Photography For The Music Industry; Not The Same Old Tune

Like many aspects of commercial photography these days, the music industry has seen many changes that affect how a photographer finds clients and promotes their talents. One of the biggest changes, according to photographers we talked with for this story, is that there is no one single “contact” person anymore and that to broaden your scope you have to deal with numerous individuals in many different types of firms. We will also look at the changes in the access photographers have to the artists. One common theme that emerges is how your passion and interest in a certain type of music plays an important role as does having and establishing personal relationships within a community of artists. And, we’ll also examine successful methods of self-promotion that have worked for the photographers we interviewed.

Shutterbug: What kind of music industry clients have you worked with? Who are the best contacts for photography?

Greg Watermann (www.gregwatermann.com): I’ve worked with them all: magazines, artists, music production companies, record companies, publicity firms, and the agents. Other sources are merchandise companies (T-shirts, calendars, etc.), management firms (they directly manage bands), and manufacturers of musical instruments and gear.

Photos © 2010, Greg Watermann, All Rights Reserved

Bettie Grace Miner (www.minerworksofart.com): I have worked with numerous jazz musicians, major and independent record labels, concert promoters, artist managers and agents, jazz and blues festivals, music PR firms, radio stations, charities, music-related websites, resort hotels, and nightclubs.

The world is changing for music, musicians, and the industry as a whole. Radio stations have gone under or changed formats, leaving the musicians and labels nowhere to sell their product. The major labels have let go of all but the most lucrative talent and the independent labels have been all but squeezed out of the business. Music stores are almost nonexistent with most music being sold either online or through downloads. I have had to scale back prices from the big budgets major labels had to a very small budget, working with the artists directly so they can produce their own projects and then try to get distribution deals. Art directors for the labels that are still in existence change frequently and are sometimes independent contractors.

The short answer is that there is no answer. You have to research each avenue or project to find the person who will hire you. Most times it is the musicians themselves, then you can work your way up the food chain.

Photos © 2010, Bettie Grace Miner, All Rights Reserved

SB: What are the best ways to research and find clients?

David Alan Kogut (www.northeastventure.com): Road managers and artist managers are still the best to contact. The music business seems huge but it is really small. Everyone knows everyone else so the best way is to put yourself in the right crowd. I started locally with a venue close to my studio that had R&B acts and worked my way up from there.
Christopher Winton-Stahle (www.winton-stahle.com): I find that the best way to build clients in general is through personal relationships with either the artists or the labels. This takes time. Starting with a magazine is a good way to get in because you meet the artists directly. If you do good work that they dig then they may want to invite you back or they will pass your name along. Musicians all talk to each other so once it happens and you’ve built and maintained that good reputation then it’ll most likely continue to happen. I’ve never had a lot of luck with promoting to record labels. Music photography is a much-desired field that is difficult to break into “full-time” and I’m sure that the labels get more promos from photographers than they can shake an ugly stick at.

My opinion about photographing musicians and celebrities is that it’s not just about doing great work that is innovative and creative but it is equally about personality and your attitude. The worst thing in the world for an artist is to work with a weird photographer with star-struck eyes or someone who goes into the situation with an “attitude.” Remember that these are just people like you and me and when working with other professional artists they don’t want to feel uncomfortable. They may find dealing with people can be uncomfortable at times so it’s your job to just make things as quick, easy, and enjoyable as possible. I think that’s actually one thing that has helped me with photographing anyone of a celebrity status; I see all people equally and I just like to have a good time no matter who you are.

Photos © 2010, David Alan Kogut, All Rights Reserved
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