- The Audience
No, I'm not talking about the audience at your local rock concert. I'm referring to the audience that will ultimately see the images you create. The truth is, when you're a portrait or wedding photographer, your core audience will typically be limited to the folks who are actually in the images, and then maybe their friends and/or family. In other words, if you post the images on Facebook, those are the only people who will ever really pay any attention. Now of course, if you happen to be talented (or lucky) enough to create breathtaking, truly magnificent images that are bona fide works of art, then perhaps the audience will extend beyond that. But for most photographers, the audience is usually pretty limited.
In the realm of band & musician promos, however, the audience is typically much bigger. Not only do you get the friends & family of the artists themselves, but you also get the artists' fans as well. For instance, when a high-profile artist posts one of your images on their Facebook fan page and suddenly hundreds of people get all googly-eyed over it and begin throwing out words like "epic" and "amazing", it can be quite a rush. I honestly believe that inside most photographers (and artists in general) there's an inherent desire for other people's attention and admiration. So the more eyeballs you get on your work, and the more positive comments you get, the better off your fragile ego will be.
- Suddenly You're A Commercial Photographer
When I was just starting out in the world of professional photography, I'd shoot pretty much anyone who would hire me, and the only legal documents I ever had to worry about were things like model releases. But once I began shooting bands & musicians, I realized that the images I was creating were (in many cases) going to be used for commercial purposes-- in other words, things like CD covers, posters, hats, t-shirts, etc. Suddenly there was a need to add some additional legal contracts to my arsenal so that I could account for these changes and make sure that I was being fairly compensated for the images I was creating.
So one of the things that's kinda cool about being a commercial photographer (besides the snazzy-sounding title) is that you can eventually begin charging a bit more for your work. Some photographers negotiate a percentage that they will receive on the sale of any item bearing one of their images. Others charge a flat fee, or simply build the additional cost into the price of the images themselves. No matter which methodology you ultimately choose, the bottom line is that if you become a commercial photographer, you have a legal right to negotiate a higher rate for your work.
Of course, it goes without saying that if your work is average at best, then you just might have a wee bit of difficulty raising your rates. The world of commercial photography is highly competitive, and your lighting and post-processing skills need to be pretty outstanding to have much success. It's a constant battle to stay up with the latest trends and techniques, and it can be flat-out exhausting. Definitely not for the feint of heart, but to those who persevere, the rewards can be quite handsome.
- Partnering With Amazing People
I have to say, I was very fortunate to meet lots of pretty cool folks back when I was shooting general portraiture, and some of them even ended up becoming good friends of mine. Obviously, you absolutely MUST have some solid people skills to be successful as a portrait photographer, and of course tons of patience. However, at the end of the day, my relationship with my previous clients used to be based predominantly around the business transaction at hand. In other words, I was really only there to help everyone feel as comfortable as possible, take a few pictures, and then deliver a completed final product some time later. Once that process was complete, all social and business obligations were considered fulfilled. Anything else was just a bonus.
In the case of bands & musicians, however, the relationships I build almost always go much deeper. Part of the reason is the sheer amount of time we typically spend together planning out the creative direction for each shoot. Another factor is my own experience several years ago as a working musician, which helps to create instant rapport with most of my clients. I know exactly what it's like to be out there pounding the pavement trying to make a name for myself in the crazy world of music, and this typically allows me to enjoy an almost instant sense of familiarity and connectedness with the artists I shoot.
But I think perhaps the biggest source of camaraderie and partnership that I feel with my musician clients is the fact that we're putting these images out there to represent both of our brands. In other words, we both have huge stakes in the images from a quality and "market appeal" standpoint, so we always go to great lengths to ensure that our efforts are as successful as they possibly can be. Of course, this typically involves lots of collaboration and sharing of ideas, which only tends to enrich our relationship further. When all is said and done, there's almost always a solid foundation on which to build a lasting friendship, and that's one of the things I love most about being a music photographer.
- Networking Opportunities
Honestly, I think there are virtually limitless networking opportunities in pretty much any genre of photography, but when it comes to shooting big-name bands and musicians, there is a very tight "inner circle" that can be next to impossible to break into unless you know the right people. As with anything, it's all about who you know, and the lucky few who are out shooting A-listers for Rolling Stone aren't necessarily the ones with the most talent-- they're simply the ones who happen to know the right people in the inner circle.
Thus far in my career as a commercial band photographer, I've noticed that people in this genre play things extraordinarily close to the vest. Unlike with portrait or wedding photography, where there are countless thriving forums filled to the brim with experienced professionals who are always willing to help the newbies out with a nugget of wisdom, it's next to impossible to find any actionable information on music photography. In fact, the only source of reliable information I've found to date is the School of Hard Knocks.
However, in terms of networking, as you progress through a career in music photography you'll slowly begin to figure out who the "power players" are in your local scene. These are the folks who are extremely well-connected in the music community and have the ability to put you in front of the artists you really want to work with (or at least get you in touch with those who can). So if your work is pretty stellar, and you manage to befriend these kinds folks, then the sky's the limit in terms of what you can do. Heck, even if your work isn't all that stellar, knowing the right people can still pay hefty dividends (see above).
I've been quite blessed to meet some pretty amazing people thus far in my journey. A couple of the artists I've shot recently are on the verge of blowing up on a national level, and when that happens, it'll also open up new doors for me. So the networking opportunities in this genre are actually pretty mind-blowing...one minute you could be shooting what you think is a pretty typical client, and then before you know it your work is being looked at by people in that vaunted "inner circle". It can happen that fast, so you gotta make sure you're pouring everything you've got into each and every shoot-- you never know when your moment will come.
- Endless Possibilities
I got my first DSLR as a birthday gift less than 3 years ago. At the time, I knew absolutely nothing about photography, and never could have foreseen the impact it would eventually have on my life. But even when I incorporated my business in December of 2008, and set out to be the best [baby, maternity, family, fashion, glamour, whatever] photographer on the block, this was always destined to be a side project and could never replace the income from my primary day job. There was just no way that I could ever dream of walking away from a "guaranteed" paycheck for something so speculative.
Flash forward to a few weeks ago, when an artist management company flew me up to New York City to photograph two rising Christian artists, and my perspective on things quickly began to change. Suddenly the idea of leaving my day job to pursue a career in photography didn't seem so out of the question. If things continue on this path, I may eventually get to a point where it's an actual topic for consideration, which just seems crazy to even think about. Even though I've still got a long ways to go, just knowing that my hard work and determination might eventually lead me down that path is enough to keep me swinging for the fences.
Also, please take a moment to check out my band & musician portfolio site, http://TampaBandPhotos.com