A while ago I wrote a Prescription article about getting your band’s image right (something that, given several looks I’ve sported during my own attempt at a music career, I felt very ill-placed to do). And the other day, as I walked around the corner to get myself an overpriced latte, the article came back to mind.
This is because en route to my latte supplier, I saw a group of scruffy men standing against a wall, looking grumpy. And accompanying this group of grumpy scruffy men was a man with a fairly cheap-looking camera. I don’t think he was a photographer. He was just a mate. Of a bunch of non-descript grumpy scruffy men, who stand up against walls.
Now obviously, said group of grumpy men were clearly what is known in industry parlance as a ‘rock group’. They might have been a very good rock group – in fact, they could have been the Next Big Thing. I say ‘could have been’ because that day, they did irreparable harm to their career prospects by standing up against a very average-looking sort of wall and getting a mate to take a picture of them with a crap camera.
The reason is simple: in this industry, there are just too many badly-taken pictures of bands standing up against walls looking grumpy (I have been responsible for quite a share of them, so believe me, I know what I’m talking about). If I had a pound for every time a band asked me to check out their website only for me to discover a badly-taken picture of them standing against a wall and looking grumpy, I would be a very rich individual. And if I’m seeing a lot of grumpy-man-wall pics, that means that other music industry professionals are seeing a lot of them, which means that when that A&R guy with the cigar asks the inevitable ‘what do the band look like?’ question he is not going to be madly impressed by a badly-taken picture of grumpy men standing up against a wall in Hackney. The world is full of such pictures. Very few are any good. Yours is unlikely to stand out.
What I’m getting at is this: don’t forget to take your band photography very seriously. Whether you like it or not, the music industry pays as much (if not more) attention to your look as your sound, and for obvious reasons your photos determine the ‘look’ bit of things.
So, here are some tips for sorting out your photoshoot so that you don’t just end up looking like a grumpy man standing beside a wall.
Hire a professional music photographer, or if you are blagging favours from mates, make sure they are mates who are seriously good with a camera.
Plan every aspect of your shoot in advance; research locations, clothes and photographers in depth – don’t just go for the quick and easy option.
Use lights if at all possible, at least when taking some of the pictures. They add a hell of a lot of atmosphere to shoots, and when a big light is shone in your face, it can make you look younger than any Oil of Ulay product ever could.
Choose a decent backdrop for the shoot, ideally one that somehow reflects your music (tip: not a wall).
Try to use a mix of indoor and outdoor locations – this will result in a greater variety of pictures.
Don’t just stand around looking grumpy. Try a load of different poses, even if they seem outlandish or make you feel uncomfortable – you sometimes get some very interesting shots that way.
Take your time, and try to get as many images as possible. Even with a great photographer, it tends to take a lot of shots just to get one usable image.
Explore post-production options with your photographer. There are often a host of cool things that can be done in Photoshop to make your image look like it was taken in 1977 (which seems to be very important to 2017’s music industry).
Having said all that, I suppose it’s only fair to admit that sometimes a mate will use their iPhone to capture a brilliant, off-the-cuff photo of you casually loitering beside a wall. There is indeed a place for lo-fi spontaneity in rock photography and some classic photos have been taken that way. But more often than not, devoting a bit of time, thought and money to music photography will yield better results than finding a friend to accompany you on a tour of North London’s finest brick walls.