Making Money After Shooting Concerts For Free

A reader sent me the following question:

I work with a local magazine to get into the best concerts in exchange for them using my images on their blog for free. My goal was to build my portfolio and market the pictures to the artists publicists in hopes of getting paid. I recently found out that one of the artist took some of my images off the mag’s site and placed it on their website and Facebook. Credit was given but no money. They have since taken the images down from their sites.

I recently photographed a well known artist and used the fact that I was working with the mag to get a photo pass. The publicist is now wanting the link to the pictures on the mag’s site. I have final edit of what I send into the mag and was thinking of keeping the best images for myself and my marketing to publicists and record companies. My question is: Do you think that would rub the publicist the wrong way? (Sending two links 1) the mag link with decent images 2) a protected link with the best images that are watermarked and are only accessible with payment) I am new to concert photography and don’t know how this works. Is it a common practice for publicists to use the photographers images for free?

I appreciate any help you can give. I want to be smart about protecting my work and keeping my music contacts- because I do not have that many.

I thought I’d ask music photographer Jacob Blickenstaff about this because he’s written some good articles about the music photography business over on the photoletariat (here):

There are a lot of issues in here. But to answer the first question directly, I would assume if the publicist wants to see images that they potentially need them for something, usually an image request from another publication. Just because they want to see them doesn’t mean you have any obligation to provide anything for free. As long as you shot for the website and followed through by sending them, you have fulfilled your obligations. The idea of ‘holding back’ the best images may be a mistake, you should always represent yourself publicly with your best work. If you are sending the publication mediocre images, that might hurt your relationship with them. But if you have alternates or do any interesting work backstage or behind the scenes, I think it is fine to hold on to those if it is not needed for the assignment.

Publicists will frequently ask for free images, they work for the bands and labels and their only concern is exposure for their clients, the priority is not making sure the photographer gets paid. The photographer can frequently be put in a tough spot where the publicist needs an image to send to a publication, the publication expects it for free, and then the photographer is pressured to give away the photo to keep everyone happy. This isn’t a great business model for the photographer. The best thing to do in general is to reach out and show the work to the publicist and labels and artists but be clear that if they need use of the images for publicity then there will be a licensing fee involved. Publicists, while good contacts and gatekeepers to the artists, don’t have independent budgets to pay photographers, it’s not their call.

As a general note, I’m not sure who pays for concert photography anymore. There are very few paid assignments for shooting concerts, and the market for current music stock is so saturated that a photographer is lucky to get something picked up for a fee here and there. Getting the photo pass is easy, getting paid anything afterward is hard.

There Are 28 Comments On This Article.

  1. I’m a Montreal concert photographer. Music photography does not pay. Use it to boost your portfolio. Consider it marketing. Who pays for music anymore? Same for music photography.

    Publications barely pay as everyone wants to photograph famous people and many will do it for free. The same images are gotten at almost every concert so why would anyone pay, including the artists? They just won’t use your photo, they’ll find another person who wants to be published. No photo has to be amazing for it to be published either. They ask the one fan who got the one shot at some concert if they want to be published instead of you. Because every concert is a proliferation of cameras. Heck, I’ve seen amazing shots off iphones at shows.

    Add to the fact, with accreditation, I get 3 songs to shoot the concert and can’t pull out my camera for the rest of the show. If I get caught, I get banned from shooting future concerts. Meanwhile, a fan with a dslr can photo the entire show? 2000 photos later, they’re bound to get 3 good ones which they’ll post to the bands’ facebook page.

    I’m speaking for the US and Canada. Maybe it’s different in the rest of the world.

    If anything since you don’t get paid for the work, make the deal that all the rights and property of the photos are yours and you’re giving the magazine usage. THEN if you’re lucky maybe some fans will buy your photos.

    AND ALWAYS put your best photos online. ALWAYS. If you publish mediocre work, HOW will anyone know you’re a good photographer? They will just assume you’re mediocre if they see mediocre work. Since no one pays, those awesome photos you took will stay on that hard drive.

