Photography for Musicians – A chat with Backstage:UK’s CK Goldiing
Having worked with Lucozade, Q-Magazine and Richer Sounds, we chat with CK Goldiing – founder and photographer of BACKSTAGE:UK, supplying official photography for emerging musicians across the UK.
What should a musician be looking for when they’re thinking about hiring a photographer? What are the most important things to consider?
Ask yourself, “Would I share a bag of crisps with this photographer?” Let’s assume you’ve done your research and found a photographer who’s style you love, and you’ve emailed them to say “hi”, if possible, I’d arrange a meeting to discuss a potential shoot. Why? Photography is an intimate experience – where you’re working closely with someone you might have only just met, so, In order to capture natural, authentic shots that represent you and your music, you have to feel comfortable with your photographer. If you have a natural rapport with your photographer, you’ll trust them, if you trust them, you’ll take direction without looking horribly uncomfortable. I believe a photo shoot should be focused enough that the musician fully understands the agenda, but relaxed enough that they’re able to contribute spontaneous ideas and enjoy the process, maybe even eat crisps.
Secondly, give a little thought to how the pictures will be used. If you plan to use them for website and social media, be sure to request a good number in landscape rather than portrait format. Remember, browsers are geared for short and long pictures, not tall and narrow. Of course, portrait shots are great for posters and flyers, so just get a variety of both. Finally, find out if the photographer is open to you sending them examples of shots/styles/set-ups you like… it doesn’t even necessarily have to be examples of the photographer’s own work. At BACKSTAGE:UK, the first thing we ask artists to do once they’ve booked a shoot with us is to send us photography examples they particularly like. This gets us into their mind – revealing what makes them tick, what inspires them, and most important of all, guarantees they get shots they love rather that shots we love. Official music shots are about representing the artist, not the photographer.
How can photography convey a musician’s sound in a visual way?
Other than the music itself, imagery is the ultimate representation of an artist. I’d like to invite anyone reading this to conduct a little experiment. Open Google Images and type something completely random like ‘Colorado Musician’ into the search field. Now, from the search results, play the ‘Guess The Genre Game’. Can you guess what musical genre that musician ‘lives’ in? If you can, the artist and photographer have done roughly what’s needed. The internet is a busy, fast-moving place, so, industry bigwigs, radio stations, bloggers, consumers etc have a split second to decide (a) who is this musician? (b) what’s their style?, and (c) will I like their music? You’d be amazed how much weight photography carries when answering these critical questions. Remember, you know who you are, your fans know who you are and your mum knows who you are, but we mustn’t forget that all these people are already part of your journey… it’s the people who aren’t that you need to attract and engage.
Earlier this year, electronic/rock/synths band Resonate approached us to capture exclusive behind-the-scenes music production shots as they prepared to release new material. As a tech savvy band that produces much of their own music, the final shots were an original, effective, relevant way to introduce fans to their amazing new songs, and honestly, they are amazing songs.
Why is it important for musicians to have professional photography? What can it be used for?
First, let’s note that professional photography isn’t the only consideration a musician has when pursuing their music goals, it’s one of many. The good news is that most of these considerations are conveniently linked. For example, a functional, well-designed website that lets a musician sell merch and music is ideal, but if the site is horribly designed featuring grainy mobile phone shots, chances are no one will spend enough time on the website to even discover your music or available merch because it’s not visually engaging. Equally, you can have the most stunning photography in the world, but once people click that ‘PLAY’ button, if your lyrics, production or vocal are void of any quality or merit, that photography session was a wasted investment.
In the main, the artists we photograph use BACKSTAGE:UK photography for their websites, social media profiles and cover artwork for singles and EPs. Here’s an example of how 5 musicians are using us right now.
What should musicians bring to a photoshoot? What should they do in advance or on the day?
Before the shoot, with the help of your photographer, decide on location, clothing and purpose of shoot. The better planned the shoot, the better results you’ll get. The last thing a musician wants is to arrive at a shoot without a clear plan – because the less prepared you are, the less relaxed you’ll be. A relaxed photo shoot is a productive photo shoot, and a productive photo shoot generates great photos. I mentioned clothing mainly for bands, because it’s no coincidence that the most successful international bands employ a unified ‘look’ – It’s an aesthetic must, a band needs a cohesive brand image that’s immediately recognisable. Solo artists aren’t exempt from this rule either – I give you Lady Gaga. When musicians book with us, once we’ve established their preferred style and scouted a great location, the final piece of the puzzle is inviting them to bring personal items to the shoot. This often varies from a lyric book to an item of clothing or even, on one occasion, a second-hand suitcase – which the artist loved and often used during her busking. As I outlined earlier, official musician photography should represent the artist and their music journey, and sometimes, one personal item can elevate a shot from average and typical to relevant and unique. It’s worth noting that sometimes few or even none of the items make the final edit, but nothing is lost by bringing them along, just in case. Pun intended!
Are there any resources or reference sites that you would recommend for musicians who are thinking about hiring a photographer? Is there anything that you find particularly useful to see before working with an artist at a shoot?
The Unsigned Guide is particularly useful – letting artist search for music resources (including photography) based on location. Twitter is a goliath too… there’s always someone following you who knows someone you need. There are many other resources including Flickr, but with photography, I’m a huge fan of personal recommendations. Why? Well, if you’re a folk artist who networks and associates with other folk artists, chances are one of them will have worked with a photographer who did a great job for them, so actively seek peer recommendations, they’re often the most reliable endorsement.
Prior to a shoot, BACKSTAGE:UK always listens to the music of the artist/band we’re working with, because as illustrated in my ‘Guess The Genre Game’, the music and the image are irreversibly linked. Music videos and online platforms i.e. facebook, twitter, official website are also great research tools for us because they indicate how the artist currently uses photography, if at all. For example, an artist that has no previous imagery or branding is effectively a blank canvass, from which we can work towards creating a relevant, engaging visual theme, but where the artist has previously used photography as part of their branding, our role will vary from either creating an entire new look to helping them with a minor refresh. In conclusion, if you use BACKSTAGE:UK for your next set of official artist shots, be prepared to be snooped.