I've thought about doing some advice columns about music photography, and photography in general, for a while now. Up until now, though, I've put it off as I really didn't know how to initially approach the subject. Honestly, I still don't know a good way to approach this, but I'm going to give it a try nonetheless.
The other day I saw a post from someone in college wondering why they weren't getting hired to do music shoots. It's a common question that gets asked, but, if most people did a little self analysis, they'd quickly find the answer.
The post included various bits of advice from other people in the group intermixed with more information released by the initial poster. The thing that got me was the individual saying "They might drop business cards off at a music venue in an effort to market themselves better".
At this point, I couldn't just sit back and be silent anymore. I had to interject and this is what brings me to this post today.
I'm going to start by saying I, myself, am still learning this craft.
If you think there's a time when you can stop learning and stop taking in new information, you're sorely mistaken.
Now, before we even get to the gist of things, you must learn basic photography skills to even stand a fighting chance of breaking into this field. You must learn how to handle low light situations, anticipation of movement, framing, and everything else that goes into capturing live music.
If you haven't put the work in to accomplish this, close this page right now. Get your camera. Go out and practice. Then I suggest practicing some more. After that, practice a little bit more until you are comfortable in a concert setting.
Remember: NO ONE, I repeat, NO ONE worth a lick is going to give you a chance or take you seriously if your photography isn't up to snuff.
Second, there is a ridiculously low number of people making legit money at this. Let's get that out of the way now. It is imperative you do something else as a back-up because the market is beyond saturated. It doesn't even matter where you live. There will always be an abundance of people wanting to photograph live music. I can't stress this enough.
For a variety of reasons, it can be like pulling teeth to get local bands to pay you to shoot their shows, and it's ridiculously low odds to get upper level bands to do the same. The bulk of publications aren't going to pay you either, especially if you are starting out.
That being said, if you still aren't deterred and really want to break out in this field, you must stand out and be seen. You must be the go to option for people wanting live music photography done in your area.
But David... how do I do that?
It involves LOTS of long and late nights in small clubs and other venues shooting bands on a consistent basis. It involves turning those photos around as quickly as possible when they are still relevant. It's about maintaining a consistency in your work and outpacing anyone else that is in your area.
For me, this took place mostly in the confines of Egan's Bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The bar was kind enough to let me learn my craft there while I was photographing the numerous local bands that performed. That place is and forever will be special to me because of that and what I was able to accomplish. Finding a place like that where you can develop and grow is critical.
Always remember the line by the late great Dusty Rhodes: "WORK HARDER THAN THE TOP".
Find the pecking order of photographers in your area and determine a course of action that will put you at the top of it and keep you there. It's not a matter of just getting to the top. It's doing the work that will ensure you stay on top as well.
Some might achieve this by working for a local publication. If so, more power to you. I honestly suggest branching out and doing your own thing. Make it all your creation and your product. Don't be in a position where someone else benefits from your work before you do.
It also involves taking the initiative and making things happen yourself. Never assume or think ANYTHING will be given to you. Sure, there will be times where you are in the right place at the right time, I'm proof of that, but a lot of work went into that for me to benefit from it. Visit venues, make relationships with the management and owners, contact local band reps, or do whatever it takes to get noticed.
If this is something you want to do, you have to put the work in to make it happen at a level you are happy with achieving. That's honestly common sense stuff for any goal.
Being seen consistently and being considered reliable are two things that will eventually pay off for you. There's a 99% chance it won't happen overnight, though. It's best to know that on the front end than to get your hopes up about things. If you break out quickly, good for you. If not, don't get discouraged. Things happen differently for each person.
If that sounds too hard for you, well, get out now. Like I said, the market's too saturated and it doesn't need anyone that isn't willing to put in the work to get ahead.
I'm going to stop here because I want you to digest this information for now. I'll probably return later with other tips and techniques, such as marketing yourself, working with other photographers, the art of "no-selling" rejection, and more. In the mean time, I'd love to hear what you think or if you have any questions about anything I mentioned today.