    Find other ways to make money than being a concert photographer. If you must, work really hard, love to do because you just do and hope someone notices and maybe you’ll get a job. Most likely, you’ll get other gigs because someone has seen your work.

    FWIW, most concert photographers I know have day jobs or supplement with some kind of freelance or part time work.

    • @evablue, if you sell the pics to fans wouldn’t you have to give the artist royalties from the sale? Don’t they (the artist) have to approve the use of their likeness for commercial use or is it different since the concert would be considered editorial? I’m wondering cause I have some awesome concert pics that I could make a few bucks on but I’m concerned about artist approval.

    • @evablue, It is exactly the same in Europe. Concert photography does not pay. If you want a career as a concert shooter, I suggest you get a day job. Like pizza delivery. It pays better. No one makes any real money doing it.

      You *can* make some money shooting promo shots (from promotional shots they give to magazines, to stuff they use and posters or even album artwork).

    • @evablue,
      Concert photography doesn’t pay anymore-as well as most photographs of celebrities, because you have agencies such as Wireimage and Getty giving images away for pennies. They have ruined the ENTIRE business

  2. Given the number of restrictions that most artist have you sign prior to a concert
    engagement I’m surprised you have any rights to use the images other than on the
    magazine site and certainly not for commercial resale.

    Holding back quality images for future revenue will only hurt your reputation as a
    professional and as noted does not get your best work in front of those who might
    hire you in the future.

    Just a reminder to make sure that you check the fine print on the back of any
    press credential or stage pass as the talent may be able to come back and ask for your
    images at anytime without compensation. Also, the promoter has little to no authority to authorize your use of images. It’s the talent reps that you need to be talking with as the set the guidelines.

    • It’s crazy to me that ANYONE signs those release forms. I understand wanting to shoot shows, but those releases are pretty onerous. I got one recently that included this gem:

      3. Artists shall have the right in perpetuity throughout the universe to manufacture, distribute, exploit, edit, advertise, display, sell, license or otherwise DISPOSE OF the photographs and derivatives derived therefrom in any manner or media whatsoever including without limitation, in connection with any album, commercial merchandise, websites, marketing, publicity and promotional materials relating to Artist’s career.

      That is just insane. I asked if the release was modifiable (it wasn’t), then politely declined the photo pass. I was on assignment, but luckily the Creative Director got my back when I showed him the release.

      • @Mark Murrmann,
        Excellent point about asking for modification on the release, sometimes they will accept changes and always good to check.
        I’m with you and your CD…it’s just not worth the challenges down the road. As a photo editor I made that mistake once and had to research images from a concert shot years prior because a staffer did not notice the small print on the credential.

      • @Mark Murrmann,

        I had Better Homes and Gardens contact me about using my Japanese Garden in their magazine. They then sent me a release for that gave them rights to all images of my garden for perpetuity and use in advertising, marketing, resale and future magazines. I told them I’m a photographer and ask what they where willing to pay for the exclusive rights. That was the end of that. This issue of rights is hurting photographers because everyone in media is now having shooters sign these rights over. I used to see my rights and stock as an annuity now I just see it as a bygone era.

  3. Venue legal release forms are to be avoided at all costs, otherwise you’re being turned into a slave/hobbyist/whatever

    Once a year, I shoot a music festival, I know the people who produce it and they’re good clients with a bulimic business model…. i.e. lots of ticket sales but lots of expenses….

    They’re great clients because I’m willing to do the shots that most others aren’t… like try to get a sponsor’s sign in the shot while a big crowd is obviously very happy in the same frame….

    So you have to just ask yourself, what if you were your client, what would you pay for, and what would you assume is everywhere for free?

