Working With Musicians

What You Should Know Part 1

3:54 pm

Feb 12, 2020

Extract

I never thought that writing a blog about working with musicians would be something added to my list of “been there done that.” Heck, I didn’t even think getting paid to present an entire 2-hour workshop on this topic would be at all possible.
I never thought that writing a blog about working with musicians would be something added to my list of “been there done that.” Heck, I didn’t even think getting paid to present an entire 2-hour workshop on this topic would be at all possible. And here we are. I have added both to my list. Before I go on, I’d like to avoid being understood as cocky. I am absolutely blown away by the fact that I have been lucky enough to have worked with some of South Africa’s most famous artists. It is a unique and wonderful honour whenever I’m on that stage. Few things can compete with the sheer exhilaration of being part of such a great act.
How Do You Do This, Even? Okay, I get asked this question a lot. How did you even get in with these performers? Answering that question has two parts.

Part 1

I managed to connect with the right people. Right about here, I’d love to add that quote of “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” And, although that is true, there is a very valid case for the “what you know” part. See, I was only lucky enough to connect with the right people because of my presence on social media, which I worked damn hard for. Part one has amounted to no newfound information. I apologise and back we go to the who. 

Who is who (I know you hummed, in the zoo)? Well, we know him as Robbie Spooner (Bro, if you’re reading this, thank you) and he is only one of the nicest people and best drummers I have ever met. Rob’s skill on the drums has been blowing my mind since 2016 when he contacted me to the photographer for his band Opposite The Other (they’re dope, check them out here). What he also mentioned is that they would be covering my fee in conjunction with some guy named Matthew Mole (fangirl). I photographed the event, started editing and sent the final selects with no real expectation other than a heartwarming “we love them dude” from Rob. What I received went along the lines of: 

“Bro you are the best, we love them and I have given your number to Matthew, he also digs the shots.”

I had to consume and unhealthy amount of sugar water after that message. I had been a fan of Matthew’s music since I discovered him on iTunes in 2014. I was 18 years old and it was one of the first albums I ever bought with my own cash. And that’s saying a lot. When I was 18, cash was hard to come by, to put it lightly. 

Insert iMessage message tone and the notification reading “Matthew Mole” (Robbie did give me his number to make sure I knew who’d be messaging). I was stunned. Matthew loved my work and was blown away by my ability to photograph at night. And this is how I landed the “who you know” part of connecting with musicians. In order to photograph for these amazing artists, you have to find a way to be recognised. The only way you will achieve this is through determination and skill. Your work will speak for itself.

Part 2

I touched on skill above. But, it’s worth delving deeper into the particulars that you should consider. Of course, you have to be skilled. Not only should you understand the advanced aspects of camera settings and composition, but you should also be confident with seeing your abilities challenged to the max. Photographing a concert is about way more than pointing and shooting. It’s literally like taking care of that baby from The Incredibles. You’re working with an unstable superhero that can explode at any time. The worst part is that you have no way of controlling this beast . Here are some of the things that can go wrong:

  • You were so nervous that you left your memory card at home.
  • The health and safety inspector hates your guts for no apparent reason, so he tells the security guards to escort you off the property.
  • The stage manager has no clue who you are, so he asks the security guards to remove you.
  • The main stage guards don’t know who you are, so they ask… wait. They escort you back to your car.
  • You trip on a random cable (I promise you, it’s like a minefield). Let’s just roll with this one. That cable could be connected to so much. So much, I tell you. You do not want this to happen.
  • Some drunk chop spills their drinks all over your uninsured gear. Bummer.

I’ll stop there and not for lack of scenarios that can go wrong. Mainly because I think you get the point. It’s physically and mentally draining to photograph a concert. If you’re not skilled and you lack confidence in your ability, you’re going to mess it up. If you mess it up, the possibility of being hired diminishes.

quote

Photographing a concert is about way more than pointing and shooting. It’s literally like taking care of that baby from The Incredibles.

quote

Building your skill

Building your skill level is the natural question that will derive from parts 1 and 2. How do you go become recognised enough to be booked as a concert photographer who can manage the skill required? Well, the first piece of advice applies to all good things in life. My dad taught me this: 

The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.

In other words, you have to work hard. You’ll have to invest the long hours of climbing in order to get the goal you really want. I realise that’s bogus advice without a couple of top tips. So here ya go:

1. Go to music festivals that allow you to take in your camera. Events like Joburg Day allow you to take your gear in. This is the perfect opportunity to get shots. Being in and amongst the crowd will also test your ability to handle the pressure. Watch out for the drunk chops, please. Stay away from all liquids.

2. Contact festivals and ask if you can photograph. Yup, you’re going to do this for free. But, if your existing portfolio has decent photographs, most festivals will give you a media pass. They love getting free content. Disclaimer, you’re going to completely overshoot this show and spend a million years on editing. In fact, you’ll still find new photos to edit half a decade later. I am speaking from personal experience here.

 

3. Send images to artists. Again, don’t expect any compensation for this. This is actually how I managed to get booked by one of the coolest bands ever, GoodLuck. I was booked to photograph for Gangs of Ballet and Jeremy Loops at Joburg day. As a GoodLuck fan, I went out of my way to shoot their set as well. At home, I edited and sent the files to the band. As an already established concert photographer, they really appreciated my work. A couple of months later, they booked me.

4. Asking is free. Slide into a musicians DMs. You might just get lucky and land a gig.

5. Find smaller acts. Listen, it might suck to work when all your friends are partying. It might suck even more to work while you are partying at the same event they’re all at. But hey, if you’re serious about photographing musicians, this will be your life. There are always small acts happening in any city. Find and photograph them.

Alrighty, that’s about it for this blog.

Thanks for reading all of this stuff. I really hope it helps or entertains you.
To be continued…

About the author

Louw Lemmer

Gauteng, South Africa

Louw Lemmer is a South African photographer and creative director who tells vibrant visual stories that captivate both mind and soul. Within subject-matter and colour-grade, he sets himself apart by constantly developing a unique style.

Like and comment