying you need to buy an email that says email@example.com. Getting a simple firstname.lastname@example.org email is just as good. Having an email that is something like email@example.com or a portfolio site that is the generic default URL when applying for photo gigs may cause you to come across as inexperienced/unprofessional. This article by Verisign sums up the best reasons why you should have a professional email. Some of these reasons can also apply to why you should own your domain name as well.
Portfolio site suggestions:
● Smugmug - my preferred site and what I currently host my portfolio through and have for the last 5 years. It’s cheap ($60/year), easy to use, and the customer service is so great. You can also order prints through there at cost, create private password-protected galleries for clients to download/view images, and more. If you pay $150/year, you can run your own print store through the site. I do have a referral for SmugMug that all users get. It will save you 20% off your first year.
● Squarespace - the site I would use if it was cheaper. You can get your first year discounted if you’re a student, but it gets pricey after that. The only upside to Squarespace is that there is a blog function built-in. On SmugMug, you have to make your own “blog” section. Squarespace is also easy to use with beautiful templates. I believe most of my photographer friends use this, and I don’t blame them for it. I just can’t justify the money when SmugMug is just as nice (minus the lack of a built-in blog).
● If you have Adobe Creative Cloud, even just the photography package, you should be able to access their free portfolio app. You will still have to purchase a domain (around $15/year), but the cost of hosting your site is included in what you pay for Adobe CC.
Emailing to Work for an Outlet
My job at New Noise is to bring new photographers onto our team along with coordinating all the show/festival coverage. I have one other person that does this with me, and we get a lot of applications for photographers. Earlier this year when we said we were looking for new photographers and had an application form to fill out, we had around 200 people apply. We also received some emails instead of submissions through the form and a lot of things people did caused us to pass on them.
This is what I personally look for when I am hiring photographers to my team:
● Professional email.
● Portfolio site - not just a link to Instagram, Flickr, etc.
● A purchased domain name for the portfolio.
● A good variation of artists/shows in your portfolio. Don't make your entire portfolio photos from Warped Tour. As great as Warped is, everyone photographs it so it won't make you stand out as much. Don't have 5 photos of the same musician in your main gallery. If it’s a section dedicated to just that artist - put as many as you want. But your landing page shouldn't have 6 photos of Kellin Quinn (nothing against him, he's a nice guy + I love some SWS songs, he’s just an example of what I've seen).
● Good spelling and grammar. You don't need to be the J. R. R. Tolkien of email writers; just make sure you use proper spelling, punctuation, etc.
● Short, sweet, and to the point emails. Don't tell your life story...it's not going to get read. We just want to know who you are, where you're from, what type of bands you photograph, a link to your portfolio site, and a link to past work you've done for an outlet (if applicable).
● Don't send multiple follow up emails in one week. Space them out at least a week apart. If no one gets back to you, don't take it personally. I have trouble responding to everyone myself because of how busy I am (NN isn't my only job). The same may apply to other outlets as well.
● Be polite. Say thank you. Don't be rude if the outlet isn't interested in taking you on. I know, it sounds like common sense, but it has happened enough times where I sadly have to mention it in a piece like this.
Emailing for Credentials
I’m friends with quite a few publicists and hear some interesting stories about press requests they get sent. Your ability to write good emails is crucial. I’m pretty sure emailing is like half of what I do as a music photographer. I used to be terrible at it when I first got started, but now I’ve gotten the hang of it.
Here are some tips for sending an email for photo passes:
● Make sure your subject line makes it clear that you are trying to cover a specific show for a specific artist. Titling a press email “Photo Pass Request” or “Press Inquiry” is super vague and you have a chance at being ignored. Publicists almost always have multiple artists they’re working on campaigns for at the same time, so it’s important to make it clear what artist you’re emailing for. When I email publicists to set up coverage for New Noise, my subject line is always in this format: Date of Show - Band Name at Venue for New Noise Magazine. Without even opening the email, they know that I am trying to set up some type of on-site show coverage to run on New Noise.
