Why you should shoot small bands
So many new music photographers just want to shoot the big bands all the time. They simply don’t care about the smaller bands and ignore them. I shoot all the small bands I can find. I think shooting small bands is extremely important if you want to get a career in music photography. Whenever I meet a new photographer and he just wants to shoot the big bands and work at big festivals, all I can think is “Great, another fanboy with a camera”.
All the musicians in this post have come from small bands, which most photographers did not even bother to shoot yet most of these musicians have all help me out in the past. The simple truth is not ever band will make it to the big time. Most never make it at all, but musicians have to make a living and many of them take part-time jobs in the music industry.
One of the first jobs that are common for musicians to take is stage management. I often get special access to stages and one of the reason is that the stage managers know me because I have shot them in their own small bands many times before.
Some musicians become music teachers and their students often form bands that need a photographer to shoot them. Other musicians work as volunteers at music festivals or music companies. But the key point to all of this is that most musicians will work in the music industry at some point in time and they will be in a position to help you out.
Now when I shoot smaller bands, as a general rule, I don’t charge them for their photos. They don’t have a lot of money and the little bit of money they could give me is not worth it. I would much rather build a solid connection with them and I would rather use my photos as an ice-breaker to form some kind of bond. I usually use social media to decide if I am going to charge band money for their photos or not. So if I am dealing with a western band, if they don’t have 25,000 followers on one of their social media accounts, then I will give them the photos to use on the internet for free. When I deal with a Chinese band, I usually look for 50,000 followers as China is a country with a large population so it is easier to build up a following. Although I will give them the photos for free to use on the internet, if they want to use it in print then they still got to pay. Most of these small bands just want to use the photos for the social media profiles so they would seldom want to pay for that.
I will say this, research a band you are going to be shooting carefully. There are musicians out there they will want everything for free just because they are famous. With the photo above, I had a major fight with this musician. He plays in one of the oldest and most popular metal bands in China, they make a ton of money and he wanted the photo for free for his guitar company to use in a print advertisement and I refused. Don’t cave in and give them your work for free. They won’t give you their music for free so why should you give them your work for free. The music industry is a very small family sometimes and musicians talk to each other. If you give your work away to some big bands, then the others will expect you to give them free work as well. I have always made it very clear to the bands that I shoot, small bands get things for free in exchange for future help, big bands must pay for their photos. No one gives me trouble with this now in China and I am one of the few photographers here in China that actually sells their photos to Chinese bands. Most of the other Chinese photographers have always given away their work for free and make money through newspapers and online websites because they continuously gave their work away to the artists for free. Respect your work and respect yourself.
To wrap this up, don’t forget the small bands. They give you practice to hone your skills and they give you the ability to form the social connections that you need to make money in the very competitive music photography field. You can take the greatest photo of all time, but if you got no one to sell it too, then what’s the point. Without the social component, there are no professional photographers.