Music Series – Part 2: When Artistic Talent Meets Technical Skill
What makes music and photography both so exciting to me is that they have such a beautiful mix of artistic talent and technical skill. Some would say that you can be “born with talent” and that you can “learn a skill”. I agree with both of these thoughts, and I think the great thing is that they can both be honed and mastered as well.
Yes, you can be a “natural” when it comes to artistic talent, but you can also learn a lot about artistry and how to bring your talent to the next level. The same goes for technical skill. You can be technically inclined and learn a skill, but you can also push the boundaries with that skill and always be reaching for more. That’s the beauty of mixing technical ability with the artistic field.
This is the second installment in a series about the correlations between the music and photography industries. If you haven’t read the first post yet, you can read it here. I explained why I think your clients are in fact the artists, and you are the producer and engineer. In most cases you are also the production team, marketing team, personal coach, and much more. For now, I’ll expand on your role as producer and engineer when it comes to making your artist shine.
Being a Producer
In a music studio situation, the producer is overseeing the whole recording process and directing the artist and engineer in the ways that they should be going to achieve the planned outcome. When an artist is choosing a producer to work with, if they get that privilege, they will often listen to their past work and talk to other artists who have used the producer. Producers often run on reputation, which means networking and client care is needed to maintain word-of-mouth referrals. To be a good producer, you need to have a solid vision for the project and you need to know what is needed to make that vision come alive. Great producers can also make changes on the fly and run with creativity as it manifests itself, all while keeping the artist’s integrity in check, and the production on schedule.
Likewise, as the “Producer” in our photography businesses, we should have a very clear understanding of our brand and what we stand for. If we have a clear vision of our own personal and business identity, then we will often attract like minded clients that will appreciate our style and tendencies. When perspective clients are asking around for referrals, our reputation precedes us and we rely on the positive experiences of our former clients.
What is your style? What type of clients do you attract? Who is your ideal client?
These are questions that you need to answer in order to reach the potential that you have as a business and as a person. When you haven’t answered these, it’s like you’re simply walking around in the dark taking full power strobe shots of anything you hear and hoping it turns out to be something you love. The subject you happen to take the picture of may not even like how you shot it!
When you have answered these, it’s like you’re turning the lights on! You’re walking towards the things that attract you, and the people that are in the room can see you and what you’re attracted to, and in some cases they’re walking towards those same things. This is when you can easily take a beautiful portrait of someone and you can rest assured that they will love it as well. You may even be able to do it without flash!
Do you notice the correlations in relationships with this analogy as well?
Once you’ve nailed down your style and identity as a producer and you’ve found artists that share the same vision, you are freed to make decisions that can greatly affect the outcome of the project. Your clients will trust you to make these judgement calls more and more as you prove yourself to be trustworthy and competent. Being able to adapt to situations as they arise is one of the greatest skills that you can learn as a photographer/producer. If you are able to provide consistent work under various pressures and circumstances, you will be sought after in your field and a master at what you do.
Being an Engineer
In the music studio, the engineer is the person who captures the performance of the artist. Depending on what the artist is doing at the time, and how the producer wants it to be recorded, the engineer will use different tools and techniques to complete the recording. A good engineer is constantly learning new technologies as they get invented and is incorporating only the new techniques and tools that fit with the vision of the producer into the project. For example, when auto-tune was getting big for pop and hip-hop vocalists, many engineers learned how to use the tool, but only the ones whose producers found that it fit the goals of their artist would actually use it. Using auto-tune was considered a niche in the industry for a while and has been used in many different ways to give artists a unique, or an intentionally non-unique, sound.
Great engineers can adapt to the surroundings of the recording situation and maintain a high level of quality in their recordings. They will often use the natural surroundings to give warmth and character to the sound they are recording, but can also use their equipment to minimize the impact that those surroundings have on the outcome. Clear communication between the engineer and the producer is essential, and their communication to the artist will relieve the artist of any hesitations they may have about themselves or about the team.
Luckily, you are the producer and the engineer in a wedding setting, so hopefully your communication with your self is top notch! Now you just need to master the interpersonal communication skills that will allow your clients to really be real and themselves in front of you. As a photographer, you are challenged with terrible lighting situations and fast moving moments all the time. Mastering your equipment as an engineer is essential in becoming a trustworthy professional. As you explore new techniques, you need to check with yourself to determine if you want to incorporate those things into your brand. A great way to practice these things is through personal projects and assisting/second shooting for other photographers.
When is the last time you shot something for the fun of it? Are you investing in enough new gear? Too much?
I challenge you to really master your craft as a technical skill. Learn from your mistakes and don’t be lazy when it comes to cutting edge technology and techniques. At the same time, don’t spend your kids lunch money on new toys! There is always a balance, and as you progress in your career and skill as a photographer you will hopefully figure out what works best for you in your life and business situation.