  4. Danny Hurley

    I shoot concerts, about one/two a month, for The Observer Blog, a division of the Village Voice. I do it to hear bands I love, for free, and get paid a little for my trouble. I always ask for an extra ticket for my assistant and usually get it. Since I really don’t need an assistant for this type of gig, I usually bring a friend if he/she is willing to buy the beers and nachos, and watches my back. I have a long list of friends willing to tag along, some offer to pay, Me.
    When asked to sign something, I tell them that I have been instructed to sign nothing. (The Mag/blog didn’t instruct me, I instructed me). When they say I can’t shoot, I say “fine, no free publicity for the tour” and start to walk out. Bands make most their money touring , and they will not want to miss the PR. This has worked every time. I have more than one occasion gone to the after parties.
    Several Bands have asked for pics and I say yes if it is for PR purposes online only, along with my name and copyright. I don’t put this work in the portfolio, and don’t want to shoot bands as I have discovered that there is no money there.. I have have gotten paid gigs elsewhere, from fans or managers of the band. Being a work from home Dad, I find this a great escape from the usual Exec Portraiture.
    One other note, a friend shoots allot of concerts, prints out 8x10s and has a star sign them at the next gig, then sells em on ebay, and donates them to charity.

    • @Danny’
      It’s great fun and if you love music it is a wonderful way to help new artist also. I did the same thing photographing jazz musicians coming into the Beacon, NY area.
      I watched an interview with blues guitarist, Joe Bonamassa and he encourages fans to shoot images off cell and tweet as it just adds to on-line sales. Three becomes 300. KISS is another band that is great at giving photographers credit on blogs and web.

  5. I think the key with shooting shows is not to expect to get paid by the publicist/artist/band for an image that 15-50 other photographers with credentials also captured, that will be captured at other shows, or has been already shot in past shows. If you’re shooting something unique that nobody else seems to capture and also looks appealing, someone will reach out if you publicize the work well enough.

    If you are sent there by a publication, hopefully you’ve worked out a deal with them since they are likely to be a for-profit business. If not, ask yourself what your big-picture goal is?

    Are you passionate about concert/music photography or do you mistakenly think it’s a cruise down Getting Paid Street? I spent about five years shooting a music story that was pretty much done for free but it has turned into a much bigger ball of snow thanks to the right mix of experimentation, ideas, and marketing.

  6. The guys over at FStoppers.com did a great Vlog posting on concert and sports photographer David Bergman. Like most areas of photography, it seems to be part “Who you know”, part “Bringing something unique to the table”, and part “Being consistently good at what you do”.

    Have all that, and you can make money shooting just about anything.

    David Bergman shoots Bon Jovi
    http://vimeo.com/14913941

  7. Every once in a while I a photographer I’ve met online will chat me and say they’re moving to Nashville, where I’m at, to become a live concert photographer.

    I try to tell them to broaden the ol’ business plan.

  8. This is REALLY interesting. I agree that its tough to get paid with a photo a lot of other quality photographers produced too. I’ve found that even with unique portrait sittings, bands and publicists expect to use the photographs in perpetuity, for free. Thats when it gets really tough for me. But these guys are musicians. The argument of would you let someone use a track you wrote in a movie or commercial for free? usually gets them to sympathize. tough business trying to please everyone though.

  9. music shooter

    Just to add to the roundtable so people can get a sense of what’s out there within the realm of live music photography:

    I’d estimate I’ve made about 50k (gross) in the last 4 years shooting shows (that’s not each year, I mean combined). And, of course, I have about 10k worth of equipment I rely on to do this work.

    I rarely get paid more than 100/show if it’s for editorial, but there aren’t that many paying editorial gigs out there. One of my regular gigs only pays 50, and I also have to do a written component – that’s usually about 10 hours worth of work, for 50 dollars! But I pitch my own content so I essentially get to cover whatever I want and it’s a prestigious publication, so I do keep doing it. Sometimes, if it’s a festival or something of that nature, I’ll get an extra 150.

    One editor at another mag will get me into to anything, but only on spec. When it pays, it’s 1000/per image, but that only happens a few times a year. And, 99% of the time, the images they buy weren’t from a show they assigned, they were shot independently (whether by me or someone else).
    On one isolated occasion, a mag gave me 500 to shoot a live show with a promise to double the fee if they printed the pics (they didn’t).