● ALWAYS specify how many tickets and photo passes you will need. Each email I send includes “X will need 1 ticket and 1 photo pass.” A photo pass does not equate to a ticket! A pass might act as a ticket at some venues, but not all of them. Most venues where I live require a ticket for entry. If you need a +1 for a show because you are bringing a writer along, mention you need 2 tickets in the initial email. Don’t just assume you will be given a +1 because you mentioned you are doing a show review, or that because you said “1 photo pass” you will be given a ticket. If you just say 1 photo pass, most people are just going to give you a photo pass. Side note: don't ask for press passes unless you're at a festival because there is usually a designated press area. Press passes don't really exist for tours. Just say you need a ticket. If you're trying to do an interview, you don't need anything for that besides a ticket. You'll meet up with someone before or during the show and they will escort you to wherever you need to be.
● Include a link to your publication in the email. Even if it’s in your signature, just have it exist somewhere. Publicists aren’t going to have every website ever memorized, and if you have never worked with a particular publicist before, they’re going to want to see what kind of content you create.
● If you go by a nickname, include your name that is listed on your government-issued photo ID. The box office won’t always be so nice if your name is on the guest list as Bob Smith when your actual name is Robert Smith. They might think you are some other person and may deny you entry for security purposes.
● Always say thank you. I know that sounds obvious, but not everyone does it. If someone takes the time out of their day to respond to your email, even if they can’t accommodate your request, still reply with a thank you. They didn’t have to answer you at all, so it’s nice to show some appreciation that they did.
Editing Photos + Editing Software Recommendations
There is a huge debate on how you “should” edit your photos when you’re a concert photographer. If you are considered a photojournalist, aka someone who shoots for the media, the editing on your photos technically should be minimal. The reason being is that photojournalism is intended to show things exactly how they happened. If you edit out a mic stand, change the color of the lighting, or add textures to the photo, you’re altering what really happened. Yes, those changes may make the photo look better, but it goes against the purpose behind journalism.
Does that mean you can never change things in photos? Of course it doesn’t. Not all outlets follow that rule. The ones that do are mainly newspapers and radio stations. I imagine some magazines do as well, but I can’t think of ones off the top of my head. I have had clients that let me have free reign on my editing and others that required me to stick to minimal editing. Most outlets my friends and I work for / have worked for don’t have any rules on it, but you should always ask your editor. Also, if you’re shooting directly for the band or for yourself, you can do whatever you want unless the band says otherwise. In those instances you aren’t part of the press, so the photojournalism ethics on editing images doesn’t apply.
As for how to edit, that is something you kind of have to figure out on your own. There are tons of free presets on the internet that you can download and mess around with to try and get the hang of editing, but you shouldn’t copy the style of the creator entirely. Be inspired by others, but don’t duplicate their work. You want to stand out from other people, not follow all the trends. While my editing style isn’t anything “fancy,” it’s been consistent for the last 3+ years, which makes it easier for people to identify that it is my photo. Find how you like to edit and stick with it. Not everyone is going to like how you edit. I’m sure there are people that don’t like how I edit my photos, just like how I’m not a fan of some editing styles. Art is subjective and what matters is that you’re happy with the content you produce and so are your clients.
As for editing software: use Lightroom in combination with Photoshop. LR is my main software I use - 99.9% of my editing is done there. It has every feature I could possibly need, from advanced color correction to selective editing. The best advice for using Lightroom is to get familiar with all the features. If you need to edit the awfully colored lights in a photo, head over to the Camera Calibration, Splittone, and HSL sections. If you have a super hazy photo, head to the effects section and utilize the dehaze tool. You can also edit specific sections of photos, remove red-eye, reduce noise, and more.
Photoshop comes in when I need to do things that Lightroom can’t. The clone stamp tool in LR is extremely inferior to the ones in PS. When I have a crazy clone stamp edit I need to do, I use LR’s “edit in PS” option to clone stamp or patch tool it out. It transfers the photo into Photoshop for me, and once I’m finished with my edit, I save it, and the new version appears in my Lightroom catalog.
Below you can see an example of post-processing I've done in Lightroom. It is a magical tool.
Learn How to Write Show Reviews and Shoot Videos
As I've mentioned before: the music industry is oversaturated with music photographers. There's nothing wrong with that. It just means you have to work harder to stand out amongst the rest. There are two easy ways to make yourself more marketable: write show reviews and be a videographer/photographer combo.
Outlets prefer when people write show reviews. Publicists prefer when people write show reviews. They also often end up generating more hits than just a photo gallery post. And if you write up a great show review, the publicist will be more inclined to push for the band to share the coverage on social media. It gives you and your outlet more exposure. That will benefit you in the long run. Trust me, I hate writing reviews, but sometimes it gets me opportunities I wouldn’t get otherwise. Side note: don't write a positive review if you don't think it's justified. Not every show you attend will be spectacular. Stay true to yourself.
