Ever wondered how on earth people make money as a pro music photographer? It’s not an easy road but pro photographer Gary is here to share his experience with ALT-MU, giving some amazing tips along the way for those looking to break into the business.
You have your DSLR and a nifty fifty, maybe even a 24-70mm 2.8 and a 70-200mm 2.8 but you’re not making any cash from music photography. How does one make the jump from shooting for free, to a fully paid up pro-music photographer?
1. You Have To Deal With ‘The Man’
The first thing you need to do is tell Her Majesties Revenue and Customs. It’s a legal requirement (you’re going to be self employed), they will give you excellent advice with regards to book keeping and expenses , and it will make you start thinking like a professional and looking for business opportunities to exploit.
2. Show Me The Money: Where Is It?
How do concert photographers make money? They usually sell images through a photo agency or have been assigned by a magazine to cover a show while being paid a fee. Magazine assignment is getting very rare now due to very few live shows being reviewed by magazines. Have you looked in NME or Q recently? Those back pages used to be full of images but not anymore.
The shows that do get covered tend to be covered by their staffers, leaving you with just the photo agency career route. Unfortunately most large photo agencies are full of concert photographers and don’t need another to arrange gigs for. Fortunately there are some smaller agencies that will take on photographers. However these smaller agencies might not be able to get you into the bigger shows. This is where the online zine comes in.
3. Zine’s & Getting Past the Velvet Rope
There are literally thousands of online music zines all looking for concert photographers like you, these zines are very good at getting access to venues that are below arena size.
They most likely will not be paying you but they should be letting you keep copyright in your images, allowing you to exploit them further.
Do not give up copyright! Avoid websites that state they have full copyright for the images. Having joined a small photo agency and got yourself a zine to get you into shows you can then work towards making money.
After shooting the show, send some frames to the zine and pick some to send to the photo agency, who will be able to license them for you. Be warned though, you really need to keep your ear to the ground as to what is hot and what is not. You are a pro shooter now and you will need to shoot groups and artists you may not like.
4. Bigging Yourself Up
After shooting larger shows your portfolio should hopefully be looking better with quality images and better well known acts. When this happens you can approach larger, better established photo agencies.
Remember these photo agencies have plenty of photographers already and editors want an easy life. By shooting for a zine already you have reduced the photo editor’s job in having to sort out passes for you, making you an attractive option for them. It is important to stress here that you are seeking an agency to represent your images.
If all goes well you will get signed up by a larger agency and maybe they will get you assigned to bigger shows. If not, during your time shooting for the zine you have come across various PR people, making contacts which should give you the ability to approach PR yourself for submitting images to agencies for exploitation.
5. The Big Bucks
Arena shows are usually the most press interest orientated – mostly female singers and hot boy bands. Here you have to think really commercial – the most potential exploitation is the opening night. This may not be near where you live and may involve travelling so think carefully about coverage. Opening nights are usually the most applied for by photographers because of the potential for press coverage. Think Fleetwood Mac or Justin Bieber, which is most likely to be picked up by the press? If you are thinking Justin Bieber well done, you might just make it as a pro music photographer.
Finally speed is of the essence, the sooner you can get your images wired into the agency the quicker they can sell and it’s usually the quickest to upload who sells, rather than quality. A fast laptop with mobile internet access is a must; it cannot be stressed that waiting until midnight or even the next to upload your images is not going to make you money.
Feature by Gary Stafford