How to get a music pass
The all might music pass, the golden key that lets you shoot a concert or festival. Some people would pay a small fortune for one, while others try to fake their own passes to get in. I have been shoot festivals for years now and just shoot my 700 music festival recently so I have a lot of experience getting passes or even shooting with no passes. I would do a future article on how to shoot a festival with no pass, but today we are going to talk about the boring task of getting a pass. It is not easy and even with years of experience, it is still difficult sometimes and you may need some luck if you are applying for a pass by yourself.
Now there are three avenues to get an official pass. The first place you should try is the event organizer. They handle most of the passes that will be issued out. The second place to get a pass would be through an affiliate such as a newspaper or a magazine. The third traditional option would be through a band. We will look at each option and see how to go about applying. I will give examples of emails that I would send as well as files I would send to each option.
So the first option is to shoot for the event so you got to get hold of the event organizer. Most events don’t have house photographers, and if they do, you will seldom get a pass. The most difficult thing about applying to an event organizer is getting their contact information. You need a telephone number or an email. I prefer to use email though but the first thing you got to do is get the event organizers contact information. The way I would get the event email is by looking who is selling tickets to the event or a music company name on the poster for the event. I would start off with the ticket sellers first. I would call ticket sellers and telling them that I work for XYZ(any name you like) magazine and I need to contact the event organizer. Nine times out of ten, they will give me an email or telephone number without asking me any more questions. If they cannot give you the details, then I would try a music companies name that is on the poster for the event. I would google the music company and find their website and contact them, telling them the same story about working for XYZ and that I need to contact the festival organizer. One of these two methods will almost always work and if it does not, then I would turn to a band that is playing and send them a message asking for the organizer information. The bands will always have that information, but I don’t like to contact bands too much for this kind of information as they are busy and this stuff is annoying to them.
In the first email to the organizer, I would introduce myself very quickly and give him 1o photos of my work. You want your text message to be very short and easy to read. No more than 2 or 3 sentences. If you write a paragraph to them, they will not read it. They will delete the email and carry on with their busy lives. The photos that you want to include must show a combination of shooting artists and the festival. I try to go for 5 shots of artists and 5 shots of crowd or festival photos. Don’t send more than 10 photos and don’t send a link to the photos online. I can send a link to your portfolio at the end of the email but I have never had a single event organizer go look at my portfolio. They are too busy and a photographer is just not that important to them. Just send them some small photos, each photo no bigger than 1mb for each. That way they can download the photos quickly and look at them. One last important point, don’t forget your contact details at the end of the email. It has got to be easy for them to say YES to you. They are always looking for a reason to say NO, they are programmed to say NO all the time, so make it easy for them to say yes.
Example photos that I may include:
The second option is to find a local newspaper or magazine and offer to shoot the event for them for very little or even free for a pass. You will need to contact the magazine or newspaper editor to get hired for the job. If they hire you, they will organize the pass for you, so that makes this my favorite way to get the pass. Finding a magazine or newspaper editors email address is simple. Just buy a copy of their media and it should be on the first or second page. If you can’t find their magazine or newspaper to buy, you can use google to look them up but not all magazines and small newspapers will have a website though. Once you have the email address, you want to write the editor a small email.
The email has to be short as well, no more than a couple of sentences and you want to send ten photos again. This time you need to select 8 artist photos, make sure all the photos are in portrait orientation and two festival or crowd shots. Most magazines and newspapers will want photos of the biggest artists playing but they will want the vertical shots. Horizontal shots take up to much space. The crowd shots can be horizontal and they would normally print those small but the artists need to printed nice and big so everyone can see their face, so keep all the shots of the artists in vertical or portrait orientation. Big magazines and newspapers will have their own staff photographers or freelancers that they regularly use, so I suggest that you try the smaller ones first.
Now if both methods have failed and you still don’t have a pass, you can try to get in with a band. But this is much more difficult as you need to have some kind of relationship with a band. If you just cold call on a band and ask them for a pass, my best guess is that they would not even reply to you. But if you have shot some small venues or bars before, you may have shoot one of the smaller bands opening the festival or one of the smaller bands you have shot before may know one of the bands and they can introduce you to someone who can help. The music world is a very small world and everyone knows everyone.
Personally, I don’t like going in with a band at a music festival. A concert is fine, but music festivals can be a problem though. A lot of the time, if a band gets a pass for you, it will be an artist pass. An artist pass will get you into the festival, it will get you backstage but a lot of the time, it will not get you into the pit to shoot, especially if security is very tight. To contact bands can be difficult because most public contact information for a band is not direct contact to the band. Public contact information usually goes to the bands’ manager and trust me on this, they say NO to every single thing. So if you want to get in with a band, you have to know the contact details of the band members, you can try contact band members with a pm on Facebook or Instagram, but make sure you know them, if you are just cold calling them, they will delete you or block you. I seldom send photos to bands when I ask for a pass, if I do send anything to them, it is tear sheets from media organizations that have published me in the past. Most bands have thousands of photos of themselves playing live, so they really don’t care about your shots, it is only what you can do for them, that is the only thing that matters, so getting them published is important, it is something they want. Getting another cool shot of them playing live, they simply don’t give a fuck.
Getting tear sheets are becoming difficult lately as so many publications don’t give them out anymore, and you have to constantly ask for them. I guess I only get one tear sheet out of every 50 publications that I shoot for. When you apply to a band, bands will want proof that you can get them published and it also helps them make sure you are not some crazy fanboy trying to get close to them.
Those are the three big methods to get a pass, but there are still some alternative ways to get a pass, but these methods are less successful though. Firstly you can find some music blogs and offer to shoot for them if you can use their name to get a pass. This used to work well, but lately, most shows will have their own photographers and they would rather just send photos to the blog than have another photographer in the pit, so I would guess this only works about 5% of the time now.
The second method that may work and I have used this before, is to register as a volunteer at the festival.
Most volunteers will get a volunteer pass and that pass can get you into many places, you may be able to get into the pit early in the day to shoot but you would not be able to shoot in the evening when the really big bands start to play.
If you get your pass, next time I will tell you what to do when you get to collect the pass but if all of these methods fail, then you got to ask yourself, are you good enough to be shooting at the festival? Maybe you are just unlucky or maybe your work is just not good enough right now. The music photography world can be extremely unforgiving. If you shoot an event and your photos are terrible, you will never be able to get back into that event again. Good photos are forgotten in a second but bad photos are remembered forever in the gatekeepers minds. So if you are not ready to shoot in the big shows, that is ok. Spend time shooting small bars and venues and build your skills. Rome was not built in a day, and neither should your portfolio. Shoot smart and build your career well.