Videography is another critical thing to learn. I'm still getting the hang of it, but over the past few years, I've learned how crucial it is to know even just the basics. If you're aiming to tour, bands tend to favor taking a videographer over a photographer. Videos seem to be received better than photos. They give fans a live-action sneak peek of what to expect when attending their current tour. Learning video also means you can eventually progress to live music videos, documentaries, and more.
However, if you plan to do video work for bands, that requires a separate approval from just photo. The band’s music is copyrighted, so you can't just go around making videos/professionally filming their sets without permission.
As a Photographer, You are Entitled to Nothing
That probably sounds a bit harsh, but it's how it needs to be said. Journalists of any kind are not entitled to anything. It doesn't matter if you work for Rolling Stone or some startup blog hosted through Tumblr. Artists, publicists, and managers are allowed to say no to you.
It doesn't matter how many times you've covered an artist, or if you've worked with the PR/management before - they can still say no. And sometimes they will. Just because you have covered an artist in the past doesn't mean you are automatically grandfathered into all future shows. Things change. The artist can become more popular, thus resulting in more people wanting to cover the artist. If your outlet is on the smaller side of those requesting, you're gonna be at the bottom of the list of people that get approved. Sometimes you will end up being denied as a result.
Does it seem fair if you've been loyal to the artist’s career for years? No, but that's just how it is. When an artist reaches a certain level of popularity, your outlet is no longer beneficial to them if you aren't generating enough viewers. They will want to potentially be seen by tens thousands of people, while you may only be exposing them to hundreds.
What do you do when this happens? Move on and try again in the future. Don't fight with the publicists over how you've been so loyal to them and that it's “absurd” they can't accommodate you anymore. Trust me, publicists are aware of who is good to them, but sometimes they have to follow what the artist’s team wants. If you lash out and cause a scene over a denial - which I have seen people do - you're just going to hurt your career.
Also, press tickets are limited per show. Each artist only has so many. If PR tells you that they can't accommodate a ticket, don't yell at them. You can either buy your own ticket or politely decline. They didn't even have to offer you a photo pass. So at least be appreciative of that.
Photo Release Contracts
The music photography community loves to argue over whether or not people should sign rights grab contracts. Not sure what that means? Well, a “rights grab” is when the artist gets the copyright for all of your photos and you no longer own the images. There are different levels of this, where they may get the rights free of charge for only certain things, but some artists will require you to give all images to them if they wish to have them, and they can do whatever they want with them.
Contracts also can prohibit you from posting photos on your social media, portfolio, or selling images. You can email management, and they can sign off on you using a photo for something that the contract doesn't want you to do. I've done it before, and I was able to get what I wanted approved.
My advice on signing rights grab contracts? Only sign them if they're a bucket list artist for you. If your favorite band in the world has a contract, go for it. I have never personally signed a total rights grab before - I'm against signing over all my copyright for free. The only one I signed wanted photos free for promotional (clarified by management to be social media) use and that didn't bother me personally. Other than that, that's as far as I'll go.
You can try and negotiate with PR/management to remove some parts of the contract, but that doesn't always work. Doesn't hurt to try though. You never know what could happen!
Posting Photos of Credentials Online
A lot of people like to show off their photo passes or tour laminates on the internet. Some people like to do it because they’re proud of what they’re doing, some like to post them so people know what they’re up to/who they are photographing, or they just like to show off. I get it, trust me - you finally get to photograph your favorite band and you wanna show off the photo pass. Some of them are really cool looking. And so on.
But posting your photo passes or tour laminates online causes a big security risk for bands. How? Well, we unfortunately live in a world with some not-so-great human beings. When you post your photo passes online, people can then recreate identical ones because they know what they look like! It’s very easy to do with graphic design software such as Photoshop. What happens once they are recreated? Your photo pass is often the same pass as the all-access guest pass; it just says “all-access” instead. Unauthorized people can go places they shouldn’t be going. Bands can get stuff stolen, they can be attacked, and so much more. With things that have happened over the past few years at concerts, it’s best to eliminate as many security risks as possible.
Alternatives to posting your photo passes? Post the admat for the tour that you are photographing, post the flier made for your specific date, or post a past photo of the band and caption it “photographing ___ again tonight!”
