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5 Steps to Good Publicity Photographs for Musicians

You have a concert coming up. You’re excited. You’re getting all your ducks in a row for a successful performance. But you need to make sure you have butts in seats, and chances are you don’t have a big budget to market your event.

One of the most important things to consider at the grass-roots marketing level is good publicity photos. Let’s talk about the why and how of publicity photographs with answers to some important questions.

1. Should I pay for a professional photographer or use my cell phone?

Let’s not even talk about using your cell phone. The difference between a selfie and a professional image is vast and speaks volumes as to how seriously you take yourself, your career, and your brand. You want to stand out in a remarkable way – not be simply another silly phone photo on Instagram. Plus, a professional image is the difference between getting published in newspapers and online zines or not. Publications want and respect good quality imagery and you need publicity!

A true professional photographer will work with you to develop the look and feel that you want to project to the world. This is called Personal Branding Photography. Most headshot and portrait photographers do this kind of work and specialize in it. This is why your buddy Joe who shoots landscapes is not a good choice to shoot your publicity photos – they are different specialties. Choose a photographer who specializes in publicity/headshot work for the best results.

2. What does a good publicity photo look like?

A professional knows how to control light to evoke a mood – to capture a sense of what you’re trying to project about yourself as a solo artist or for your musical group.

Clean, sharp images are standard. You don’t want a lot of excess stuff in the background. The image should focus solely on you and your instrument while projecting the personality you want to share with the public, whether that be serious, dramatic, playful, etc. This is part of figuring out your brand. Are you cool, urban chic? Groovy, free-spirited? Serious classical musician?

If you aren’t sure yet what your brand is, have the photographer take several different kinds of images and facial expressions, so you have a variety to choose from.

For instance, let’s look at two images below. What do you sense when you look at these publicity images? What are these musicians saying about themselves?

David Garret’s images are unique and stylish, yet visually beautiful. They show he is a modern, hip musician with a focus on his instrument. The cover of his album “Rock Revolution” displays the dichotomy of a rock and roll persona focused on an orchestral instrument, the violin. This contrast is intriguing and makes you want to listen to one of his tracks to grasp his musical offerings.

Sarah Chang’s images are traditional and regal. They often show her in a formal gown with her violin, looking off wistfully into the distance. This gives the sense she is a classic, serious, and sensitive professional, ready for a performance. The regalness she projects emphasizes that she is the queen of the classical violin – which in many ways she is!

3. How do I pick a photographer?

Finding the right photographer is essential. But how do you find one? Start by asking musician and actor friends for references. Who have they used? Were they happy with the results? Did the photographer listen to what they wanted or help in creating the kind of brand they wanted to project?

Another option is to look online or in local papers of images you like and then read the byline of the photographer. Ask for recommendations from your network on Facebook, or look up photographers in your area.

Once you have gathered a few names check their websites, look at their images, call and ask questions about their shooting style. Be sure to communicate the kind of imagery you are looking for. Every pro will gladly consult with you, whether via phone or at their studio. If you aren’t sure what kind of imagery you want, discuss options with the photographer and explore what would best suit the brand you want to project.

When talking price be sure to ask what you will receive for the cost. Does the fee include both the photo session and photos? Are photos extra? Most pro’s charge between $400 - $1000 for a session, which includes several retouched final images. Every photographer works differently, so be sure to ask.

4. How do I prepare for the shoot?

Try to get a good night’s sleep the day before so you don’t have bags under your eyes or look tired – which is also a good reason to book your session for the afternoon hours. You want to look your best. You are selling you – your brand, your persona. Remember, these are your promo pictures, and you want to get bookings, so presenting your best self in these images is important.

Consider hiring a makeup artist and hairstylist to get you ready before the shoot.

Have your outfits planned. Often you can have two or three outfit changes during the shoot to maximize getting different looks out of your session. Polish your violin and make sure you have the props you want to hold in the photos.

Want to bring a friend along with you to the shoot? Give this some thought beforehand. Taking a good photo is work – work between you and photographer. You don’t need extra distraction or to feel embarrassed when you let loose in front of the camera. If you are under 18, do take a parent or adult with you.

For more tips about preparing for a shoot visit my articles on the ABC’s of Headshots.

5. What do I do with the photos once I have them?

A good photo will get published. Period! Submit your photos with a short press release about your event to every news outlet in your area – daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, local TV stations, and online event listings in your community. An eye-catching photo is much likely to get published in a “best bets for the week” calendar of the newspaper than an average image. And we don’t need to tell you that a bad image won’t even be considered.

When sending images with press releases, always make sure the photos are high resolution (at least 250 dpi) and carry the name of the photographer. If you accidentally send a 50 Mb image it may be rejected by the journalist's inbox, which won’t leave a good impression! Your photographer can format your final images for both web and print submissions. Just ask them.

Remember that photographers maintain copyright of their images – that’s normal. You are licensing them for whatever you agreed upon before the session. If your final image ends-up on something commercial like an album cover, you may have to negotiate a new license fee at that time. In the meanwhile, get your performances noticed with outstanding publicity images…and have fun doing it!

Top image of conductor John Anderson by Jana Marcus

Photo of Sarah Chang by Cliff Watts, courtesy of

Photo of David Garret’s album “Rock Revolution” by Christophe Kostlin

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