July 25, 2014

Every band needs good photos… no, really.

No, we’re totally serious. That shot you guys have of the four of you against your neighbor’s brick wall is actually awful, it’s just that no one has the heart to tell you. But hey, that’s what we’re here for.

Let’s start with what it’s like when bands don’t have good photos. We’ll use the early 90′s band Bad 4 Good, shown below, as our first example.

This "awesome" band photo courtesy of Bad 4 Good, circa 1992.

Okay, so we’ll get the easy stuff out of the way first. The hair is awful, the outfits are worse. The technical quality of the photos is a bit lacking; the lighting is terrible, their posing makes no sense, you can barely see the instruments, and there is no proportion on the guy farthest to the left.

You see, ultimately, your band photos have to say something about you as a band. The only things this picture says are nasty snarky comments that were only relevant about 15 years ago.

Photos are intended to inform your audience about your music, and really about you as people. Never underestimate that function. The thing is, your listeners are connecting with your music on a personal level. And not to sound too evil, but you really want to exploit that by making the visual representations of your band  reinforce the personal connections they are making.

But all of that sounds really abstract… because it is. Let’s take a look at in a very practical way. We’ll use Bruce Springsteen as our first example. If you haven’t seen the box set that he’s reissued called “The Promise,” it’s pretty amazing, from a visual perspective. The album comes with a notebook that has Bruce’s notes on the albums contained, but it’s not just a notebook, it’s a replication of his actual notebook. This packaging, the pictures, the words, even down to the weight and size of the box set, is completely in-line with his band image (note that the phrase is awfully close to “brand image.” Coincidence?).

He sold over 61,000 of the things in the first few months, btw. Do you think if he had packaged that music into shiny CD packages laced with photos of him looking like Dean Martin, that he would have sold as many copies? Obviously, one can’t know for sure, but I think not. See, It’s not just Bruce’s music that make people want to buy the albums. If it was, they would just buy the songs off of iTunes. Instead, people are going out and buying the physical box set. They want this tangible thing, and it’s because it’s visuals are so in-line with the music and their connection to the artist that it actually enhances their listening experience. Given the way that music is typically bought and sold these days, people going out in their cars to pick up an actual album is more impressive than ever.

Now let’s take another look at a badie…

Phobia's band photo

Phobia's band photo doesn't do much for them.

This band, Phobia, is heralded, “as a patriarch of the American grind scene with over 20 years of proliferation that began with 7″ releases at Relapse Records when the now indie-Goliath was still in its infancy and functioning out of a basement.” In fact, the band just released it’s 23rd record. Have you ever heard of Relapse Records… sure. Have you heard of Phobia? I sure haven’t. And honestly, looking at this promo photo, I kind of don’t want to hear of them. The photo is clearly meant to be dark, but it goes so far as to be almost unviewable. Posing is non-existant, the crop is way too close, there is no diffusion of light, and no real sense of composition. How, I ask, does that help the band?

One response to this is that maybe bands don’t want to look too polished, or overdone some how. I think that’s completely reasonable. But you can have great band photos without really over-doing anything. Let’s look at some good examples…

A band photo done well. -The Bad Beginnings

This photo of The Bad Beggings is an awesome example of a promo shot that isn’t expensive or over done. The band is in their normal clothes and have an amp and a case with them as props. The background is simple and beautiful, and the lighting is minimal but dramatic. And most importantly, it is completely in-line with the band’s grunge rock sound.

The thing I’m trying to point out is that it’s not just about the music, it’s about your whole marketing package. That means you have to have, at minimum:

  • A website
  • A facebook page
  • A bandcamp page

You need content for those places, and they need to be consistent with each other as well your band’s sound. The first, and often easiest way, to make your pages look better is to use good pictures. So, here’s what you need to do.

  1. Start setting aside some of the money you’re getting from the door to pay for a photo shoot. Ideally, have about $100-$200 saved up.
  2. Have each band member look for other band’s photos that they both like and dislike. Combine them all into a folder, pdf, or whatever.
  3. Find about 3 photographers. This is way easier than you think. Talk to other bands who have nice photos. Talk with fine art photographers in your area. Do a search on Google, or look at Craigslist. There are tons of ways to find photographers, and there are a lot of us out there.
  4. Take a good look, as a group, at the photographer’s website and/or portfolio. See what they’ve done for other bands, and if you like it, set up meetings.
  5. At the meetings with these photographers, the first thing you should tell them is your budget, and the first thing you should show them should be the sample photos that you’ve picked out individually. Go through the photos with the photographer, telling them what you do and don’t like about the photos, and how you want to use or avoid those qualities in your photo shoot.
  6. Talk ideas. Ask the photographer to come up with a few thoughts on how they would like you to look. Most importantly, talk with the photographer as they’re going through their vision with you, to make sure that you’re staying on track.
  7. Pick the photographer that you were most comfortable with, and who had the best visual treatment (step 6) for your band. Book the photo shoot, and try to do it within a month of picking your photographer. You want to get it done before you have to spend the budget on something else (which inevitably comes up).

