Sunday, 13 March 2011

'Chicken and Egg' - Getting the bigger gigs

Anyone who has decided to take the crazy decision to specialise in concert photography will be familiar with the ‘chicken and egg’ scenario.

You start to build a portfolio by working with local bands and may get the occasional stroke of luck getting to shoot some of the bigger names.

You won’t get the bigger names without a decent portfolio, and you won’t get a decent portfolio without working with artists who have raised their game and worked on their stage-craft, resulting in more appealing images.

Even a strong portfolio is often not enough.

To work with bigger acts, you need to be working for a publication, be it printed or online.
After all, the artists and their management are looking for publicity.
They won’t get much of that by supplying you with an opportunity to feed your portfolio.

OK, a strong portfolio will help get you aligned to a publication, but in this oversaturated market, there are very few opportunities and many publications are loyal to their existing photographers, who understandably guard their positions fiercely.

The problem doesn’t end there.

If all you are capable of is photographing a show (and that can be a challenge by itself), the publication will need to also send along a reviewer; few are likely to run with pictures alone.
Getting two bodies through the door is more difficult than one, as guest list passes can be like gold dust for established and successful artists.
PR/Management will prioritise the available spaces to whoever will give their artist the most exposure.

Many photographers have had to diversify, and are required to take the pictures and write the review.
As you can imagine, some photographers have better writing skills than others.

The best place to start is with online publications.
I spent many frustrating months building a database of publications, and contacted each one.
I usually received no reply.
The few that did take time to reply would usually inform me that they had no opportunities at present or my geographical location was not ideal. (I live in Montrose, N.E Scotland. Glasgow, the epicentre of the Scottish music scene is a 2 ½ hour drive away)

I remembered that a childhood friend, Mel Smith was one of the co-founders of MUDKISS Fanzine.
We lived literally round the corner from each other in my home town of Newton Le Willows, Merseyside.
MUDKISS is a much respected online fanzine with an excellent team of reviewers, covering everything with an alternative flavour, such as live shows, exclusive interviews, album reviews and interviews with creative artists such as authors, models and even photographers.

I mentioned to Mel in passing that I could maybe photograph one of the bigger names visiting Scotland at some point in the future.
Within hours of the conversation, a list of potential gigs appeared in my inbox.

The catch? I would have to write the show review in addition to the photography!
“Not a problem Mel, I can write reviews too” was my reply.

I have thrown myself into the deep end and learned to swim several times throughout my life, so I set about researching how to tackle the task in hand. I also spent some time analysing reviews by respected writers and bought a few music magazines.

I chose The Grinspoon gig at King Tuts as my first assignment.
I researched the band fully. I was given access to their latest album and press reviews by their PR company and scoured YouTube for videos of the band.
By the time the gig came around, I was an enthusiastic fan.

Grinspoon are a multi-platinum selling rock band with a massive following in their native Australia and were in the UK to promote the European release of their new album.

The show was supplemented by two excellent support bands, JETTBLACK from London, and Sucioperro from Scotland.

The gig was ideal for cutting my teeth on and gave me the confidence to further explore this new found craft.
I am now looking forward to carrying out further reviews for MUDKISS, with The Charlatans, Dr Feelgood and The Dum Dum Girls in the pipeline over the next month.

My experience as a working musician since 1977 helps tremendously. I should by now be able to write a review with some authority on the subject and my background helps to build up trust and rapport with the artist.

The added advantage of working for a publication is that you are not relentlessly chasing photo passes; the PR companies often approach the publication with tour dates.

It is a good feeling to be able to take a break from the relentless chasing after work and watch quality assignments come to me!

You can read my first live review for MUDKISS here, hopefully, the first of many.

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