Photo Pit Etiquette
I really hate that this is something I felt I needed to include in this blog, but some people genuinely don’t know how to act in photo pits. Yes, we all make mistakes, but there are repeat offenders for lousy pit etiquette.
Here are some things you should avoid doing while in a photo pit:
● Don’t raise your camera above your head if people are behind you. You will block other people’s shots, and that’s not cool. Everyone is there to do a job and you’re not more important than anyone else. Look around you before you decide to raise your camera up. If no one is there, then go for it.
● If you have a large bag, drop it under the barricade or the stage. Photo pits aren’t always big, and having a big bag on your back gets in the way of other photographers trying to navigate around you and security.
● Don’t stand in one place all night. If the pit is packed that might be hard to do, but if there’s only a few people around, move around. Give people a chance to shoot from where you’re standing. Get shots from different angles to diversify your images from the shoot.
● If security tells you to leave before the standard three songs are over because there is too much crowd surfing...leave. Don’t argue with them. They have authority over you. The only people that should be staying in a situation like that is the tour photographer or a photographer hired by the band for that night that has all access for the show.
● Watch for crowd surfers. Sometimes it’s hard to do because you’re caught up in the moment, but every so often try to look behind you to make sure you don’t get smacked in the head. If you see a crowd surfer coming over the barricade behind another photographer and they don’t realize, tap them on the shoulder to get their attention. It’s important to look out for each other, even if you don’t know the person.
Legally, as long as no contract was signed, you can sell prints of your photos. Most people say to follow the rule of doing a limited run of a max of 200 prints that are hand signed and numbered. That classifies them to be “fine art” and not for commercial use.But because you can legally sell your photos, should you do so without permission? Yes and no.
The reason for yes: if one person asks to buy a photo from you every couple months that you own all the rights to, the world isn't going to implode if you make a couple bucks off selling a print.
The reason for no: if you plan to run a print store and regularly sell prints, you should get permission to do so. While you legally have the ability to sell these images, that doesn't mean bands and their management/label/pr team won't blacklist you and refuse to work with you in the future. It's better to get permission first. You don't want to burn any bridges. People will appreciate you asking them.
Dealing with Copyright Infringement
At some point in your career, you will probably encounter copyright infringement to some extent. It doesn't matter how much you watermark your photos - it can and will still happen. Technically, anyone that takes your photo and shares it without permission, regardless of crediting you, is infringement. But don't go suing a 15-year-old fan of a band you photographed for sharing a photo you took. That's just absurd. If you have an issue with someone reposting your images on social media, with or without credit, file a DMCA takedown notice or contact support. As long as you can prove it was your photo, they will remove it.
The moment that infringement gets serious is when it is used for profitable items without permission. Bands have a habit of taking photos without permission and using them on posters, album art, merchandise, and more. Magazines and other outlets will post photos online without permission as well. It's unfortunate, yes, but never go straight to a lawsuit. Always send an email to management. If you can't find a management contact, try to contact the band. If an outlet took your photo, contact the editor.
While you may be angry that this happened, don't attack the people that took your photo. Be calm, collected, and professional. Screenshot or take a photo of the infringement and attach it to your email. Explain to them that using your photos for these purposes requires payment, as you retain the copyright to the images. Give them your rate for licensing a photo, and leave it at that. If you don't hear back, follow up. If you don't hear back still, try reaching out to someone else affiliated with the band. You never want to threaten to sue them or go get a lawyer right from the get-go. It won't end well. Being nice gets you far.
Working with Bands
I often get asked how I get access to shows when I’m not working for outlets, how I have gotten access to full sets, and how I got my first tour. All I do is network and send emails, and have a solid portfolio to back myself up when doing those things.
When you go to shows, introduce yourself to people. You never know who you may meet. Musicians wander around venues sometimes and you can always say hello and introduce yourself. Just make sure they aren’t busy or with fans. Pass them a business card or exchange emails to send them photos. You could then follow up with them the next time around and pitch to them about coming out to shoot again.
A lot of bands I work with ended up being because I met one person and they became a friend, then they introduced me to band, which lead to another band, and it just kept going on. I stayed in touch with these artists by coming out to other shows they played in my area, then sent photos to them and their management to use on social media. My consistency in providing quality content for them, never overstepping any boundaries, and voluntarily sharing photos with them lead them to trust me, and we eventually became friends. Because these artists and managers know they can trust me to be professional and turnaround quality work quickly, they have been open to working with me on more things.