    But there are other ways to make money doing live music photos. Sometimes, if its a sponsored event and the sponsor hires me, then it’s 200-300.

    And today I got an email from a band who saw my work online and wanted me to shoot their live show, for money – that’s a first, but if you marketed the right way, there’s prob a market for that approach (albeit a low-paying one). Some bands or their agents will also see photos online and buy them for album artwork – usually not more than few hundred bucks. Also, a freelance designer working for levi’s – a friend – used some of my flickr images as source material for t-shirt designs (no recognizable faces in the pics so no release needed). That paid 200 per photo and they bought several. (what gap should have done with the the jag photo). I also have a non-exclusive agreement with a music photo agency that will pay me to shoot whatever I want once or twice a month – the catch is they get permanent syndication rights – the payment varies on their percent – but the range is only 100-200. There are also decent paying gigs out there as official shooters for a festival or for summer series type concerts.

    Overall, it’s a bleak picture financially even if you’re at the top of your game.
    I don’t know anyone in the world who makes a living shooting live music and nothing else. You could pair it with shooting weddings though, or interiors, or portraits, or advertising. Or any day job in any industry, if you’re willing to be sleep-deprived! I think it’s important to remember how much the musicians your photographing are getting paid. In most cases, it’s really not that much, cause that industry is hurting too.

  10. I wrote a post about making money shooting live music a little while ago.

    I’ve found that with the rise of music events being sponsored by brands, there’s money to be made shooting for the PR of those events. So say Red Bull is sponsoring a show, Red Bull PR will want photos featuring their branding for PR purposes. There is usually decent budget allocated for that.

    I also make decent money shooting officially for various promoters and venues.

    If i was to rely only on editorial rates (which is usually nothing or next to it) i’d have no chance making any money shooting live music.

    That said, the money i do make on live music isn’t enough to live off, i do all sorts of other shooting for that.

    • @Dan,

      This. The only people who have less money than photographers are musicians. Hook up with sponsors as PR. You’ll get the platinum treatment at the show to boot.

      It’s like robbing banks… it’s where the money is.

  11. Sometimes, I think precedent that music photographers go about the business of producing free photos fakes people out about the value of things, and that imagry of an artist (particularly a lessor known) is one of the most valuable commodities if it’s done right. I’ve talked to people that say that I’ve made the best shot they’ve seen out of thousands of shots of a certain artist, but that they can’t pay even a small amount for it (and expect to splash it all around for free as the banner for the artist web site, in a magazine, or in the press), because that’s what everyone else does. If what they say is true (sometimes, I wonder if it’s a line) — that it’s really the best shot of an artist, then you’d think that would be worth it’s weight in gold.

  12. shooting live music is a joke unless you are with the band and can get unique behind the scenes/all acess stuff. honestly i wouldn’t bother if you’re trying to make any money. if you’re doing it for the love of it, then by all means have fun.

    i was in that mindset for a while, hoping spin would pick up a shot of mine for their live photo section for a few bucks. the payoff was not worth the miserable sweaty time in the pit, unless i was absolutely in love with the band.

    i license musician portraits through a well-known agency and expecting any real payoff from even that is pipe dream.

    the key is to know a band, be a really good photographer, and go on tour with them / get all access at their shows and shoot as far away from the chimping bloggers in the pit as possible.

  13. Music photography isn’t a lucrative living by any means – in my experience – but you can still scrape by. I shoot anywhere from 8-10 paying concerts gigs a month, more in the summer. Plus a few promotional shoots (for album covers, EPKs, etc) a month. And a few random licenses for stuff from my backcatalog. I’m not on any sort of agency, but I imagine if I was, I would sell more stuff… I have no idea.

    BUT if you think you are going to achieve even modest success by going to the same shows and covering the same bands everyone else is, though, you are wrong. If you love music and are a part of a music scene and the bands know you and will text you to let you know of something cool going on that you might not have heard about and maybe you should come take a few pics, if you are shooting bands in your area BEFORE they are big (if they ever get big) just because you think they are fun, interesting bands, if you are out so much that the staff at the clubs start to know you and let you shoot from spots the other shooters can’t get to just because you are there every night anyway… then you can start to get some interesting stuff, develop a body of work and a style, and with that will come paying gigs. Takes time though, and a love for it. But it’s possible. But don’t do it if you expect to make a career out of it. Wrong reasons.

