Photo Clients

Inside Music Photography: Getting Paid And Managing Approvals

February 25, 2016


When Shawn Brackbill shot Beach House, the band selected which images were used. Brackbill says, “That was a situation where the band was in control,” rather than their label.

Though music photographers are landing assignments through referrals from musicians or their managers, the labels typically pay photographers’ fees and expenses. That can make the question of who has final say over photo selection tricky.

Photographer Shawn Brackbill notes, “Sometimes the images might go through the artist first and then the label. Sometimes everyone gets the images and the artist has approval.”

Last year, for example, he shot photos for the new album from Beach House, which was released by Sub Pop Records. “They’re a very particular band,” Brackbill says. “We went through [the shoot] and made selects, and what was approved I retouched and then sent to the label. That was a situation where the band was in control.”

Tracy Boychuk of Runner Collective advises the photographers and designers she works with to specify in their contracts who will approve the images. “If [artists] say, ‘I want approval before the label sees the photos,’ what I would suggest is that they pay for the shoot rather than the label and then have the label reimburse them for only those images that get used by the label.”

She adds that when a photographer lands an assignment through a referral from a long-time acquaintance, it’s especially important to negotiate terms and fees, rather than settle for what Boychuk calls “the friend rate”: “Unfortunately, a musician’s attachment to a photographer often correlates to the photographer not getting paid. It doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of the photographer.” Brackbill says he doesn’t shoot photos as a favor. He advises photographers who want to break into the music business, “I’d be leery of that as a career move—to set it as a goal to be friends with bands.”

Related: When Musicians Choose Photographers

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