Ideally, you want a photographer that will give you a disc of the high and low resolution images, as well as unlimited use and copy rights. We do that here at my studio, Photolosophys, but it’s not the norm. If you don’t have these rights, you won’t be able to post the images on your website, use them for press kits, or print them as promo photos.

Hopefully, this’ll act as either a tutorial or a wake-up call for some bands. In case of either, feel free to book with us at 614.327.7043 or info@photolosophys.com.

Comments

  1. Sure.... says:

    My bad! Moved for accuracy sake.

    I stopped reading when you implied that a better press photo would get a band that writes 13 second songs more meaningful exposure.

    http://www.myspace.com/phobiagrindcore/music/songs/dick-head-life-68081771

    • I didn’t mean to imply that at all. What I am saying is that, even if they were any good (a question I’m not trying to answer here), their photo doesn’t make me interested in them at all. The photo doesn’t make a bad band good… It just makes a band that is already good more marketable. No photo can keep a band from sucking, and it certainly doesn’t make them create more meaningful songs.

      • Sure.... says:

        You are missing the point still, no one that seriously listens to grindcore is looking at a press photo to figure out if they want to check out a band or not.

        • That may be true, but what about people who don’t seriously listen to it? What about people who don’t know what they’re looking for, except that it’s local? Shouldn’t the imagery that the band uses to market themselves have some resemblance to what it is that they actually do? I think so.

  2. sure... says:

    So the band in the “good photo” actually sits out in fields and points at things? Most underground bands in the heavier genres stand on the merit of what they are doing, if the music is good then it finds the audience. What they look like, or how the film is exposed isn’t going to make or break it for them. Corrupted is a pretty classic example of this. They don’t take professional photos, don’t do interviews and rarely tour but are known world wide.

    The kids that don’t know find out the way everyone else did, through exchanging music/influences with liked minded folks. The internet has made this even easier then ever.

    • Cooter Houston says:

      Does the band in the “bad photo” stand around together in black shirts with their heads slightly tilted, looking mean? Perhaps, but at least the other photo hints that the people in it are actually in a band. I think this is the simple point that Meghan is trying to make. I believe that most people make some sort of judgement or pre-conceived notion about a band if the photo is the first thing they see. If they put no thought or effort into the photo, will their approach to making music be the same way? I have always found it interesting that bands in the harder genres have always used photos that almost intentionally try to use bad photos for some reason. We could orbit the earth with photos of metal dudes in black shirts with other band’s names on them, arms crossed, looking upset about something. I learn little about a band from those photos. It reminds me of the CD covers of the whole rap genre, it’s as if every single one of them was designed by the same person. Using a dollar sign wherever you has an “S”, wearing more gold than Mr. T, and leaning up against a souped up car with a bikini-clad ho-cake. Most of them look, and sound, the same. The few who have broken that mold are making a statement that their music is somehow different than the rest, by way of their photograph – because more often than not – it is.

  3. Dix Mcbridge says:

    Does the band in the “bad photo” stand around together in black shirts with their heads slightly tilted, looking mean? Perhaps, but at least the other photo hints that the people in it are actually in a band. I think this is the simple point that Meghan is trying to make. I believe that most people make some sort of judgement or pre-conceived notion about a band if the photo is the first thing they see. If they put no thought or effort into the photo, will their approach to making music be the same way? I have always found it interesting that bands in the harder genres have always used photos that almost intentionally try to use bad photos for some reason. We could orbit the earth with photos of metal dudes in black shirts with other band’s names on them, arms crossed, looking upset about something. I learn little about a band from those photos. It reminds me of the CD covers of the whole rap genre, it’s as if every single one of them was designed by the same person. Using a dollar sign wherever you has an “S”, wearing more gold than Mr. T, and leaning up against a souped up car with a bikini-clad ho-cake. Most of them look, and sound, the same. The few who have broken that mold are making a statement that their music is somehow different than the rest, by way of their photograph – because more often than not – it is.
    +1

  4. Debra says:

    I would say if I were in a band and wanting to market myself I would want a photo that completely captured everyone’s attention. If your going to have a photograph taken, why not use this to your advantage?
    Great article Meghan.
    I will be photographing some bands for the first time and was looking for information regarding this topic.
    I found it most helpful.

    Debra
    The MaMaRazzi Photography LLC.

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