Music Photographers: Five Things to Know When Working with an Artist Manager

Sure, you could go grab incredible live shots of an artist and post them all over the internet. Guess what? If those images aren’t in their manager’s hands when it is time to make the new round of posters or t-shirts, you’re no further along in terms of advancing your photography business than you were before you hit the shutter button.

I recently produced a studio image and a small motion piece for Undertow Music Collective artist Shadows on a River. Adam Klavohn is an Artist Manager for Undertow, and has been working in the music industry organizing tours and artist promotion for the last decade. I took the opportunity to talk to Adam about how Undertow locates, selects and utilizes photographers, videographers and graphic designers to produce visual materials for their bands. What follows are five questions I asked, and his answers will be invaluable to anyone in the music photography genre looking to advance their career. If you are trying to monetize your music portfolio, here is a good way to understand what one record company is looking for to help sell their product.

1) In a general sense, how much input does Undertow have when helping your artists develop a visual identity? Do you leave a lot of those decisions to individual artists, or do you like to help guide them through the process? Logos, press photos, tour posters, etc.

"Our biggest responsibility is making sure those assets are there when the artist needs them. Promoters, publicists, record labels are frequently requesting press shots, advertising material, logos, exclusive media, etc...  It's so easy for that stuff to fall by the wayside; keeping it fresh and up-to-date is important. The other side of that tug-of-war is making sure people are using current material.  So often you see publicity photos from years ago still circulating. That's Google Image's gift to the world. It's so easy to grab the first photo that pops up. 

"When we have the privilege of working with a talented photographer or graphic artist, much of the direction is left up to them.  Sometimes we do have to veto a t-shirt or poster design that doesn't quite work, and that's always a tough email to send, but the designers are always very understanding."

2) What types of images are useful for the kinds of artists you manage? Live shows? Studio head shots? Video pieces?

"We get a lot of mileage out of a few good studio shots. They can become album artwork, press photos, advertising material, web banners and so on. You can never have enough good ones, and there always seems to be a shortage. Schedules, budget, moods and a somewhat recently showered/groomed band all have to come together with the right photographer. It can be a lot to pull together with a busy band."

Rocky Votolato example 1.
Rocky Votolato example 2.
Shadows on a River still image.

3) How are the visuals created for your bands used? I know that you still sell record and CDs, but how does something like the download card or a poster come into play? Lots of digital, right?

"Lots of digital. Digital delivery systems definitely lack the layers or artwork you find with a piece of vinyl or a CD booklet.  Something we've been toying with is limited edition art prints with download codes printed on the back -- part poster, part artwork, a more exciting way to deliver digital content. I'm happy to say they're quite popular. You can print a download code on just about anything."

An example of a recent digital download card for Will Johnson.

4) How does Undertow/Artist generally go about choosing a creative (photographer, designer) to work with for their visual needs? What are they looking for when they see a portfolio?

"A lot of creatives come to us. A killer, completely realized poster design pops up in our inbox and we just go with it. One of our best selling poster designs was originally an unauthorized bootleg that we had to shut down. Another good story, we once paid good money for an "elephant" design that we later found out that the image was lifted from the "elephant" wiki page. They literally looked up elephant in the dictionary and charged us $400. Creatives can be friends, fans, professionals, bootleggers, me, or the college intern if we're in a pinch. A lot of the time an approaching deadline dictates these things. An easy to browse portfolio definitely helps, but more than anything it's good communication and the ability to meet a deadline."

5) How useful are things like Vine and Instagram to promoting your shows and tours? The artists typically handle these images themselves, right?

"Useful for sure, but they can be a full-time job. Posting three or four updates a day isn't too much and if we're talking photos and videos, that's a lot of content to produce and manage. We love that social media provides a vibrant direct connection with fans but it can use up a lot of valuable bandwidth."

All still images and motion pieces shown with this article are currently being used to promote Undertow artists. The pieces were provided by Undertow, and used with their permission. The video piece of Will Johnson was created by UNDER THE ARCADE- Live Music Series Chicago. I created the Shadows on a River still image and video, and photographed the example of the download card. Rocky Votolato’s images were created by Bjoern Lexius.

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Matthew Taggart's picture

It's crazy how much things have changed since I was a teenager. I used to have to hunt pretty hard to look at a bands EPK and now they are all over the internet, and even a bigger part of their album release. Great article amigo! Thanks for sharing.

Christian McGuinness's picture

Its a shame that 99% of musicians will always choose the lest expensive (mostly free, sometimes stolen) work over appropriately priced quality.

Anyone that thinks photos of bands or music biz offering any pay at all is totally living in a bygone era. Photographers shoot them selves in the foot every step of the way. A long time ago professional photography as a business should have unionized as did the motion picture biz & music biz. Anyone with a camera can do as good as a lot of pros & the music & labels/musicians are also feeling that digital squeeze and are equally predictably doomed (see Garage Band on any computer).
How many photographers out of schools are registering copyrights? Copyrights work so much better when everyone plays by the rules. That means registering your work and enforcing your rights. So much is appropriated and people have a lot of nerve feeling good about it (see Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Shepard Fairey, etc, etc). Editorial may also be pronounced dead as magazines go for massive rights grabs (see NY Times, Conde Nast, National Geographic, etc, etc). Editorial & advertising photography as a business is constantly being assaulted in every conceivable direction (too many ad agencies to mention). I once did a shoot where I didn't look in the viewfinder with the camera set on all auto everything, turned to my assistant & said look, a monkey could do this (see David Slater & of course the monkey itself)!! Some cropping, some retouching & the photos were perfect needless to say.
The only photographers left standing will be the thrilling wedding & portrait biz (see the meek shall inherit the earth) or the super stars aided by nepotism at the magazines (see Avedon, Demarchelier, Elgort). I say enjoy photography on your own walls for what it's worth because if you're thinking of it as income- don't quit your day job. Them walls are seriously high to climb over & thanks to thousands of photographers feeling the pressure to sell off their rights the walls are getting higher every day! The new era of actually having to evaluate your exposure and worry about it all the way home from a location job overseas seems to never have existed. There's thousands of new "photographers" joining the ranks every day the sun rises. I predict also that the cool term of calling yourself a photographer will equally represent a bygone era as everyone can now do what photographers do. So enjoy the sport- but you no longer need to struggle with the profession!

Aaron Ottis's picture

j a, I'd like to respond to this, but I have no idea where to start. If you organize this into something other than a crazy rant, I imagine there are plenty of people in the Fstoppers community that would have opinions on the 20+ subjects you crammed into this comment.