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Selling And Leasing Your Photos

Excerpted from Chapter 9 of Concert Photography.

Selling and Leasing

Most music-business photographers I know began photographing musicians solely for sheer love and enjoyment. Shooting for profit was almost an afterthought that came when expenses began to mount and the quality of their work started drawing attention. That's a pretty good way for you to approach it while learning your craft, although that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to recoup some of your expenses as soon as you can. There are more places to sell and lease music-business photos today than ever. If there is any "secret" to selling your photos it is this: Make technically and emotionally strong photographs that stand out, and get them into the hands of the people who can use them, when they need them.

Who will buy my photos?

There are two ways to make money photographing musicians, music-industry figures, and products. You can freelance your work, or you can be hired by a band, a magazine, a record company, a manufacturer, or another commercial party. Obviously, it's better to get a fee, all expenses paid, and a guarantee of publication, but that will come only after you've proven yourself by freelancing. For the most part, you'll be shooting photos on your own and hustling prints and slides for publication to get your foot in the door. Once you get a few good shots and begin to acquire an inventory of artists on file, you'll find there are many potential markets. You can't sell them efficiently with a shotgun approach, however. Target marketing is crucial. Keep a running list of the names in your files, preferably sorted by idiom. That way you can tailor the list to the market you are soliciting. Bluegrass Now, for instance, doesn't care if you have photos of Smashing Pumpkins. They want to know what you have of Bill Monroe and Alison Krauss.

Buy a copy of Photographer's Market (Writer's Digest Books, 1507 Dana Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45207). Updated annually, it lists 2,500 photo buyers, including advertising, public relations, and audio-visual firms; art/design studios; book publishers; record companies; stock photo agencies; and all types of magazines and newsletters. Each listing provides addresses, phone and fax numbers, the editor's name, circulation, frequency of publication, subject-matter focus, photo needs and requirements, preferred means of making contact, and pay. Except for an informative section on small record companies, you won't find many specific music-business photo buyers here. Still, the information is invaluable self-education on how the market works. In addition to the listings, each edition contains a series of articles and interviews by and about successful photographers and publishing figures. You should be able to find Photographer's Market at just about any bookstore.

Here are some potential markets and how you can reach them:


Magazines present the most bountiful territory for getting your work published, if only because of sheer numbers. Appendix 1 lists several hundred publications that focus exclusively on music, musicians, or some aspect of the music industry, and there are hundreds more worldwide. Still, they represent only part of the picture. Think of all the other magazines where you find photographs of musicians or music-business figures on a regular basis, such as Time, Newsweek, Life, Vanity Fair, Fortune, Esquire, and Playboy. And that's just on the most visible level. The computer has put desktop publishing within the financial and creative reach of anybody who really wants to try it. Some efforts last only a few issues; others strike a resonant note with readers and advertisers and thrive. Either way, each new issue of every magazine requires a certain number of photographs, and some of them can be yours.

Publications dealing strictly with the music or entertainment business represent the complete spectrum, with circulations ranging from the hundreds to the hundreds of thousands. Most are written to appeal to music consumers and are circulated by newsstand and subscription sales. There are also many trade publications geared to specific segments of the music industry, such as music-store owners, equipment manufacturers, and the recording trade. These publications have narrowly targeted, controlled circulations that are restricted to certain members of the music industry. With few exceptions-Billboardand Mixcome to mind-they are not available on newsstands.

In recent years the most growth has come in the area of 'zines-publications with small circulations dedicated to a single subject. These are usually labors of love by one or two devoted fans with access to a computer. Music has proved a particularly fertile ground for these types of publications, with dozens of 'zines devoted to a single artist, band, or style of music. These can take just about any form, from well-written, slick publications featuring four-color photos-for example, Backstreets(Bruce Springsteen) and Dupree's Diamond News (Grateful Dead)-down to unreadable four-page newsprint rags. The next big-growth area is online publications. There are already quite a few on the World Wide Web, and new entries are coming online every day.

Unless you've sneaked some great shots from the first three rows of a Barbra Streisand or Michael Jackson concert, your best bet when starting out is to target local publications. If you're into a musical idiom with a relatively small but devoted audience, such as blues, bluegrass, or folk, search out and join local or regional appreciation societies or clubs. They're great places to meet local musicians and knowledgeable fans, and many of them publish a magazine or newsletter to keep members advised of local concerts and events. These publications can provide an important forum for your photos, even though you probably won't be paid for them. They can, however, provide photo access to events featuring famous musicians in the idiom, as well as local bands and artists.

Search out the publications that focus on the type of music you most love to shoot. Appendix 1 of Concert Photography is a good place to start, but it's hardly all-inclusive. Each year, magazines disappear and new ones are born to take their places. Haunt newsstands constantly to look for new titles. Ask knowledgeable friends and musicians about ones they've seen. If you are bilingual, your potential market expands at least twofold, particularly if you speak Japanese, German, French, or Spanish. Visit your local library and consult Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory. In Vol. 3, you'll find the names and addresses of more than 1,700 publications around the world listed under the heading of "Music." (Of course, you don't have to actually speak the language to do business with international publications, especially if they have someone who speaks English, but it makes it easier.) The best, and most complete, listings for magazines published in the United States are Bacon's Directory of Magazinesand Burrelle's Media Directory. Both are updated annually and can be found at many libraries.

If you hear about a magazine that caters to your interests but can't find it on a newsstand, write and request a sample copy. Many publishers will be happy to accommodate you if you indicate your interest in providing articles and/or photos, although you still may have to pay. It probably depends on how convincing you are.

Keeping track of all the 'zines is a bit more daunting because they come and go so quickly. The definitive in-print guide is Factsheet Five(P.O. Box 170099, San Francisco, CA 94117-0099), which lists and reviews from 1,000 to 1,500 publications of every conceivable ilk in each quarterly issue. The music section is often the largest.

© 1998 humble press. Material may not be used in part or in whole, unless permission is granted by humble press.

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