I used to photograph unsigned bands

I used to photograph unsigned bands

A decade ago I photographed unsigned bands. It was a simple arrangement: in return for a couple of hours of their time I’d shoot a bunch of photos and work up about a dozen to use as they wanted. No money was changing hands and the only rule was they had to be unsigned. I got to work with some great people.

It was a lot of fun.

Maybe it was because my ads would appear on Gumtree. Perhaps I was developing a “reputation”. Whatever it was, the shoots took a different feel. Instead of a bunch of people larking about and capturing great shots, people had “concepts”. They stopped being fun and became work. I was being approached by people I didn’t know who would get upset when I wasn’t able to fit into their schedule.

It came to a head at a studio day. With spare time scheduled at the end of a booking, I figured I could fit about an hour in. I did my usual Gumtree ad and picked a singer OK with it being short and sweet. At the appointed time she turned up ready, willing and eager.

With her manager.

Instead of a free flowing, relaxed shoot, the whole thing took a different direction. The “manager” tried to take control, demanding her “client” was photographed this way and that. I went with the flow for a while until the studio time ended and she insisted we continued. When I said no, she demanded I paid for more time to get the shots her client deserved.

Politely I declined, explained I was doing this for fun and free. A little shouting came my way. It was nothing compared to the wrath when I explained I’d get the first pass edits out to the singer at the back end of the week. The manager wanted them in her inbox by the next morning.

Portrait of Kieran, a singer and songwriter

For a professional photographer working on commission I’m sure this is normal. For an amateur who was enjoying being creative this was way out of order. I’d come off a great few hours working with some wonderful models into this. It jarred. It hurt. Being shouted at and called names was not the way I wanted to end my day. Keeping my calm, I asked them both to leave, made clear what would happen next and screamed blue murder in the car on the way home.

A couple or three days later, as I was working through the images, I got an email from the singer. Her manager said if I didn’t hand over all the images by the end of the week she would sue me. Because of my job I was used to hearing these kinds of threats, so it washed over me. I replied with a flippant “please let me know when and where and I’ll see you there.”

It took a month to get rid of the singer from my inbox. She got the photos I promised. I don’t know or care if she used them. In our emails I never mentioned her “manager” or rose to the threats and demands. I did what I said I would calmly and patiently. Every email started with “As originally agreed…”. I think I even changed the subject to start “WITHOUT PREJUDICE”.

Something else had happened. As I walked out of that studio I resolved never to shoot an unsigned band again. My adverts on Gumtree stopped. The profiles I had on various photography sites changed. When bands I’d shot before asked me to shoot again I said “no”. Without warning, I abandoned the unsigned band scene and never went back.

The singer didn’t break the big time, and I never saw or heard from her again. I think of it as an experience where two talents vanished from view because of the behaviour of one person.

About Ross A Hall

A business researcher and writer, I help companies find new markets, form strategies and build successful businesses.

Find out more about my work.

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