A Picture Is Worth…How Much?

In this brave world of social media, content, etc., photographs – great photographs – rule. Great photos are timeless and, regardless of the platform, important to any artist relations strategy. The experience of finding and using a great photo on the Internet can be a pain in the neck but also a golden opportunity to show an artist and your relationship to them.  As as with anything related to business on the Internet the rules are murky and God help you if you have a misstep.

In the late 1980s, when I was the marketing director at QSC Audio, I had the idea of hiring famed photographer Annie Leibowitz to shoot photographs for a series of print ads. I liked her rock status and getting a renowned photographer to shoot products that were, quite honestly, dull, seemed attractive to me. I was going to make her part of the story.

I got the phone number of her agent and called him. I should have known that this was going be out of my price range when I discovered that an agent was involved. I was told that it would cost in the neighborhood of $12,000 per day plus all travel and meals for a staff of five. Needless to say it never got off the ground. But, looking back, at least the rules were spelled out and it was a simple “yes” or “no” deal. It’s not so easy any more.

These days there is confusion surrounding this, especially with photos of artists. I’m not talking about permission to use a photo. That’s pretty straightforward. I always clear a photo prior to using, although even that gets weird. Not too long ago I came across, what I thought was, a great photo of the bassist and singer, Meshell Ndegeocello. It was on the Facebook page of a venue that she had just performed at. Just to be sure, I contacted her manager to let her know that I thought it was a cool shot and I was going to post it on the Heil Sound Facebook page. The response was, “we don’t think that is a good picture so please don’t post it.” I like these folks a lot so I resisted the urge to point out that the ship had sailed the instant that the venue posted it.

My latest episode involved several photos of singer/guitar player Lauren Larson from the Austin-based band, Ume. She is a rocker, and a photogenic rocker at that. Perfect for a promo that I helped put together with Heil Sound, Electra Guitars, ZT Amplifiers, and Ultimate Ears. I found four shots that I thought were great and could fit into the message. They were from four different photographers and all had watermarks on them.

I sent Lauren an email to get her permission to use the photos and she agreed but asked me to also get permission from each of the four photographers. She gave me their email addresses and I set about to get the needed nod. The first response from all of them was fairly consistent – “I love helping this band but if the picture is for commercial purposes I want to get paid.” My response? “Fine, how much?” Silence. Then responses started trickling in with tentative, almost apologetic price quotes. “Would seventy-five dollars be too much?”

The lone exception was Julian Bajsel, a photographer based in Houston, who provided a timely response with pricing, terms and great follow-up. His price was higher than the others and for good reason. He knows his stuff and does this on a regular basis. In fairness to the others, they are a great and talented bunch and clearly enjoyed shooting concert photos. In fact, Heil chose one for a teaser ad.

My point to all of this is, “Hey photographers, get your act together.” You’ve got a great opportunity to get your pictures in the hands of folks who will pay for the right shot. It won’t be Annie Leibowitz kind of money, but you will get your great concert photos into some cool places. But if you are a business, act like one when a manufacturer inquires about one of your photos.