Exposure: Discussions on Photography and the Music Industry

In Australia it is likely that about 95% of photographers in the pit at any music gig are working for free, for the love of it.

Most fans think look at us and think we are living the high life, getting AAA access, when in fact many musicians look at us like we are in the way and they can’t wait for us to leave (haha, it can be awkward!). Yes, we get to see lots of great gigs, but there is so much more that goes into being a live music photographer than most people realise. We get to gigs early to get prime shooting positions, and to shoot up-and-coming support bands bands, sometimes we get escorted in and out of venues – having to wait outside for each bands set to commence, or we get kicked out of the venue after we have shot our “three songs, no flash”. Once we get home we work for hours editing shots and getting them online as soon as possible after the show – all because we love photography and we love live music.

I have been shooting live music for online publications since 2008. I love it, in part because it’s a huge challenge! You never know what you are going to get until the show starts, and even then it can all change in a second. It is not easy, and it’s even harder to do well.

As with all of the photographers I know, while we do it for the love of it, we would also love to make careers from it – paid careers! Photographers are often asked to shoot “for exposure” or “for credit”, with the intention being that people will then see those shots and offer you paid work. But paid photography work within the music industry is so rare, and it is becoming more commonplace for a photographer to be required to sign away the ownership of their images, or their ability to use the images for any other purpose beyond a singular editorial use, before being allowed to shoot a performance.

I have signed contracts that have:

  • prevented me from using images in my own portfolio,
  • stated I must hand over the “negatives” of my images to the band if ever requested to do so,
  • stated that bands can use any of my images, for any reason, (think albums, posters etc) without any payment or credit,
  • and there was one particular band whose contract stated that they “shall have the right to exploit all or a part of the Photos in any and all media, now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe, in perpetuity, in all configurations as [they] determine, without obtaining my consent and without any payment or consideration therefor”.

Yep, it can get pretty intense! 

We all understand that there are people out there who do the wrong thing, and that these sort of people are, at least in part, the reason why there are such tight conditions on some of these contracts. It’s completely understandable that an artist wants to protect their image. But taking away the ownership and copyright from photographers, for images that they have usually shots for free, has created an industry that has become completely devalued. I have lost count of the number of times I have received an enquiry from a band asking me to come along and shoot their gig, only to never hear from them again as soon as I provide them with a quote to do so.

The expectation is often that photographers will shoot and provide their images for free, in exchange for getting to go to the gig. And while getting to watch a gig is definitely a perk (and it is greatly appreciated – there isn’t a single live music photographer I know that wasn’t first a music fan, you would not pick this path if you weren’t into music), it doesn’t cover the cost of my Bachelor’s degree in photography, by $7000 kit of camera gear, my laptop and editing software, my camera insurance or public liability insurance, and that is before we even get to my 10 years of experience, my skills, expertise, ability… my art.

So what I am hoping to do with this project is better understand all perspectives on:

  • the relationship between a live performance, and the images of that performances
  • the art of the musician, and the art of the photographer
  • the businesses surrounding music and photography.

To open up a conversation that will allow us ALL to better understand the value in this dynamic, and how musicians and photographers can come together to help each other, and our industries!