Concert Photography Lesson 8
How to make money off your photography, that is the single most complicated question for most photographers and it is a question with no easy answer. Our industry is really an industry that is flooded with amateurs and fanboys that will shoot for free, so how do you make money in an environment?
Well, there is an easy answer and a difficult answer. The easy answer is that you don’t make money. The hard answer is that you can make money but……..there is a lot of things that you got to do to make the money.
So I will say the obvious thing right here, you will make almost no money from the musicians themselves. They expect the photos of themselves to be free and they have been getting the photos for free for so long now that it is ingrained in their minds. They will not pay for your shots. End of story. No matter what you do, they would rather use a bad photo of themselves than pay for your photo. Or more often than not, they will steal your photo and use it without your permission and since they are more famous than you, you have no real means to fight against this as they could turn their fan base against you. So I will say this again, forget about making money from the artist. Those days are gone with some rare exceptions, like being hired as their official tour photographer or they want your photo for merchandise.
So if you cannot make money from the artists, where can you make money from? Well, there are many places, some are traditional sources and some are a little different from what most people think. We will start with the traditional sources of income and that is magazines, newspapers, and websites. They are the traditional employer of photographers and they will pay either per shot or per image. Per image is becoming the norm though. How this works is that the publication will send a few photographers to an event and they will only pay for the images that they print. Pay per print is much higher than per shoot but there is always the risk that you may shoot and edit the entire show and make no money. The pay per shoot will guarantee you a payday for your shooting but the amount will not be a lot. But to get work at a newspaper or magazine is not the ideal place for a beginner to start with because most publications will require a good solid portfolio. They want to see what you can do and if they have some faith in your ability, they will get the pass for you. You still have to pay for your own transportation and accommodation but if the publication is sending more than one photographer, you can travel together to save money.
The second way to earn money is to shoot for the event organizer. The concert or festival organizer will require images for future events and they will need images for their websites and social media accounts. These jobs usually pay well but most organizers will only employ one photographer per event and it is usually an experienced photographer that they trust and have worked with before. You usually have great access to shoot anything you like but you are expected to get the best shots out of all the photographers there.
So the first two ways require experience to make money, so how do you make money if you have no experience? Well, that is difficult, but the easiest way is to get paid per image by blogs, websites, and fan sites. They will not get you a pass, you will have to work out your own pass, but they need photos quickly from an event and they will pay for it. But they will pay the least out of all of the traditional methods. I usually use all three on my shoots and generate my income from multiple sources. There is no big payday in this industry unless you have been in the job for years and you get hired as a staff photographer for a huge touring band. The rest of us, have to find creative ways to make money doing the job we love.
Now onto some of the more unusual ways to generate income from shooting concerts and festivals. The first way is to sell prints. I often get asked for photos of an artist by their fans. They want to post it on their social media accounts, they want a print to hang on their wall or dorm room. I don’t give out photos for free. I will charge them for the image. Not a lot of money but I will charge them depending on who they are and what image they want and what they intend to do with it. If they want it for the social media accounts, then the fee is really small, if they want a physical print, I keep the fee small and cover the cost of the print and shipping. These small amounts might not seem like a lot but they do add up at the end of the day. The one exception to this rule is fan clubs. Most fan clubs have some money, they sometimes charge their members fees so I will charge fan clubs about 10 times the amount that I will charge a normal fan. At the shows, I usually take a lot of fan photos, and I stay at the event after it has ended and take portraits of some fans meeting the band. If they ask me, I will shoot the shot, but they must pay for the shot. Again, not a lot of money. Just enough to keep the money coming in. Or sometimes there are ways to get paid, but not in money. Sometimes fan clubs can pay you by getting you better access to an event, maybe backstage or even into the dressing room. Getting a paid day does not always equal money, sometimes you need to trade your images in order to get better access to make a future payday. But these kinds of things happen very randomly and you got to jump at the opportunities when they present themselves.
Now because I am in China, and I am usually the only foreigner in the pit or on stage, I sometimes earn revenue through sponsorship. I will usually approach a development company in the city I will shoot at and I will offer to wear their company shirt for a fee. I will get seen by a crowd of 5000 to 50,000 people so most of the companies are willing to pay for this. But this will only work in special cases and not all the time. If I was shooting in the west, then this would never work but here in China, I can do this and get away with it.
Now I have said that you cannot make money from artists directly from your photos and that is true. Most artists will never pay for your images that are intended to go onto the internet. But sometimes artists need images for interviews, posters, and CD covers and many musicians will need photos for their sponsors. Their guitar, drum, or keyboard companies will need photos for advertising and this is where you can get money from the artists, or I should say from their sponsors. Most of the sponsors will ask the artist to try and get the images for free, but if you hold your ground and refuse the artist to use the photos for their sponsors, the sponsors will pay for them. The artists may put a lot of pressure on you to give the photos for free, but this is one time that you go to hold your ground. I have generated a lot of income from this over the years and it is a consistent source of income. I will license out my image to the sponsors for the artist for a period of 1 year with an option to renew the license for a small fee in the future if they require it. Many companies will continue to renew their license at the end of the one-year period. But in order to do this, you got to have good images that both the artist and the instrument company want. It has to be a unique shot that someone else does not have. If it is just a normal pic that 5 other photographers shot in the pit that night, you will not get paid for it.
The picture below caused me so much grief here in China. His guitar company really wanted to use this photo in their advertising, but they wanted it for free. I refused because they are one of the oldest and most popular metal bands in China and their guitar company is really a large Japanese company with lots of money. Both the artist and his guitar company put a lot of pressure on me to give them the photo for free, when I refused they tried to get me blacklisted from shooting events, in fact, I am still blacklisted from shooting the 303 metal festival in Beijing because of this but I am sticking to my guns here. If artists are doing well and making lots of money and their guitar company is making a lot of money, then they have got to pay for their photos. I would never do that with an up-and-coming band though. You got to know which battles to pick and fight for.
Now I will advise you to not try and charge artists for use of your images on their social media accounts. If they want to use your images, just make sure they credit you and link back to your social media account or your website. Make sure that they do it and call them out on it if they don’t do it. also, don’t forget the staff at the event. The sound engineer, the lighting engineer, and the stage managers. They will all need photos of themselves at the event. Shoot them while they are working, while they are talking, or smoking. Your camera should always be working at an event and getting your potential income sources.
The last bit of advice is to forget selling merchandise. I have seen a lot of photographers try to sell t-shirts and bracelets at festivals. I have never seen anyone sell a lot of this stuff and most photographers who try, end up losing a lot of money. If you want to do this, you got to have a big personality and a huge social media following. I guess that unless you have more than 1 million followers on each of your social media accounts, then you are too small to even try this. Don’t waste your money on manufacturing.
But a type of merchandise that can do well for you is if bands decide to print their own merchandise to sell. Bands like to sell T-shirts, posters, and CDs and they need images for this. I have no problem working out a deal with the artists for this. You can either license it per image for a period of time, or I prefer to take a small cut of the money per item sold. You can only do the second option if you trust the band though.
I think this will be one of the last articles in this series. Music season is nearly here now, so I really don’t have a lot of time to write these blogs at the moment. I plan to make some more articles in the future, and I have some ideas about what I want to write about but finding the right photos for these articles takes hours. So I will only be doing some articles when I have some downtown. I do plan to re-edit the lessons in the future and find better example photos. I may combine all the lessons into a single pdf for download as well.
But until I get around to doing that, keep shooting.