sbphotoblog asked: I'm looking to go into live music and portrait photography, but I'm not sure where the best place to be for that is. Looking to potentially assist music photographers and shoot for magazines/websites/newspapers. Any advice on what cities I should be focusing on?
I’ll first let you know a pretty universal truth.
There ain’t no money in live music photography. That’s just the truth. There is some but it’s hard to get into. You need to be shooting for wire services like AP, WireImage, etc to find some money in live photography.
I’m not saying there’s zero money in it but very little and very hard to make a living on. You shoot live music for the love of it and in hopes of networking with bands, PR folks, labels hoping and praying it will get you in the door to shoot portraits for press/promo/CD artwork/etc. That’s where there is still a budget for photography in music these days.
No money in live. Just heart. Can’t pay rent with heart. Also, a live music photographer is doing pretty well to have one pass to get in to shoot the first three songs of a set. They rarely can get a second pass to take an assistant or intern with them into the pit. You would assist a photographer who shoots stuff outside of live music as you’d have a difficult time getting in to assist during a show unless you’re assisting someone like Danny Clinch. He’s WAY up the food chain and if he’s shooting a show then he’s the type to have a REAL all access pass to go anywhere he wants because, well, he’s Danny effing Clinch.
There’s some money in magazines. Not much. Average magazine job I shoot is $300 - $500 an assignment. Sometimes I get a budget for an assistant. Sometimes. Half of the time maybe. That’s average. Never made more than $500 on a music related assignment. My $1k and $2k assignments are all business / industry related. Guys in ties sort of stuff. A far cry from “music photography”. I get called regularly for $0 to $50 assignments to shoot a bands/artists for a magazine.
I know of some newspapers who pay $15 if they publish one of your images. These are fairly large papers. $15. That’s an insult.
Never had a web site pay me. Ever. Ever. Shot images for a client who paid me and those images were going to be sent to a music site but the site didn’t pay a dime.
If you want to make a living in music photography be looking to work for artists, managers, labels, etc. People who hire photographers for press/promo/CD/etc. If you want to be an assistant look for magazine / commercial photographers who do some work in music. They have to be shooting in other genres to afford an assistant since music doesn’t pay much. Or they have to be busy shooting press/CD work and by busy I mean busy. Doing it weekly.
Cities to focus on? LA and NYC are huge markets but you’re going to be a minnow in the ocean the minute you arrive. Chicago, Nashville, Seattle, DC, are good markets. A lot of music related work gets done in Florida. I’ve often thought that market isn’t tapped enough. Nashville is a tough market because there are tons of great photographers already established there. Atlanta is coming back. It was dead for a few years but it’s picking back up these days. I think Chicago and DC are pretty good hotbeds. I’d be happy to work out of either of those cities.
I don’t want to kill your dreams or tell you it can’t be done. It can. It totally can be done. I just want to let you know it’s really, really, really freaking hard to get established and build a life out of the music industry right now. I don’t want to sugar coat it or send you on a trail to the end of the rainbow for you to only find out later that it’s hard as shit to make it. I’ll just tell you that up front. It can be done though.