One bright color smiling pencil among bunch of gray sad pencils

How to get noticed: Promotional Artist Tips: Photography

We don’t usually talk about Artist promotion in the Song Talk Radio Newsletter. You can find lots of places on the web that cover that.

But we do see a lot of submissions so we see all the different levels of “promotional” abilities in artists – and some could really use a few pointers.

Don't do this...
Um … don’t do this…

Understanding your target

The people you want to reach in the music or news industries are pretty busy folk. They’re constantly bombarded with random pitches of varying quality. They’re not going to spend 15 mins trying to decipher a vague description or your artist photo to figure out what you do. You need to be clear and grab them quickly – otherwise, it’ll just be the circular file cabinet with your submission. They have a ton of other things on their desks.

1) Building your Arsenal

The first step is to spend a bit of time getting some basic marketing pieces together. Once you have it all ready to go, it’s easy to jump on any opportunities that pass your way. Meet a reporter for a local newspaper? Get his email and send them your description and photo when you get home.

These pieces would be

  1. Artist Promotional Photos
  2. Artist Description
  3. Marketing Materials (so printed junk)

Today, we’ll cover Artist photos.

So, where do I get off telling you all this stuff?

I’ve been working in advertising and design for far longer than I’d like to admit, and have worked with countless photographers on countless projects. Some successful, others less than fully, um, “satisfying” lets say. So you’ll get to learn from my mistakes.

It’s the person behind the camera that counts

Technology these days is incredible. The difference between a consumer level camera, pro-sumer and professional camera is less now than its ever been in the past. Ironically, this makes the actual person behind the camera more important now than ever.

Back in the day, there were quite a few photographers that were in fact not very good. But they were cheap, and had some high-end equipment so there was a good-sized market for them: customers needing photography but couldn’t really tell if what they were getting was good or not. I know – I spent countless hours trying to take their out-of-focus, poorly framed work and make it into something usable.

These days, the person behind the camera is key, and believe me, the ones who are great are truly, truly magic.

A worth while investment

The Parkdale Hookers Promo 2
The Parkdale Hookers by R. Kelly Clipperton

A good set of photos will not be cheap but they will last you for years (in my bands case, we used the photos taken by the incredible R. Kelly Clipperton for far longer than we should – at least we all had the same amount of hair at the end).

“But my girlfriend/boyfriend/polyamorous family member has a camera and they’re really good!” you say. Well, I can buy a set of dentist tools but that doesn’t make me a dentist. There’s nothing wrong with having your friend grab some snaps (and its even a good practice exercise), but hiring a professional photographer with an established track record will always be wise investment.

Different photos for different roles

When getting photos done, keep in mind that there will be different roles for different kinds of photos. A photo for a CD cover or a poster is not the same as a promotional image for an artist. Artist promotional images should clearly show your face(s) and communicate what you sound like (so if you’re a folk singer, looking like a rock guy can just be confusing – there are exceptions to this rule, but it’s really hard for the untrained to pull off).

Take this image from one of our fav guests – the Sun Harmonic

A cool shot – but what kind of artist is this? Classical? Jazz?

Now that’s a pretty cool shot and all, it would be great for a cd cover or a poster, but doesn’t really work all that well for an artist photo.

From a marketing standpoint, going with a too obscure image too early in your career isn’t a great idea. Remember, most of your potential audience / listeners have no idea who the heck you are or what you do. Your photo can be the thing that grabs them. After you’ve established yourself you can go with something more abstract and still get the response you want, but that takes time to establish who you are.

Ask yourself “If I was walking past this image and didn’t know who it was, what would I think? Would I want to buy the cd / click the link / go into the bar”?

Now, how about this image:


You really get a sense of the kind of music he does. You get a sense of who he is as a person. And as humans, we can’t help but be struck by two eyes staring out at us. (Look at photos used in massive ad campaigns – you’ll get the idea. When someone is spending millions of dollars on buying ad space, they don’t mess around with stuff that doesn’t work).

How to find a photographer

Well, there’s always Google. Find a photographer with a decent website with a decent portfolio so you can get a real sense of their style.

Not all photographers are created equal.

Artist photography by Bo Haung

Some photographers can shoot people and have the image jump off the page but couldn’t do a product shot if you put a gun to their head. Some can make a pen look like the sexiest thing ever produced by man but their portrait work just looks weird and flat. (Take a look at Bo Huang Photography here – his portrait stuff is incredible, I’ve used him tons of times – something about the eyes. He’s not cheap but worth it).

Take some time to find a photographer who can get pretty close to what you’re looking for right out of the gate. It’s much easier having someone who is naturally inclined to what you need than trying to go with someone cheap and winding up with photos that just look dull.

Do your bit to get the best results

Before your shoot, meet with the photographer. Find shots from other artists or other places that you think work well and have the feeling that you’re looking for (remember the face part). Bring them to your meeting. By using real examples that you and your photographer can see, you have an agreed place to start.

Why? Let’s say you’re going for “earthy”: your photographer might have a very different concept of what “earthy” looks like. Do be open to their ideas if you’re going with someone who has done a lot of these kinds of photos, he’ll know what works and what doesn’t. But if you don’t feel the chemistry is right, they are probably not the right photographer for you. Move on and find someone who will do what you need.

It Takes Time

Which is why it’s seldom cheap. A good photo session should take a good solid 5 hours or more, so block off enough time. A full day photoshoot is not out of the question. Winding up with one great image can mean that you had to take 50 or 100 shots.

Getting great photos takes time – and probably an assistant or two. Watch the following and you get an idea of what’s involved.




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