It's been next to forever since I wrote a concert photography advice column, but a lull in the schedule combined with some things I've recently seen have caused me to finally sit down at the keyboard. This post is going to be about knowing your worth when it comes to concert photography, and, well, photography in general. I touched on this briefly in a past column, "Doing What's Best for You", but I do want to expand on the financial aspects of things in more detail.
I'm not going to name names, but there was a recent tweet that went around where someone called out a band for lowballing them on a tour photographer gig. The band was straight forward and upfront about the low cost, and how they were going to balance things out. The person who tweeted it out didn't see things that way. A lot of people took the band's side. The photographer didn't seem to care. I could easily see both see sides of the argument, especially since it fell under the rule of "Never tweet", but, hey, that's a different story for a different day.
Life is too short to go back and forth on this particular instance, but I brought it up because it caused others to start commenting on things involving the concept of paid work when it comes to concert photography. For some, it seems the "potential" of being paid in the future is enough to warrant taking a job for chump change or nothing at all.
That's where I want to jump into this discussion. If you value yourself so low that you can work on potential, awesome. Go for it. More power to you. I hope you ride that wave of potential as far as you can. What I want others to realize, though, is that potential is not a guaranteed thing. It never will be a guaranteed thing. You can take a job for a low number, do bang up work, impress the hell out of your client, and, if you're working for a low ball number with the potential of more work down the line, you know what you are guaranteed to get? That low ball number. Nothing more.
It wasn't a concert photography gig, but I remember getting a call one day because someone at a low-rent advertising rag of a newspaper in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Not my nemesis "The Planet Weekly - someone else) wanted me to shoot an event because, in their words, it was going to be on a Sunday, they didn't want to send someone, and I was already going to be there as the official photographer. They said they could offer me a credit line, and I immediately said, "Yeah. You're supposed to do that. What else?". They acted dumbfounded, which wasn't a surprise considering the publication, and I explained to them it wasn't an equitable exchange. When I said I'd take ad space, the conversation hilariously ended.
Exchanging the work you do at the best of your ability for the potential of something down the line is, in my opinion, not an equitable exchange. This publication was thinking that a credit line in their "paper" would lead to all sorts of work for me. I mean I understand having a high regard for your work, but that was quite the funny assumption on their part.
When you are hired to shoot a show or tour, the client is getting something tangible and of worth. Why shouldn't you get something tangible and of worth in return? For some, a credit line or potential is worth it. For many others, though, it simply won't cut it. The above instance isn't the only time I've turned something down or held strong regarding a job offer. When I explain my position, the people on the other end either act like I'm talking a foreign language and walk away or change their offer to a better one.
Now, again, I operate on the philosophy of "Do What's Best for You" so if you're cool with all this, by all means do it. Mine that potential for all its worth, and I do hope it pays off for you in the future. I also hope you're doing enough research and analysis to make sure it's worthy of your time and effort. I also hope you're not letting them use lines like "You shouldn't be all about money" or "You should do it for the love of the music" blind you. If they drop those lines or similar ones, run as fast as you can.
The last thing I want to do is be a concert photographer who whines and moans about people not paying or things like that. There are too many Facebook groups and pages filled with those bitter killjoys. I'm just hoping to open some eyes and see where, even if an offer might get your foot in the door, it might very well not. You run the risk of doing work, whatever it may be - a show, a tour, a festival, etc. - and nothing will come of it after the fact. You also run the risk of them continuing to hire you at a low rate because you keep buying the "potential" line they keep shoveling.
You have to know your worth in this game. You always have to know your worth. Don't let the promise of potential blind you to reality. Hold your position and get paid what you think is an equitable exchange. I saw someone mention it should be about pleasing the client. Well, to be perfectly honest, that's a two-way door. The client should also be concerned about pleasing the person who is providing them the work.
I know this might ruffle some feathers, but, hey, if you have a different take on this, I'd love to hear it.
I know my worth. Do you know yours?