Whaaaaat? Why would a photographer get paid more than the band he's shooting?

marketing music photography Mar 31, 2022
Eddie Vedder - Peral Jam - Photographer Fee vs Band Pay


Are you a musician or band and you are wondering why your preferred photographer just quoted you a fee to shoot an upcoming gig that is much higher than what you are going to be paid to perform at that very gig?

Do you understand why that may be the case?

Short answer: Because hiring a professional photographer to create a series of images is an investment that will likely pay you dividends over a long period of time.*

* Those "likely" dividends are dependent on 1) the quality of the images; and, 2) the band's marketing strategy to get the most out of their use.

Whereas, in contrast, the band's performance is for a short, finite period of time, in most cases less than two hours (not including load-in, sound-check, and load-out, of course), and the band's "dividends" are for the most part paid to their fans and venue during the performance.

In other words, it's not about the time on site for both the band and the photographer that determines fees; it's about the value that is delivered by each for their respective clients.

In the band's case, they are delivering a fun night out for their fans (and an evening of ticket sales and drinks revenue for the venue).

For me, the photographer, I'm providing high-quality images to the band that will be used for multiple purposes for months or maybe years after that gig, depending on the licensing arrangement that we enter into ahead of time (and, a more liberal usage and longer licensing term usually results in a higher fee).

In fact, while the band is delivering their value on the night, the value of my work is not seen at all on the night (unless I have an agreement to process and deliver files during the performance, which will most definitely carry a fee premium, by the way), and it's not until the images are delivered to my client that any value can be realized.

Once the digital image files are delivered, however, the band will get value out of them for much longer than the single night when the photos were captured. And, that value is likely multi-faceted in the form of social media posts, website use, promo materials, album art, etc.

Heck, I've had one of my photos appear on billboards and also used as a tour bus "wrap". Can you see how the value of those usages is remarkably higher than the same photo posted on the same band's Instagram page?

Put simply, a photographer's fee isn't necessarily based on "time", although that may be part of the equation. Their fee is based on "value delivered". (Caveat: Some photographers do quote their fees on an hourly or "day rate" or a flat rate for a gig, which I'm sometimes in disagreement with as it may not account for the long-term value that they are delivering -- and it should.) 

This is essentially why you may find that your photographer of choice is asking to get paid much more than you -- the performer -- on the night of a gig.

It's all about long-term value.



Of course, once a band builds up its following, they can get paid more for their typical time on stage. There's a reason why Pearl Jam commands fees in the millions for their two-hour performances, while your band might have a tip bucket in front of them for two hours, barely covering gas money for each band member to be present. There is also a reason why a fan must pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket to a Pearl Jam while venues hosting "emerging" artists may not even have a cover charge at the door.

That said, the photographer shooting a local up-and-coming act isn't going to get paid nearly as much as the one shooting directly for Eddie Vedder and his band. In other words, the more famous and popular the artist, the more value they will get out of their photographs. And, the more value leveraged from photographs, the higher the photographer's fee will be to create and deliver them. And, the more value they deliver to their fans on the night, the higher the ticket price. See how this works?

This is why when I quote work, whether it's for a collaboration with an artist or for a commercial photography project with a local business, one of the first things I ask is:

"What will the images be used for?"

This provides insight as to what the true value is of my creative efforts. It's the answer to this question that will likely have a greater affect on my fee than the actual time it takes to create the images.

Do I have a minimum I want to get paid just for my time to create the images (which includes sitting at my Mac to process and deliver files, by the way)? Absolutely. But, it's the image usage that is reflected in the licensing fee part of the fee (which I like to refer to as the "Usage Fee").

Can I standardize my fees? In a way, yes. In fact, for local Asheville bands that are the same "status" level, I have a standard "rate sheet" that accounts for the potential usage scenarios of a "generic" emerging artist. This keeps things simple and efficient. But, as is to be expected, when working with "bigger" acts from the local area, my fee is likely to be higher.

In summary, my fee as a photographer is based on the value that I deliver to my clients. And, that fee should be seen as an investment by them.

If you are a musician and you are reading this, I encourage you to stop thinking of photography as a mere "something that needs to be done" (i.e., somewhat of an afterthought, or something you're willing to compromise on). Think of photography (and video) as an integral part of your marketing and publicity strategy (presumably, you have these, and if you don't, you should!). Think of your photography as an investment -- with a return

If all you are doing is looking for free photos and investing nothing, then what do you think the return on your investment is likely to be?

Bottom line is that it's up to you to get the most out of your investment. That starts with collaborating with a photographer whose focus is on you both literally and figuratively -- one who is going to deliver a top-quality product and not just be there with his/her camera because they want a free ticket to the show. Yes, working with a pro may cost you more than what you are making at the gig that night, but as you now know, there is a reason for that. 

To learn more about how to collaborate with a professional music photographer, including basic licensing structures, please download my mini eBook:

Music Photography - Image Usage, Pricing & Licensing

How can DSP help you to tell your story?

PHOTOGRAPHY: Collaborate w/ DSP