Sunday, 10 July 2011

The next step - Agency work

I've been doing a lot of soul searching about where I want to to take my music photography.
I've been following the debate on 'working for free' closely and standing two steps back to see both sides of the argument.

Everybody who attempts music/live concert photography will know that it takes a lot of time and hard work to build a quality portfolio and contacts - no portfolio, no accreditation.

I've worked with some great bands on a 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' basis . . .bands who have become good friends. They have helped me to build my portfolio, and have been instrumental in opening doors to wider horizons.

On the other hand, I can sympathise with pro music photographers who have watched their industry decimated by photographers of varying abilities working for free, getting under their feet in the pit with little knowledge of pit etiquette, and sometimes, taking the accreditation away from the working pro.

I had decided early on to pull the plug on the 'free' work as soon as practicable, but couldn't see how I could move forward. Working on the local circuit, it would take a saint to educate bands into valuing the work of a good photographer. The band (generally) gets paid, the venue earns money, the bar staff get paid, the cleaner gets paid, the photographer doesn't. Not only that, the photographer leaves the gig to start hours of hard work, editing/processing/refining and delivering the images, long after the gig is over.

There is a real skill-set involved, plus a huge investment in equipment and time, but the advent of the digital age has undermined the quality of a good music photographer. Almost everyone owns a digital camera and a complete amateur can get lucky with a great shot every now and again. Why should a small band pay for the services of a pro in this D.I.Y age?

The line between serious 'amateur' and the professional has blurred.
There are some very talented 'part time' photographers out there, consistently producing quality work and there are some pro's who seem to do nothing but complain, and have lost their spark.

I greatly admire any professional photographer that makes a living out of music photography, I suspect none of them are running Ferraris or away on their yachts at the weekend - they must be doing it because they can't imagine doing anything else.

I stopped working for free, and as expected, the work dried up - overnight - ZILCH.
I have been befriended by a high profile professional music photographer and her manager on Facebook, who have given me some priceless advice - THING BIG

I am the original 'self doubter' and learned the lesson that if you don't value your own work, nobody else will.

So how do I move up a step?

I have two objectives:
1] To cover higher profile artists
2] To get paid

There are a couple of brick walls that stand in your way.
To achieve 1] you need to get accredited (get a photo pass)
To achieve this, you need to be working for someone, either a publication or an agency, or directly for band management.

Printed publications are pretty much sewn up, with either staffers or preferred freelancers.

On-line publications are where most head to and are a great way of getting the passes.
Music blogs are a good place to start, but again, they will have a preferred team of 'correspondents' who understandably guard their territory closely, plus, in most cases there is no payment involved - you get the pass and portfolio images.

I contribute to Mudkiss Fanzine. It is a highly respected blog with a large team of contributors (photography/live reviews/album reviews and exclusive interviews)
The Mudkiss team do what they do out of a passion for music, and are non-profit.
There are others that fill their pages with free content from contributors, but make a profit from advertising revenue - erm, no thanks! It really goes against the grain to work for free to make profit for others.

The ultimate goal, and where the real money is, is to work directly for the bands/management, as a tour photographer, or carrying out portrait shoots for tour programmes and album covers.
This is for the very gifted few.

I decided the next step would be agency work.
Some high profile acts stipulate 'no agency photographers' and the money is split between you and the agency, typically 60/40. Some will only send you a cheque when you have reached a monthly target, or payment gets carried over to the next month. Some will do all the photo pass chasing for you, some expect you to do it.
Some agencies will send you the assignments, others will let you pick and choose and use them as a reference for the accreditation, some are a mixture of the two.

The agency option kind of resolves 1] and 2] - it gets you in front of the bigger artists, and you have the potential to earn money. You only get paid if the agency sells the images and you won't get rich any time soon, but can be a useful residual revenue stream if you build up a substantial library.

I have until now viewed working out of Scotland to be a disadvantage, but it has one major advantage - a few high profile bands will start their tour up North and work their way South. This means you can get in at the very start of the tour and have a better chance of getting your images sold, as the tour is 'hot' news, more so than for the dozen shooters in a pit in London near the end of the tour.

With this in mind, I went about getting signed to an agency.
I took a hard look at my portfolio, and what the agencies were actually using/selling.
I took a sledge hammer to my portfolio, carried out a major cull and re-edited the rest to the best of my ability.

The end result paid off and I have signed to the very first agency I applied to - Big Pictures.
Big Pictures is reputedly the world's biggest celeb/entertainment picture agency, run by Darren Lloyd (yes, Mr Paparrazi)

I'm now looking forward to my first assignments for them.
I'm only a couple of years into my path as a music photographer - it's a small step forward, but one thing I have learned is that one thing leads to another and doors open - you just have to be smart enough to dash through them before they shut again.