Lots of music photographers complain that compensation for shooting live events keeps going down and down. And they are right, it is going down and that trend will probably continue. Any reasonable, paid photographer might start to question whether it’s still worth it. And I’m not talking about the odd show here and there; I’m talking about those of us who shoot a couple times a week, 52 weeks a year. Throw in a dozen or more all day / all weekend festivals, and your pay per hour starts feel like an entry level fast food job.
Photography is one of multiple revenue streams for me, and out of all the photography I do, music photography is one of the least lucrative, even though I devote the most time to it. So why would anyone continue to do it? Why not just turn it over to the amateurs, groupies and wanna-be’s? You may have your own reasons, here are some of mine.
- Build a Portfolio: It’s a great way to build a portfolio, and once built, to keep it current. Music shots can be attention grabbing, and help draw people to your website. It gives your portfolio pop (pun intended) and relevancy. https://commiebiker.smugmug.com/
- Meet People: I don’t do landscapes or architecture or products or food. I shoot people, so I need to be out where there are people. Lots of people. Lots of interesting people. I never met a landscape with connections, but I have met a lot of people with connections. Like any occupation, you have to build a network. This includes promoters, musicians, bar owners and bartenders, the guys who work security and yes…other photographers.
- The media outlet I do a lot of work for offers neither the highest or lowest compensation in town. What they do have is a really large audience, especially for music, art, food and beer. Every photographer both wants and needs an audience. “Want” because it keeps our precarious egos afloat. “Need” leads me to #4.
- Marketing Yourself: Think of it as your marketing budget. People think that because I shot a bunch of heavy metal bands, that I can shoot their wedding. There’re wrong, but that’s beside the point. Building a portfolio (1), meeting people (2), and increasing your exposure (3) is what leads to jobs with a budget. The fact that I have a solid portfolio as well as published coverage of festivals and events give the people who sponsor those events confidence that I can deliver the coverage they want. Beer companies, energy drinks…I’ve even worked for a Walmart/Axe body spray event. These folks do not pay McWages, they offer really fair compensation. Knowing people who will vouch for me is invaluable. It is by far the best way to get additional work. And for goodness sake, always tip the bartender. They are the hub of thousands of conversations every night. Mess with them and you are toast.
- Love it: After all that, the biggest reason I still shoot live music is because I love doing it. I love music and I love photography, and I love combining the two. You should always photograph things you are passionate about; otherwise photography just turns into another job. Another low paying job.