It takes time to get artists to trust you because unfortunately so many people have bad intentions in the industry. Even just to be friends with a musician they can be hesitant for this reason. A lot of people just like to use others to further their career, so artists can be wary of who they let into their circle. Don’t be one of those people. Appreciate every artist, big and small, that has given you one single ounce of their time to appreciate your work, because they don’t even have to acknowledge your existence. Photographers are a luxury for musicians and not a necessity. Every artist I work with means so much to me and I put everything I have into them. It doesn’t matter if they are playing for 100 people or 10,000. The fact that they put their faith in me means everything to me, and it should for the ones that do for you too.
Another option is cold emails to managers or bands (I suggest going to managers versus a general band email). I personally have been on the fence about this method, but I know people that get most of their gigs doing this. I think I’ve sent like two in my career. A cold email, for those who don’t know, is basically an email you send pitching to work for someone that you don’t know/doesn’t know you. Your email should be short and sweet, just like an email as if you were pitching to work for an outlet. Include your name, what services you offer, location, reason for emailing, and a link to your portfolio. A good option is to offer to do test runs with their artists to see if you are a good fit for them. Offer to shoot a show or two for some of the artists they manage, with the standard first 3 song rule that press is given. This will help them ease into the idea of letting a stranger work with their artists, and will show them your work ethic based on your turnaround time and how well you portray their artist through your photos.
Most importantly: always pitch working with bands over email and never hit up bands/managers over social media. It makes you look unprofessional and annoying. I talk to friends of mine all the time and not a single one of them likes when people reach out to them via social media. They’re more inclined to help others out when you send them a nice, professional email. Most artists have their managers or personal band emails listed on their Facebook pages. If you can’t find it there, it’s usually easily searchable on Google.
If people don’t reply to your emails, don’t get discouraged. Not everyone will reply to you and that’s okay. Managers are busy people and can’t get to everyone. Or they may just simply not be looking for a photographer so they pass on opening the email. However, if a manager does get back to you, regardless of whether or not they want to work with you, always thank them for their time. I know I’ve said it a few times already but being polite and always being appreciative will get you so far.
Working for Free
I sort of touched on this in the portion of the blog I just wrote, but I want to go a bit more in-depth with it. There’s this huge stigma around working for free and how no one should ever work for free because it’s “going to ruin the field for photographers that make a living off of paid jobs.” Well, I hate to break it to those people, but there will always be people that are willing to work for free and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Honestly, when you’re just starting out and have little to no experience, why would someone pay for your services? You have to start somewhere to gain experience.
Most outlets don’t have a budget to pay contributors these days either unless you’re working for someone really big, and if we’re being honest, you’re most likely not starting your career at Rolling Stone. I got my career started because I worked for free for the longest time. Sometimes I will still do things for free if I want to just go hang out with friends, or there’s a really cool band I wanna shoot. I’m not ashamed of the fact I have worked for free and sometimes still do, because if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have gone on tour. I wouldn’t have published photos. I wouldn’t have photos used on merchandise and album art. All those photos I shot for free eventually led to paid things.
The only things you should not be doing for free (in my opinion) are touring (at least get your expenses covered) and allowing people use photos for merch/album art/promotional purposes. Photographing a show here and there at your own expense is fine, but going on tour for weeks to months would cost you so much money and no one should get that much content to use for free. You should also be paid for merchandise, album art, and promotional use because those generate income for the band. If they can make money off your photo by selling things on it / promoting events that will pay them, you should be paid for it.
Success Takes Time
Be patient on your journey as a music photographer. Things won’t happen overnight. It may take you months or years to get to where you want to be. I am happy that I have made it as far as I have, but I’m not in the final place I want to be just yet because college got in the way of things. Sometimes your friends will jump ahead of you with their success and that’s okay. Don’t envy them, be proud of them. Things just worked out for them sooner. Just keep trying. Keep emailing, networking, and utilizing social media to promote your work.
You’re going to want to give up. I get that way sometimes myself. It’s normal to have that thought. But it should only ever be a thought; don’t act on it. Take a break for a month or two. Come back with new ideas ready to take on the world.
I hope this blog finds you well, and that it may help you in some way. Keep shooting. Keep creating. Thank you for reading. I hope to see you in the pit one day.