    OH and if you expect to get paid, you will have to do everything I mention above AND realize you will often need to go see shows you dont really like, because often those are the ones that pay. Because every staff photographer for every publication in your area wants to shoot Lady Gaga, but none of them want to shoot the local gospel choir’s season premiere, so your editor calls you to see if you wanna do it… That’s just how it works! However, I’ve shot a lot of shows like this – things I never would have gone to on my own in a million years – and often end up having a great time.

  14. Over the past 3 or 4 years, I’ve tried to figure out how to make Music / Concert photography profitable. As house photographer for the biggest and best venues in my town, I shoot many many notable bands, but have a very hard time finding any editorial buyers.

    Neither venues are willing to pay cash, they figure there are 1,000 folks out there who will do it for free. Maybe I shouldn’t take the gigs…but they are right, if I don’t do it, someone else will. I’ve come to accept it for what it is, a free show, and good marketing/publicity/branding for me.

    Once in a while I get low paying newspaper and magazine work, but it’s far from profitable. However, I’m determined to find a way to make concerts a profit center. I study what other concert photogs are doing constantly, and have asked advice from seasoned pros. So far I haven’t unlocked any big doors. Will report back *when* I do.

    The bottom line is: I love music. It’s fun. I’ll keep doing it as long as it remains fun.

  15. just thought I would add this to the discussion: I was hoping to shoot SXSW this year…I sent in my request for credentials to SXSW informing them that I would be shooting for a photo news agency/wire (whom has been in the business for over 20 years) and the response was that they do not give out “complimentary” passes to news agencies but that they could offer me a camera bag “pass” for $395…wtf?, seriously

    I said no thanks.

    the ridiculousness of this kind of greed and selection(ism) of who will be allowed to cover the event is disgusting if you ask me…its a reputable newswire for christ sake, in business to provide images to the world – ie PUBLICITY

    anyway, over the years I just sort of keep in the back of my head the organizations who act this way and put my efforts to ones that have some soul left…they are there

    same goes for the comments above about offering a “free pass” to shoot a concert and then take your images or ask you to sign something saying that they can use the images since they provided you the access…fuck that, access is everything but they/clubs/labels/whoever have to realize that just cause you give someone access doesn’t mean shit if they don’t have the skills…so how about you treat us with respect – for our craft, for our desire to stay in business – and we will show you respect by providing the industry with amazing images for a fair price

  16. I’ve made a little bit of money with concert photography, but I’m certainly not paying the mortgage with it. Best paying gig? I shot The Temptations for ten minutes, ands was paid $600.00. Those gigs are very few and very, very far in between, though.

    I’ll occasionally sell prints to a band, but that’s not “big” money at all. The last batch was a couple of 8×10’s and an 11×14. Total pay: $80.00

    I’m doing a CD shoot in Texas in June. The artist is paying $1,000.00 plus expenses, which include airfare (I’m in San Diego, California), rental car and hotel. I’ll pay for my own meals.

    A local free paper pays $80.00 for concert reviews that include a photo, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll pick up the review (they use them on their website). I’ve gotten a few of those but, again, not a lot of money, and not very often.

    I’ve shot countless bands, and countless “national acts”. While I’ve gotten “exposure” from it (I have shots on the websites of Barenaked Ladies, America, and others), the money just hasn’t been there. I shoot because I love shooting concerts. I was a performing musician (guitarist) in a band for a long time, and I enjoy that environment. Being a photographer, though, makes unloading the truck at the end of the night a LOT easier.

    The way I look at it is like this: Plenty of photographers shoot pictures of flowers or mountains. They don’t get paid for those, they just shoot because they enjoy it. I’m doing nothing different, really, it’s just that the subject is different…